Meeting between Osama bin Laden and Saudi Arabia
- May: A meeting between Saudi billionaires and representatives of Osama bin Laden's terrorist network takes place at the Hotel Royale Monceau in Paris, where decisions are made as to who will fund how much. The meeting includes one Saudi investor who is closely involved with George W. Bush's oil ventures, the Saudi chief of intelligence Prince Turki al-Faisal, and an arms merchant. Journalist Greg Palast characterizes this as more of an attempt to bribe bin Laden to operate outside of Saudi Arabia than an outpouring of support. After the meeting, bin Laden issues a public fatwa against Western military targets in the Arabian peninsula. Bin Laden moves to Afghanistan and becomes heavily involved in the opium trade. Opium money is vital to both Taliban and al-Qaeda interests. Though French intelligence is alarmed at the meeting, and informs their US counterparts, once the information reaches the CIA, it is shelved and not investigated further. (CCR, Project Censored, Greg Palast, Greg Palast)
- May: Congressman Patrick Kennedy, son of senator Ted Kennedy, speaks eloquently of his family's personal tragedies in speaking out in opposition to a Republican-backed bill repealing the ban on assault weapons. Republican congressman Gerald Solomon takes umbrage to Kennedy's speech, accusing Kennedy of impugning his integrity and challenging Kennedy to fight him outside the House chambers. (Kennedy had said to Solomon, "You'll never know, Mr. Chairman, what it's like, because you don't have anyone in your family who was killed.") Solomon is known for his confrontational behavior and unpleasant disposition; in 1998, he will offend the Congressional Black Caucus by replacing a portrait of former representative Claude Pepper, a famed Democratic advocate for equal rights, with a portrait of segregationist Howard Smith in the Rules Committee room. (Hilton and Testa)
- May 6: In the Jim Guy Tucker/Jim and Susan McDougal trial, the defense decides not to have Susan McDougal testify, as her testimony basically is a variant of the same theme -- "Jim did it" -- and she doesn't want to cause any more damage to him during the trial. As for Jim McDougal, his lawyers and doctors both plead with him not to testify in his own (and the others') defense: his health is poor, his credibility is already at a low ebb, and, partially due to a blocked carotid artery, his cognition is impaired. But, fired by fifteen Prozac and the memories of his triumphant 1990 defeat of another set of charges against him, he insists on testifying. He presents a striking figure, styling himself as a "cotton factor" and dressing as the stereotypical Southern gentleman, with white suit, Panama hat, and walking stick. The media laps up his courthouse steps pronouncements, especially his repeated threats to "kick Kenneth Starr's butt up between his shoulders."
- He does well under questioning from his own lawyers, taking full responsibility for the crimes committed by Madison Guaranty and extolling the virtues of his fellow defendants. He brands David Hale, his primary accuser, as an enormous liar, saying that the stories Hale told the jury were uniformly false and that Bill Clinton had no involvement whatsoever in any of the loans under scrutiny. Unfortunately for McDougal and everyone else on trial, prosecutor Ray Jahn proves a more formidable adversary. It doesn't take long for Jahn to upset and confuse the physically frail, mentally unbalanced and drug-ravaged McDougal, catching McDougal in one lie and contradiction after another until McDougal starts spraying accusations almost at random, accusing the OIC, Congressman Jim Leach, and Senator Alfonse D'Amato of forging evidence against him. Defense objections asking that the court dismiss McDougal from the stand in the interests of his health and mental stability are overruled; Jahn spends three days dismantling McDougal piece by piece. Desperate to salvage something, McDougal abruptly reverses the course of his testimony, issuing contradictory accusations against the Clintons, Tucker, and his own ex-wife, then switching back to defending their actions. He even briefly attempts to fake a heart attack in the midst of Jahn's cross-examination. As his ex-wife Susan later puts it, he "self-destructed." Tired, angry, and thoroughly routed, he even refuses to allow his own lawyer to cross-examine him in an attempt to repair the damage he has done by misrepresenting Susan's involvement in his business dealings. (Susan McDougal, Joe Conason and Gene Lyons)
- May 6: Starr's office informs Michael Isikoff of Newsweek that the FBI pulled Hillary Clinton's fingerprints off of billing records from Rose Law Firm, the firm that Clinton used to work for. The implication is that Clinton is involved in the allegedly illegal billing practices that Starr says took place at Rose during Clinton's tenure there. What Isikoff fails to report is that fingerprints can last up to twenty years, and that Clinton said she probably handled those reports in 1992 as part of her response to press inquiries. Washington Post reporter Howard Kurtz will observe in reference to Starr's attempts at character assassination, "Now I know this is terribly old-fashioned, but I don't think that journalists ought to quote unnamed prosecutors as saying they have enough to charge somebody if those prosecutors don't want to go on record or bring a charge. This is the classic case of trying someone in the media." (Newsweek/Washington Post/James Carville)
