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Whitewater Trial Could Shape Future Investigation

Whitewater Trial

By Bob Franken/CNN

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (March 4) -- The trial that could define the future of the Whitewater investigation in this presidential election season began today with the questioning of 56 potential jurors.

President Clinton has been subpoenaed to testify in the federal fraud and conspiracy trial of Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker and the Clinton's Whitewater partners, James McDougal and his ex-wife, Susan McDougal. Clinton may or may not testify in person.

Young Clinton

The three defendants arrived early for the 9:30 a.m. start of proceedings. James McDougal, who was acquitted of similar charges in 1990, appeared confident.

"It's the same courtroom, the same judge. I expect the same result," McDougal said.

Lawyers expect jury selection to take most of the first week. In all, 185 people have been summoned for jury duty. The trial is expected to last six to eight weeks.

The primary job of Whitewater Prosecutor Kenneth Starr is to investigate the involvement of Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton in Whitewater, the land development in northern Arkansas.

Related to the case, Starr alleges that Tucker and the McDougals benefited illegally from nearly $3 million in loans from federally backed banks.

Gov. Tucker

The McDougals owned the now-defunct Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan as well as being the Clinton's development partners. Tucker succeeded Clinton as governor.

The Clintons maintain they were passive investors in Whitewater, a land deal that never made money, and had no irregular dealings with the McDougals' savings and loan. The collapse of Madison Guaranty cost taxpayers $65 million.

If found guilty, Tucker could be banished from the governor's office, and that would fuel Clinton's political opponents who claim the president was more involved in the dealings than he's been willing to admit.

"I think it is part of an effort to discredit President Clinton," said Tucker in an earlier interview. (99K AIFF or WAV sound)

The White House has repeatedly said the trial is not about the Clintons, that neither the president nor the first lady has been charged with a crime. The Clintons, however, will play a dominant role in the trial.

The White House has said it wants the president to testify via videotape.


Clinton is expected to dispute allegations by former Arkansas Judge David Hale. Hale has cooperated with federal authorities since pleading guilty to illegally funneling federal money through his company to Tucker and the McDougals, among others.

Hale also alleges that in 1985 and 1986 Clinton pressured him to improperly loan money to the McDougals. In one statement, Hale said he was standing inside the east entrance to the Capitol when then-Gov. Clinton approached him and asked "if I was going to be able to help him and Jim out" (116K AIFF or WAV sound)

In response to Hale's accusation, Clinton has said, "You know, it's all a bunch of bull."

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