- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 23, 2004

The January 1994 White House request for the appointment of a special counsel to investigate the Whitewater scandal was the “worst presidential decision I ever made,” former President Bill Clinton says in his new book, “My Life.”

“It was … wrong on the facts, wrong on the law, wrong on the politics, wrong for the presidency and the Constitution,” Mr. Clinton said in the 957-page autobiography, blaming it on exhaustion and grief over the death just days earlier of his mother, Virginia Kelley.

“I was completely exhausted and grieving over mother,” he said. “It took all the concentration I could muster just to do the job I had left her funeral to do.”

But a bipartisan call for an outside prosecutor came after The Washington Times reported in December 1993 that documents involving the Whitewater-Madison affair were secretly taken from White House Deputy Counsel Vincent W. Foster Jr.’s office by Clinton staffers just hours after his July 1993 suicide.

Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the powerful Democratic chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, led the charge, saying an independent counsel was “necessary.”

Mr. Clinton, whose book was released yesterday to poor reviews but good sales, said that had he followed the advice of White House Counsel Bernard L. Nussbaum, who “never got over my foolish decision” to seek a special counsel, there would have been “no investigation, subpoenas or grand jury.”Robert B. Fiske, a Republican and former U.S. attorney in New York, was named special counsel on Jan. 20, 1994, by Attorney General Janet Reno to investigate — at the White House’s request — the Clintons’ involvement in Whitewater Development Corp., an Arkansas land venture, and Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan Association, a failed thrift owned by longtime Clinton friends, James and Susan McDougal.

In August 1994, Mr. Fiske was replaced by former Republican Solicitor General Kenneth W. Starr, appointed by a panel of three federal appeals court judges after Mr. Clinton had signed into law a new independent counsel statute.

“Unlike Fiske, Starr had no prosecutorial experience, but he had something far more important; he was much more conservative and partisan than Fiske,” Mr. Clinton said. “His bias against me was the very reason he was chosen and why he took the job.”

Mr. Starr ultimately accused Mr. Clinton of a “pattern of obstruction, false statements and a misuse of executive authority” to thwart the Paula Jones sexual misconduct case and the Monica Lewinsky probe, which led to his impeachment by the House. After a trial, the Senate voted not to remove him from office.

Mr. Clinton said Mr. Starr abused the power of his office in bringing indictments against many of the president’s friends in what he described as accusations that were unrelated to the Whitewater probe.

“I had always hated abuse of power, and as false charges flew, evidence of our innocence was ignored, and more blameless people were hounded by Starr,” he said. “I was seething inside. No one can be as angry as I was without doing himself harm.

“It took me too long to figure that out,” he said.

Mr. Clinton also accused the new independent counsel of perpetrating a “cheap, sleazy publicity stunt” in subpoenaing his wife to testify before a federal grand jury at the U.S. courthouse in Washington D.C., saying Mr. Starr “certainly seemed to get a big kick out of beating up on Hillary.”

“I was more troubled by the attacks on Hillary than on those directed at me,” he said.

The Whitewater investigation netted 14 convictions or guilty pleas, including the McDougals, Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker and Associate Attorney General Webster L. Hubbell, a law partner of Mrs. Clinton’s at Little Rock’s Rose Law Firm.

The inquiry found insufficient evidence to prove that Mr. Clinton lied when he told a jury he never borrowed any money from Madison; when he told the same jury he did not know about a $300,000 loan by Little Rock banker David L. Hale to Susan McDougal; and when he denied knowing how Mrs. Clinton’s Rose firm had been hired by Madison to represent the thrift in matters before state regulators.

There also was insufficient evidence to prove that Mrs. Clinton made false statements to the Resolution Trust Corp. regarding the relationship between Madison and the Rose firm, as well as her own work related to Madison; and that she sought to obstruct the Whitewater probe by withholding information in connection with Rose billing records.

The report said prosecutors could not rule out the possibility that Mrs. Clinton played a role in the disappearance of the billing records and later discovery. The report said there was “inconclusive” evidence concerning the records, which vanished after the 1992 election and mysteriously surfaced in the White House living quarters in 1996 — 18 months after the first lady had received a subpoena for the documents.

Mr. Clinton said Mr. Starr coerced people “into making false charges” against him and his wife and prosecuted those “who refused to lie.”

“Ken Starr’s blatant political and economic conflicts of interest and the extreme bias against me they reflected presented no problem at all to his assumption of unlimited and unaccountable authority to go after us and many other innocent people,” he said.

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