Targeting Clinton

Editor's note: Some information in this article appeared online at thehuntingofthepresident.com.

Nicholas Perry has gone from living in a tent one summer with his mother on Diamond Head in a friend's back yard to co-directing and co-writing a documentary adaptation of the book "The Hunting of the President" that attempts to show "the myths and truths behind the nearly 10-year campaign to systematically destroy the political legacy of President Bill Clinton."

"That tent living seems a very long time ago," Perry says of his summer long camping trip in the early '80s. "But we were in between places to live, so the tent was the only option; at least it was Diamond Head."

Perry, who frequently visits his mother in her real house in Waimanalo, worked with longtime Clinton friend and filmmaker Harry Thomason to make a film, he says, shows that the Whitewater investigation was driven by right-wing money spent to scrutinize a non-event and kick up scandalous dirt that would swirl around the Clintons for years.

The film also tries to prove through video footage and witness reports that a cabal of Jesse Helms-appointed judges was responsible for choosing the special prosecutor in the Whitewater investigation and that Kenneth Starr took his orders from a higher power.

Perry emphasizes he has no personal political agenda and that his goal in the documentary is to tell "the true story."

"I'm not a hard-core Democrat or Republican, or go out and protest things, but doing this film did expand my base of politics," he said by phone from his Los Angeles home.

Perry, a film editor on the sitcom "Everybody Loves Raymond," made his feelings clear when first discussing the project some two years ago with Clinton insider Thomason.

"From the political side of this film, I was very uninterested," he said. "If this was going to be just a Clinton puff piece or carry some big liberal agenda, I didn't want to do it."

The film uses previously unreleased materials, interviews and revelations from both sides of the Beltway, focusing on what Perry calls the smear campaign against Clinton from his gubernatorial days in Arkansas leading up to and including his impeachment trial.

"It is far less an advocacy film but more of an alarming treatise on the political power of the media and personal interests," he said. What hooked the filmmaker were the personal stories of people damaged by the hunt to topple Clinton, he says. And the biggest, "most shocking" story was that of Susan McDougal.

"It was scary, hard to believe that what she went through could actually happen," Perry says.

James and Susan McDougal were Clinton's former business partners in Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan. Before his conviction for involvement in Whitewater, James McDougal did not cooperate with independent counsel Starr and said he was innocent. After being convicted on 18 felony counts, he began to cooperate in exchange for a reduced prison sentence.

Initially facing 84 years, he was sentenced to a three-year term and would have been released in September 1999. He also was a key witness as prosecutors investigated the fraudulent Castle Grande real estate development south of Little Rock on which Hillary Clinton conducted work as a partner in the Rose Law Firm.

His death, at age 57 while in jail, meant the Clintons no longer faced the prospect of McDougal giving damaging testimony against them, fueling new assassination conspiracy theories from the right wing.

SUSAN McDOUGAL also refused to cooperate with Starr. She was convicted on May 28, 1996, of all the charges and sentenced to three 24-month prison terms to run concurrently, plus three years' probation on the fourth felony charge. She could have received as much as 17 years in prison and $1 million in fines, and the leniency of the sentence came as a surprise to some trial-watchers. Clinton pardoned her shortly before he left office in 2001.

"I'm still asking myself, What I would have done?" Perry says. "Would I have voluntarily gone to prison or take the deals they threw at her? I don't know."

Perry calls the Clinton administration's time "one of the most tumultuous political climates in the nation's history.

"It was a climate where politicians can be toppled on a whim, election results disputed in the country's highest courts, and governors unceremoniously recalled," he said. "How did it happen?"

Perry had worked with Thomason on other films and is known for his documentaries that have aired on A&E.

"Harry was looking for someone who knew how to put together a documentary who he could work with," Perry says. "But he definitely wanted someone with a different point of view, since he's known as a Clinton friend and insider. I'm definitely not that. I'm not that at all."

"The Hunting of the President" premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival.

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