Clinton friend next in Whitewater firing-line

Click to follow
THE FIRST casualty of Whitewater was the White House counsel Bernard Nussbaum, known as a close friend of Hillary Clinton. Next in the firing-line, however, may well be Roger Altman, deputy Treasury Secretary, and - rather more important - a 24-carat Friend Of Bill.

Next week the Georgetown University classmate of the President and former banker goes before the federal grand jury to testify about his role in the now notorious contacts between the White House and his department over the investigation into the Madison Guaranty savings bank. By common consent, Mr Altman is in as delicate a position as any of the 10 administration officials subpoenaed to testify, including Mr Nussbaum.

''A piece of awful judgement' is how Mr Altman has described his decision to brief Mr Nussbaum and Maggie Williams, Mrs Clinton's chief of staff, on 2 February, about the 'procedures' of an inquiry into Madison by the Resolution Trust Corporation, the Treasury body which oversees savings banks. Mr Altman is acting head of the RTC.

However, his problems do not end there. Republicans believe the information he gave may have extended considerably beyond mere 'procedures'. Moreover, according to records which have come to light, it appears he took part in other Madison meetings, beyond the one which he admitted in testimony before the Senate Banking Committee two weeks ago.

All of this ensures Mr Altman will receive a thorough grilling by the special counsel, Robert Fiske, and his fellow prosecutors when the grand jury resumes examination of the Washington section of the Whitewater inquiry, centred on allegations of obstruction of justice and a possible cover-up by the White House.

More seriously, the affair is casting a cloud over a man regarded as one of the Administration's most glittering prospects. Mr Altman is constantly at the White House advising the President and had been widely tipped to succeed Lloyd Bentsen, the Treasury Secretary, before the end of a first Clinton term. That promotion must now be in doubt: the Treasury has been forced to deny rumours that Mr Altman is resigning.

Yesterday the White House Press Secretary, Dee Dee Myers, castigated the media for propagating another set of rumours, in particular a claim that the deputy White House counsel, Vince Foster, committed suicide last July not at the Virginia park where his body was discovered, but at a nearby 'safe' apartment for White House officials on secret business.