- May 9: The defense in the Tucker/McDougal case plays a videotape of testimony given by Bill Clinton about the crimes Tucker and the McDougals allegedly committed, and then rests. The tape in and of itself is damning for the prosecution; not only does Clinton corroborate much of McDougal's original assertions that neither Clinton nor Tucker were involved in any wrongful business dealings, and flatly contradicts the wild and contradictory stories told by David Hale, but his calm, firm demeanor contrasts well with prosecutor Ray Jahn's attempt to bully and mock the president into making incriminating statements. Within the defense team, there is dissension. Susan McDougal is praying that the testimony of Clinton and other witnesses, both for the defense and prosecution, will offset her ex-husband's disastrous session on the stand; she fears that her story, of divorcing Jim McDougal in 1985, living with her future husband Pat Harris out of wedlock, and signing whatever the physically and mentally ill Jim McDougal asked her to sign has destroyed her moral and business credibility for the jurors. And one of Tucker's lawyers, Darrell Brown, is eager to have Tucker testify in his own defense. Brown worries that Tucker, as any politician, brings a great deal of negative baggage to his trial, and only his firm and forthright testimony can counteract that. "[A]m Arkansas jury would want to hear their governor tell them he was innocent," write authors Joe Conason and Gene Lyons; "If he didn't they well might assume it was because he couldn't." But Tucker, formerly a feisty and combative sort, is seriously ill. It takes all he can muster to present an upright presence in court; outside of the courtroom, he is bedridden, his liver all but ceasing to function. And his lawyers don't want Tucker to have to defend himself from the issue of his bankruptcy fraud indictment. For Tucker to testify would extend the trial out by another four to six weeks; Tucker doesn't feel he is strong enough for that ordeal. (Joe Conason and Gene Lyons)
- May 14: Closing arguments in the Tucker/McDougal conspiracy case begin. Prosecutor Ray Jahn works manfully to rehabilitate the credibility of his star witness, convicted embezzler and proven liar David Hale. He also manages to restate the implied criminal culpability of Bill Clinton. The defense renews its attacks on Hale's credibility, emphasize that Tucker didn't see a dime of money from the loans in question, and, in one phase of the close, pits the credibility of Hale against that of Clinton. Hale will "tear this nation to shreds, he'll tear this state to shreds to save himself from going to the penitentiary," says defense lawyer Sam Heuer. Susan McDougal's lawyer takes a similar approach for his client.
- Realizing that the attacks on Clinton are backfiring, Jahn switches tactics and suddenly defends Clinton's veracity, reversing four years of accusations and attacks by Jahn's OIC on Clinton to pin the blame for the variety of crimes on Jim McDougal and, to a lesser extent and with less evidence, on Tucker and Susan McDougal. He demonstrates that Jim McDougal contradicted himself time and again in his flip-flopping accusations and defenses of Clinton, and in the process hitches David Hale's credibility to that of the president. "Ladies and gentlemen, who is contradicting the President of the United States?" Jahn thunders. "It's not David Hale, it's Jim McDougal.... The office of the President of the United States can't be besmirched by people such as Jim McDougal!"
- Legal observers realize that Jahn has essentially torpedoed the OIC's entire case against Clinton in order to bring a conviction against the defendants, but that maneuver is ignored by the media. Though Jahn has destroyed any chance of bringing criminal charges against either Bill or Hillary Clinton in regards to Whitewater or Madison Guaranty, the media refuses to grasp that fact. Kenneth Starr will rely on that fact to reopen his campaign of innuendo and baseless accusations against Clinton after this trial is history. (Joe Conason and Gene Lyons)
- May 28: The Clinton administration admits that it wrongfully collected FBI background reports on hundreds of people, including prominent Republicans, in its Whitewater defense efforts. (See the entry on "Filegate" below.) (Washington Post)
McDougals, Tucker convicted on Whitewater charges; OIC asks Susan McDougal to lie about having sex with Clinton
- May 28: The jury returns its verdicts in the conspiracy cases against Jim Guy Tucker, Jim McDougal, and Susan McDougal. James McDougal is convicted on 18 counts of conspiracy and fraud. Jim Guy Tucker is convicted on a count of conspiracy and one of mail fraud, though the central charge against Tucker, fraud involving the $825,000 loan through David Hale. Susan McDougal is convicted on all four counts of misusing federal funds and falsifying documents. Tucker, stunned and near death from liver failure, announces that he will resign as governor of Arkansas: "Although I am innocent of the charges made," he tells the press, "I must accept the verdict of the jury while I appeal. But I cannot, and should not, allow our people or our state to bear any part of that burden." Tucker's resignation allows Lieutenant Governor Mike Huckabee, a conservative Republican, to assume the office.
