Hush money or humane money? Webster Hubbell: White House chiefs of staff helped disgraced former associate AG.

April 03, 1997

LIKE THE proverbial bad penny, Webster Hubbell keeps turning up. A friend of Bill and a one-time law partner of Hillary, the former associate attorney general is the central figure in the latest sensation to plague the Clinton administration. Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr would like nothing better than to prove that Mr. Hubbell was paid $400,000 in hush money between the time he was convicted of fraud in 1994 and the time he went to prison for 17 months.

The Clinton entourage insists that attempts to help Mr. Hubbell were acts of compassion for an old friend. It now turns out that the president's first chief of staff, Thomas F. McLarty, and his current chief of staff, Erskine B. Bowles, made telephone calls seeking well-heeled clients for Mr. Hubbell.

Among the donors: Mochtar Riady, head of the Indonesian conglomerate that figures large in the tainted fund-raising of the Clinton-Gore campaign, and Texas insurance magnate Bernard Rapoport, an overnighter at the White House shortly after Mr. Hubbell had to leave the Justice Department in disgrace.

Sources close to Mr. Starr have made it known that Mr. Hubbell has been highly uncooperative in responding to questions about the Whitewater land deals he handled with Mrs. Clinton or, more immediately, about whether any quid pro quo was involved in the money he received from sympathetic Clintonites. This week a grand jury in Little Rock is looking into this latest wrinkle on a case that never ends and never is at a loss for surprises.

Mr. Hubbell, a long-time partner at the Rose Law Firm until it was revealed that he had bilked the firm and clients of $480,000, is one of the old Arkansas crowd who knows a lot of secrets. Not only did he have the files on Whitewater; he was close to Vincent Foster, the former White House deputy counsel whose suicide still gives rise to conspiracy theories.

Should Mr. Hubbell be induced to sing, there is no knowing what kind of an eruption could take place at the heart of power in Washington. So he has the kind of leverage that can open wallets or keep mouths shut.

President Clinton has been typically less than forthright in discussing the coincidence that Mr. Riady's huge Lippo Group helped bail out Mr. Hubbell or that his chiefs of staff had let him and his wife know they were sensitive to an old friend's needs. Instead, the White House is involved in another of its catch-ups; it releases embarrassing information only when it has to and then tries to put a gloss on its performance that all too frequently turns into dross.

Pub Date: 4/03/97

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