President Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton announced yesterday they have obtained an adjustable-rate loan from PNC Mortgage Corp. of America for the suburban New York house they plan to live in after leaving the White House--without having the Democratic Party's top fund-raiser guarantee the loan.
Unlike the controversial earlier arrangement, the new financing, as described by White House officials, is a fairly conventional 30-year mortgage. The $1.3 million loan has an interest rate of 7.5 percent for the first three years, followed by a floating rate tied to Treasury bills. The Clintons are putting 20 percent down on the $1.7 million Chappaqua house. They will go to closing on Nov. 1, allowing Hillary Clinton to become for the first time a resident of the state where she plans a 2000 Senate campaign.
When the Clintons bought the house, they received a loan through Bankers Trust when Democratic fund-raiser Terence McAuliffe guaranteed it by putting an equivalent amount of cash as collateral in a Bankers Trust account.
Although the Clintons said the loan was approved by the Office of Government Ethics, it prompted criticism from people who said McAuliffe's help amounted to an improper gift.
PNC Mortgage is a subsidiary of PNC Bank Corp. (formerly Pittsburgh National Bank). Unlike Bankers Trust, PNC is not requiring any guarantee on the loan beyond the value of the property.
Associates of the Clintons said a half-dozen or so banks offered similar loans without guarantees of the sort that Bankers Trust demanded. If so, it raises the question of why the Clintons opted for such an unusual financing arrangement initially.
One answer may be timing. There were multiple bidders for the Chappaqua property, sources said, and the Clintons feared their offer would not be competitive unless they had financing guaranteed. After other well-heeled friends begged off, the McAuliffe-backed loan was put together the night before the Clintons' offer was accepted.
Controversy over the financing is not over. Judicial Watch, a conservative group that has embroiled the Clinton White House in numerous lawsuits, is continuing its legal challenge against the financing. The group alleges that the Clintons, with millions in legal debts, could not qualify for such a loan except through improper favoritism.
Judicial Watch noted that PNC's Web site shows that someone earning $200,000 should be capable of receiving, at most, a loan of $611,000. Most ex-presidents, however, have been able to achieve millionaire status soon after leaving office.
A PNC spokeswoman did not return a call seeking comment. A White House spokesman, James Kennedy, noted that PNC was hardly alone in being willing to extend a conventional mortgage to the Clintons. "My understanding is that a number of options were available, and this one was deemed to be the most sensible for them," Kennedy said.