- The media twists the story to reflect badly on Clinton; the thrust of the reporting is that the trial jury believed David Hale over Clinton, a conclusion that is completely different from the proceedings of the trial. But the jurors quickly shoot down the attempt to use the verdict to besmirch Clinton. Forewoman Sandra Wood says that "the president's credibility was never an issue.... I just felt like he was telling us to the best of his knowledge what he knew." A New York Times article reports that other jurors believed Hale concocted the allegations against Clinton; one juror calls Hale "an unmitigated liar [who] perjured himself.... David Hale invoked the President's name for one reason: to save his butt. We all felt that way. ...I wasn't going to take away anyone's freedom on the testimony of David Hale.... He's one of the greatest con men whom I've ever seen. I think it was an absolute travesty that Hale got sentenced to [only] 24 months."
- The OIC is quick to begin reworking their case against Clinton. OIC lawyers begin courting both McDougals, offering to keep them out of jail if they testify against the Clintons. Jim McDougal, facing what is essentially a life sentence because of his age and infirm health, later says he is approached by prosecutor Amy St. Eve. St. Eve flatters and wheedles McDougal into cooperating with the prosecution in return for a more lenient sentence. St. Eve is joined in the recruitment efforts by ABC producer Chris Vlasto, who is responsible for broadcasting the electronically manipulated videotape of Hillary Clinton on Nightline in December 1995 and is an ardent Clinton-basher with his own journalistic axe to grind. Vlasto has already befriended McDougal, and now pleads Starr's case, promising McDougal that Starr will "greet you with open arms." McDougal eagerly flips, promising Starr that he will tell him whatever he and the OIC wants to know.
- Indeed, he will. He begins by reversing his testimony in the trial and now says that Clinton was indeed involved in the $300,000 Master Marketing loan with himself and David Hale. (McDougal's story has not yet been jibed with Hale's version of events; this oversight will later be corrected by OIC coaching.) McDougal brags to his ex-wife Susan about his deal with Starr, saying that he has been promised a lenient sentence and his choice of federal hospital facilities. He also laughs about the fact that Starr will portray him as an upstanding Christian during his sentencing. According to Susan, McDougal has always mocked Christianity and the people who practice it; she is angered and horrified by her ex-husband's entire approach. At first Susan has trouble believing that McDougal is serious; he keeps coming by to discuss his latest conversations with the OIC, saying in more than one instance, "I've got a whole new twist on that story that I'm going to tell them. Listen to this. What do you think about the way I say this?" Susan McDougal says that her ex-husband would repeatedly "come up and tell different stories to us and different ways that he was thinking about telling it, and did this sound more believable or did that sound more believable? And I remember Claudia [Riley, who has been letting Susan live with her family] and I were talking about it and saying, 'They're never going to believe him. This story is just so incredible.' I really thought that the story was getting so outlandish that they would...look at it as we did and say there's nothing to it." But Susan was wrong. The more outlandish and contradictory McDougal's stories are, the quicker the OIC buys into them. McDougal finds the entire situation hysterically funny. Worse for Susan, McDougal, who is quick to realize that the entire point of his discussion with the OIC is to pin criminal charges onto the Clintons, tries to drag her back into it. "He told me that it would be a lot of fun," she recalls, "that we could have fun together, we could be together again, and they would pay for a place for us to stay, and that we would be able to pay the Clintons back for their not being good friends to us.... [H]e said it wouldn't be hard at all. We'd be a team again. And he acted as if it would just be a lark to do it together." McDougal finds the OIC's deputy prosecutor Hickman Ewing particularly gullible, and laughs about how willing he is to believe the most outlandish lies about Clinton's improper behavior. He even boasts that the OIC is helping him craft his lies. He tells Susan, "I'm not making these up out of whole cloth. They're giving me the documents to look over so I can make it right! I've got all the documents, Susan. The Clintons don't!" Susan refuses to discuss anything with the OIC and characterizes Starr as a "lying bastard." She writes, "I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that this was a witch-hunt, and I knew of nothing that [Hillary] or Bill had done wrong."
