President Clinton has already called the Whitewater accusations against him "a bunch of bull." Now he has the chance to say it in court.
A judge on Monday ordered Clinton to testify at next month's trial of his partners in the failed Arkansas land deal.While White House lawyers pushed for an appearance on video, lawyers for James and Susan McDougal said a personal appearance by the president would make his testimony more credible.
"I believe it's most likely, as the judge's order indicates, that he will submit videotaped testimony," White House press secretary Mike McCurry said. He said the venue will be determined after Clinton's lawyers consult Susan McDougal's lawyers under the auspices of the court order.
David E. Kendall, Clinton's personal lawyer, said that the president would cooperate "in an appropriate fashion."
In the order approving the subpoena, U.S. District Judge George Howard Jr. directed the lawyers to proceed in a way that does not interfere with the president's official duties, perhaps by using videotape or even satellite. Howard ruled that Clinton's testimony was vital to giving the Mc-Dou-gals a fair trial.
The McDougals and Gov. Jim Guy Tucker, who had other business dealings with the McDougals, face trial March 4 on conspiracy and fraud charges. Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr says the three got $3 million in loans from federally backed lenders to benefit themselves illegally.
Susan McDougal is accused of receiving a $300,000 loan that David Hale, a former municipal judge who ran a small business investment firm, contends Clinton pressured him to make.
Clinton's testimony would afford him an opportunity to confront under oath Hale's claim - the single most serious allegation made against the president.
Clinton hasn't been charged. He has called the allegation "a bunch of bull" and said he doesn't recall talking to Hale about money.
"The government case is built on the accusations of Mr. Hale," James McDougal said. "We'll let the jury listen to Mr. Hale's testimony and let them listen to Mr. Clinton's testimony and let them decide who to believe."
If Clinton appears in person, he would be subject to cross-examination by Starr, who was appointed to investigate Clinton's land deal and campaign finances. Prosecutors would be allowed to introduce evidence or testimony to challenge the president's veracity.
Just last month, Hillary Rodham Clinton became the first presidential spouse to be subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury.
The first lady appeared Jan. 26 before the Whitewater grand jury in Washington to answer questions about billing documents from her former Little Rock law firm that showed up in the White House two years after Whitewater prosecutors first subpoenaed them.
The records from Rose Law Firm showed how much the first lady worked on land transactions for Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan, which failed in 1989 at a cost to taxpayers of $65 million. Susan McDougal's ex-husband, James, ran the savings and loan.
Clinton's testimony would not be without precedent. President Jefferson testified in writing in the trial of Aaron Burr.
In modern times, President Ford testified by videotape in the 1975 trial of Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, who was convicted of trying to assassinate him, and President Carter testified by videotape in the criminal trial of financier Robert Vesco. After leaving office, President Reagan testified by videotape at John Poindexter's Iran-Contra trial.
The McDougals were partners of Clinton and the first lady in the Whitewater land development from 1989-92, when Clinton was governor of Arkansas.
The McDougals and Tucker were named in a 21-count indictment handed up last August, alleging that transactions they made through McDougal's savings and loan and Hale's Capital Management Services were designed to defraud federal regulators.