WASHINGTON -- The foundation that runs the American Spectator magazine made at least $15,000 in payments between 1994 and 1997 to a former Arkansas state trooper who had once served on the personal security detail of then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, according to the foundation's confidential accounting records.
The conservative magazine contends that it paid the former state trooper, L.D. Brown, to reimburse him for the cost of chartering a private jet to fly to Washington in 1994 to meet with one of their reporters, and for "investigative services" he performed for the magazine in 1997.
But federal Whitewater investigators have expressed concerns that the payments to Brown, as well as his ties to conservative political activists, may have influenced him to provide erroneous or false information on several matters to independent counsel Kenneth Starr.
Most important, Brown provided information to Starr's office that partially corroborated allegations against Clinton made by David L. Hale, a former Little Rock municipal court judge who has been the central witness to the independent counsel's Whitewater investigation.
Specifically, Brown told investigators that he witnessed a meeting between Clinton and Hale at the Arkansas Capitol during which Clinton purportedly pressured Hale to make a fraudulent and illegal loan to Susan McDougal, one of the Clintons' partners in their failed real estate venture. Some federal investigators questioned the veracity of Brown's claims to have witnessed the encounter.
The federal Whitewater investigators were unaware of the payments by the American Spectator Educational Foundation to Brown, and his ties to the conservative political activists. The investigators questioned the truthfulness of Brown's account for a variety of other reasons.
The law enforcement sources are careful to point out that there is no evidence showing that money was paid to Brown with the specific intent to purposely influence him to tell false stories to investigators or journalists.
But these same investigators say that they believe there existed a milieu that encouraged some potential witnesses to their Whitewater probe, such as Brown, to embellish, exaggerate or even fabricate stories to law enforcement authorities.
"There was money that was being passed around and there were apparently other financial incentives to be had as well," says one federal law enforcement official. "And the better your story, the more attention you're going to attract and publicity that you are going to draw. That's the kind of thing that would prove irresistible to someone like an L.D. Brown."
During the time that Brown received the funds from the Spectator's foundation, he was also a crucial source for several exposis of Clinton that appeared in the conservative magazine. The magazine contends that the payments to Brown were appropriate reimbursements for expenses and services the former state trooper provided them.
Brown declined to be interviewed for this story. In a brief telephone conversation, he said, "I don't think I even want to be in one of your stories." Terry Eastland, the publisher of the American Spectator, and R. Emmett Tyrrell, the magazine's editor, also declined to comment.
The payments to Brown and several articles that appeared in the Spectator, which were based on his allegations, were one byproduct of the so-called Arkansas Project, a four year, $2.4 million effort financed by conservative billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife, to investigate and discredit President Clinton.
Funds for the secretive effort were funneled by two tax-exempt foundations controlled by Scaife through the American Spectator to two conservative political activists who ran the day-to-day operations of the Arkansas Project: Stephen S. Boynton, an attorney and lobbyist; and David Henderson, a former vice president of the American Spectator Educational Foundation.
In exchange for allowing more than $1.7 million of Arkansas Project funds to course through the Spectator with little if any accountability for how the money was ultimately being spent, Boynton and Henderson agreed to provide information from their investigative efforts to the magazine for exposis of the Clinton administration.
The Arkansas Project produced little of any journalistic value for the Spectator to publish, according to five former and current employees of the magazine. In 1997, a senior editor at the magazine complained in a confidential memo to his colleagues that the Arkansas Project "didn't provide much in the way of exciting stories ... there always seemed to be lots of hush hush and heavy breathing, but it never amounted to anything concrete enough for a story."
One of the Arkansas Project's rare journalistic byproducts was a series of articles and editorials that appeared in the Spectator alleging that President Clinton, while governor of Arkansas, ordered law enforcement authorities to turn a blind eye to the activities of a cocaine smuggling ring operating out of the small airport of Mena, Ark., about 120 miles west of Little Rock.
The articles were written by Tyrrell, the Spectator's editor, and based largely on allegations made by Brown. The articles stirred considerable controversy within the magazine, with one editor resigning because of doubts about the veracity of Brown's claims, and the magazine's executive editor refusing to edit the stories because of similar concerns.
An exhaustive, two-year investigation by the Republican-controlled House Banking Committee into the Mena allegations, however, uncovered no evidence that Clinton did anything improper.
David Runkel, a spokesman for the House Banking Committee, told Salon: "We engaged in an appropriate inquiry ... [But] regarding the president, we found no evidence of wrongdoing."
What has attracted the scrutiny of federal investigators is whether the payments to Brown by the American Spectator Educational Foundation, or his relationship with individuals associated with the Arkansas Project, may have led him to falsely claim to have evidence to substantiate Hale's allegations about Clinton.
A federal grand jury in Fort Smith, Ark., has since last August been investigating allegations that representatives of the Arkansas Project had made numerous cash payments and provided free legal assistance and other gratuities to Hale during the time that he was a cooperating witness in Starr's Whitewater probe. That investigation has been headed by Michael E. Shaheen Jr., a former senior Justice Department official. Shaheen was named by Starr to lead the investigation because Starr said he himself would have had a conflict of interest in conducting it.
