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Whitewater Report Clears Clintons of Criminal Conduct

Aired September 20, 2000 - 11:23 a.m. ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: Independent Counsel Robert Ray has wrapped up the six-year investigation of the Clintons' finances and Whitewater, the main part of the investigation has been that Whitewater real estate deal.

To Washington now and CNN's Bob Franken -- Bob.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And, Daryn, this is a deal that actually began in 1978 between Governor and Hillary Clinton and Jim and Susan McDougal, the Whitewater land development deal which as been investigated until this day. Now, the independent counsel has finally concluded, and I'm quoting from the statement that accompanies a sealed report, that "the evidence was insufficient to prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that either President or Mrs. Clinton knowingly participated in any criminal conduct or had any knowledge of any conduct."

Now, the president and Mrs. Clinton have been investigated on this matter through the last six years plus, more than six years, so now it is coming to a conclusion. There were several key allegations along the way. One of the first was that as governor in 1986, president, then-Governor Clinton had pressured a man named David Hale to make an illegal $300,000 loan using federal money to one of his Whitewater partners, Susan McDougal.

The report says this office determined that "the evidence was insufficient to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that President Clinton knew of the loan or that his testimony regarding the loan was knowingly false," the point being that he testified under oath any number of times.

The investigation also focused considerably on Hillary Rodham Clinton, and one of the big factors was the disappearance of her billing records when she was a member of the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock, Arkansas -- the disappearance and then mysterious reappearance in the White House, in the White House residence -- and the independent counsel has concluded that they could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt there was insufficient evidence to prove that Mrs. Clinton had any way obstructed justice by arranging for those notes to disappear.

Now, the construct of the language in this is similar to reports that have come out earlier from the independent counsel, Bob Ray, who I should point out again is the person who succeeded Ken Starr who conducted most of this investigation. Ray has repeatedly said that he has not taken action, that is to say, indictments, because there was insufficient evidence. He has not commented today. But we did an interview in June where he talked about that.


ROBERT RAY, INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: I mean, the question of whether a crime has been committed is one ultimately that the prosecutor doesn't make the judgment on. That's for a jury to decide. I decide as a threshold question whether or not to bring a case to a jury for it to decide whether a crime was committed. And I have to exercise responsibly my authority, only to bring a case where I believe that a fair-minded jury would convict on that evidence beyond a reasonable doubt.


FRANKEN: Now, obviously, this report -- actually the announcement of the report has just been released just moments ago, so the White House has not had a chance to react yet, but it is something that Bill Clinton has had to talk about during his presidency, most recently, yesterday.


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Even Mr. Starr said almost two years ago, that there was nothing in any of that stuff, that it's just been coming out now, a year and a half later, so I think people are capable of drawing their own conclusions about that. I don't think I can serve much of the public interest by commenting, I think it's pretty obvious.


FRANKEN: Bob Ray, the independent counsel has come under criticism for the timing of this report, coming as it does less than two months before the election, Mrs. Clinton, of course, a candidate in New York, but this announcement would not seem to do a lot of harm to her. We'll get reaction from her hopefully later.

And now, as Ray points out in his report, the Whitewater part of the investigation is now concluded. That does not mean the matter is concluded, Daryn, there have been any number of appendages that have grown out of this investigation, one of them, of course, the Monica Lewinsky matter. That is still being investigated. Ray has made it clear he has convened a grand jury to see if he would possibly indict Bill Clinton after he leaves the presidency -- Daryn.

KAGAN: But, Bob, for now, for this chapter, the Clintons couldn't have asked for better news it would appear?

FRANKEN: It seems that way, at least based on this announcement. This announcement is a way of telling the public what conclusions were reached in the sealed report. Under the law, the three-judge panel that appointed independent counsels must read it. The various parties must have a chance to comment on it. Then and only then is it publicly released. The same procedure that is still going through as far as the Travel Office matter is concerned and the FBI Files matter.

