Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Whitewater scandal

The Whitewater scandal was an American political scandal which developed in Bill Clinton's first term as president, after the death of deputy White House counsel Vincent Foster. It was learned that after Foster's death chief White House counsel Bernard Nussbaum had removed documents concerning the Whitewater Development Corporation from Foster's office. President Clinton and his wife had invested in this corporation; the Clintons were accused of fraud in connection with this investment during the Securities and Exchange Commission's investigation of the bankruptcy of Madison Guaranty, an Arkansas trust company.

At Clinton's request, an independent counsel was appointed in 1994 by the Department of Justice to investigate the legality of Whitewater transactions. Two further accusations then surfaced: that Clinton had exerted pressure on a Little Rock, Arkansas businessman to make a loan that would benefit him and the owners of Madison Guaranty, and that an Arkansas bank had concealed transactions involving Clinton's gubernatorial campaign in 1990.

The Clintons were cleared of any wrongdoing in two reports subsequently prepared by the San Francisco law firm of Pillsbury Madison and Sutro for the Resolution Trust Corporation, which was overseeing the bankruptcy of Madison Guaranty.

The initial independent prosecutor Robert B. Fiske, Jr was replaced by Kenneth Starr.

On January 26, 1996 Hillary Clinton testified before a grand jury concerning her investments in Whitewater.

Three associates, James McDougal, Susan McDougal, and Arkansas Governor Jim Guy Tucker were convicted on several federal charges not directly related to the Clintons in 1996.

In 1994 Paula Jones had filed a sexual harassment lawsuit against Clinton which was unrelated to the Whitewater investigation. Clinton testified in this lawsuit in 1998 and gave the impression through his testimony that he had not had an affair with an intern named Monica Lewinsky.

Unknown to either Lewinsky or Clinton, a former White House staffer Linda Tripp had recorded Lewinsky talking about her relations with Clinton. Tripp turned these tapes over to the Whitewater investigators who sought and received an expansion of the scope of the investigation to cover the President's Paula Jones testimony.

In 1998, the independent counsel Kenneth Starr sent a report to Congress in which he charged Clinton with perjury, obstruction of justice, witness tampering, and abuse of authority in the Paula Jones lawsuit. The report contained, sometimes explicit, details of Clinton's liaisons with Lewinsky. Detractors of the independent counsel criticized Starr for expanding the investigation beyond its initial scope and for the graphic nature of the report.

Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives in December, 1998, on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, and tried by the Senate in January, 1999.

Clinton's supporters claimed that the charges made against Clinton did not rise to the severity required for the impeachment and removal of a sitting President since they had nothing to do with his official duties. They viewed the wide-ranging investigation as a "witch-hunt" based on the President's personal life.

Clinton's detractors stated that the President was effectively the chief law enforcement officer and that false testimony in a court of law was grounds for removal.

The heated clashes between Clinton supporters and detractors continued in the media throughout the investigation and impeachment and came to dominate the headlines during the period.

Clinton was acquitted by the Senate on both counts.

Republicans suffered a substantial political backlash in the wake of the investigations and impeachment. Clinton served his last two years in office without any further attacks of a serious legal nature but continued to be criticized by his detractors for the scandals. Clinton's job approval rating remained high throughout his term even though his personal approval ratings slipped.

In April 1999 Judge Susan Webber Wright found Clinton in civil contempt of court for misleading testimony in the Jones case but did not press for any criminal charge. Wright referred her ruling to the Arkansas Supreme Court. Rather than undergo a review by the Supreme Court Clinton voluntarily surrendered his Arkansas law license.

Kenneth Starr's successor, Robert Ray released a report in September of 2000 that stated "This office determined that the evidence was insufficient to prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that either President or Mrs. Clinton knowingly participated in any criminal conduct." Ray's report effectively ended the Whitewater investigation.