A defiant Susan McDougal refused Thursday to answer questions before the Whitewater grand jury for the second time, ignoring prosecutors’ threats that her silence could mean more time behind bars.
“I won’t talk,” said McDougal, shackled at the hands and feet, as she hopped out of a van and hobbled into federal court. “There is nothing to say.”
McDougal finished serving 18 months in prison last month, the maximum sentence for civil contempt.
The term was imposed for her refusal to answer questions in her first appearance before the grand jury in September 1996.
Thursday, she again refused to answer questions about what she knows about the financial affairs of President Clinton and his wife.
Prosecutors threatened her with criminal contempt, which carries more severe penalties than the civil charge, but stopped short of indicting her, said her lawyer, Mark Geragos.
On her way back to jail, McDougal said she had tried to explain to the grand jury in her 15-minute appearance why she wouldn’t answer questions.
“I told them the same thing I’ve been saying. . . . I’m somebody who has been in jail and has really paid a price,” she said. “I didn’t want them to think I was contemptuous of them.”
U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright could put McDougal behind bars for another six months without a trial.
Geragos said McDougal would welcome a trial, which would give her the opportunity to accuse Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr of trying to get her to lie about the Clintons in open court.
Members of McDougal’s family even predicted that no jury in Arkansas would convict her for refusing to tell what she knows about the president’s finances.
“Sometimes principle is far more important than the letter of the written law,” said her brother, Bill Henley.
The judge on Wednesday rejected a request from Geragos to quash the subpoena for her to testify because of recent ethical questions concerning Starr.
Starr’s detractors say his key witness, David Hale, received payments from conservative organizations and that Starr improperly accepted a job at Pepperdine University that was funded by a well-known Clinton opponent. Starr has since said that he will not take the job because he needs more time for the investigation.
Starr has offered McDougal immunity from prosecution for anything she might say, as long as she doesn’t commit perjury.
But McDougal has repeatedly said she knows of no illegal activity involving the Clintons.
In 1996, McDougal was convicted of fraud in the Whitewater case, along with her former husband, James B. McDougal, who recently died in federal prison, and then-Gov. Jim Guy Tucker.
Susan McDougal is now serving a two-year sentence for her Whitewater conviction.
Meanwhile, Hale checked himself into a hospital Thursday, complaining of chest pains.
That forced a delay in his trial on separate state charges of lying to insurance regulators.