[AllPolitics - News]

Whitewater Jury Convicts Defendants

[Whitewater Verdict]

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AllPolitics, May 28) -- Posing a political minefield for President Bill Clinton, the jury in the Whitewater trial today convicted defendants Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker and Jim and Susan McDougal, Clinton's former business partners, of most of the fraud charges against them.

After eight days of deliberations, the jury found Jim McDougal guilty of 18 of 19 charges, Susan McDougal guilty of all four charges against her and Gov. Tucker guilty of two of seven charges against him.

[Ray Jahn]

Lead prosecutor Ray Jahn praised the jury for its attention to detail in what was an extremely complicated case. (320K WAV sound).

"It gives you a warm feeling when the jury accepts your interpretation of some of the evidence," Jahn said. Pressed by reporters, Jahn refused to be drawn into a discussion about what the verdict meant for Clinton's credibility. "That's going to be up to the political pundits, and not to me," he said. "I represent the United States on matters of crime...."

Also appearing before the many reporters clustered outside the courthouse was Jim McDougal (160K AIFF or WAV sound). Subdued, he didn't take issue with the judge or the jury (224K WAV sound).

McDougal, 55, could be sentenced up to 84 years in jail and $4.5 million in penalties. His ex-wife Susan, 41, faces some 17 years in prison combined with a $1 million fine. Tucker, 52, may face as many as 10 years in jail with a $500,000 fine.

[Pres. Clinton]

In Washington, Clinton brushed off reporters' questions about the political impact of the verdicts (352K AIFF or WAV sound).

"For me, it's more of a personal thing today," Clinton said. "I'm very sorry for them (the defendants) personally, but I did what I was asked to do and now I've got to go back to work, and that's what I intend to do."

Asked if jurors didn't believe him, Clinton said, "You ought to ask them that. I doubt that. I doubt that that's what was going on, but you ought to ask them. I don't know."

Prepared for a verdict of any stripe, the White House released a terse statement before Clinton spoke, emphasizing that Clinton was not on trial and that the prosecution had exonerated the president of the fraud allegations at issue in the trial. Still, the president's credibility was on the line after the defense made Clinton's videotaped testimony the centerpiece of their argument.

That argument aimed to rebut allegations made by the prosecution's main[Kenneth Starr] witness, Arkansas businessman and former municipal judge David Hale. Hale alleged he participated in a conspiracy with the defendants during the mid-1980s to defraud the government of some $3 million in illegal loans. In a plea bargain, Hale cooperated with the prosecution, making the sensational accusation that then-Gov. Clinton was privy to the wrongdoing.

In calm, confident testimony recorded at the White House, Clinton denied Hale's charges outright. After playing Clinton's testimony to jurors, the defense abruptly rested its case.

Whitewater Has Legs With today's verdict, the jury has given credence to some of Hale's charges and simultaneously longevity to the investigations of the president related to Whitewater. An acquittal, many believed, would have put insurmountable pressure on Whitewater investigations to wrap up.

Now, the public may want to take a second look. Chief among ongoing investigations is the independent inquiry headed by Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr, who was appointed at the request of Attorney General Janet Reno. Speaking to reporters from Washington, an obviously pleased Starr (192K WAV sound) called the verdict "a very important vindication of the jury system (320K WAV sound)." Starr praised the jury for "going about their work with integrity" at a time when the U.S. legal system "is under attack."

Starr's independence had been questioned in recent weeks since he represents tobacco companies opposed to Clinton initiatives. But a confident Starr told reporters his Whitewater inquiries in both Little Rock and Washington were still proceeding, with another trial scheduled 20 days from today.

Also given renewed interest will likely be the Senate Whitewater investigation, headed by Sen. Alfonse D'Amato (R-N.Y.). Due to wrap up by mid-June, D'Amato's inquiry had produced fireworks but seemed poised to conclude without significant findings. On the House side, Banking committee chairman Jim Leach (R-Ohio) said it was too soon to say whether his committee would investigate Whitewater further.

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