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Arkansas' Senators Complained About Handling of Legal Claims

By Susan Schmidt
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON

Arkansas' Democratic senators complained to top Clinton administration officials last year about the government's handling of legal claims against Seth Ward, a former Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan employee and the father-in-law of former Associate Attorney General Webster L. Hubbell.

Sen. Dale Bumpers, D, who once called Ward a "good supporter," sent a May 26, 1993, letter about Ward's treatment by the Resolution Trust Corp. to White House counsel Bernard Nussbaum and Deputy Treasury Secretary Roger C. Altman, a political appointee serving as interim chief of the RTC. Bumpers also sent copies of the letter to three Arkansans working in the White House -- chief of staff Thomas F. "Mack" McLarty, and William Kennedy III and the late Vincent Foster of the counsel's office.

Sen. David Pryor, D, lodged his own complaint with Altman and top Treasury aide Joshua Steiner in July about the "appalling" waste of money and "abuse of power" by government attorneys in their attempt to recover Madison funds from Ward, a wealthy Arkansas businessman. Like Bumpers, Pryor asked Altman to review the RTC's settlement with Ward, which required him to return $340,000 in Madison funds to the RTC.

It does not appear that the letters from Bumpers and Pryor, which were made available by the RTC under the Freedom of Information Act, resulted in any change in the RTC's treatment of Ward. Ward referred calls to his attorney Alston Jennings, who declined to comment on the congressional correspondence.

McLarty said Thursday that he did not remember receiving the letter but was "confident we didn't take any action on it."

The letters from Bumpers and Pryor, which mentioned Ward as part of a broader attack on RTC litigation procedures, are the first indications that members of Congress contacted political appointees on behalf of a prominent constituent who has come under federal scrutiny in the Madison affair.

Altman has been under political fire and subpoenaed by a grand jury about a series of contacts he had with White House officials on matters related to Madison while serving as head of the independent regulatory agency. Steiner testified before a grand jury in Washington Thursday and was expected to be asked about a complaint made by Clinton adviser George Stephanopoulos about the RTC's hiring of former Republican federal prosecutor Jay Stephens to handle some Madison civil cases.

In Congress, Republicans have seized on contacts between White House and RTC officials as evidence of political interference in the Madison probe. One RTC investigator who worked on the case has gone to Congress to complain that she felt pressured by her superiors.