After spending more than a year investigating allegations that Whitewater witness David Hale received illicit payments and favors from political adversaries of the president, special counsel Michael E. Shaheen Jr. has decided that criminal prosecution is not warranted in the matter.
In a statement issued Wednesday, the Office of Independent Counsel announced Shaheen's decision and the endorsement of it by the two former federal judges to whom Shaheen reported. According to the release, Shaheen found that "many of the allegations, suggestions and insinuations regarding the tendering and receipt of things of value were shown to be unsubstantiated or, in some cases, untrue."
The OIC release also said Shaheen had determined that "no prosecution be brought in this matter as there is insufficient credible evidence to support criminal charges. In some instances there is little if any credible evidence establishing that a particular thing of value was demanded, offered or received. In other instances, there is insufficient credible evidence to show that a thing of value was provided or received with the criminal intent defined by any of the applicable statutes."
Although the Office of Special Review headed by Shaheen has made no announcement, its decision first emerged in a letter Tuesday to David G. Bowden, the Little Rock, Ark., lawyer who represented Hale during the probe. Both Shaheen's letter and the Wednesday statement from the OIC indicate that with the acceptance of Shaheen's findings by independent counsel Kenneth Starr, the investigation "is now concluded." Bowden was unavailable for comment at press time.
It was unclear when or whether Shaheen or the OIC will make public any of the 168-page written report of the counsel's findings. But the few conclusory sentences quoted by the OIC release leave many questions unanswered about Hale's acknowledged relationship with his right-wing benefactors, and how much Shaheen discovered about it.
The probe by Shaheen, who formerly headed the Justice Department's Office of
Professional Responsibility, was initiated in the spring of 1998, following
reports by Salon and the Associated Press that Hale had received cash,
lodging, the use of an automobile and other benefits from individuals
associated with the "Arkansas Project" -- a secretive, four-year, $2.4 million
anti-Clinton project funded by conservative billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife
through the American Spectator magazine.
Both Hale and Scaife were among the witnesses called by Shaheen to testify before a grand jury in Fort Smith, Ark., last fall. The OIC statement indicated that Shaheen and his staff contacted more than 160 people in the course of their inquiry.
A former Little Rock municipal judge convicted of embezzling more than $2
million from his federally backed loan company, Hale became a frequent guest
at an Arkansas bait shop and fishing resort operated by Parker Dozhier, a
local right-wing activist and part-time employee of the Arkansas Project.
Dozhier's former girlfriend, Caryn Mann, and her son, Joshua Rand, both said
that in addition to providing Hale with free housing and a car, Dozhier had
frequently provided him with cash payments.
Dozhier and several other operatives of the Arkansas Project were themselves
paid thousands of dollars between 1993 and 1997, with funds funneled through
the Spectator from foundations controlled by Scaife, a virulent critic of the
president who also financed other, separate anti-Clinton efforts.
Having testified that Clinton "pressured" him to make a fraudulent $300,000
loan in 1986 to James and Susan McDougal, partners of the Clintons in the
failed Whitewater land development, Hale was Starr's most important witness
against the president. His contacts with the Arkansas Project began before
Starr was apppointed independent counsel in 1994 and continued while Hale was
cooperating with Starr's investigation.
Hale, Dozhier, officials of the Spectator and Scaife's attorney all denied
that the disgraced former Little Rock municipal judge had received any money
or that any attempt had been made to influence his testimony. They insisted
that Dozhier and the other Arkansas Project overseers, conservative Virginia
attorney Stephen S. Boynton and Spectator official David Henderson, had
visited with Hale out of friendship and concern for his well-being.
But the White House regarded the ties between Hale and the Scaife-backed
Arkansas Project as damning evidence of what Hillary Rodham Clinton called "this vast right-wing conspiracy to bring down my husband."
"This is the result we always expected," American Spectator publisher Terry Eastland told Salon News in a phone interview Wednesday. "No one at the American Spectator, no one acting in its name, influenced David Hale's grand jury testimony. It's unfortunate that a media organization such as this one, as well as the taxpayers, should have had to be put to the great expense of investigating allegations that now appear to have been as flimsy and conjectural as these."
"I conducted an extensive internal review and I found no evidence at that time," Eastland said. "If these allegations were as thin as they now appear to have been, why did the Justice Department make the referral to Ken Starr?"
The Arkansas Project probe was kicked off in the spring of 1998. After a preliminary examination by the FBI, Attorney General Janet Reno had said she found the Salon and AP reports sufficiently disturbing to merit further investigation. Shaheen was called out of retirement to examine the allegations concerning Hale because of potential conflicts of interest involving both Starr himself and Reno.
In addition to the obvious problems surrounding an OIC investigation of its own key witness, Reno suggested that Starr suffered from another potential conflict involving Scaife, who had contributed large sums to Pepperdine University, where the independent counsel first accepted and later withdrew from accepting a deanship.
Starr retorted that Reno and her aides could not credibly investigate allegations concerning a witness against the president. The two sides compromised on the appointment of Shaheen, who reported not to Starr himself but to former federal judges Arlin Adams and Charles Renfrew.
The conclusion of the Shaheen inquiry represents the close of yet another chapter in the bitter, long-running Whitewater probe of the Clintons by Starr and the OIC. It was that investigation, of course, that eventually led Starr to the Monica Lewinsky matter, which then led to Clinton's impeachment by the House and eventual acquittal by the Senate.
No charges against the Clintons have ever been brought in the original Whitewater matter, however, and Starr's office appears close to wrapping up its operations. Congress refused to reauthorize the independent counsel statute when it expired recently, thereby ensuring that Starr will be the last to occupy an office that critics felt was misused for partisan political purposes to engage in open-ended investigations of the president.