Whitewater case set to run and run

The prosecutor's investigation could outlast the presidency, reports Mary Dejevsky
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The Independent Online
THE Whitewater investigation, which has now been running for four years at a cost to the American taxpayer running into tens of millions of dollars, began as an inquiry into a speculative (and failed) Arkansas land deal in which Bill and Hillary Clinton invested in the Eighties. It has now expanded to include the accusation that Mr Clinton had an affair with a White House trainee, Monica Lewinsky, and prevailed upon her to lie about it under oath. And it could run and run.

The common thread is abuse of power. The question is whether Mr Clinton used his power, first as attorney general and state governor of Arkansas and then as President of the United States, to pervert the course of justice. At issue in the main Whitewater investigation is whether Mr Clinton traded his influence as governor for financial gain - by obtaining loans for himself and others - and whether, a decade later, the White House illegally obstructed police inquiries - by concealing records and buying off or destroying those who had information.

Hillary Clinton is also implicated in the Whitewater inquiry. She was a partner in the Rose law firm in Arkansas involved in the land deal, and her documentary records have had a habit of vanishing and reappearing at crucial stages in the investigation, bringing accusations that she orchestrated a cover-up.

In the past month, the probability has increased that the investigation, headed by the independent prosecutor, Kenneth Starr, could outlast Mr Clinton's presidency.

One of the key figures, a former Arkansas businessman, Jim McDougal, died in prison. Then this week the appeals court ruled that a decision on whether to release the papers of the late Vincent Foster, deputy White House counsel from 1992-3, should go to the Supreme Court. (The legal status of papers belonging to deceased people is moot.)

Mr Foster was found shot in July 1993, and while a succession of inquiries has established that his death was suicide, conspiracy theories abound. Some say that he knew too much about Whitewater, others that he was romantically involved with Hillary Clinton, but no evidence has been produced to support either theory.

If Mr Starr believes he has evidence that Mr Clinton tried to pervert the course of justice, his next step is to refer it to the Senate judiciary committee which could consider impeachment. Now, though, the case is likely to be held up until the question of Vincent Foster's papers is resolved.