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Opening Arguments Begin In Little Rock

[Whitewater]

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AllPolitics, June 20) -- The prosecution delivered its opening statement today in the trial of two Arkansas bankers charged with illegally funnelling bank money to President Bill Clinton's 1990 campaign for re-election as Arkansas governor.

After the jury of eight men and four women were sworn in, Prosecutor Hickman Ewing laid out the government's case against Herby Branscom and Robert Hill in his one-hour opening statement, mentioning Clinton's name in just a few instances. Ewing is the deputy to Whitewater independent council Kenneth Starr.

"What's not on trial here is Bill Clinton," Ewing said. "What's not on trial is his campaign. Or anybody else, other than these two gentlemen.

"There are no allegations he's done anything wrong," Ewing added. "There's nothing wrong with receiving campaign contributions."

The two bankers, he argued, did break federal banking laws by providing illegal contributions to the Clinton campaign.

"This case is about violating the banking laws of the United States," Ewing declared.

Although the prosecution did not acknowledge that Bruce Lindsey, a trusted Clinton friend and 1990 campaign treasurer, would be named as an unindicted co-conspirator, Lindsey's name was spoken repeatedly in Ewing's opening statement.

Ewing said testimony from former Perry County Bank President Neil Ainley, the government's key witness, would connect Lindsey to the banker's scheme to hide withdrawals for the Clinton campaign. Ainley has already pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges.

[Lindsey]

The prosecution said Lindsey discussed with Ainley the withdrawal of $30,000 for the Clinton campaign in installments of $7,500 so that cash transaction reports would not have to be made to the IRS.

Branscom and Hill are charged with misapplication of funds from the Perry County Bank, which they owned, making false statements to federal bank regulators, and conspiracy.

The two defendants, Ewing told the jury, instructed Ainley to make out false expense vouchers to cover money taken from the bank to give to the Clinton campaign.

Ewing said Lindsey arranged a meeting between Hill and Clinton after the election, at which Hill gave Clinton $15,500 to help retire his campaign debt. At that meeting, Hill also requested that Branscom be named to the state Highway Commission, Ewing said. He was appointed several weeks later, Ewing said.

Ewing suggested that President Clinton would testify that the appointment was based on merit, but the prosecutor said what was relevant were the defendants' motives.

The defense's opening statement is expected later today. President Clinton is expected to videotape testimony for the trial on July 7th.

On Wednesday, Lindsey confirmed that he will be named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the case against Arkansas bankers Herby Branscum and Robert Hill. The move will allow Whitewater prosecutors to present hearsay evidence about Lindsey during the trial.


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