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The Hubbell Rescue Mission

The White House seems to have a credible story, but what took so long, and why does it look so bad?

By Karen Tumulty/Washington

TIME magazine

(TIME April 14) -- The President's friends need no help from his enemies when it comes to stirring theories of dark White House conspiracy. Last week the Clinton high command proved once again that if you fudge and deny and equivocate long enough, even coming clean can make you look dirty.

The issue at hand is the question that has most intrigued Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr of late: How is it that so many of the President's supporters happened to throw more than $400,000 in business to Webster Hubbell in the months after Clinton's best friend resigned from the No. 3 post at the Justice Department? One possibility: someone might have been trying to buy Hubbell's silence. Whitewater investigators seem to believe that Hubbell, as Hillary's former law partner, knows more than he has told them about her role in Whitewater. Last week, after months of expressing little knowledge and even less curiosity about the dealings of the former Associate Attorney General, the White House acknowledged that two top aides--former chief of staff Mack McLarty and Erskine Bowles, the man who now holds that job--had tried, with varying degrees of success, to line up work for Hubbell. McLarty even had vague recollections of mentioning to the First Lady that he was "concerned" about Hubbell and wanted to "be supportive" of the latest member of their transplanted Arkansas circle to meet with personal calamity. The efforts were, in the White House's telling of them, a mission born of no darker motive than sympathy. Bowles, then heading the Small Business Administration, had no long-standing ties to Hubbell, but was moved when he heard of his plight from then Trade Representative Mickey Kantor, who was himself making calls on Hubbell's behalf. "My dad raised me to help people when they were down," Bowles told the Wall Street Journal.

Had they known that Hubbell would eight months later plead guilty to fraud and tax evasion in bilking the Rose Law Firm and his former clients out of almost $500,000, they say they would never have put their own reputations on the line. But in the days after Hubbell resigned in April 1994, his situation had only tenuous connections to the broader Whitewater questions that were beginning to envelop the White House. Still to come, for instance, was the revelation that Hubbell had spirited Hillary's Whitewater-related records from the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock, Arkansas, to his basement in Washington. Hubbell also continued to maintain his innocence even to the Clintons, who asked him point-blank about the accusations at a meeting at Camp David. "I was in denial," he told Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes.

So the story that McLarty and Bowles now tell seems credible enough. What is hard to figure out is why it took them so long to come forward with it--and why Clinton's own statements have wandered from denial to ignorance to half answers. In January he said he had known nothing about Hubbell's being retained by the Lippo Group, an Indonesian conglomerate whose owners were long friendly with the President, until he read it in the newspaper late last year. Two months later Clinton conceded he had been aware as early as 1994 that such key political supporters as Texas businessmen Truman Arnold and Bernard Rapoport had given work to Hubbell, though he couldn't quite recall who told him. Now Clinton says Bowles and McLarty "were trying to help him for no other reason than just out of human compassion."

Compassion, perhaps, or maybe just cronyism, but nothing that Starr is likely to get a jury to see as obstruction of justice--a charge that is hard to prove even in the best of circumstances. Still, the questions probably won't stop anytime soon: both McLarty and Bowles received a subpoena from the independent counsel last week.

--With reporting by Viveca Novak/Washington

Friends In High Places

Friends of the President helped Webb Hubbell find other employment after he resigned as associate Attorney General

Mickey Kantor Then U.D. Trade Representative

WHAT HE DID:
Reccomended Hubbel's son for a job with the Federal National Mortgage Association. Tried to set up a family trust fund.

RESULT:
Son got a job.

Michael Berman Lobbyist and friend of Hillary

WHAT HE DID:
Helped Hubbell get work with Time Warner, a Berman client

RESULT:
Paid $5,000. Berman donated $5000 to fund.

James Riady An old friend from Little Rock

WHAT HE DID:
After Riady visited the White House several times over five days, a company he controls hired Hubbell.

RESULT:
Paid $100,000

Mack McLarty Former White House chief of staff

WHAT HE DID:
Called Truman Arnold, a Texas oilman, to help find Hubbell a job. Bernard Rapoport gave Hubbell a job at the behest of Arnold.

RESULT:
Paid $18,000 by Rapoport. Hired by Arnold.

Erskine Bowles Then head of Small Business Admin.

WHAT HE DID:
At Kantor's suggestion, Bowles asked Allied Capital and a North Carolina law firm to consider hiring Hubbell.

RESULT:
No jobs.

Jack Williams Lobbyist for Arkansas firms

WHAT HE DID:
Helped Hubbell get a job with Pacific Telesis.

RESULT:
Amount paid unknown


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