Clintons' business deals face inquiry

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The Independent Online
WASHINGTON - The White House is under growing pressure to allow an independent counsel to investigate the tangled tale of President and Mrs Clinton's business dealings with a failed Arkansas savings bank, and the operations of the Whitewater property venture they once jointly owned with the former bank's president, writes Rupert Cornwell.

Yesterday, after the Washington Post joined the New York Times and other leading US papers in calling for an independent investigation, the White House spokeswoman, Dee Dee Myers, again rejected the demand. 'What's the charge? What's the charge?' she angrily asked reporters, pointing out that Hillary and Bill Clinton have been accused of no wrongdoing. Republicans who called for a counsel were playing party politics, she said.

This is also the view of Janet Reno, the Attorney-General who would have to appoint any counsel. Ms Reno has rejected claims of a White House cover-up. She insists that the Justice Department lawyers now in Little Rock are competent to handle the investigations into the demise of the Madison Guaranty Savings and Loans bank, and possible impropriety in the financial links between the Clintons and its president, James McDougal.

But the White House may be forced to give way, as the impression builds that some dark secret is being hidden. This week it said it would be a fortnight before Clinton lawyers make over 'relevant' Whitewater records to the Justice Department. The documents were promised before Christmas.

Madison's collapse in 1989 cost US taxpayers at least dollars 47m ( pounds 30m). At issue is whether Mr Clinton, as Arkansas Governor, soft-pedalled on the S & L, allowing it to stay open after it was bankrupt. This, some suspect, was in return for campaign contributions to Mr Clinton.

When Madison first surfaced during the 1992 presidential campaign, the Clintons commissioned an accountants' report, which concluded the couple were only passive partners in the venture, and had lost dollars 69,000 on their investment.

The affair resurfaced with the suicide last summer of the deputy White House counsel, Vince Foster, the lawyer who had handled the Clintons' Whitewater dealings. After his death aides removed files on the venture from Mr Foster's office. These remain in the hands of Mr Clinton's lawyers.