The Consortium

'Starr-gate': Cracks on the Right

By Robert Parry

Largely outside the view of the national news media, the conservative campaign to impeach President Clinton through endless "scandal" has started to come unglued.

Cracks are appearing in both the Whitewater (or money) side of the scandal machinery and the "Trooper-gate" (or sex) side. Given the five years of scandal momentum, the well-financed conservative machinery is likely to lurch onward toward impeachment hearings. But new allegations about paid-off witnesses and the collapse of some earlier anti-Clinton allegations are threatening to tear apart the Right's "get-Clinton" contraption.

The biggest threat to the Right's strategy now is the disclosure that star Whitewater witness David Hale was receiving cash and other gratuities from a conservative operative, a Clinton-hating sportsman named Parker Dozhier.

According to articles in the Internet magazine, Salon, Hale received the gifts from 1994-96 while Dozhier was working for The American Spectator's Arkansas Project, a $1.8 million investigative effort to dig up dirt on President Clinton. In turn, the Arkansas Project was financed by right-wing billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife.

Salon quoted Dozhier's former live-in girlfriend, Caryn Mann, and her 17-year-old son, Joshua Rand, describing a pattern of cash payments to Hale -- in amounts $500 or less -- when the former municipal judge stayed at Dozhier's cabin in Hot Springs, Ark. According to the story, Hale also got free lodging and free use of Dozhier's car.

Mann and Rand also asserted that during this time, Hale and Dozhier met with other representatives of The American Spectator's Arkansas Project and with investigators from Starr's staff.

The chief problems for Starr are these: this additional taint on Hale's motives could devastate Starr's Whitewater investigation -- and the new disclosures could damage Starr's own credibility just as he is drafting a report recommending President Clinton's impeachment.

Starr has his own political and financial connections to Scaife. Most notably, Scaife has heaped his largesse onto offices at Pepperdine University where Starr planned to go to work after finishing his Whitewater investigation. To lessen that criticism, Starr announced on April 16 that he would forego his Pepperdine career.

But the Scaife-Starr bond is not so easily severed. Scaife also has financed a number of other right-wing lawyer groups with close ties to Starr, such as the Washington Legal Foundation, the Federalist Society and the Landmark Legal Foundation.

For their part, Dozhier and Hale denied the cash allegations, with Dozhier adding ominously that Joshua Rand was "destined to be a chalk outline somewhere."

A Crucial Pillar

Beyond Starr's conflicts of interest, further damage to Hale's credibility could knock out a key underpinning of Starr's Whitewater case. Hale was the witness who claimed that Gov. Clinton applied pressure in 1986 to get Hale to direct a bogus $300,000 loan to Clinton's Whitewater business partner, Susan McDougal.

But Hale always had credibility problems. He only fingered Clinton in 1993 after the FBI caught him defrauding the Small Business Administration of $2 million. Hale was desperate for bargaining leverage. Still, Hale's story was important because it was the only Whitewater charge that implicated Clinton directly. Since then, Starr's investigation has worked aggressively to corroborate Hale's charge. [For more details, see "Whitewater: A Tale of Two Judges" in this issue.]

Starr has had only mixed success in that endeavor, but Hale's account still is expected to be one of the twin pillars of Starr's impeachment report to Congress. The other pillar reportedly will consist of allegations that Clinton lied when he denied sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky and other women mentioned in the Paula Jones case. Yet, Republicans might find an impeachment debate over financial fraud less politically dicey than discussions of sex.

At least for now, the Hale pay-off allegations have disrupted the GOP strategy. The threat to Starr's investigation deepened further when the Justice Department suggested that Starr should let professional prosecutors from the department examine the payments, not try to do it himself.

On April 16, in a prickly letter to Attorney General Janet Reno, Starr refused to relinquish the pay-off case. He denied that he had any conflict of interest, but asserted that the Justice Department did. Most of his legalistic response turned on one tangential issue.

"Preliminary information indicates that most if not all of the alleged FBI-supervised contacts between David Hale and Parker Dozhier occurred prior to August 1994 [when Starr was named special prosecutor] -- i.e. while the investigation was being conducted under the auspices of the Department of Justice," Starr wrote.

Ignoring his own long list of potential conflicts with Scaife and Hale, Starr then lectured Reno on her conflicts as a Clinton appointee. By the end of the letter, Starr made clear that he intended to keep control of any internal examination of his key witness.