Two witnesses before the grand jury testified that they had firsthand knowledge of numerous cash payments made to Hale by Parker Dozhier, a Hot Springs, Ark., bait shop owner who has admitted to receiving $48,000 to be the "eyes and ears" of the American Spectator, and Boynton and Henderson, in Arkansas.
Caryn Mann, an assistant funeral director from Bentonville, Ark., and Dozhier's former live-in girlfriend, and her 18-year-old son, Joshua Rand, testified to the grand jury that Dozhier had told them about the alleged payments. Rand told the grand jury that he had witnessed Dozhier making payments of money to Hale on several occasions. Dozhier has repeatedly denied making any such payments to Hale, and Hale in turn has denied receiving any.
At the core of Starr's investigation has been allegations made by Hale that in 1986 then-Gov. Clinton had pressured him to make a fraudulent and illegal $300,000 loan to McDougal, a partner of the Clintons in their failed Whitewater real estate investment.
At the time of the alleged pressure by Clinton, Hale was the head of a federally subsidized loan company, Capital Management Services (CMS), whose mandate was to make loans to disadvantaged and minority businesses. Instead, Hale misappropriated federal funds and made insider loans to family members, friends and powerful Arkansas political and business figures.
In March 1994, Hale pleaded guilty to two felonies, admitting that he used CMS to defraud the federal government of more than $3.2 million. As a condition of a plea bargain with federal Whitewater prosecutors, Hale agreed to provide them with information about potential wrongdoing by Clinton and other Arkansas political leaders.
Testimony by Hale led to the 1996 convictions of then-Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker and Jim and Susan McDougal, the Clintons' Whitewater partners. Other information provided by Hale to prosecutors led to guilty pleas by six other individuals.
But evidence corroborating Hale's allegations that Clinton had pressured him to make a fraudulent loan to Susan McDougal has proven to be elusive for Starr's team of federal prosecutors and FBI agents, despite their four-year, $40 million probe.
Hale had told investigators that he discussed the purported fraudulent loan for McDougal with Clinton on three separate occasions in 1985 and l986. During two of those three meetings -- one at a Little Rock shopping mall and the other at the Arkansas Capitol building -- Hale claimed that he and Clinton were alone.
Hale has asserted that during the third meeting with Clinton, at which the Susan McDougal loan was discussed, Jim McDougal was also present. For several years, Jim McDougal adamantly denied Hale's account, and testified under oath during his own Whitewater trial that the purported meeting as described by Hale never took place.
After having been convicted of 18 felonies, and facing a potential 84-year prison sentence, however, Jim McDougal changed his story. Awarded a significantly reduced sentence by Starr's office, McDougal now claimed that he had perjured himself, and was indeed present while Clinton and Hale discussed Hale making a loan to Susan McDougal. It was the president's sworn account that he had never pressured Hale to make the loan to his wife, Jim McDougal now said, that was "at variance with the truth."
The only other witness who has come forward during the course of Starr's Whitewater probe to corroborate a portion of Hale's story has been L.D. Brown. In the fall of 1994, Brown told federal Whitewater investigators that he was present at the Capitol while Clinton purportedly asked Hale for financial assistance.
Both the Washington Times and Washington Post disclosed in October 1994 that Brown had told federal investigators that he overheard Clinton asking Hale to make the loan to Susan McDougal. The Post reported that Brown had overheard Clinton telling Hale: "You're going to have to help us out. We're going to need to raise some money."
Brown provided additional details to the Washington Times of the purported encounter between Hale and Clinton: "David was kind of taken aback, a little bit shocked, he dropped his head," Brown said. "It was more than just a normal conversation. It was like this is the kind of thing you discuss between closed doors."
The Washington Post later printed a correction of its original story, saying that Brown's confirmation of Hale's story was more tentative than the newspaper originally reported:
"Brown said only that he overheard Clinton press Hale in a general way for financial help," the Post said. "Brown did not say he heard discussion of any specific loan or amount, or any mention of Susan McDougal."
Federal Whitewater investigators were skeptical of Brown's claims for a number of reasons, law enforcement sources have told Salon. For one thing, Brown waited more than a year before coming forward to corroborate Hale's account. Brown explained this away by saying that he was reluctant to do so because allies of the president might in some way retaliate against him for doing so.
More important, during numerous debriefings with Starr's office, Hale had always said he and Clinton were alone when they allegedly discussed the loan to Susan McDougal at the Capitol. Even after Brown came forward with claims, law enforcement sources say, Hale still asserted that he was as certain as he could be that there was no state trooper who was present during his alleged meeting with Clinton.
An additional concern for investigators was the fact that Brown had a long personal vendetta against the Clintons at the time he came forward to corroborate Hale's account. The dispute centered around the fact that Clinton had broken a personal promise to Brown that he would appoint him to be the assistant director of the state police crime lab.
"He [Clinton] and Hillary both told me and my current wife that he would do it and he didn't," Brown testified in a 1994 deposition in a civil lawsuit about the matter. Brown was so angry, he testified, that immediately after having been told the news by Clinton, he got in his car and drove away from the governor's mansion, never to speak to either one of the Clintons ever again.
