Clinton, on stand, sticks to story In taped testimony on Whitewater, he denies wrongdoing

April 29, 1996|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton, testifying under oath yesterday in a criminal trial stemming from the Whitewater scandal, denied -- as he has previously in interviews with the news media -- allegations linking him to an alleged conspiracy to defraud two federally backed lending institutions.

The president, whose videotaped testimony will be played at a later date in the U.S. District Court case in Little Rock, Ark., was questioned for nearly 4 1/2 hours by defense and prosecution attorneys behind closed doors at the White House.

Even though Mr. Clinton will never set foot in the courtroom, he is the key defense witness in the trial on fraud and conspiracy charges of Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker and James B. and Susan McDougal, the Clintons' investment partners in the Whitewater resort development.

The president's exact words under oath will not be known until the tape is played, perhaps as soon as next week. Under orders from Judge George Howard Jr., the videotape is being kept under seal and attorneys who attended the interview are forbidden to discuss it.

However, witnesses to the questioning at the White House said the president's answers did not diverge from his previous statements on the key question of whether he had put pressure on David Hale, the key prosecution witness, to make an improper loan from his government-backed small-business investment corporation.

"I did not see that he made any inconsistent statements," said James McDougal after leaving the White House. He said Mr. Clinton seemed at ease throughout the questioning.

"There won't be any surprises," predicted a White House spokesman, Mark Fabiani, referring to the reaction of those who see the videotape in the courtroom. "The president has said, both in public statements and in previous interviews, his views about David Hale's allegations."

In the past, the president has called Hale's story "a bunch of bull."

Hale, who was a municipal judge at the time of the alleged plot in the mid-1980s, testified earlier in the trial that then-Gov. Clinton and James McDougal asked him to make a $300,000 loan to Susan McDougal. Contrary to statements made on the loan application, the money was spent on the McDougals' real estate ventures, and one parcel purchased with the loan was held briefly by the McDougal-Clinton partnership that also owned Whitewater.

According to Hale, the $300,000 loan was part of a complex, $3 million conspiracy including Mr. Clinton, the McDougals and Mr. Tucker that succeeded in defrauding both Hale's lending firm, ,, known as Capital Management Services Inc., and Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan, a Little Rock thrift then owned by the McDougals.

Mr. Clinton insists that he did not participate in meetings at Mr. McDougal's land sales trailer south of Little Rock at which Hale claims the deal was struck.

Government prosecutors have acknowledged that they do not have sufficient evidence of Mr. Clinton's involvement in the alleged scheme for the president either to be charged in the case or to be named as an unindicted co-conspirator.

The questioning took place in the Map Room, a first-floor parlor in which President Franklin D. Roosevelt followed the progress of the Allied forces during World War II. White House officials said the session began at 1: 12 p.m. and ended at 5: 38 p.m. According to Bobby McDaniel, attorney for Susan McDougal, the defense questioned Mr. Clinton directly for only 45 minutes, but the cross-examination by the government took 3 1/2 hours.

The participants included the McDougals, their three attorneys, four attorneys representing Mr. Tucker, eight members of the prosecution staff, two of the president's personal attorneys, five attorneys from the White House counsel's office and three representatives of the Justice Department, as well as court reporters and camera operators.

Mr. Tucker, who served as lieutenant governor under Mr. Clinton, did not attend.

Also yesterday, magazine reported that the fingerprints of Hillary Rodham Clintonwere found on copies of her law firm's billing records that turned up at the White House not long ago.

The billing records, which had been under subpoena for two years before they were found, are being treated as evidence in the government's investigation of alleged obstruction of the Whitewater investigation by the first lady. She insists that she has no knowledge of where the documents were before they were found in the East Wing of the White House.

The White House said the fact that the first lady's fingerprints may be on the papers was not a surprise, adding that her lawyer had said in January that this might be the case.

Pub Date: 4/29/96

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.