KAGAN: All right, Bob, we've been pushing access to you all morning, telling folks they could e-mail and ask you some questions on this matter, telling our viewers that you understand the whole thing. So let's go to our first e-mail.

FRANKEN: Maybe a faulty preface.

KAGAN: Well, we'll have to see. The test begins now.

The first e-mail, the question is: "What is the total expense of the Whitewater investigation, including Lewinsky, Travelgate, etc., including lawyers, office rental, travel, leisure, entertainment, FBI agents, private investigators?" And that question coming to you from Ed Slavin in St. Augustine, Florida.

How much?

FRANKEN: Well, approaching $60 million, and what's interesting about that is one of the reasons this all began was an investigation into whether the Whitewater real estate deal contributed to the failure of the savings & loan that was owned by Jim and Susan McDougal, the Whitewater partners. That failure cost the federal government, the taxpayers, upwards of $65-$67 million. And many people will make the observation that the investigation, that ultimately will cost about that much, too.

KAGAN: Now, we've talked mainly about the Clintons, but there were a number of other people implicated in this Whitewater investigation. This next e-mail deals with Webster Hubbell, and if we go to the screen: "Is Webster Hubbell violating the immunity agreement, and open for prosecution, by not divulging what he knows?"

That from Greg Kingston of Greenwood, Texas.

FRANKEN: Well, as a matter of fact, the independent counsel believed that he had information about his close friends, the Clintons. Webster Hubbell, to remind people, was a law partner of Mrs. Clinton, a golfing buddy of Bill Clinton over the years, and then became the number three man in the Justice Department when the Clintons came to Washington. He was then convicted growing out of this investigation for tax matters and for bilking his law firm out of money. He served that time. The independent counsel continued to try and investigate him. There was the famous moment when Hubbell said, "he can indict my dog, he can indict my cat, but I have nothing to say about President Clinton."

Hubbell is no longer in any sort of legal danger, but there was a continuing belief in the independent counsel's office that he had been paid money by some of the Clinton friends to keep quiet, a matter that was never resolved.

KAGAN: You mentioned the timing of this, as you said, we're less than than two months before Election Day and Paul Meilleur wants to know: "Do you think if the releasing of this report right -- in terms of the election was politically motivated?" FRANKEN: Well, the independent counsel, Bob Ray says absolutely not. That was not his intent. All he was trying to do, he said, is to put this information out there and give people a chance to evaluate it to see whether or not it does influence their vote. Of course, as we pointed out, Mr. Clinton is running for the Senate in New York.

From first appearances, based on this announcement, this would not seem to do much harm to Mrs. Clinton, and my suspicion is, is that's going to reinforce Ray's argument that he was not trying to have any sort of untoward affect on her candidacy for the Senate.

KAGAN: Bob Franken in Washington, as advertised, know the A to Z in Whitewater. Thank you very much -- Bill.

HEMMER: All right, Daryn.

Certainly, there is reaction from the White House, Kelly Wallace from the North Lawn will bring us up to date with more from there.

Kelly, what are they saying, if anything, based on this report?

KELLY WALLACE, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Bill, they are saying just a bit, not much. We just received a statement from White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart, I will read that to you, it says -- quote -- "Robert Ray is now the latest investigator to complete an examination of the transactions related to Whitewater development company and conclude that there are no grounds for legal action." That is the entire statement from White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart.

Talking to White House officials earlier today, they said this was going to be really all that they had to say about this matter. As our viewers heard, the president himself was asked a question about this yesterday when he was speaking to reporters, he was asked about the timing of this report coming out about six weeks before the election in which his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton is a U.S. Senate candidate; the president said that people, Americans will have to draw their own conclusions about the timing, but said that even Mr. Starr, Ken Starr himself two years ago found that there was really nothing to this whole Whitewater investigation. So that's the latest from here -- Bill.

HEMMER: All right, Kelly -- Kelly Wallace, an update there from the North Lawn. Kelly, thank you.



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