If, as seemed likely last night, the White House refuses to meet the subpoena deadline, the special Whitewater Committee will almost certainly ask the full Senate for permission to take the dispute to the federal courts. The stage will thus be set for a battle comparable to the struggle over the Watergate tapes which sealed the downfall of Richard Nixon.
At the centre of the dispute are notes taken by William Kennedy, a former White House aide, of a meeting between White House lawyers and Mr Clinton's attorneys on 5 November 1993, dealing with Whitewater and the Treasury Department's probe into the failed Madison Guaranty Bank, the Arkansas savings and loan company owned by James McDougal, the Clintons' partner in the Whitewater property venture.
After refusing to surrender the notes on the grounds of "executive privilege", vainly claimed by Nixon, and on attorney-client confidentiality, the White House yesterday made an 11th-hour offer to hand over the documents under certain conditions. But Senator Alfonse D'Amato, the committee's Republican chairman, said they should be surrendered with "no strings attached". It voted 10-8 to impose the deadline.
For Democrats the Whitewater hearings are simply a political gambit by the Republicans with the sole purpose of embarrassing the President as the 1996 election approaches. That stance, however, has been undermined by evasiveness on the part of the White House.Reuse content