Judge Shopping

Another potential reason for Starr's defensiveness on the Scaife-Hale issue soon slipped out in notes turned over to the FBI by Caryn Mann and disclosed by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette columnist Gene Lyons. Purportedly in Dozhier's handwriting, the notes raise other questions about whether Scaife operatives collaborated in a campaign to discredit a federal judge who was hearing one of Starr's Whitewater cases. Starr himself played a role in this apparent scheme of judge-shopping.

The notes describe meetings held at Dozhier's bait shop during 1995 reportedly involving Hale, Dozier and individuals close to Scaife. The notes appear to refer to the group's contacts with old-line segregationist judge Jim Johnson and with Wesley Pruden, editor of the right-wing Washington Times. Pruden's father had been a prominent figure in the Arkansas white citizens council of the 1950s.

Then, on June 23, 1995, Johnson wrote an error-filled op-ed piece for The Washington Times which attacked the objectivity of U.S. District Judge Henry Woods, who was presiding over Starr's trial of then-Gov. Jim Guy Tucker. Johnson denounced Woods, a pro-integration Democrat, as having unacceptable ties to the Clintons.

The article -- and others that followed -- gave Starr an opening to seek Woods's disqualification. Citing the articles, Starr argued that they "create an unmistakable appearance of bias by Judge Woods." In 1996, Starr got his wish. An 8th Circuit Appeals Court panel of three judges -- all Republicans -- ousted Woods from the trial.

Recently, Lyons showed Woods the Dozhier-Hale meeting notes and the senior federal judge responded in a written statement. Woods demanded an investigation of this apparent ruse by Starr and fellow conservatives to orchestrate the selection of a more compliant judge. "Such actions" Woods wrote, "strike at the heart of the judicial process." But Woods added that if the inquiry remains in Starr's hands, "I am not sanguine" about a fair inquiry. [Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Apr. 15, 1998]


The new Hale disclosures put the potent conservative news media on the defensive, but it soon mounted a counter-attack. Columnist Robert D. Novak used his nationally syndicated column to falsely describe Salon's sourcing. "The sole source is [Caryn] Mann," Novak wrote, "a single, dubious, unconfirmed source." [WP, April 13, 1998]. Novak ignored the easily checkable fact that the Salon article also cited Mann's son, Joshua Rand, and two other sources who were not identified by name.

The Washington Times rallied to the Starr-Hale battlements, too, with a front-page story denouncing Mann as a onetime Democratic delegate and a wacko who once "gave psychic readings" at a bookstore. The story contained a number of uncorroborated criticisms supplied by Dozhier who termed his ex-lover "a crippled bird ... with mental problems." [WT, April 13, 1998]

Initially, the mainstream press relegated the Starr-Hale problem to the inside pages. The Washington Post, which has promoted the Whitewater story almost as aggressively as The Washington Times, finally gave the Starr-Hale story front-page attention on April 19. The Post acknowledged in its headline that the charges put "a cloud over Starr['s] witness."

Still, the Post treated the story mostly as a he-said-she-said dispute. "You have to think about the credibility of this source," Dozhier told the Post. Mann responded, "I just decided I had to tell the story of how these people were doing everything they could to try to bring down the president."

In its recounting of the controversy, the Post did add one important piece of corroboration to Mann's story. Mann had claimed that Dozhier instructed her to quietly add Hale's wife to the insurance policy for the car being used by Hale. The car's insurance records did show Linda Hale as an insured driver, the Post reported.

The Hale problem also apparently forced some changes in Starr's timetable. On April 16, Starr declared that "the end is not yet in sight" for his investigation.

Though unclear as to its precise meaning, the "not yet in sight" comment could mean Starr plans to proceed as expected with his impeachment report against Clinton this spring, while simultaneously seeking time-consuming indictments against other "scandal" figures, such as Webster Hubbell, Monica Lewinsky and even First Lady Hillary Clinton. Or the statement could just indicate that Starr believes he must shore up his Clinton case before pressing ahead for the president's impeachment.

The broader problem for Starr is that other elements of the "Clinton scandals" already are in tatters. With little or no public fanfare, investigations led by Starr and other Republicans have concluded that no serious evidence has been found implicating Clinton in many cases that form the bedrock for the image of a "scandal-scarred" presidency.

