Saturday, September 23, 2000
falls short of full
clearanceThe issue: Independent Counsel Robert Ray has announced that no charges will be brought against President and Mrs. Clinton in the Whitewater affair.
Our view: The report's finding of "insufficient evidence" is not an exoneration of the Clintons.
AFTER six years and $52 million, the independent counsel's investigation of President and Mrs. Clinton's roles in the Whitewater affair has ended with a statement that no charges will be brought against them. This conclusion was hardly surprising in view of the fact that Kenneth Starr, the former head of the investigation, made no mention of problems related to the Arkansas real estate venture in the report to Congress that led to the president's impeachment by the House and trial by the Senate.
Although expected, the statement removes the admittedly slim threat of prosecution in the Whitewater affair. It is particularly welcome for the Clintons because it comes as Hillary is campaigning for a Senate seat from New York. Obviously a declaration that charges would be brought would have been devastating for her campaign.
The announcement did not amount to exoneration. Independent Counsel Robert Ray refrained from any comment on the Clintons' guilt or innocence, confining himself to stating that his office had "determined that the evidence was insufficient" to bring a case against the Clintons.
However, Ray cited long-missing documents and the refusal of key witnesses to testify against the Clintons as factors contributing to the finding and the extraordinary length of the investigation. He mentioned the White House's foot-dragging "involving both the production of relevant evidence and the filing of legal claims that were ultimately rejected by the courts."
The New York Times commented, "The Clintons themselves are largely responsible for the late delivery of Ray's statement. From the day that questions were first raised about their relationship to Madison Guaranty, an Arkansas savings and loan that went bust at a cost of more than $70 million to the American taxpayers, they and their political confederates in the White House and the executive branch went to puzzling lengths to hobble legitimate investigations.
"Instead of candidly laying out the facts of the matter, the Clinton apparatus stone-walled the investigators and defamed the Clintons' critics."
Although the Whitewater investigation dragged on far too long, it would be inaccurate to say that it was fruitless. Prosecutors won 14 convictions, including those of the Clintons' partners in the venture, Jim and Susan McDougal, then-Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker, and the Clintons' friend, Webster Hubbell.
The Clintons maintained that they knew nothing about a fraudulent $300,000 loan to the McDougals that was never repaid, and the investigation failed to turn up evidence proving their allegations false.
BUT the lengths the Clintons went to obstruct the investigation contribute to the reasonable suspicion that they had something to hide. The disappearance of Hillary Clinton's law-firm billing records, which vanished after the 1992 election and mysteriously surfaced in the White House in 1996, long after they had been subpoenaed, could hardly have been accidental.
Moreover, the president's credibility was shattered by his brazen denials of sexual involvement with Monica Lewinsky -- an issue that the independent counsel is still considering for potential prosecution after Clinton leaves office.
Yugoslavia electionThe issue: Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is expected to retain power by whatever means required, regardless of the true vote in tomorrow's election.
Our view: The only way Yugoslavia will free itself from dictatorship is if Milosevic and other culpable Serbian officials are arrested to face war-crimes trials.
OPINION polls in Yugoslavia show opposition candidate Vojislav Kostunica leading incumbent President Slobodan Milosevic by 6 percent to 20 percent going into tomorrow's election. But don't count on Kostunica winning. By putsch or by fraud, Milosevic and his cronies are likely to retain power to avoid subjecting themselves to war-crimes trials in the Hague.
The Yugoslav government has rejected offers by the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe to monitor the election. International observers will not be allowed in Serbia or Montenegro, the remaining provinces of Yugoslavia. The only such observers will be the NATO peacekeeping force in Kosovo, where the election will be restricted for that very reason to a few Serbian enclaves.
Kostunica must be considered a moderate in Serbian terms. He is a law professor who denounced the NATO bombing campaign last year and has criticized Milosevic's indictment by an international tribunal. He has attracted large crowds, urging people to vote for his own vision of "a normal European democratic country" where "the government is not afraid of the people, and the people are not afraid of their government."
But Milosevic will use any means to avoid transferring power to Kostunica. The election process is so farcical that Clinton administration adviser James O'Brien's prediction that "Milosevic will steal the election" seems certain to be fulfilled.
Whatever the true vote, the regime appears determined to rule out recognizing a defeat of Milosevic and his party in the elections.
If Milosevic retains his grip on Yugoslavia, the West should make bolder efforts to arrest him and other Serbian officials indicted for war crimes. But the international community seems prepared to merely continue economic sanctions that have been borne mostly by the common people.
The main questions seem to be when the outrage of the Yugoslav populace over Milosevic's oppressive rule will boil over -- and what the consequences will be when it does.
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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher
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