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MOLLY IVINS Whitewater Over the Falls Austin I am working womanfully on the Whitewater Scandal. I’m going to get a grip on it any day now. One of my secret vanities as a journalist is that I’m nonpartisan about ethical lapses, a veritable Ahab, I like to think, in relentless pursuit of do-badders of any persuasion. I pride myself on the roster of Democrats and/or liberals I have roasted, toasted and basted on matters both fiscal and moral: Lyndon Johnson, former House Speaker Jim Wright, Lieut. Gov . Bob Bullock, former Attorney General Jim Mattox, former Texas House Speaker Gib Lewis, etc., etc. It’s just that every time I see Senator Al D’Amato waxing indignant about Whitewater, I start laughing. You have to cut me some slack on this: I used to work for the New York Times, where I covered D’ Amato, who is one of the most awful weasels I ever ran across. Believe me, if you know Al D’Amato, watching him wax indignant about an ethical question is comic beyond all hope of redemption. Neverthelessoperating on the theory that with all this horsepuckey around, there’s bound to be a pony here somewhereI have been studying Whitewater. Here’s the deal: Sixteen years agopossibly orr a cold, dark nightBill and Hillary Clinton invested in a real estate deal that didn’t pan out, lost about $47,000 and took a deduction for at least part of the loss on their income taxes. So far, I fail to ignite. Like Queen Victoria, I am not amused by politicians who make money while holding public office, but I’ve never had to take a stand on a politician who lost money and failed to take a deduction before. Hillary Clinton later got shrewder about tax deductions, even taking off for donating Bill’s old underwear to the Salvation Army, but that is apparently not part of the current complaint. There follows the usual tangled tale of how the Clintons’ partner in the real estate deal, James McDougal, owns this savings and loan called Madison Guaranty what gets into the usual S&L trouble. At which point there’s the usual conflict of interest because Hillary Clinton has been hired to represent Madison Guaranty for the usual $2-K-a-month retainer, and among other legal work, she represents McDougal be Molly Ivins, a former Observer editor, is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. fore a state bank regulator appointed by her husband. Further conflict-of-interest charges loom on account of Hillary Clinton’s being a partner in the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock, which represented several banks and S&Ls and then later, as per usual, also represented the government in the liquidation of banks and S&Ls. At the Washington end, we get a big flapde-do because some Treasury officials briefed some White House officials on how the Resolution Trust Corp.’s examination of Madison Guaranty was coming along, ‘ and this is a big no-no because it might look like political pressure is being put on the RTC. Gawdawmighty, if there’s a virgin left at RTC, I’d like to know who it isgee, no one there ever would have guessed that the White House had any interest in Madison Guaranty; it’s only been on the front pages for two years now. The only truly distinguishing feature of the Madison Guaranty saga is how absolutely average it is. Notice that I am defending no one and nothing about it; I’m just telling you this story is as common as dirt. Talk about missing the forest for the tree. The Washington press corps has found itself a tree. Well, good on them. There just happens to be an entire darkling plain out there covered with the damn things. Had the media bothered to cover the S&L scandal back when it was happening, this story would be considered a hopeless yawner. You think the Rose Law Firm looks funny on this? Try Akin, Gump in Dallas or any of dozens of other law firms in Tekas alone. You think Texas looks strange on this? You should see some of the theft that was pulled off in California. You think the RTC might be questioned on its conduct of this case? The RTC should have been questioned, grilled and bastinadoed years ago. The Reagan Administration set up the S&Ls to be looted in 1981. It was done, and then the very lawmakers who voted for the Garn-St. Germain bill, who took money from the S&L lobby, who pressured the regulators on behalf of their home state contributors, had the nerve to set up an ethics investigation of five senators and call it quits. Except now, they want to make an example out of Madison Guaranty to get at the Clintons. Led by Al D’ Amato. Maybe it’s pathetic of me, but I’m still not a cynic. I actually hope that Rep. Jim Leach, who has a damn decent record on S&Ls, will use his hearing to get at what was wrong with the system, not just Madison Guaranty. I think that if he and Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez cooperated, the two of them could actu ally, finally, get after the whole forest and do a world of good in banking reform and regulation along the way. I gave up on the tooth fairy and Al D’ Amato a long time ago, but I still have faith in Leach and Henry B. Washington, D.C., March 17 Always so interesting to be in a city in the grip of an obssession. Whitewater weirdness reached such a pitch this week that we were treated to a Well-Known Washington journalist on a Sunday chat show solemnly announcing that he, personally, had been to Little Rock and that the real story there is “the confluence of money and power.” Duh. Twenty years this guy has been covering politics, and he just now figured out what it is? What did he think he was writing about before Whitewater? Ernie Dumas, a veteran Arkansas political reporter, wrote in yesterday’s New York Times that he thinks that every media computer in Washington has been coded to pu the word incestuous into Whitewater storieshe suspects it’s the Fl key. Having traveled en masse to Little Rock and made the stunning discovery that, in a real small place like that, all the players know one another, the reporters have returned here to announce the amazing news. As though the players in Washington don’t know one another. Watching the press corps belabor the obvious concerning what Dumas described as “a pathetic little investment fiasco and one of the smallest S&L belly flops in the country” is one of those “true tales of amazing Washington folkways” stories. Note that Madison Guaranty’s $50 million belly:flop, set up by deregulation passed in Washington, is 5 percent of the cost of the Silverado bellyflop in which George Bush’s son was involved and 0.01 percent of the total cost of the S&L debacle. Meanwhile, a political reporter arriving in Washington from the boonies will immediately notice an absolutely astonishing story. In fact, it is a bizarre tale of the confluence of money and power that can only be described as incestuous, and it is a battle about the most important piece of social legislation of our lifetimes=easily the most important since Social Security. And the most bizarre thing about this health care deal is the stark admission by lots of the players that the best answersingle-payeris not even under consideration because special interest money has it politically blocked. 8 APRIL 8, 1994