Whitewater Notes Spark New GOP Questions

TIMES STAFF WRITER

On Nov. 5, 1993, seven of President Clinton's lawyers--including four White House employees--vowed during a strategy session to make a concerted effort to "find out what's going on" in a confidential government investigation of the then-emerging Whitewater controversy, according to notes of the meeting made public Friday by the White House.

The notes, produced in response to a Senate subpoena, neither confirmed nor disproved Republican allegations that the meeting was part of an effort to obstruct the Whitewater investigations. But they did yield new details that Senate Whitewater Committee Chairman Alfonse M. D'Amato (R-N.Y.) quickly seized upon as evidence to support GOP suspicions.

"I can understand why the White House would not want these records out . . ," D'Amato declared after taking possession of the 13 pages of handwritten notes that had been the subject of a lengthy legal battle. "It leads to more and more questions, and it really goes to the gravamen of what we are concerned about."

Clearly, the most controversial notation in the entire document was the second item on the meeting's agenda, which declared that the president's lawyers would "try to find out what's going on in investigation."

Under normal circumstances, that decision would have been a logical first step for lawyers representing any client in the face of a government investigation.

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But in this particular case, as D'Amato has observed, it could suggest the possibility of wrongdoing because White House employees attending the meeting were in a position to use their official access to obtain confidential information that would have been unavailable to a private attorney.

Still, the notes, which were taken during the 1993 meeting by then-White House counsel William Kennedy, contained no indication that the White House attorneys were given orders to improperly use their positions to get investigative information.

Indeed, the White House painstakingly provided additional documents Friday--including internal memos and newspaper clippings from the fall of 1993--designed to demonstrate that the attorneys discussed nothing derived from confidential government information.

"No one was asked to procure confidential information after the meeting, or otherwise asked to do anything improper," said Mark Fabiani, special White House counsel for Whitewater. "In short, the notes support the White House's consistently held position that this was nothing more or less than a meeting to allow the first family's new private counsel to begin his work."

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Republicans also were intrigued by this notation by Kennedy: "Vacuum Rose Law Files. . . . Documents--never go out quietly." Committee investigators said the entry seems to support GOP allegations that Whitewater-related files and documents kept by First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's former law firm were destroyed.

The notes contained another tantalizing--but inconclusive--tidbit: a notation by Kennedy that Deputy White House Counsel Vincent Foster had committed suicide on the same day that the FBI raided the Little Rock, Ark., office of Municipal Judge David Hale.

Hale, who operated a government-insured small-business investment fund, has contended that Clinton once instructed him to make an illegal loan--some of which was diverted into the bank account of the Whitewater land venture. Some Clinton critics have suggested that Foster's death was related to the raid on Hale's office.

In addition, investigators said the notes suggested that Jim Blair, a Clinton friend and attorney for Tyson Foods in Springdale, Ark., may have helped finance James B. McDougal's purchase of the first family interest in the Whitewater project in the early 1990s. By that time, McDougal--who was a Whitewater co-investor and the owner of a failed Arkansas savings and loan--had gone bankrupt.

Blair has been repeatedly accused of providing improper financial assistance to the Clintons.

D'Amato indicated that his investigating committee would use the notes as a road map for its future inquiry into an alleged Whitewater cover-up. "We will undoubtedly consider the issuance of additional subpoenas," he said.

Among those likely to be called are Kennedy, who was a law partner of Hillary Clinton before he came to the White House and who has since returned to private practice in Little Rock.

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The Nov. 5, 1993, meeting took place shortly after it was learned that both the Resolution Trust Corp. and the Small Business Administration were investigating cases related to the president's investment in the mid-1970s in an Ozarks land deal known as Whitewater.

White House officials have insisted that the meeting was called to enable White House lawyers--several of them old Clinton friends--to "pass the torch" to private attorney David Kendall, hired by the first family to represent them in these matters.

Also attending the meeting were then-White House Counsel Bernard Nussbaum, White House associate counsel Neil Eggleston, then-White House personnel chief Bruce Lindsey, Denver attorney James Lyon and attorney Stephen Engstrom of Little Rock.

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