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Clinton Testifies for Trial Tied to Whitewater Probe

July 08, 1996|RONALD J. OSTROW | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — In the same White House room where President Franklin D. Roosevelt pored over maps as he planned strategy in World War II, President Clinton gave videotaped testimony Sunday as a defense witness in a criminal trial growing out of the Whitewater investigation.

As was the case in an earlier Whitewater proceeding in which Clinton gave taped testimony, the president is accused of no wrongdoing in this trial.

However, this time the events in question involve him more directly. The case centers on allegations that two Arkansas bankers used bank funds to make political contributions to Clinton's successful 1990 campaign for governor and that they illegally sought to hide from the Internal Revenue Service large withdrawals for the campaign. Both defendants, Herby Branscum Jr. and Robert M. Hill, were named to state posts by Clinton.

Clinton's testimony began about 2 p.m. EDT in the Map Room on the ground floor of the White House. The questioning by defense attorneys and cross-examination by prosecutors lasted two hours and 20 minutes. His testimony in the earlier Whitewater-related case, involving his onetime investment partners, James B. and Susan McDougal, and his successor as governor, Jim Guy Tucker, was about twice as long.

Clinton's testimony was sealed until it is presented, probably next week, at the trial in Little Rock, Ark.

A judicial secrecy order barred any description of the proceedings, but Clinton was expected to be asked whether he appointed Branscum to the Arkansas Highway Commission and Hill to the state Banking Commission in exchange for their financial help.

Deputy Whitewater prosecutor Hickman Ewing Jr. has argued that Branscum and Hill were trying to "ingratiate themselves" with powerful officials.

But Branscum's lawyer, Dan Guthrie, said in comments before Clinton's testimony that he expected the president to say that his client's appointment was based on merit and a long-standing friendship with the former governor.

The lack of information on Clinton's actual testimony did not prevent Clinton's detractors and supporters from citing the taping session as support for their evaluation of him.

*

Rep. John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), appearing on CNN's "Late Edition," said "the spectacle of the president of United States testifying in two trials . . . defending actions that were taken with regard to some of his friends, is uncomfortable for me and, I think, uncomfortable for a lot of the American people."

However, Sen. Paul Simon (D-Ill.) said on the same program that he would "feel very uncomfortable" if Clinton were not cooperating.

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