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Political Fallout Begins From Whitewater Verdicts

Whitewater verdicts
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LITTLE ROCK, Ark (AllPolitics, May 29) -- Asked whether they believed President Bill Clinton's videotaped testimony, Whitewater jurors told reporters they based their decision mostly on documentary evidence.

"President Clinton is a very credible witness, but his testimony didn't really relate to the transactions we were dealing with," juror Risa Briggs told the Associated Press.

The jury forewoman, Sandra Lynn Wood, agreed (320K AIFF or WAV sound). "What we did was look at the pertinent facts as they related to the counts in the indictments," Wood said on "CBS This Morning."

Their comments were just the beginning of the political fallout facing the White House after the Whitewater trial ended with sweeping guilty verdicts for defendants Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker and Jim and Susan McDougal, former business partners of the Clintons.

[Quote from the jury forewoman]

The president weighed in early in an impromptu question-and-answer session with reporters outside the White House on Tuesday. Since defense attorneys had made Clinton's videotaped testimony the centerpiece of their case, reporters asked the president if the jury had not believed his comments (192K WAV sound).

"I doubt that," Clinton responded. "I doubt that that's what was going on, but you ought to ask them." The White House earlier had released a terse statement emphasizing the president had not been on trial, and stating the prosecution had exonerated Clinton in matters related to the trial.

That was the positive spin. Perhaps the most negative angle came from House Speaker Newt Gingrich's press secretary Tony Blankley. "At 5 p.m. today (Tuesday), the cover-up began to unravel," he ominously told AP.


Later, on ABC's "Nightline," Democratic National Committee chairman Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) emphasized that Tucker and the McDougals' crimes had nothing to do with the Whitewater real estate deal. But Sen. Alfonse D'Amato (R-N.Y.), Dodd's chairman and colleague on the Senate Whitewater committee, said the verdicts were a vindication both of the committee and the inquiry headed by independent counsel Kenneth Starr.

Tuesday's verdicts, D'Amato claimed, indicated "the seriousness and depth of Whitewater for those who said there was nothing there (192K AIFF or WAV sound)."

It was not a statement many wanted to disagree with. Sen. Lauch Faircloth (R-N.C.), a member of the Senate Whitewater committee, said the verdicts "clearly demonstrate that the Whitewater hearings and the independent counsel's investigation have not been motivated by politics, as the White House has suggested for the last two years, but have been based on real criminal acts by close business associates of the president."

While few believe anything in Washington isn't motivated at least partially by politics, the verdicts are likely to mute Whitewater critics, at least for a while, and to ensure that the issue lives on as a campaign issue.

[Quote from Starr]

With D'Amato's probe due to wrap up by June 15, and an uncertain prognosis for further investigation by the House Banking committee, attention is likely to shift increasingly to Starr's courtroom-based independent inquiry, which has ongoing investigations in both Little Rock and Washington.

Starr, perhaps yesterday's biggest political winner, and vowed to press on. "We move forward," Starr said. "We take it a step at a time. The investigation is actively under way." An acquittal, many said, would have have put strong pressure on Starr to wind down the probe.

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