WSJ editorial baselessly suggested Clinton replaced Arkansas U.S. attorney to avoid Whitewater investigation


In a March 14 editorial headlined "The Hubbell Standard," The Wall Street Journal suggested that former President Bill Clinton "dismiss[ed] ... all 93 U.S. Attorneys" upon taking office in 1993 and subsequently appointed " 'Friend of Bill' Paula Casey as the U.S. Attorney for Little Rock" in order to avoid an investigation into "the Clintons' Whitewater dealings." The editorial stated, "Ms. Casey never did bring any big Whitewater indictments." But the Journal left out a key fact about the U.S. attorney whom Casey replaced: Charles A. Banks had himself resisted investigating the Whitewater matter, reportedly in defiance of pressure from George H.W. Bush administration officials in search of a pre-election issue with which to tar challenger Clinton. Moreover, as Media Matters for America has noted, the extensive independent counsel investigation into Whitewater -- launched several years after Clinton took office -- ultimately led the independent counsel to close the probe without charging the Clintons with any wrongdoing.

As Mollie Dickenson noted in a February 1998 article, Banks refused to pursue the Whitewater matter, citing his belief that "no prosecutable case existed against any of the witnesses," including the Clintons. From the article:

On Oct. 8 [1992], [Attorney General William] Barr convened a joint FBI-Justice Department panel to examine the referral [naming the Clintons as witnesses in the Whitewater case]. But the panel concluded that the referral "failed to cite evidence of any federal criminal offense." The panel's comment about the referral ranged from "junky" and "half-baked" to that its allegations were "reckless, irresponsible" and "odd."

Nevertheless, Barr put a preliminary investigation into motion and ordered Banks to review it again and to report back by Oct. 16, two weeks before the Nov. 3 election.

But, in fact, Banks had already concluded, and the FBI in Little Rock had agreed, that "no action should be taken on the referral at that time." Banks had already prosecuted Jim McDougal in 1990 for alleged bank crimes, and McDougal had been acquitted. Banks said further that he believed "no prosecutable case existed against any of the witnesses," most notably the Clintons.

After Clinton appointed Casey, I. Jean Lewis -- the Resolution Trust Corporation investigator who produced the original criminal referral -- again attempted to persuade the U.S. attorney's office to investigate the Whitewater matter. But as journalist Joe Conason and political columnist Gene Lyons noted in their book, The Hunting of the President (Thomas Dunne Books, 2000), Casey cited Banks' analysis in refusing to pursue the case:

Lewis became particularly exercised after Paula Casey, citing analyses by Justice Department experts and former U.S. attorney Charles Banks, turned down her original 1992 referral for a second time. [Page 95]

Further, Robert Ray, the third and final Republican-appointed counsel assigned to investigate the Clintons, announced on September 20, 2000, that he had closed the probe after concluding 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."

The Journal editorial went on to compare Clinton's actions to the Bush administration's recent controversial firings of eight U.S. attorneys, and stated, "When it comes to 'politicizing' Justice, in short, the Bush White House is full of amateurs compared to the Clintons." But just as the Journal overlooked Banks' refusal to pursue an investigation of the Clintons, the editorial omitted any mention of the reported pressure on Banks by George H.W. Bush's Justice Department to do so -- just two weeks before the 1992 presidential election.

As Conason noted in his upcoming March 19 New York Observer column, Banks was a Republican appointee who had been "recently selected" by Bush "as a potential nominee for the federal bench." According to Conason, after Banks determined in early October 1992 that the Clinton referral "lacked merit" and dismissed the original request for an investigation, "officials in the Bush White House and the Justice Department heard whispers about" it, and Attorney General William Barr then "ordered" Banks "to act" on the referral and launch an investigation into the Clintons' connections to Whitewater in late October 1992, "no later than two weeks before Election Day." According to Conason, Banks replied:

I know that in investigations of this type ... the first steps, such as issuance of ... subpoenas ... will lead to media and public inquiries of matters that are subject to absolute privacy. Even media questions about such an investigation in today's modern political climate all too often publicly purport to 'legitimize what can't be proven' ....

"I must opine that after such a lapse of time, the insistence for urgency in this case appears to suggest an intentional or unintentional attempt to intervene into the political process of the upcoming presidential election ....

"For me personally to participate in an investigation that I know will or could easily lead to the above scenario ... is inappropriate. I believe it amounts to prosecutorial misconduct and violates the most basic fundamental rule of Department of Justice policy.

From the Wall Street Journal March 14 editorial, "The Hubbell Standard":

Equally extraordinary were the politics at play in the firings. At the time, Jay Stephens, then U.S. Attorney in the District of Columbia, was investigating then Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski, and was "within 30 days" of making a decision on an indictment. Mr. Rostenkowski, who was shepherding the Clinton's [sic] economic program through Congress, eventually went to jail on mail fraud charges and was later pardoned by Mr. Clinton.

Also at the time, allegations concerning some of the Clintons' Whitewater dealings were coming to a head. By dismissing all 93 U.S. Attorneys at once, the Clintons conveniently cleared the decks to appoint "Friend of Bill" Paula Casey as the U.S. Attorney for Little Rock. Ms. Casey never did bring any big Whitewater indictments, and she rejected information from another FOB, David Hale, on the business practices of the Arkansas elite including Mr. Clinton. When it comes to "politicizing" Justice, in short, the Bush White House is full of amateurs compared to the Clintons.

Posted In
Government, Ethics
Wall Street Journal
Attacks on Bill Clinton, Propaganda/Noise Machine
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