Hillary Clinton tersely denies last-minute Senate allegations Her lawyer calls them 'a hit-and-run smear'

June 18, 1996|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- On the eve of today's release of the Senate Whitewater committee report, which is sharply critical of Hillary Rodham Clinton, the first lady yesterday offered a terse and perfunctory response to questions posed to her by her Republican accusers last week.

The two-page affidavit was preceded by a caustic letter, tinged with sarcasm, in which the first lady's lawyer, David E. Kendall, called the Republicans' inquiry of the first lady a "last-minute hit-and-run smear" and said the senators were not seriously interested in her responses.

The first lady denied any wrongdoing in her written answers to questions that her lawyer received Thursday night.

Reiterating previous statements, she said she had no "first-hand knowledge" of how billing records came to be removed from her former law firm in Arkansas in 1992, or how they were found in the White House residence by an aide this year.

Michael Chertoff, the Republican counsel to the Whitewater committee, wrote back to Mrs. Clinton's lawyer yesterday, saying several of her replies were unclear and unresponsive, and asking if she wished to add anything.

Hillary Clinton's written response came a day before the Republicans and Democrats on the panel are to issue separate reports on their 13-month investigation.

Much of the Republican report was leaked and reported over the weekend, including an assertion that Hillary Clinton impeded a search of the office of Vincent W. Foster Jr. after the deputy White House counsel committed suicide in 1993.

In his scathing seven-page letter to the chairman of the Whitewater committee, Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato, Kendall denounced the Republicans for leaking their report before the first lady's answers were received, saying it was thus "difficult to take seriously" such a request for her answers. "It simply makes no difference what information we furnish you," he said.

He called the GOP report the "politically preordained verdict of a partisan kangaroo court."

Hillary Clinton's affidavit did not directly address the "new evidence" Republicans said they had recently obtained that sparked the last-minute inquiry.

Last week, the committee learned that H. Don Denton, a former savings and loan executive who has been cooperating with the Whitewater independent counsel in exchange for immunity from prosecution, told investigators he had warned Hillary Clinton in a 1986 phone call about the possibly fraudulent nature of a loan for an Arkansas land deal.

Denton said Clinton, who was representing the thrift in several transactions, dismissed his warning.

In their letter to her last week, Republicans asked Hillary Clinton to "refresh her memory" about the conversation with Denton.

The first lady has told federal regulators she has no recollection of helping to structure that land deal, called Castle Grande, or of any loans involved in that transaction. And in yesterday's affidavit, she referred senators to her previous testimony on the subject.

In his letter, Kendall called Denton's "magical new recollection" of the decade-old, 12-minute phone call "wholly unreliable" because it contradicts testimony he has given on previous occasions.

The lawyer said Denton's notes from that phone call suggests that the topic of the conversation was an entirely different legal matter than Castle Grande.

But in his letter back to Kendall, Chertoff said the first lady "does not directly address" Denton's assertions. "Mrs. Clinton simply does not recall much about these transactions, but is not in a position to offer a positive recollection that differs from that of Mr. Denton," he said.

The first lady's response dealt chiefly with the Rose Law Firm billing records, under subpoena for two years and said by the administration to have been missing. They were discovered in January by Carolyn Huber, an aide who first found them in August 1995 in the White House residence and packed them away at the time, not knowing what they were.

The first lady wrote that she saw the billing records in the mid-1980s, when she was the firm's billing partner for Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan. And she said she "probably had reviewed" the records in 1992, when she was trying to address questions, raised during the presidential campaign, about her work for Madison.

She also said in the sworn statement that she had no "first-hand knowledge" of the removal of the files from the Rose firm by either Foster or Webster Hubbell, a former partner who joined the Clinton administration and was later convicted of fraud.

But Chertoff said she left several questions unanswered, such as what knowledge she has of the whereabouts of the records between 1992 and 1995 and whether she knows about the removal of the records from the Rose Law Firm from other sources.

The Democrats are also to release their report today. In stark contrast, their report is expected to clear the president and first lady of any wrongdoing and accuse the Republicans of "political grandstanding."

Pub Date: 6/18/96

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