Whitewater Won't Sink President, Leach Says

REP. Jim Leach (R) of Iowa has been one of Bill Clinton's most persistent critics over the president's involvement in a failed real-estate investment.

But, while calling for appointment of a special counsel to look into the Clintons' Whitewater land venture with the head of a defunct savings-and-loan, Congressman Leach maintains that nothing major will likely emerge - and certainly not the sinking of the Clinton presidency.

``I don't think there's anything really big at the end of the tunnel,'' Leach, who is the ranking minority member on the House Banking Committee, told reporters at a Monitor breakfast on Jan. 11.

``I think there's something very symbolic, and I've recently been talking about the Shakespearean analogies of whether it's much ado about nothing or something rotten in the Ozarks. It may be a little bit of each. But I see nothing that isn't beyond very serious embarrassment.''

``And,'' the low-key Republican continues, ``I don't know of an issue that could be more readily put behind than this one. And in many ways the bigger story has become not what's an issue in the past but how they're handling it in the present.''

Clinton and his wife have steadfastly maintained that they did nothing wrong in their investment in the Whitewater Development Company, a real-estate venture in the Ozarks.

A partner in the investment, James McDougal, was also president of the Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan. The Justice Department is looking into whether the S&L diverted money to repay Clinton gubernatorial campaign debts from 1984.

The Resolution Trust Corporation, the federal agency cleaning up the S&L mess, has made a criminal referral to the Justice Department on the Madison case. But Leach predicts that this matter may be settled with civil penalties. ``If you had a full unfolding of the circumstance and the possibility of some minor, modest civil remedies, this issue would be behind'' Clinton, says Leach. ``I've never known a president or a person in public life that could put embarrassing circumstances behind him with greater ease than Bill Clinton.''

In recent days, Leach has been joined by several Democratic senators, such as Sens. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York, Charles Robb of Virginia, and Bill Bradley of New Jersey, in calls for a special counsel to get to the bottom of the Whitewater affair.

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