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McDougal Says Ex-Husband Urged Her to Lie

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  • By Michael Haddigan
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Thursday, March 25, 1999; Page A8

    LITTLE ROCK, March 24 James B. McDougal urged his ex-wife Susan to say she had a sexual affair with Bill Clinton so that independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr could use the information against the president before the 1996 election, Susan McDougal testified today.

    The McDougals, partners with Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton in the failed Whitewater real estate venture in the 1980s, were convicted along with then-Gov. Jim Guy Tucker (D) in obtaining millions in illegal loans, including a $300,000 federally backed loan for Susan McDougal, through a small business investment firm owned by David Hale.

    James McDougal began cooperating with Whitewater prosecutors after his conviction and tried to persuade his former wife to do the same to avoid a prison sentence, she said today.

    Responding to a second day of questioning by defense lawyer Mark Geragos, McDougal said her ex-husband told her that deputy independent counsel W. Hickman Ewing Jr. would be able to "get Clinton with a sex charge" before the 1996 election if she agreed to lie and say she had had an affair with Clinton. She denies ever having an affair with Clinton. Ewing told reporters during a break in the proceedings that he never heard of such a plan. "I never talked to Jim McDougal about that, and I wouldn't. I never heard any discussion along those lines in my office ever at the time frame she's talking about," Ewing said.

    Susan McDougal is on trial for criminal contempt and obstruction of justice for refusing to answer questions before a federal grand jury in the Whitewater probe.

    She has already spent 18 months in jail on a civil contempt charge.

    All along and again today, she has contended that Starr's prosecutors simply wanted evidence against Clinton. McDougal maintains she would not answer because she feared Starr would indict her for perjury if she didn't tell the story he wanted.

    "The saying goes that a grand jury will indict a ham sandwich if the prosecutor wants it," she said in testimony today.

    McDougal insisted several times during two days of questioning that she knows of no wrongdoing by the Clintons. She could face more jail time and a $750,000 fine if convicted of criminal contempt.

    During McDougal's often tearful testimony today, U.S. District Judge George W. Howard Jr. several times scolded her for giving answers he considered evasive.

    "I'm not about to let this jury get confused or misled," he said sternly. "I'm directing you to respond to these questions directly, and do not give a speech. Is that clear?"

    But during cross-examination by associate independent counsel Mark J. Barrett later in the day, McDougal stubbornly refused to provide "yes" or "no" answers to several of his questions. Asked several times whether 12 jurors -- and not Starr -- had convicted her in the Whitewater case, McDougal finally answered, "Yes." But her answer came only after another admonishment from the judge to respond directly.

    McDougal testified that after her former husband agreed to cooperate with prosecutors, he would try various versions of stories out on her to see whether they sounded believable.

    "He said this was something he had to do because he didn't want to die in jail," Susan McDougal said. James McDougal, who suffered from a number of health problems, did ultimately die in prison last year.

    McDougal said her former husband told her she should cooperate with Starr too. "He said, 'I'm sick and tired of you being a Pollyanna. You'd better get it straight. You're going to jail,' " Susan McDougal said. When she refused to go along with the plan, McDougal said, her ex-husband told her, "You don't have to say Clinton pressured Hale to make the loan. You just have to say you had a sexual affair with him."

    McDougal family members in the courtroom wept as McDougal described how she considered at one point cooperating with the independent counsel in a deal that would allow her to avoid jail.

    She said that during an Aug. 15, 1996, conference call with deputy independent counsel W. Ray Jahn, the prosecutor said Starr's office would not oppose probation on her Whitewater conviction and would "take care of" unrelated charges she faced in California. She has since been acquitted on those charges.

    But McDougal said she decided to turn down the offer, and once she made up her mind not to cooperate with Starr, she said, "I felt like I could live with myself."

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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