Starr's office has acknowledged this reality only in a back-handed way. The admission came in the context of his drafting of an impeachment report focusing on Hale-Lewinsky matters. In an April 8 story, The Washington Post's Susan Schmidt quoted one "knowledgeable" source -- presumably inside or close to Starr's office -- as saying that lengthy investigative memos have been written about dry-hole cases, in which little or no evidence against Clinton was found, but those "might never see the light of day."

The source said there is a strong sentiment inside Starr's office against releasing much about investigative topics, unless they lead to indictment or are part of the impeachment recommendation to Congress. "You shouldn't, as a prosecutor, trash someone's reputation unless you are doing an indictment or impeachment report," said the source, apparently missing the fact that the Clintons had already been trashed.

So, according to the Post's story, Starr plans to stay silent on the "scandals" that went bust, including:

Mena Delays

A similar reluctance to clear Clinton has occurred in an investigation by the GOP-controlled House. For two years, the House Banking Committee has examined allegations linking Clinton to cocaine-trafficking and money-laundering in the 1980s at a remote airstrip in Mena, Ark. But again the Republicans couldn't back up the suspicions.

"We haven't come up with anything to support these allegations concerning then-Gov. Clinton," committee spokesman David Runkel told me. But the committee has moved slowly in publishing a report that would formally clear Clinton -- and might draw attention to the fact that another anti-Clinton charge had gone sour. The Mena report is still months off, the Republicans indicated.

Yet, while the Republicans sit on exculpatory findings, the "Clinton scandal" machinery grinds forward. A Christian Right group called the Citizens for Honest Government continues to peddle the Mena allegations in videos, such as "The Clinton Chronicles" and "The Mena Cover-up." In one promotional letter, the group's president, Pat Matrisciana, declared that "with Bill Clinton in the White House, it is entirely possible -- even probable -- that U.S. government policy at the highest levels is being controlled by the narcotics kingpins in Colombia."

Matrisciana wants Clinton removed from office and has distributed a "Clinton Impeachment Petition" accusing Clinton of "subverting the Fundamental Moral Laws of the nation." An accompanying cover letter from former Rep. William Dannemeyer called impeachment the proper remedy to "a mountain of scandals," including the Travel Office firings, the FBI files and "interference with the police investigation of Vince Foster's death" -- charges that Starr apparently could not substantiate.

Orders from Above

Though the Right's impeachment strategy makes some congressional Republicans nervous -- fearing that it could backfire in November -- it has become the battle cry for the movement's foot-soldiers and its financial overlords.

As Frederick Clarkson disclosed in In These Times [May 3, 1998], the Council for National Policy -- a kind of board of directors for the Right -- has actively promoted "The Clinton Chronicles" since September 1994 when the video was distributed to all CNP members, about 500 total, with the advice that it be passed around so "as many Americans as possible should become informed about the evil which infests the Clinton administration."

Clarkson also reported that the CNP -- with its roster of prominent conservatives from Paul Weyrich and John Whitehead to Oliver North and Jesse Helms -- also secretly has pushed the impeachment drive. Clarkson cited an "impeachment organizers kit" prepared by Matrisciana's group which said the impeachment resolution now before Congress was conceived at "an impeachment panel discussion" during a CNP "Montreal meeting in June [1997] and a follow-up discussion in South Carolina."

While ever eager to throw mud at Clinton, the conservatives have balked at opportunities to wipe it off. On CNBC's "Rivera Live," the Rev. Jerry Falwell was cornered about the spurious allegations in "The Clinton Chronicles" -- which he hawked on his "Old Time Gospel Hour." Falwell haltingly admitted that the video was unfair.

"If I had it to do all over again, I wouldn't do it, and I'm sorry I did," Falwell finally acknowledged. But he immediately sought to push the blame back onto Clinton. "The fact is the president has over these last five years, there's just a continual cloud. And -- I would think that he himself would want to get this behind him and deal with it forthrightly." [March 25, 1998]

But what is painfully apparent in the "Clinton scandals" is that conservative operatives will never let the "continual cloud" disperse. Like the gloomy Pigpen character in the "Peanuts" comic strip, Clinton seems destined to live always with a cloud over his head. ~

(c) Copyright 1998 -- Please Do Not Re-Post

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