Conspiracy Nation -- Vol. 2 Num. 23

("Quid coniuratio est?")


L.J. Davis, author of an article offering a good look beneath the surface of Arkansas politics ("The Name of Rose", The New Republic, April 4, 1994), was interviewed by phone by David Inge of the local PBS-connected radio station on August 4, 1994. What follows is my transcription of that interview.

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...Arkansas. Recently, in Washington, D.C., the people there on the hill have been consumed with this matter that has come to be called "Whitewater". But their investigations are largely limited to what has happened in Washington, after the Clintons came to Washington. What it sort of leaves out, and a big hole, we think, in the story, is getting a sort of a better understanding about how things worked in Arkansas before President Clinton became President.

We'll be talking with a guy, his name is L.J. Davis, who is a contributing editor to Harpers magazine, about politics in Arkansas, and some serious issues that are raised by an article that he wrote for The New Republic.

So that'll be in hour number 1. And in hour number 2 we'll be talking about a book entitled Who Owns Information? Our guest is Ann Branscom, a scholar in residence at Harvard University. That'll be in hour 2 [CN -- not covered here], after news. Stay with us.


Good morning, and welcome to this first hour of "Focus 580". This is our telephone talk program. My name's David Inge. Glad to have you listening.

In this part of "Focus 580", we will be talking about Arkansas politics, and about the matter that has come to be called "Whitewater". Last week and this, in Washington, members of Congress have been holding hearings into the Whitewater matter. What they are doing in their hearings is trying to determine whether or not the White House tried to influence the investigation of the failure of a savings and loan in Arkansas, Madison Guaranty. It went "belly up" in 1989.

The former owner of Madison was a man named James McDougal, who was a partner with the Clintons in the Whitewater development, an unsuccessful vacation home development in Arkansas, in northern Arkansas, along the White River.

And the focus of the hearings, and a lot of the discussion in Washington, has been: what happened after the Clintons came to Washington. And whether they, and people in the White House, tried to influence this investigation. There has not, so far, been very much discussion about what happened back in Arkansas -- either surrounding Whitewater or, in a more general sense, what politics are like in Arkansas. And knowing that may, indeed, shed some light into the conduct of the administration and some people who worked in the White House.

So, we have been casting around to find someone to talk a little bit about, to get this whole business with, and to get some more background on, Whitewater and Arkansas. And based on a suggestion from a listener, we set up the interview that we're doing this morning. And we're going to be talking with a journalist named L.J. Davis. He's a contributing editor to Harpers magazine. And much of our conversation this morning, here, will be based on an article that he wrote, that was published this past spring, in April [1994], in The New Republic, which takes a look at the influence of one particular, prominent, wealthy family in Arkansas, their connection with the Rose Law Firm (for which Hillary Clinton worked). And then, also, their ability of, the ability of a number of people, to influence policy to their benefit... largely to their financial benefit.

As we talk, you certainly should feel free to call in and be part of this conversation. Our number here in Champaign-Urbana: 333- 9455. We also have a toll free line (it's good anywhere you can hear us), and that is: 800-222-9455. 333-WILL and 800-222-WILL. Those are the numbers.

Mr. Davis, hello!

Hey! Glad to be here.

Well, we appreciate you talking with us. It's good to have you with us.
Well, it beats workin'.
Uh well that's what I think. But I do try to maintain some semblance that this in fact is work. But, you know, I think most of the people that, at least, I work with see right through it [CN -- good example here of thigh-slapping Midwestern humor]. So far the audience hasn't.

Anyway, I appreciate your being here.

Um, in many ways this is obvious why this is a good story. Because it is a good story. And because it involves the President and it involves power and money and so forth. And at the same time, it seems that there hasn't been very much, very good, in-depth coverage, really, of the whole business. As much coverage as it's gotten, it's been rather superficial. Uh, aside from things... There has been some stuff written by reporters from the L.A. Times, from the New York Times [CN -- also Wall Street Journal and Washington Times]. You did this piece for New Republic.

How is it that you got interested in writing about this whole business?

Well, I was puzzled by something back in 19-aught, '91, '92: the fact that we seem to be electing a man President of the United States who we didn't know the first useful thing about him. And I kept waiting for my colleagues -- and the L.A. Times was the honorable exception here -- to go to Arkansas and find out what kind of a place Arkansas was, and what kind of a political milieu it had, and what forces might have shaped William Jefferson Clinton. After all, he was a long-serving Governor. He was Governor for 12 years!

And so I went to Arkansas, in part, to discover what kind of a Governor Bill Clinton had been. And what kind of politics the state was dominated by.

One of the questions that...
Or characterized by.
INGE raise in this piece that you wrote, and I think comes into a lot of people's minds as one tries to weigh what Whitewater was all about, who did what, and just how serious it is: the... In Washington, the Democrats (obviously), it is their interest to try to protect the President, because he is a Democrat. And the Republicans are doing what they can to try to make the President look bad. And that's clearly partisan politics.

Now there are also some serious issues involved here. And so we wouldn't want to belittle that. But as one is trying to puzzle out just what happened and how serious it all is, and one seems to sort of be leaning in the direction of thinking that, well, relatively speaking it's not terribly serious -- the question that does come up (and you raise it and I think other people have raised it) is: If, indeed, it's not such a big deal, why is it that the Clinton administration has worked so hard to try to keep the lid screwed on so tightly?

I can't give a definitive answer to that, because I don't know the President's thinking. On the other hand, he has consistently, throughout his career, shown a -- I'm going to choose my words very carefully here, because I neither like nor dislike Clinton. I don't know the man. -- but uh, shown a somewhat "flexible attitude" toward the truth. And the "book" on him in Arkansas is that Bill Clinton absolutely believes anything that he's saying at any given moment. Even if it contradicts what he said about 10 minutes ago. And this is coming from friends and enemies alike.

Arkansas is a rather peculiar place, but you're right to put this into some kind of perspective. Let's have a brief look at, or try to do a brief overview here: Look who's investigating this um, "small mess". (I again choose my words carefully.)

-+- Honor Among Thieves -+-

Whitewater appears to me to be, after a long study of the situation, a fairly minor -- yeah, highly questionable -- but a fairly typical S&L deal from the rogue years of the 1980s. If you shift your sights across the country to Arizona, Governor Fife Symington(sp?) was involved in a highly questionable S&L deal that netted him millions of dollars. And then, amongst the inquisitors of course, we forget that Senator Riegle was one of the "Keating 5"! The people outside New York may not be aware that Senator D'Amato is widely known as one of the greatest practitioners of "pecksniffery" in the United States Senate. And Senator Gramm got himself messed up in a sweetheart deal with a cratered S&L in his own state of Texas, where he ended up with -- oh, let's see -- Bill Clinton claims to have lost $60,000 in Whitewater. Senator Gramm got himself $50,000 worth of free cabinet work out of a cratering S&L owned by a former political associate friend of his. {1}.

[ be continued...]

--------------------------<< Notes >>---------------------------- {1} Note that the heading for the last paragraph, "Honor Among Thieves", has been added by me and was not part of the actual broadcast.

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Aperi os tuum muto, et causis omnium filiorum qui pertranseunt. Aperi os tuum, decerne quod justum est, et judica inopem et pauperem. -- Liber Proverbiorum XXXI: 8-9

Brian Francis Redman "The Big C"

"Justice" = "Just us" = "History is written by the assassins."