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Vowing Silence on Whitewater, Susan McDougal Reports to Jail

By Susan Schmidt
The Washington Post

A defiant Susan McDougal reported to jail Monday morning vowing to keep her silence in the face of prosecutors' questions about the actions of Bill and Hillary Clinton in the Whitewater affair.

McDougal, a convicted felon who is being held in contempt of court for refusing to testify before a grand jury, presented herself to reporters on the courthouse steps Monday as a martyr who will not lie in exchange for leniency from independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr. She spent the day in a holding cell before U.S. marshals packed her off to the Pulaski County Jail.

How long McDougal's silence will last was the question of the day. McDougal and her lawyers have engaged in a shifting legal and public relations strategy over the past week.

For the moment, she is resolute.

"I won't answer their questions," McDougal said Monday. "I don't trust them." Starr and his lawyers "have always wanted something on the Clintons," said McDougal. She fears she'll be charged with perjury if she doesn't tell the grand jury what they want to hear, she said.

This stance was something of a departure from last week, when McDougal was saying publicly that she found cooperation overtures from prosecutors "tempting." She said then that while she didn't know of anything illegal done by the Clintons, they had not been "open and honest" in discussing Whitewater matters.

In the past few days, McDougal has adopted the harder line against cooperation advocated by her lawyers. She appeared on Larry King Live Friday night, and McDougal and lawyer Bobby McDaniel asserted that Starr was offering her a no-jail-time deal in exchange for incriminating information about the Clintons. That prompted Starr to issue a statement saying they were "brazenly trying to deceive the public" about discussions with his office and about her legal rights before the grand jury as a convicted felon.

Susan McDougal is set to begin serving a two-year sentence Sept. 30 for obtaining a fraudulent $300,000 federally backed loan in the mid-1980s. President Clinton, who was Arkansas governor at that time, has been accused of helping arrange that loan, a charge he has flatly denied.

She's the second former close Little Rock friend of the Clintons to go to jail rather than provide information about them sought by Starr's office. Former associate attorney general Webster L. Hubbell, first lady Hillary Clinton's long-time Rose Law Firm partner, is serving a two-year prison sentence for defrauding his clients. Prosecutors said they were not satisfied that he had been forthcoming about the Clintons and their ties to the failed Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan.

McDougal has said publicly she knows of nothing illegal done by either of the Clintons, who were partners in the Whitewater land venture with her and ex-husband James B. McDougal, onetime owner of Madison and now a convicted felon who is cooperating with Starr's inquiry. But her refusal to answer specific questions about them - to the point of going to jail - has only managed to intensify interest in what she might know.

Making the rounds of national television interview shows over the past week, McDougal said at worst she was guilty of being a "frivolous" woman who blithely signed papers her husband put before her. Starr's office Monday was deluged with callers won over by her seeming sincerity and engaging manner.

Some of Susan McDougal's $300,000 loan money ended up with the Whitewater Development Corp., the real estate venture she owned jointly with the Clintons and her ex-husband.

Starr's office is trying to determine the truth of accusations that Clinton, while governor, asked businessman David Hale to make the loan to help out James McDougal. Susan McDougal told reporters that she was asked - and refused to answer - what Clinton knew about that loan when she briefly appeared before a grand jury last week.

Under the law, she no longer has a constitutional right to remain silent about criminal acts for which she already has been convicted. In demanding her testimony, Starr's office has granted her immunity from further prosecution related to those activities, but she could still face perjury charges if she does not tell the truth.

James McDougal, who faces up to 84 years in prison for his conviction on bank fraud and conspiracy charges, is already cooperating with Starr's office. Monday, Susan McDougal's lawyer, Jenniffer Horan, said prosecutors have set him up in a Little Rock apartment for weeks of debriefing. Susan McDougal, who said her ex-husband has urged her to cooperate, claims McDougal told her he will get his choice of minimum security prisons in which to serve a reduced sentence.