Whitewater report says there is no evidence to charge Clintons

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The Independent US

A giant shadow across the US Senate campaign of Hillary Rodham Clinton lifted yesterday when the independent counsel, Robert Ray, formally wound up the six-year Whitewater investigation and declared he had insufficient evidence to recommend criminal charges against President Clinton or the first lady.

A giant shadow across the US Senate campaign of Hillary Rodham Clinton lifted yesterday when the independent counsel, Robert Ray, formally wound up the six-year Whitewater investigation and declared he had insufficient evidence to recommend criminal charges against President Clinton or the first lady.

By sending his sealed report to a panel of appellate judges, Mr Ray formally closed an investigation that began in 1994 and has haunted the Clintons ever since. The inquiry, which went into a web of allegations of financial fraud and obstruction of justice, led to 14 convictions and cost $50m (£36m).

The independent counsel, who succeeded Kenneth Starr, issued a statement summarising his findings. "The office determined that evidence was insufficient to prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that the President or Mrs Clinton knowingly participated in any criminal conduct," it said.

Aides to Mrs Clinton had been quietly braced for Mr Ray's determination. Had he concluded otherwise and recommended pursuing charges against the First Lady, the impact on her race in New York could have been devastating. She remains in a very tight race with the Republican congressman Rick Lazio.

The shelving of the inquiry will also give great relief to BillClinton. His legal troubles are not over, however. Mr Ray has already served notice that he intends ruling after Mr Clinton leaves office in January on whether he should face obstruction of justice charges in the Monica Lewinsky case.

At its inception, the investigation was focused on the failure in the mid-Eighties of an Arkansas savings and loan bank, the Madison Guaranty,owned by Jim McDougal, a close friend of Mr Clinton, who was then governor. Mr McDougal and his wife, Susan, were at the same time partners with the Clintons in a property development project in northern Arkansas that went sour.

Over the years, however, the inquiry broadened considerably, eventually even absorbing the Lewinsky débâcle. It also looked into the activities of Mrs Clinton while at the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock, both in the Whitewater deal and another development involving Mr McDougal, called Castle Grande. Billing records for that project vanished and then turned up mysteriously in the White House in 1996. Concerned about the billing records, Mr Ray said the report was "inconclusive" as to whether "any person, including Mrs Clinton, knowingly or wilfully possessed the billing record with intent to obstruct justice".

Critics of the first family are certain to seize on the language of the statement, which fell far short of absolution. It was, none the less, cheered by the White House. "Robert Ray is now the latest investigator to complete an examination of the transactions related to Whitewater Development Co. and conclude that there are no grounds for legal action," said a press secretary, Joe Lockhart.

The statement was also hailed by Mrs McDougal. Her husband died while in jail when she was incarcerated for 18 months for refusing to assist prosecutors pursue Mr Clinton. "It was a real estate deal that went wrong and there never was anything criminal about it. If they could just be men and say there is nothing criminal about. But they still can't come forward and say there never was anything to it," she said.

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