A criminal trial in Little Rock has produced information that Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton in 1990 borrowed more money than previously known from a small Arkansas bank owned by Clinton supporters, part of a decade-long pattern of loans from banks owned or operated by friends of the then-governor of Arkansas.
Bank promissory notes introduced at the trial show that the Perry County Bank loans were more numerous than disclosed by Clinton's gubernatorial reelection campaign and totaled $285,000, substantially more than the $180,000 detailed in Arkansas campaign finance reports. One $60,000 loan was never publicly reported, the records show.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal and political loans made to the Clintons since in 1978, when they borrowed money to develop Whitewater property, have been under investigation by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr. Over time, public disclosure of a variety of loans unrelated to Whitewater has been spotty, late and difficult to follow.
This trail of borrowed money has guided aspects of Starr's Whitewater inquiry and thus far, led him to two institutions where he has brought criminal charges against bankers on matters unrelated or tangentially related to the Clinton loans.
But in the trials, prosecutors have pursued but not proven a consistent theme -- that the Clintons benefited financially from favorable treatment and the alleged illegal acts of their business associates or friends.
Where Starr's inquiry is leading -- and what it may ultimately mean, if anything, for the Clintons -- remains unclear.
The Clintons have not been charged, and prosecutors have said that Clinton's 1990 bank loans were repaid by his campaign at prevailing interest rates.
David E. Kendall, the Clintons' lawyer, said prosecutors have deemed none of the loans improper and that campaign workers listed the loan amounts not as the total borrowed but as the outstanding balances at the time the state election forms were filed. One loan was not listed because it was borrowed and repaid before the report was filed, Kendall said.
In the current trial, prosecutors contend Perry County Bank owner Herby Branscum Jr. and his partner, Robert M. Hill, allegedly broke campaign and banking laws by reimbursing themselves with bank money for Clinton campaign contributions and concealing large cash withdrawals by campaign workers. The loan records were used by deputy independent counsel W. Hickman Ewing Jr. to argue that the bankers, whose institution was regulated by Clinton appointees and who had strong ties to the state Democratic Party, would do what they were asked by the governor or his representatives. In court, Branscum has denied allegations that he tried to curry Clinton's favor.
Clinton began his dealings with the Perry County Bank the year before he decided to run for president, borrowing money in his and his wife's names to pay for a last-minute campaign blitz to win his last bid for governor.
As the state's top politician, Clinton never had trouble borrowing money. The banks' owners were usually friends or supporters; they never required him to put up collateral.
At the Perry County Bank, owner Branscum was a longtime friend who had raised money for Clinton's campaigns since 1974. Prosecutors said Branscum approved the first loan himself without approval of the bank's loan committee.
Clinton later appointed Branscum to an unsalaried but influential post on the state highway commission and reappointed Hill to the state banking board. Clinton said he did not trade appointments for their cash contributions or for the loans.
Kendall said Clinton's borrowing from the Perry County Bank was proper and that campaign workers attempted to report them accurately in forms filed with the state. "There was no default on any of the loans," Kendall said. "The filings were completely accurate in terms of state law."
Bank documents show the Clintons borrowed the money personally but transferred it into the gubernatorial campaign committee, which was responsible for repayment. All loans were deposited into a "Clinton For Governor" account.
The money was borrowed shortly before the primary and general elections, when the Clinton campaign panicked over a possible defeat even though Clinton's campaign had raised more than $2 million in contributions, and Clinton, then in his fourth two-year term, was the hands-down favorite.
But Bruce Lindsey, a former campaign treasurer and a current White House aide, testified in court that the campaign wanted to run television ads to respond to a wave of critical ads unleashed by Clinton's opponents just days before the general election.
Lindsey said one loan was made in such haste that after speaking with Branscum about borrowing more money, he obliterated the numbers on a previous promissory note and inserted new loan information, including his own calculations of interest owed.
Dan Guthrie, Branscum's lawyer, said any notes with questionable entries were followed by legitimate copies signed by the Clintons.
The first Perry County Bank loan was May 16, 1990, when the Clintons borrowed $100,000 for the primary contest against an underdog. Five days later, when the loan was deposited in the committee's bank account, Hillary Clinton submitted a financial statement showing the Clintons' net worth as $226,000.
On May 23, six days before the primary, the Clintons borrowed another $60,000. A primary campaign report was due on June 28, and so the day before, the Clintons paid off part of the original $100,000 by taking out another $60,000 loan. One possible reason for this, Kendall said, is that the campaign wanted to show as few resources to its opponents as possible.
When the report was filed, it showed one loan outstanding for $80,000. Kendall said the report should have specified that this amount was the combined balance for two loans, which had been reduced by political contributions and the refinancing loan. The last-minute refinancing loan was not required to be listed, Kendall said, because it was taken out after the primary and repaid before the next general election report.
Clinton had a generous lead over his Republican opponent by the fall, but the Clintons borrowed $75,000 one week before the general election for additional television ads. On Nov. 5, the day before the election, the Clintons borrowed another $50,000. Clinton won reelection with 57 percent of the vote.
But general election campaign reports filed in December 1990 listed two Perry County Bank loans for $50,000 each. Again, Kendall said, the amount listed in state filings reflected the current debt.
For the next year, campaign contributions slowly reduced the loan principals. On Dec. 14, 1990, the last day Clinton could legally raise money for the debt since the state banned fund-raising during the legislative session, Hill gave Clinton about $15,000 in contributions, according to court testimony. Clinton, in videotaped testimony, said he did not recall meeting with Hill.
On Oct. 3, 1991, Clinton announced his presidential candidacy and filed his first disclosure report with the Federal Election Commission. It did not mention the Perry County Bank debts. The campaign later filed an amendment listing the loans.
A week after the presidential announcement, all the loans incurred during the gubernatorial primary were paid off. But $100,000 was still owed for the general election.
During the presidential campaign, little attention was paid to the remaining Perry County debt, and no payments were made to reduce the principal until October 1992. Within weeks before the November presidential election, the remaining loans were paid off with donations from contributors mostly outside Arkansas, including some big Democratic Party givers who were supporters of Clinton's presidential campaign. The gubernatorial campaign had paid more than $30,000 in interest during the life of the Perry County loans. Kendall said no money raised for the presidential campaign was used to pay off the debts.
The Perry County loans are part of a list of the Clintons' personal and political loans that have been made public since the Whitewater investigation began in 1994.
Since Whitewater's inception in 1978, the Clintons and their partners, S&L owner James B. McDougal and his former wife Susan, borrowed money from numerous banks to buy the land and pay for improvements. Loans for those purposes came from banks throughout Arkansas including Little Rock, Flippin, Cherry Valley, Jonesboro and Kingston.
In 1983, the Clintons needed to refinance one of those loans and borrowed $20,800 from Security Bank in Paragould in northeastern Arkansas, where the bank's owner was Clinton's state banking commissioner.
Between 1983 and 1988, Clinton borrowed hundreds of thousands of dollars in personal loans from the Cherry Valley Bank in eastern Arkansas owned by W. Maurice Smith, a gubernatorial aide. The money was used for campaigns and to promote a state education initiative.
Documents show loans of $220,000, but Smith has said the loans could have totaled as much as $400,000. Part of the debt was repaid with corporate donations.
In 1984, Clinton borrowed $50,000 from the Bank of Cherry Valley for a campaign. More than half of that debt was paid with contributions raised at a fund-raiser sponsored by McDougal.
The couple also borrowed $80,000 in 1988 from First Commercial bank in Little Rock for half ownership of a condominium for Hillary Clinton's parents.