Friday, September 22, 2000

After six years and 14 convictions of subalterns, associates and various disposable others who danced too close or too long with the Clintons in the Arkansas land-deal fandango, the Whitewater investigation into questionable real estate, legal and financial dealings by the first couple has now been officially closed by Independent Counsel Robert Ray. “This office determined that the evidence was insufficient to prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that either President Clinton or Mrs. Clinton knowingly participated in any criminal conduct,” Mr. Ray said yesterday. Sound like a vindication to you? Reread that statement again. Note specifically the phrase, “the evidence was insufficient to prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt …”
The absence of an indictment is not the same thing as being found not guilty or better yet, innocent of any crime. What has happened here is simply that Mr. Ray and his minions have been unable to muster a sufficiently strong legal case to present to a grand jury and no prosecutor who values his reputation will pursue an indictment, no matter how guilty he may privately believe his target to be, if there is not enough legally usable material to offer the grand jury. The Clintons, having thoroughly broomed their tracks, left little for Mr. Ray to work with.
And yet …
We are left with disquieting incidentals; odd coincidences; strange happenings such as the parlayings of felonious former associate attorney general and Clinton intimate Webster Hubbell, most notably the six-figure “consulting fee” that just sort of fell into his lap following his resignation from the Justice Department at just the precise instant when he might have been under sufficient duress to spill some beans. Mr. Ray said the evidence was “insufficient” to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that funds received by Hubbell at his moment of need “constituted a criminal quid pro quo” cash in return for silence.
Then there were the disappearing Rose Law Firm records which could have substantiated some of the allegations made with regard to Hillary Clinton’s sketchy involvement with the failed Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan that cost the taxpayers a hefty $74 million. The records just happened to vanish then miraculously reappeared 18 months after the first lady received a subpoena ordering her to produce the documents. Mr. Ray said it could not be determined whether “any person, including Mrs. Clinton, knowingly or willfully possessed the billing records with intent to obstruct justice.” But that almost 2-year disappearance of records critical to the independent counsel’s investigation was ever so convenient, wasn’t it?
White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said yesterday that “Robert Ray is now the latest investigator to complete an examination of the transactions to the Whitewater Development Corp. and conclude that there are no grounds for legal action.” Absolutely true. No legal grounds. Johnnie Cochran or F. Lee Bailey could not have said it better. But let’s not mince words or legal technicalities: The Clintons may have slipped the noose, but the awkward means by which they escaped disappearing billing records and all leave hanging questions that even their staunchest defenders may never be able to answer.

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