Clintons prepare for 'Whitewatergate' day of humiliation: Rupert Cornwell in Washington considers the evidence for a possible presidential cover-up

A FEW weeks ago, partisan Republicans revelling in the Whitewater discomfort of Bill and Hillary Clinton nurtured a secret fear. Would Robert Fiske, the special counsel appointed by the Justice Department, be tough enough in his efforts to get to the bottom of the affair? This weekend Mr Fiske laid their doubts to rest.

Sunday's headlines may have been captured by the forced resignation of the White House Counsel Bernard Nussbaum, after a string of blunders that would long since have floored a less intimate friend of the first couple. Far more damaging, however, are the subpoenas that Mr Fiske slapped on 10 White House and Treasury Department officials involved in the infamous meetings to discuss the failed Madison Guaranty savings bank, with whose owner the Clintons had close personal and financial ties.

Next Thursday will be a day of shame for the adminstration, as Mr Nussbaum, Bruce Lindsey, a Clinton confidant, the Deputy Treasury Secretary, Roger Altman, Mrs Clinton's Chief of Staff, Margaret Williams, and half a dozen lesser luminaries troop before a federal grand jury investigating the Madison collapse. Mr Fiske has shown he means business.

Even before he apparently organised those secret sessions, Mr Nussbaum had caused the President much embarrassment - not only on Whitewater. He featured in the fiasco of the White House travel office sackings, and in the affair of Lani Guinier and other botched Justice Department nominations. Most suspicious of all, he and Mrs Williams removed Whitewater documents from the office of Vince Foster immediately after the then deputy counsel committed suicide in July. Revelations of the meetings made a resignation inevitable.

The subpoenas, though, are another matter. Until now, polls have showed, the vast majority of Americans have been utterly unmoved by a small-state financial imbroglio few could understand. Now, however, the word 'felony' is knocking at the White House doors. At issue is possible improper use of federal agencies and obstruction of justice: in plain English, a cover-up. The White House has been ordered not to destroy documents, rubbish or computer records. Grand juries, subpoenas, 'who knew what when' - this is the vocabulary of Watergate as well as Whitewater.

Indeed, one key question to be examined on Thursday will be the extent to which the President and First Lady knew of the meetings. Given that top aides to both took part, said Republican Senator Alphonse D'Amato, 'it's just not conceivable' they did not report back on what took place.

Barring bombshell disclosures, however, Whitewater contains no 'high crimes or misdemeanours' to justify impeachment. But for Bill Clinton it could be as debilitating if the controversy continued, consuming his energy and eroding support for health and welfare reform. Most dangerous, perhaps, it could turn public opinion back on to the 'Slick Willie' track. Although the President's approval rating is in the mid-50s, a survey taken just before the latest eruptions found that Americans by a 56-40 margin 'did not trust' him.

More subtly, the latest developments have refocused doubts about the Clinton style of government, dependent on a coterie of close friends and advisers, like Roger Altman and Bruce Lindsey, whose titles often understate their roles in the presidential inner circle. They have again shown that Mrs Clinton is at least as deeply involved in the affair as her husband.

Mrs Clinton made the investment decisions in the Whitewater real estate venture, which the Clintons co-owned with James McDougal, the former owner of Madison. At Rose law firm in Little Rock she was involved in conflicts of interest as serious as those held against her husband. With unrivalled influence on her husband, she is widely believed to have been a guiding hand in the White House's botched Whitewater strategy.

EVENTS LEADING TO THE INVESTIGATION

March 1992 Clinton's investment in Whitewater Development Company raised in newspaper article. Clinton was partner with James B McDougal, owner of Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan, which failed in 1989. Hillary Clinton and McDougal's wife, Susan, also partners.

Autumn 1992 The federal agency charged with disposing of failed savings and loans asks the Justice Department to look at Madison Guaranty overdrafts granted to Whitewater.

December 1992 McDougal buys out Clintons' remaining interest in Whitewater. Mrs Clinton resigned partnership in firm after presidential election.

July 1993 Clinton lawyer Vince Foster, now deputy to Bernard Nussbaum as White House counsel, is found dead in a Virginia park. Nussbaum removes documents about Whitewater from Foster's office.

October 1993 Jean Hanson, general counsel at the Treasury De partment, meets Nussbaum to inform him of Justice Department investigation.

12 January 1994 Clinton asks the Attorney-General, Janet Reno, to appoint special prosecutor.

20 January Reno names Robert B Fiske to head investigation.

February The deputy Treasury Secretary, Roger Altman, acknowledges talking to Nussbaum about status of Madison investigation.

25 February Altman excuses himself from all actions involving Madison or Whitewater.

5 March Nussbaum offers to quit.

Leading article, page 13

Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
News
A polar bear’s diet is rich in seal blubber and half of its own body weight is composed of fat
i100
News
London is the most expensive city in Europe for cultural activities such as ballet
arts
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Application Support - Enterprise Java, SQL, Oracle, SQL Server

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A well-established financial soft...

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Desktop, Surrey)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Graduate, Helpdesk, Deskto...

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape