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Clintons Plan TV Appearance as Part of Whitewater Strategy : Publicity: More call on First Lady to speak out on the controversy. Treasury Department turns over 3,700 pages of documents.

March 12, 1994|PAUL RICHTER and JACK NELSON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — Amid mounting calls for First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton to speak out on the Whitewater controversy, the White House planned Friday for both her and President Clinton to appear on at least one prime-time television news magazine show next week.

Hillary Clinton has remained consistently silent on the issue, and White House aides have been split sharply during the last two days on the wisdom of appearances that would generate new headlines, even if they succeeded in mollifying some critics.

"Everybody here has had a slightly different view on it," one senior official said.

Ultimately, however, officials decided that, to be effective, the White House strategy of openness on the Whitewater matter could not end with the President's explanation.

Planning for the television appearances was among several developments Friday.

The Treasury Department surrendered 3,700 pages of subpoenaed documents describing contacts with the White House and other federal agencies about its investigation of the failure of a savings and loan connected to the Whitewater real estate venture.

While officials sought to minimize the importance of the records culled from the Treasury Department files, the sheer volume of them--more than three times what the White House surrendered on Thursday--appeared to indicate that questionable contacts between regulatory officials and White House aides occurred over an extended period and involved large numbers of people.

Also on Friday, a GOP lawmaker claimed to have evidence that federal regulators in Washington may have tried to intimidate field investigators looking into the failure of Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan of Little Rock, Ark.

The savings and loan is at the heart of the Whitewater controversy. The thrift was owned by James B. McDougal, who, along with his wife, Susan, was a partner with Bill and Hillary Clinton in the Whitewater Development Corp., which was established in the late 1970s to build a resort community in the Ozark Mountains.

Federal investigators are trying to determine whether the Clintons received improper loans from McDougal, whose thrift later failed and was taken over by federal regulators.

The primary investigation, being led by special counsel Robert B. Fiske Jr., is also trying to determine the role played by Hillary Clinton, then a partner in the Rose Law Firm of Little Rock, in representing Whitewater Development and Madison Guaranty. Fiske's team in also looking into the apparent suicide last July of Deputy White House Counsel Vincent Foster, who had worked on the Whitewater matter as a Rose Law Firm partner and later at the White House.

Hillary Clinton has found herself in an awkward position in the Whitewater matter. Since the beginning of the Administration, she has sought to limit the kind of the publicity she receives--calling no full-scale Washington press conferences, for example--in part to head off accusations that she is trying to develop an independent political role.

But she has played a part in several issues stemming from the Whitewater controversy. It was she who managed the Clinton family finances, including Whitewater transactions, and she was a partner in the Rose Law Firm.

She has also been linked to controversial steps taken by the White House after Foster's apparent suicide. Her chief of staff, Margaret Williams, was among top aides who entered Foster's office after his body was found in a Virginia park. Questions raised about the removal of Whitewater-related papers from the office led last week to the resignation of White House Counsel Bernard Nussbaum.

Now, even some Democrats are coming to the view that the First Lady must more directly address these questions to lay them to rest. She "needs to make herself available for questioning the same way the President did," Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) said at a meeting this week with members of the Knight-Ridder news bureau in Washington.

Many party members gathered at the spring meeting of the Democratic National Committee in Cleveland on Friday argued that the First Lady must be forthcoming if Democrats are to avoid becoming saddled with the Whitewater issue in the November elections.

"It is time for her to find the right venue in which to talk to the American people about a lot of this stuff," Lynn Cutler, a longtime party activist, told the Associated Press. "Her integrity and effectiveness are at stake."

Still, it was unclear whether the First Lady would choose to answer specific questions on any TV news shows or whether she might decline on grounds that to do so could interfere with Fiske's work.

White House aides were considering a joint appearance by the Clintons on the CBS-TV program "48 Hours," which is broadcast Wednesday nights. To extend its full-access public relations strategy, the White House also planned to put its new special counsel, Lloyd N. Cutler, on three TV network news shows on Sunday morning.

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