“And now the investigation itself is under investigation.”
–Bill Clinton on national television, Aug. 17
That almost unnoticed throwaway line from the President’s grudging confessional refers to an almost unreported proceeding now underway in the Federal courthouse at Fort Smith, Ark. There are no television crews camped out in Fort Smith because Monica Lewinsky will never show up there. But behind the closed doors of the grand jury room, prosecutors are taking sworn testimony about possible witness-tampering and obstruction of justice in the so-called “Arkansas Project.”
In case you don’t recall, the Arkansas Project was a secretive, $2.4 million anti-Clinton operation run by The American Spectator magazine between 1993 and 1997 with funding from conservative billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife’s tax-exempt foundations. Details of the project were first revealed in these pages last February. Then in March, the Associated Press and the Internet magazine Salon reported allegations that some of Mr. Scaife’s money had been funneled to David Hale, the former Little Rock judge and con man who is independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s main Whitewater witness against the President. The allegations initially were made by Caryn Mann, former girlfriend of an Arkansas Project operative and bait shop owner named Parker Dozhier, and by Ms. Mann’s teenage son.
Although both Mr. Dozhier and Mr. Hale vehemently denied the payoff charges, as did The Spectator , the Justice Department took them seriously and insisted that someone other than Mr. Starr should investigate them. The independent counsel was deemed to have a conflict of interest because he had accepted (and later declined) a Scaife-funded deanship at Pepperdine University. After much disputation between Mr. Starr and Attorney General Janet Reno, it was announced that the Hale allegations would be probed by another ex-prosecutor: Michael Shaheen, the former chief of the Office of Professional Responsibility at the Justice Department.
Having retired from Justice last year, Mr. Shaheen is directing the grand jury in Fort Smith. Unlike the Office of Independent Counsel, however, Mr. Shaheen’s office doesn’t leak and thus has received scant press attention. (Besides, reporting Mr. Shaheen’s progress might also prove embarrassing to the press-friendly Mr. Starr, whose habitual leakage still is being investigated by the chief judge of the Federal District Court in Washington, D.C.)
Even without leaks, there are some clues to the direction of the Shaheen probe. According to an Aug. 21 report in Salon , the Fort Smith grand jury already has taken testimony from Ms. Mann and her son, Joshua Rand, about the alleged payments to Mr. Hale, as well as from Mr. Dozhier.
They may also have been asked about other alleged Arkansas Project activities, such as the apparent effort to obtain for Mr. Hale the services of a very expensive Washington attorney–and very close friend of Mr. Starr–named Theodore Olson.
Perhaps coincidentally, Mr. Olson also happens to have been an attorney for The American Spectator , as well as a board member of the nonprofit foundation that publishes the magazine. He also was present at the board’s special meeting in October 1997, when Spectator publisher Ronald Burr was abruptly fired from the job he had held for 30 years–after Mr. Burr demanded an outside audit of the project’s finances.
Sources at the right-wing monthly say that Mr. Olson–who was the anonymous author of Spectator articles urging criminal prosecution of Bill and Hillary Clinton and their associates– recently resigned from the magazine’s board. Neither he nor its current publisher, Terry Eastland, could be reached for comment.
Meanwhile, however, friends of Mr. Burr say he has been asked to testify voluntarily before the Fort Smith grand jury. Silent until now, the former publisher knows all the details of the Arkansas Project’s funding and the role played by the Scaife interests.
If the grand jury’s invitation to Mr. Burr suggests anything about the direction of the Shaheen inquiry, so may the fact that Stephen S. Boynton–the Virginia attorney who actually ran the Arkansas Project–recently retained Frank Dunham, a high-powered white-collar criminal defense lawyer. Mr. Dunham would not discuss the case but confirmed that he represents Mr. Boynton, who was paid supposed “legal fees” by the Spectator foundation which he used to hire Mr. Dozhier, at least two private detectives and other “consultants” for the Arkansas Project. Mr. Boynton repeatedly has denied any wrongdoing in connection with the project.
In his dalliance with Ms. Lewinsky, the President delivered himself into the hands of his enemies. But those enemies, who never accepted the results of the last two Presidential elections, were determined to bring him down long before he succumbed to her charms. They spent millions of dollars to drive him from office with false accusations of murder, drug-dealing and corruption. And if Michael Shaheen can prove they crossed the boundaries of law and ethics in that dubious pursuit, they will end up as disgraced as the President himself, or perhaps even more so. History may well consider a sin of the flesh, and even the lies concealing that sin, to have been venial indeed when compared with a conspiracy against the Constitution.