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Mystery Deepens Over Prints on Whitewater Files

TIMES STAFF WRITER

An FBI analysis of recently discovered billing records of First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton’s legal work found two of her fingerprints, along with the prints of five aides at the White House or her former Little Rock, Ark., law firm, a Senate committee disclosed Tuesday.

The announcement by the special panel investigating President and Mrs. Clinton’s involvement in the Whitewater real estate venture set off a fierce battle of interpretations between the White House and Senate Republicans--and seemed to deepen the mystery surrounding the episode.

In a clear disappointment to Republican critics, the fingerprints did not include those of close confidantes to the first lady, such as Margaret Williams, her chief of staff, or New York attorney Susan Thomases.

The two have testified that they knew nothing about the files in the nearly two years between the time the documents were subpoenaed and their unexplained appearance in the White House living quarters last August.

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“These results completely undermine the theories that the Republicans have been peddling for the last year that White House staffers removed the billing records from Vincent Foster’s office on the night he died,” White House Special Counsel Mark D. Fabiani said.

Foster, a deputy White House counsel and former law partner of Mrs. Clinton, committed suicide in July 1993.

Yet despite the White House response, the test results do not clear the first lady. In fact, they appear to have narrowed to a handful the list of those who could have left the records on a table in the White House book room before their discovery by Carolyn Huber, an aide to Mrs. Clinton.

The fingerprints of Foster and Huber also were found on the documents. So were those of Mildred C. Alston, a special assistant to the first lady who once assisted her in the law firm; Sandra Hatch, a former file clerk at the Little Rock firm who never has worked at the White House, and Mark Rolfe, a paralegal at the Washington law firm that represents the Clintons who helped photocopy the records after they were found.

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The records, which are copies of original documents, had been subpoenaed by investigators to determine what work the Rose Law Firm had performed in the 1980s for Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan, then owned by James B. McDougal, the recently convicted former partner of the Clintons in their ill-fated Whitewater venture. Investigators have been trying to determine whether funds from the failed thrift went into Clinton’s 1990 campaign for governor or benefited the Clintons in any other way.

Sen. Alfonse M. D’Amato (R-N.Y.), chairman of the special investigating committee that requested the FBI analysis, said that the new information “raises important questions that the committee will examine in the coming days.”

While D’Amato has ruled that it would be inappropriate to compel testimony from Mrs. Clinton, he said that the committee plans to take sworn statements from Alston, Hatch and Rolfe. Huber previously has testified about finding the records and both she and Mrs. Clinton have appeared before a federal grand jury investigating their sudden appearance. Huber has said that she found the records in August but did not look at them closely enough to recognize them as the missing records until January.

Aside from the fingerprints of Huber and Rolfe, all the others could have been left on the documents as long ago as the 1992 presidential campaign and thus could be of no consequence in resolving where the records have been since former Whitewater counsel Robert B. Fiske Jr. and the federal Resolution Trust Corp. subpoenaed them in January 1994.

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The committee has heard testimony from Webster L. Hubbell, a former law partner of the first lady in Little Rock who is now serving time in prison, that Foster and Mrs. Clinton handled the copies four years ago when reporters raised questions during the campaign about Mrs. Clinton’s past work for the failed Madison Guaranty.

Hatch and Alston were clerks at that time at the Rose Law Firm.

Several fingerprint experts contacted by The Times said that it is virtually impossible to date fingerprints found on documents.

Malcolm Sparrow, a former British law enforcement official who teaches at Harvard University, said that “there is no discernible aging process to fingerprints on documents.”

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David Garcia, a 22-year veteran of latent fingerprint analysis in the Los Angeles Police Department, told The Times: “There is absolutely no way to determine the age of prints.”

A former FBI official agreed with that assessment and Capt. Michael Soderberg of the Los Angeles County sheriff’s crime lab said: “We are not aware of any technique that would allow us to date fingerprints.”

Committee officials pointed out that it is possible some people who handled the documents did so without leaving prints because they touched them lightly or carried them in a folder or briefcase.

Mrs. Clinton had said she did only “minimal” work for Madison Guaranty. The records showed that she was her firm’s principal billing partner for the thrift, performing 60 hours of work over a period of 15 months.

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Huber told the committee earlier this year that after she rediscovered the records, she telephoned David E. Kendall, the Clintons’ personal lawyer, who came to her office. Kendall recognized the documents as covered by a 1994 subpoena and, after making additional copies at his law firm, gave records to Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr.

Richard Ben-Veniste, counsel to committee Democrats, told reporters it was significant that fingerprints of Mrs. Clinton were found on only two pages of the 14-page packet, indicating that she had never perused them but probably had been seeking an answer to a 1992 campaign question from the press.

Times staff writer Ronald J. Ostrow contributed to this story.


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