With Hillary Rodham Clinton's chief of staff on the witness stand, Senate Republicans sought to show Thursday that the first lady was far more interested in the Whitewater affair than the White House has acknowledged.
As the Senate's Whitewater hearings entered their fifth day, Margaret Williams testified that she doesn't recall telling Deputy Treasury Roger Altman that Hillary Clinton "was paralyzed" by Whitewater.In a diary subpoenaed by the panel, Altman quoted Williams as making such a statement.
Pressed by Sen. Alfonse D'Amato on the diary entry, Williams told him to look at Hillary Clinton's schedule from December through February. "Paralyzed would be far from the word one would use to describe her."
She said the White House viewed the Whitewater affair as a distraction. "I made a conscious decision that we would not spend our time discussing Whitewater with Mrs. Clinton, unless we were responding to press inquiries," she said.
The Senate Banking Committee grilled Williams a day after President Clinton gave Altman only a limited show of support.
During a news conference Wednesday, Clinton dodged a direct answer to a question about whether Altman should resign but said, "The secretary of the Treasury has confidence in him and so do I."
Altman, the No. 2 Treasury official, has emerged as the central figure in the hearings so far because his testimony is at odds with a number of other administration officials.
The Senate panel's chairman, Donald Riegle of Michigan, for a second day chastised the Clinton administration for failing to correct earlier Altman testimony that was incomplete.
Riegle noted that a top presidential aide was at a Feb. 24 committee hearing on Whitewater, and the White House was fully aware there were problems with Altman's testimony. "But no one came here and said to us, `By the way, you didn't get full and accurate testimony,' " he said.
"That's not good practice and you know it," Riegle told former White House chief of staff Mack McLarty.
"I fully concur with your comments," McLarty replied.
Williams and McLarty, now White House counsel, had already testified before a House committee that is holding simultaneous meetings on Whitewater and the Resolution Trust Corp.'s investigation of a failed Arkansas savings and loan. Their testimony Thursday echoed their earlier statements.
Republicans asked Williams why, if Whitewater was not a priority for her or the first lady, one of the earliest White House memos on Whitewater indicated she received a copy. She said she didn't know.
"I knew that in the newspapers every day, Mrs. Clinton and the president were being beaten up" on Whitewater, Williams said. But she added, "Mrs. Clinton does not normally read the newspapers."
Later, under repeated questioning about whether Mrs. Clinton was paralyzed by Whitewater, Williams acknowledged, "I would have to be a blind person not to look, not to know that this matter held some real interest for her."