The intense dislike between the two men was also evident during the president's deposition in the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit. Asked about Brown's allegations during his questioning by Jones' attorneys, Clinton said: "I might have asked somebody to ask L.D. Brown not to lie, but that would be a fruitless request."
Finally, Brown had serious credibility problems even prior to his corroborating Hale's story to investigators: According to a confidential Arkansas state police file obtained by Salon, Brown had allegedly diverted thousands of dollars of funds from the Arkansas State Police Association while he was president of the organization in the mid-1980s.
Arkansas law enforcement officials say that Brown escaped prosecution only because the police association's bylaws did not preclude its officers from diverting funds for their own personal use. Brown has said that the investigation was politically motivated, and done at the behest of Clinton, who was then governor. Brown has also said his expenditure of state police association funds was for legitimate purposes. Justin Thornton, an attorney who represented Brown in the matter, did not return several calls for comment.
Additional questions about Brown's corroboration of Hale's account have been raised by Caryn Mann, the former girlfriend of Dozhier and federal witness in the grand jury probe of alleged payments to Hale. According to Mann, Dozhier told her of a secretive meeting that he attended in an Arkansas motel room with Brown and Henderson, the American Spectator Educational Foundation vice president who ran the Arkansas Project, during which the two men questioned Brown about his days guarding Clinton.
Dozhier told Mann that, perhaps unbeknownst to Brown, Hale was in an adjacent room during the entire time that Dozhier and Henderson were questioning Brown. Mann, who cannot recall the date of the meeting, says Dozhier told her that he and Henderson would often excuse themselves during their questioning of Brown, confer with Hale in the adjacent room and then return to Brown's room with additional questions:
"P.D. [Parker Dozhier] and Henderson would ask L.D. questions. Then [one or both of them] would excuse themselves, confer with David Hale, and then go back to L.D.'s room, with whatever David had given them. Parker said that it was important that L.D. and Hale never speak directly because it might appear like they were colluding with one another to put a story together ... But Parker said that Brown probably knew that Hale was in the room next door, because Brown made jokes about it. L.D. said, 'If I didn't know better, I'd say you guys know David Hale.'"
Brown first told his story about Clinton and Hale to federal investigators several months after he first had became involved with the Spectator and the Arkansas Project.
In its April/May 1994 edition, the American Spectator published a 7,000-word cover story describing Brown's firsthand account of facilitating extramarital affairs for Clinton during the mid-1980s when he served on Clinton's personal security detail.
"What I wrote about was how Clinton used his state employees to facilitate sexual liaisons ... and then misused his authority to intimidate people to remain silent about them," says Daniel Wattenberg, the author of the article.
Wattenberg also noted that his article disclosed the fact that the Spectator had paid to fly Brown to Washington: "A lot of us had concerns about what we later came to know as the Arkansas Project, and so I thought we should be beyond reproach ... So we disclosed we paid for Brown's travel up front."
Confidential accounting records of the American Spectator Educational Foundation obtained by Salon show that it paid Brown slightly more than $6,200 in February 1994; $4,200 in March 1994; and an additional $737 in August 1994. In 1997, the magazine made an additional $3,500 payment to Brown for "investigative services."
After Wattenberg's article appeared, his editor, Tyrrell, struck up a close friendship with Brown. According to Spectator financial records, Brown was often a dinner or overnight guest at Tyrrell's home.
Tyrrell then published a series of articles -- largely based on allegations made by Brown -- asserting that Clinton had protected a cocaine smuggling ring operating out of the Mena airport. These are the charges that the House Banking Committee found baseless.
In the articles, Brown claimed to have been recruited by the CIA in the 1980s to participate in a covert operation to smuggle arms to the Nicaraguan contras. As part of that effort, Brown said that he accompanied an infamous drug trafficker named Barry Seal on a flight from the Mena airport to Central America to transport arms to the contras and on the return flight smuggle cocaine back to Arkansas. Moreover, Brown boasted that Clinton had told him that he approved of the cocaine smuggling operation.
It did not take long for serious questions to arise about Brown's veracity. For example, Brown claimed that he accompanied Seal on a flight to Central America on Oct. 23, 1984. But John Camp, a correspondent for CNN, who was then filming a documentary on Seal's life, has said that all during that very day, Seal had been with him and his film crew.
"We were with Barry Seal from virtually the moment he woke up in the morning that day until the moment he went to sleep that night," Camp recalled, "and he was nowhere near Central America."
Over time, Brown took to making even more grandiose claims. In a bestselling book Tyrrell later wrote about Clinton, Brown was quoted as claiming that he had been personally recruited to work for Seal by one of former President George Bush's national security advisors. And Brown also boasted that a prominent former CIA operative, Felix Rodriguez, had attempted to hire him to carry out a political assassination.
"It was immensely frustrating to many of us who had toiled so long and hard to build up the Spectator," recalls a former editorial staffer, "but Bob [Tyrrell] and L.D. Brown, and Boynton and Henderson, were living out their Walter Mitty fantasy. They thought that they were going to bring down the president. But the only thing they might have accomplished in the end is their own undoing."