Though Senate investigators finally ended their investigation into the Whitewater scandal this week with a 700-page report after 14 months of work, 52 hearings and the testimony of more than 260 witnesses, the public has not heard the end of this complex controversy.
That much should be clear from the partisan split within the investigating committee and the rest of Congress, the onset of a new trial involving figures outside the White House but including new videotaped testimony from President Clinton, and the now broadened investigation by Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth Starr.It has been - and still is - hard for the public to follow and understand the investigation because Whitewater has come to include an array of dealings far beyond the failed Arkansas land deal of that name.
Also included under that label are the strange reappearance of Hillary Rodham Clinton's long-sought legal billing records, the improper disclosure from the Treasury Department to the White House about an investigation of banking practices of friends of the Clintons, the firing of travel office employees, missing files from the office of White House counsel Vince Foster after his suicide, and now FBI files that were improperly forwarded to the White House.
At this point, about all that's clear from the findings of the Senate probe is their highly partisan and conflicting nature.
Republicans are saying in essence that the investigation leads them to believe that crimes have been committed by close associates of President Clinton - and perhaps even by the first lady herself.
Democrats, by contrast, are saying that the Republican-controlled investigation was a political witch hunt designed to inflict as much damage as possible on the president.
Among the major issues left unresolved by the Senate investigation are these:
- How did sensitive records of Hillary Clinton's attorney fees for questionable real estate dealings in Arkansas disappear and suddenly reappear in the White House last January?
- Why did the White House accumulate 400 personnel records of non-employees, including several Bush administration officials? Was this an innocent blunder? Or was there some ulterior motive? If so, what was that motive?
- To what extent can the White-wa-ter investigation be explained away as an exercise in partisanship? The existence of some partisanship should be clear from the leaking of the Senate investigators' findings and conclusions in advance of the report's formal release - evidently to gain maximum exposure and do maximum damage. But is such partisanship enough to discredit the report?
- How badly do the court convictions of some Clinton associates reflect on the occupants of the White House? Keep in mind that no formal charges have been brought against the Clintons. But does this situation indicate poor judgment on the part of the president and first lady? If so, how seriously should the voters view it?
In the absence of any startling and readily confirmed new disclosures, each individual citizen evidently is going to have to make up his or her own mind about Whitewater and its impact on the Clintons. Much of these judgments cannot help but be subjective. But certainly enough is now known to confirm the public in its cynicism about politics and politicians of all stripes.