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Whitewater Yields Grist for the Mills of Campaign '96

Foes see it as a way to question Clinton's character anew

May 30, 1996

A public that according to opinion polls has until now found the Whitewater case complex, confusing and less than compelling can nonetheless expect to hear a lot more about it between now and Nov. 5. The convictions in Little Rock on various felony charges of James B. and Susan McDougal, former business partners of President and Mrs. Clinton in the Whitewater real estate project, and of Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker assure that the matter will play a significant political role in the coming campaign.

The Clintons were not involved in any of the allegations brought against the McDougals or Tucker, which chiefly involved the improper transfer of money from a federally insured lending institution to fund various real estate deals. But the Little Rock verdicts, along with continuing investigations by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, inevitably will cast a shadow over the president's campaign image.

Clinton has already been subpoenaed to testify next month in another trial, this one involving the owners of a small bank charged with hiding political contributions when Clinton was Arkansas' governor. Still unfolding are investigations involving certain of Hillary Rodham Clinton's activities both in Arkansas and during her time in the White House.

Where these investigations might lead is uncertain. At a minimum they promise to be a distraction for the president; potentially, they are politically explosive. Certainly eager Republican campaign organizers intend to use Whitewater, whatever the president's involvement, as a vehicle for raising anew questions about his character and credibility. Whether voters will begin paying closer attention probably depends not so much on what GOP spinmeisters say. It depends on what substantive evidence Starr's dogged investigation, undeterred by the criticism it has received, is able to lay before the public. From some indications, there could be plenty to ponder.

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