- There are several reasons why Susan refuses to cooperate with McDougal's schemes. One is her anger at being charged and convicted for crimes she knows she didn't commit, when David Hale's wife, who forged numerous financial documents for her husband, was never charged. Another is her lack of trust in the OIC's professed good intentions. She has the example of Sarah Hawkins to consider. Hawkins, the former Madison Guaranty "compliance officer" responsible for ensuring the firm's compliance with federal and state guidelines. The OIC threatened her with 80 felony counts and tried to force her to "flip" on the McDougals, but Hawkins refused; finally, after much legal wrangling, the OIC informed her attorney she was no longer a target for prosecution. But after Hawkins testified in Susan's behalf, the OIC once again informed her that she was again a target -- and in open court, prosecutor Ray Jahn told her attorney that if he were wise, he would have his client plead the Fifth Amendment. Hawkins did so, depriving Susan McDougal of an important exculpatory witness; in return, Hawkins, whose career was destroyed, was told that she would no longer be a focus for prosecution. To make her situation worse, Jahn informs Susan that he is aware of her status as a defendant in an unrelated case in California: Susan is charged with embezzlement by her former employer, the wife of symphony conductor Zubin Mehta. Before the OIC's formation, the Los Angeles prosecutor's office had ignored Mehta's charges, because of her history of filing similar false charges against other employees. But after the OIC took power, the charges were suddenly being pursued. Susan knows the OIC's office is involved in pressuring the Los Angeles district attorney to hound her. Jahn also tells Susan that she will begin having trouble with the IRS, and that he has already subpoenaed two of her brothers, both former Madison employees who had already been cleared of any wrongdoing. Of course, none of these things would happen if Susan testified for the OIC.
- Susan McDougal says that Jahn never explicitly asked her to lie. Instead, he mentions the Clintons, and tells her, "You know who the investigation is about, and you know what we want." As for her ex-husband, he hounds her to cooperate with the OIC, and warns that she faces serious jail time if she doesn't. "All you have to do is say that Clinton knew about the loans," he tells her. Susan's fiancee, Nashville public defender Pat Harris, is her voice of conscience. "A lie isn't for that day," he tells her. "You don't just tell it once. You will have to go before many grand juries, you will have to go into many courtrooms, and if you lie right now it will never be over. Your whole life will be lying and buttressing that lie, and you will be doing it over and over and over again, and it's not that easy. Susan's mother, a Belgian emigre, agrees, comparing the OIC to the Nazis who forced her to flee her country. "When they wanted to put somebody in prison," Susan recalls her mother saying, "the Nazis would go to their children or their families and they would say just give us information on them or we will get you. And my mother said to me...'If I can stand up to that, you can stand up to this. We'll do it together.'"
- After Susan makes it clear that she won't cooperate, McDougal comes to her with an alternate deal. Hickman Ewing, the head of the OIC's Arkansas operation, is keenly interested in finding dirt on the Clintons before the 1996 election in order to "derail" the Clinton re-election campaign. McDougal tells her, "If you'll just say you had sex with Bill Clinton, they'll give you anything you want. ...You can just say you had a sexual affair with him. The election is coming up. That would be enough to destroy him. It would be enough to win the election. There's a man named Hickman Ewing who works in the independent counsel's office, and he believes he can get Clinton on a sex charge before the election. If you will come in and do this, you can write your own ticket. You can have anything you want." Susan refuses this, too, and McDougal comes back with a third offer. Now the story is that she is in love with Clinton and won't testify against him, so instead, she'll testify against Hillary. Susan refuses this also. As sentencing approaches, he tells her every day, "The OIC is ready for you. If you'll just agree to it, there's no way you'll go to jail." Before sentencing, Susan McDougal decides to go with her attorney to hear for herself what the OIC is willing to deliver. The OIC attorneys tell her that if her proffer is acceptable, they will recommend probation instead of jail time, help her get rid of the Mehta charges, and quash new federal income tax charges that are being prepared. When McDaniel asks what they want in return, OIC lawyer Ray Jahn says, "she knows who this investigation is about. And she knows what we want." Susan refuses yet again. Jim McDougal tells her that he will never speak to her again, and he makes good on that promise.
- Susan McDougal will be sentenced for her convictions on August 20. (Susan McDougal, Joe Conason and Gene Lyons)
- May 29: Elections are held in Israel; Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu becomes Prime Minister after assuring the citizenry that he will continue to support the Oslo peace accords, even though he has built his political career on opposing the accords. Netanyahu forms a coalition government primarily composed of small right-wing parties opposed to peace with the Palestinians. Netanyahu will go back on his word, working tirelessly to undermine the Oslo peace agreements, and initiating actions guaranteed to inflame Palestinian resentment, such as opening the exit of an ancient tunnel that opens near the Temple Mount (Peres had been negotiating with the Palestinians to transform the Mount into the site of a mosque in return for the opening of the tunnel), and sending assassination squads into Amman to kill Hamas leaders. Netanyahu also violates the Oslo agreement towards withdrawal of Israeli forces from the city of Hebron. The Palestinian intifada resurges with more violence than ever before. Eventually Bill Clinton is able to work a deal with Netanyahu, the PLO's Arafat, and Jordan's King Hussein that would transfer most of the city of Hebron to Palestinian control, and Israel would withdraw most of its troops from the West Bank, in a series of agreements known as the Wye River Accords. (Dan Cohn-Sherbok, Dawoud el-Alami)