Republican lawyer to lead Clinton inquiry

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JANET RENO, the US Attorney General, yesterday gave a leading New York lawyer and avowed Republican a virtually unfettered mandate to lead the independent investigation into the tangled financial dealings of Bill Clinton and his wife in Arkansas during the 1980s, now collectively known as the 'Whitewater' affair.

In choosing the 63-year-old Robert Fiske, a former federal attorney and now partner in a top Wall Street law firm, Mrs Reno has picked a highly respected lawyer with wide experience in financial cases to lay bare the truth of a tale that has become a huge embarrassment for the President, even though both Clintons insist they did nothing wrong.

Mr Fiske said yesterday he considered no aspect of the affair off-limits, including the possibly connected suicide of the White House aide Vince Foster last July. He expects to interview both Clintons under oath and will appoint his own team of lawyers to underline his complete independence from the government.

The controversy, which first surfaced during the 1992 campaign, involves Governor Clinton's dealings with the Madison Guaranty savings bank of Little Rock, which failed in 1989 and whose chairman jointly owned the Whitewater real estate venture with the Clinton couple.

At issue is whether the Clintons shielded the bank from federal scrutiny in return for personal or political funding. Some of this money, it has been alleged, may have been funnelled through Whitewater.

Mr Fiske indicated that he would examine not only Madison and Whitewater but also the related matter of Capital Management, an Arkansas investment company whose former head claims he was pressed by the then Governor to lend dollars 300,000 (pounds 200,000) of private and public money to prop up Whitewater and Madison in the mid-1980s.

Yesterday's announcement is the end-product of a political clamour that last week finally obliged the Clintons to abandon their previous refusal to countenance a special counsel. That resistance, it is widely believed, stemmed less from Mr Clinton than from his wife. As attorney representing Madison in its dealings with the Arkansas authorities, she is probably more knowledgeable about 'Whitewater' than Mr Clinton, and at least as vulnerable to conflict of interest charges.

For the Clintons there is now at least the prospect of a little peace on the Whitewater front as the strictly secret independent counsel investigation proceeds. Yesterday brought the comfort, too, that for all the recent hubbub over his private and financial life, his approval rating is a solid 54 per cent - as good as or better than most of his predeccessors after their first year in office.

Conor Cruise O'Brien, page 16