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Scaife Denies Ties to 'Conspiracy,' Starr

Richard Mellon Scaife Conservative billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife. (AP)

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  • By Robert G. Kaiser
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Thursday, December 17, 1998; Page A2

    Richard Mellon Scaife, the Pittsburgh billionaire who has given away hundreds of millions of dollars, much of it to conservative organizations, has denied that he is part of a "vast right-wing conspiracy" against President Clinton, and said he has no personal relationship with independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr.

    Traditionally publicity-shy, Scaife gave his first extended and substantive interview in many years to John F. Kennedy Jr., editor-in-chief of George magazine, which carries the interview in its January issue. Scaife told Kennedy that he has never met Starr, and criticized the results of the independent counsel's investigation into Clinton.

    "Four years and $40 million later, we haven't gotten anything," he said in the interview, which took place last month, after Starr sent to Congress his report on the Monica S. Lewinsky affair.

    Scaife controls four foundations with assets totaling nearly half a billion dollars. These foundations have given heavily to many conservative causes. The Heritage Foundation, for example, has received millions from Scaife foundations since its founding in the early 1970s.

    In recent years, the foundations gave about $2 million to the American Spectator magazine to fund its "Arkansas Project" investigations of stories about the Clintons in their home state, but Scaife personally cut off that aid late last year.

    Because Scaife is a longtime contributor to Pepperdine University, questions were raised about his role when Starr briefly accepted an offer to become dean of its law school and school of public policy. Both Starr and Scaife have now denied that this was anything but a coincidence.

    Scaife told Kennedy he was delighted when Starr announced in early 1997 that he would give up the job of independent counsel later that year. "I thought it was tremendous. Get the guy out of there! Let's get somebody in there to do something."

    Scaife was critical of Starr's finding that Vincent Foster, Clinton's friend and White House aide, committed suicide in 1993. "It just doesn't figure," Scaife said. His newspaper, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, has published stories by Christopher Ruddy challenging the official findings on Foster's death and suggesting he was murdered.

    Repeating a remark he made several years ago, Scaife called Foster's death "the Rosetta stone to the Clinton administration. Once you solve that one mystery, you'll know everything that's going on or went on."

    He also told Kennedy about a list "that I got out of a newsletter I never even heard of [that] lists the deaths in the Clinton administration. Have you ever seen this list? . . . God, there must be 60 people on there who have died mysteriously -- including eight of Clinton's former bodyguards."

    Scaife was evidently referring to compilations widely circulated on the Internet by groups such as "Free Republic," which describes itself as an organization fighting against the "liberal propaganda machine whose goal is to continue the expansion of a collective state and to control every aspect of our lives and fortunes."

    A recent version of the "Clinton body count" on the Free Republic's Web site lists four Army officers, described as once having helped provide security for Clinton and who it says were killed in a helicopter crash in Germany. The list also names four agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco who provided security for candidate Clinton in 1992 and were later killed in Waco, Tex., during the storming of the Branch Davidian compound.

    Secretary of Commerce Ronald H. Brown, killed in a plane crash in Croatia, is another person on the list. "There is the story in which Brown went into the Oval Office," Scaife recounted in the interview, "and said: 'They're coming after me, and I'm not going to take this. And I'm going to take people down with me. So what am I going to do?' And Clinton got up and, right out of 'The Godfather,' folded his arms and said, 'That's nice.' And a week later Brown was dead."

    Scaife cited no source for this story.

    "I think there has been a massive cover-up about what Bill Clinton's administration has been doing," Scaife told Kennedy, "and what he was doing when he was governor of Arkansas."

    He added of Clinton: "Listen, he can order people done away with at his will. He's got the entire federal government behind him."

    Scaife said he had long been a Republican, "but in the last few years . . . I have become more and more Libertarian. . . . I don't see the Republican Party really going anywhere." He criticized outgoing House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who once described Scaife as the father of modern conservatism, for failing to provide effective leadership as speaker. "In the last several years, the Republican Party has been the stupid party," he said.

    Kennedy asked Scaife, 66, why he kept such a low profile. "Because I'm a very private person," he replied. "I think I'm essentially shy. It runs in my family."

    The Scaifes are an old Pittsburgh family who once owned the oldest manufacturing company west of the Allegheny mountains. Scaife's father Alan married Sarah Mellon, a direct heir to the fortune first amassed by Judge Thomas Mellon in the last century. From her, Scaife inherited a fortune estimated now at more than $1 billion, though its real size is not known.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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