Yahoo News correspondent Michael Isikoff is retreading old news to once again try to thrust Whitewater into the national political debate, continuing an obsession of his that dates back more than 20 years.
Isikoff dramatically touted the “first extensive public comments” made by Robert Fiske, the federal prosecutor initially appointed to investigate the failed Whitewater land deal, in which the Clintons lost money but were at first falsely accused of criminal conduct. Fiske spoke to Isikoff during a recent interview about his soon-to-be-released memoir and Whitewater, which Isikoff warned “seems likely to be revived by political foes if, as is widely expected, Hillary Clinton runs for president.”
This is a convenient dodge for Isikoff, who has spent two decades helping political foes use Whitewater to try to bring down the Clintons.
But nothing in Isikoff's latest entry in his Whitewater saga about the Clintons is new.
“For years, the Clintons have sought to portray the entire investigation as a politically inspired witch hunt, pushed by partisans hunting for any ammunition they could find to damage the president and first lady,” Isikoff wrote. “But the new account of Fiske, a pillar of the New York legal community, offers a more complicated picture.”
Isikoff doesn't back that up.
In fact, Fiske himself undermined the claim that Whitewater could be used against Clinton, noting that he never uncovered any evidence that Bill or Hillary Clinton were connected to any crimes:
He describes how he had quickly uncovered “serious crimes” in the Whitewater investigation but that his probe was cut short after conservatives falsely accused him of a “cover up.”
“There were indictments, there were convictions,” said Fiske when asked about claims that there was “nothing” to the investigation. “People went to jail. There was never any evidence that was sufficient to link the Clintons to any of it, but there were certainly serious crimes.”
Isikoff suggests that one new detail is Fiske's claim that he was prepared to bring indictments against individuals connected to the land deal. But this hardly noteworthy, given that it has been publicly known that indictments were brought against individuals connected to the land deal.
Isikoff even tries to revive the ancient news that billing records connected to the investigation were at one point found in the White House residence, an aspect of the story the right has long attempted to twist into a scandal.
“One of [Fiske's] first moves was to subpoena Hillary Clinton's law firm billing records,” Isikoff writes, “documents that were later found under mysterious circumstances in the White House living quarters.” What Isikoff never mentioned is that those billing documents actually backed up what Hillary Clinton had long maintained, that she did very little work for her law firm on behalf of the land deal -- nor does he note that Kenneth Starr, the investigator who ultimately replaced Fiske, found no evidence that the billing records were ever mishandled.
Isikoff's Yahoo News piece, devoid of relevant new facts, lacking in critical details, and filled with insinuations of wrongdoing that he actively undermines, is troubling given the praise conservatives media figures have showered him with for his inadequate Clinton reporting in the past. At one point in 1998, Sean Hannity spent four consecutive days lauding Isikoff for his reporting.
In contrast, Jeffrey Toobin, currently a legal analyst at CNN, told Salon in 2000 that Isikoff acted as “an uncritical water-carrier for the anti-Clinton forces.”
It's a history worth remembering as Isikoff warns how Clinton's political foes might attack her.