Whitewater Probe Clears Clintons of Criminal Wrongdoing

ByPeter Dizikes

Sept. 20, 2000 -- Independent counsel Robert Ray today filed his long-awaited report on the Whitewater investigation, clearing President Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton of any criminal wrongdoing.

The official report, sent by Ray to a three-judge panel, is not expected to be finalized for several weeks. But Ray released a six-page statement today that concludes neither the president nor Mrs. Clinton intentionally violated the law in the botched Whitewater real estate deal.

“This office determined 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,” the statement says.

Democrats had been bracing for Ray to take a parting shot at Mrs. Clinton, who is locked in a tough fight with Rep. Rick Lazio for New York’s open Senate seat with the Nov. 7 general election looming.

But Ray’s statement was only mildly critical of the White House.

“This office experienced delay caused by the White House and others involving the production of relevant evidence and the filing of legal claims that were ultimately rejected by the courts,” Ray writes.

Ray also notes he expects “to file a final report promptly” after an Oct. 27 hearing for former Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker, who is still appealing a conviction stemming from the inquiry.

But all the relevant parties named in the report are given the opportunity to vet the document before it is made public, meaning it may not be available before 2001.

Asked today about his findings, Ray would only say that the case was closed.

“I don’t intend any further comment on the investigation,” Ray said.

White House Responds

President Clinton did not respond to a question about the report at the White House this afternoon, but Mrs. Clinton, meeting reporters in Albany, N.Y., said she was pleased the investigation was finished.

“I’m just glad that this is finally over,” the first lady said. “I think most New Yorkers and Americans had already made up their minds about this, and now everybody can just move on.”

White House press secretary Joe Lockhart told reporters at a briefing this afternoon, “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.”

At a Tuesday press conference, President Clinton dismissed a question about the report, saying, “Mr. Starr said almost two yearsago that there was nothing in any of that stuff … So I think people arecapable of drawing their own conclusions about that.” Kenneth Starr preceded Ray as independent counsel.

Earlier this year, Ray cleared Mrs. Clinton of wrongdoing in two other cases: the acquisition by the Clinton administration of FBI files on former White House employees, and the 1993 firing of seven White House Travel Office employees.

Asked to comment on Ray’s statement this afternoon, Starr referred questions to the current independent counsel, saying “I know the investigation is in very good hands.”

Ray Cites ‘Insufficient’ Evidence

In his statement, Ray said the independent counsel had investigated the Clintons’s actions relating to a series of matters, in each case concluding the evidence was “insufficient” to prove wrongdoing by the president and first lady.

Among other issues, Ray looked into whether or not President Clinton “gave knowingly false testimony” at the 1996 trials of James and Susan McDougal and Tucker, when the president denied knowledge of a pair of loans.

Ray also inquired about the extent of Mrs. Clinton’s work, as a partner in the Rose Law Firm of Little Rock, Ark., on behalf of the Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan, a concern run by James McDougal, and whether the first lady had made any effort to withhold evidence or obstruct justice by not turning over billing records of the firm.

Appearing on CNN today, Susan McDougal was critical of the language used by Ray in his statement, saying “It would really please me if they would just be men and say there is nothing there.”

But Lockhart told reporters he was not concerned that Ray refers to “insufficient evidence” instead of more emphatically exonerating the Clintons.

“It is a legal term of art, so I don’t have any problem with it,” Lockhart said.

Six-Year Inquiry

The sprawling inquiry was launched in 1994 to investigate the Clintons’ role in an Arkansas real estate venture dating to the 1970s.

Ray is the third independent counsel to head the inquiry, which has cost more than $52 million to date. Robert Fiske Jr. was appointed to look into the matter by Attorney General Janet Reno in January 1994. Fiske was replaced later that year by Starr, who left the post in 1999.

During Starr’s tenure, the independent counsel’s investigations expanded to include questions about Clinton’s testimony in a lawsuit brought against him by Paula Jones, a development which later brought to light the president’s affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

The independent counsel is still investigating President Clinton for remarks he made under oath about the affair with Lewinsky. Last month Ray acknowledged he has convened a new grand jury this year to look at the matter.

—ABCNEWS’ Jackie Judd and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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