The Whitewater investigations -- estimated cost so far, more than $20 million -- are lurching towards some kind of climax, or anticlimax. The Senate Whitewater Committee, headed by Sen. Alfonse D'Amato, R-N.Y., will wrap up its hearings in June. The House Banking Committee, chaired by Rep. Jim Leach, R-Iowa, goes into high gear next month. Special prosecutor, Kenneth Starr, singed if not burned by the increasingly loud questions about his integrity and impartiality, has promised a report before the November election.
But just as Washington runs out of Whitewater steam, the New York publishing industry has begun pumping the scandal engine. First there was James Stewart's bestselling "Blood Sport." And now comes "Partners in Power: The Clintons and Their America," yet another "bombshell" book on the First Couple by former National Security Council aide and Nixon biographer Roger Morris. It purports to show the Clintons as we've never seen them before -- in other words, really, really badly.
Morris' book, under tight wraps until its June 12 publication date, apparently will dwell at length on sleazy stories long swirling around western Arkansas -- stories which veteran journalists in that state
refer wearily to Elvis-is-alive items and UFO sightings. You see, western Arkansas was a hot bed of drug-running, money laundering, and CIA operations featuring a cast of drug smugglers, DEA informers and low-life cokeheads during the Clintons' years in Little Rock. And that's right, you can stick all this on Bill and Hillary's rap sheet too.
D'Amato's committee this week raised, for the zillionth time, questions about Dan Lasater, a one-time Arkansas high-roller and Clinton contributor who went down behind a bad coke habit.
At the same time, Leach's House investigators have been swarming over western Arkansas, raking over very well-worn ground that conspiratorialists refer to as "Mena," the name of the little airport out of which all sorts of drug flights, with former DEA informer Barry Seal at the controls, were supposed to have emanated.
Trouble is, investigative reporters who have checked the allegations long ago dismissed them. "I wish these people well trying to prove anything," says John Camp, senior correspondent with CNN's special assignment unit, who says he has spent more time looking into the Mena story than any other investigator in the country.
He couldn't have been looking deep enough, responds Jack MacRae, whose division of Henry Holt and Company is publishing "Partners." Does the Morris book tie the Clintons to drug-running and other nefarious activities in western Arkansas in the mid-'80s? "Well, it's there," MacRae says cautiously, who insists that Morris has done a lot of digging. But haven't more experienced journalists already dismissed the stories? "It depends on which witnesses you consider the most reliable," avers MacRae.
Morris himself has begun to sound as paranoid as the subject of his last book. Railing to the New York Observer about the "complicity of the media," he accused reporters of only "dealing with bits and pieces of (the western Arkansas) story." The press, he said, "either missed it, or suffered retaliation at the hands of their editors." This comes as news to reporters like CNN's Camp, who has sifted through piles of documents and taped interviews on the subject. "If Morris finds anything in Mena, then he was snorting what Barry Seal was snorting," says Camp.
A really cool -- er, cold -- site
Feel like climbing Mt. Everest from the comfort of your own computer? The Sunday Times of London has established a Web site that keeps you in touch with a South African team of climbers as they attempt to scale Mt. Everest during the coldest spring in the Himalayas in 20 years.
The newspaper describes it as "the first truly high-tech ascent," combining the Internet with digital photography and satellite telephony "to bring you up-to-the-minute drama from the
highest point on planet earth." And yes, you can e-mail the climbers, see satellite pictures of the climb, and get daily updates from a team of journalists reporting from a base camp at 18,000 feet as the climbers "ascend to Camp 2 on the perilous Khumbu Icefall."
It is a cool site, but with one late-breaking flaw: The Sunday Times announced Thursday -- on the site -- that it had withdrawn its sponsorship of the Everest expedition. No explanation was provided except that, according to the Times report, that it came "after several weeks of mounting tension between the paper and (team leader Ian) Woodall, culminating in a fierce row on the slopes of Everest between (Times) editor Ken Own and Woodall."
No one was tossed over the side, so far as we know, and both the expedition and the Sunday Times' Web coverage will continue.
Quote of the day
Shock to the system
"It's caught the entire system by surprise. No one actually knows what to do with 6- and 8-year-olds you're detaining for such a serious crime. This is quite different than the petty theft of candy that kids this age might do periodically. It's an emotional event that it's hard for anyone to deal with, including police officers."
-- Sgt. Alec Griffin, Richmond, Calif. police department. The 6- year-old boy has been charged with attempted murder in the savage beating that left a four-week old baby in critical condition. The boy and 8-year-old twin brothers are also charged with burglary for stealing a tricycle from the baby's house.