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THE WHITEWATER CASE

Whitewater Case Ends; Clintons Not Charged

Inquiry: Independent counsel Ray declines to clear the president and first lady but finds 'insufficient' evidence to criminally charge them at the close of a six-year investigation.

September 21, 2000|ROBERT L. JACKSON and ERIC LICHTBLAU | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — Ending a six-year investigation that has shadowed the Clinton White House, independent counsel Robert W. Ray reported Wednesday that he had found "insufficient" evidence to charge the president or his wife with criminal wrongdoing in the tangled financial dealings surrounding their 1980s Whitewater real estate venture.

But in writing an end to the complex investigation, Ray pointedly did not exonerate the Clintons, ensuring that their political opponents will continue to tar the couple with allegations of scandal and corruption.

Ray cited long-missing documents and the refusal of key witnesses to testify against the president or First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton as key reasons for the anticlimactic ending to the costly and controversial investigation he inherited from Kenneth W. Starr.

Yet most observers saw in Ray's findings--coming just seven weeks before election day--a political victory for the White House. By failing to bring a case against the Clintons, Ray spared both the first lady and Vice President Al Gore from a potentially serious obstacle to their respective bids for the U.S. Senate and the White House.

Mrs. Clinton said Wednesday that she had known all along there was "nothing there to report."

A spokesman for Gore, who has fought vigorously to distance himself from the scandals of the Clinton administration, nevertheless downplayed Ray's findings. "Al Gore's campaign is about the future and not the past, and we don't see this as having any effect at all," said Jim Kennedy.

Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush declined to comment on Ray's statement, and the president's opponents in Congress kept publicly silent.

President Clinton also refused comment, ignoring a question as he strolled through the White House Rose Garden with Italian Prime Minister Guiliano Amato. But a day earlier, anticipating Ray's statement, he said the fact that he and his wife had done nothing wrong should be "obvious" to most people.

"You know, even Mr. Starr said almost two years ago that there was nothing to any of that stuff. . . . So I think people are capable of drawing their own conclusions about that," Clinton said.

Low-Key Response From White House

Issuing the official response for the White House, spokesman Joe Lockhart said: "Robert Ray is now the latest investigator to complete an examination of the transactions related to Whitewater Development Co. and conclude that there are no grounds for legal action."

That low-key response was a careful effort to avoid antagonizing Ray while parts of his investigation, including a potential indictment of the president for actions related to his affair with Monica S. Lewinsky, continue, one official said.

While a more detailed Whitewater report containing still-secret grand jury evidence will be filed under seal with the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ray said in Wednesday's six-page public summary that there remain many unresolved questions about the Clintons' involvement in an unsuccessful Ozark land deal and its ties to a failed savings and loan.

"This office determined that the evidence was insufficient to prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that either President or Mrs. Clinton knowingly participated in any criminal conduct [involving Whitewater] or knew of such conduct," Ray said.

Ray has been attempting to wrap up the many-faceted Whitewater investigation since he succeeded Starr last October. His narrow, legal report contrasted with the harder, more zealous line often taken by Starr, whose report to Congress on the Lewinsky matter included his views that the president's conduct might deserve impeachment.

Earlier this year, Ray filed final reports on two other investigations conducted by his office: the role of White House officials in obtaining hundreds of FBI personnel files early in the Clinton administration and testimony about the abrupt firings of White House Travel Office employees in 1993.

In neither of these cases did Ray find indictable offenses. His final task, to be completed after the president leaves office in January, will be to determine if Clinton should be indicted on perjury and obstruction of justice charges for actions related to his affair with Lewinsky, a former White House intern.

A new federal grand jury was impaneled this summer to review evidence in the Lewinsky matter, which led to the president's impeachment by the House in 1998.

All the inquiries under the Whitewater umbrella have cost more than $52 million so far, making it the most expensive independent counsel investigation in history. Congress, citing the excessive costs of independent investigations as well as their length and the intrusion of partisan politics into many of them, last year allowed the independent counsel statute to expire.

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