White House Responds To Charges on Character

THE Clinton White House, otherwise ending its first year on a political uptick, is suddenly under the shadow of allegations rooted in President Clinton's days as governor of Arkansas.

The accusations and suspicions - even if they come to be disregarded as less than credible - strike at Mr. Clinton's Achilles' heel: the distrust of his character still held by a significant number of citizens.

One issue is the political and business connection of the Clintons to the owner of a failed Arkansas thrift. The other is the allegation of two former members of Clinton's security detail in Arkansas that their duties involved facilitating extramarital trysts for the then-governor.

The matter that potentially involves White House operations concerns how officials handled papers taken from the office of deputy White House counsel Vincent Foster after he committed suicide last summer.

The papers pertain to Whitewater Development, a business partnership that the Clintons held with the former owner of a failed Arkansas savings and loan institution, James McDougal. Justice Department officials are investigating allegations that the savings and loan deposits were misused for political or business purposes.

White House counsel Bernard Nussbaum removed papers on the Clintons' sale of Whitewater Development from Foster's office and turned them over to the Clinton's personal attorney. He cited attorney-client privileges and executive privileges in barring federal investigators from most of Foster's files.

As of this writing, the Justice Department has not requested the Whitewater file from the Clintons. Clinton told wire-service reporters in general terms on Wednesday that he would cooperate with federal investigators.

No strong evidence has yet emerged publicly that Mr. McDougal abused depositor funds - millions of dollars of which were covered by federal insurance. To reach the Clintons, investigators would have to establish that McDougal violated the law, perhaps by funneling depositors' money to Whitewater Development or into campaign contributions, then that the Clintons knew of it. McDougal helped Clinton pay off tens of thousands of dollars in campaign debts.

If the Clintons are eventually connected to any wrongdoing, then the question of a coverup arises over Mr. Nussbaum's actions in Foster's office. But these are no more than worst-case speculations.

``We're a long way from any proof of crime,'' says Georgetown University law professor Paul Rothstein, who has followed the issue.

The allegations about Clinton's extramarital affairs are far more specific and pointed, though, at this point, there is no suggestion of a legal investigation. Two veteran state troopers from Clinton's gubernatorial security detail have, at the request of the Los Angeles Times, signed affidavits to bolster their accounts of arranging and covering for Clinton's liaisons with women.

The Times has been investigating these charges for months. They have been corroborated anonymously by two other state troopers but denied by still other troopers on the security detail. Two women named in the allegations have denied them, according to the Times.

Clinton has never denied that he has had affairs, although he denied the specific claims made by Gennifer Flowers last year of a 12-year sexual relationship.

Early in his campaign, he acknowledged past problems in his marriage, and that he had ``caused pain'' to his wife. Hillary Rodham Clinton said these problems had been resolved to her satisfaction.

The new element is the alleged use of state troopers in unsavory conduct, which the state troopers allege to have continued after last year's presidential election and through the transition period.

The two troopers began considering a tell-all book late last spring based on their service to Clinton.

Mrs. Clinton summoned wire-service reporters to the White House Tuesday to convey her view that the story is being promoted by an Arkansas attorney who is her husband's longtime enemy and that the story ``will end up in the garbage can where it deserves to be.'' -

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