“I was angry, frustrated and above all disappointed that I was not going to be able to carry through and finish bringing the indictments,” writes Robert Fiske, a former U.S. attorney who served as the original independent counsel in charge of the Whitewater investigation, in a forthcoming memoir, “Prosecutor Defender Counselor.”
But in his first extensive public comments on his Whitewater investigation, in his book and in an exclusive Yahoo News interview, Fiske contends his removal had a devastating impact on the agents and prosecutors working the case: It ultimately caused the Whitewater probe to stretch on for years longer than it needed to under Starr, a conservative former federal appellate judge who had no prosecutorial experience.
“The simplest way to put it, after I was replaced, the lawyers on the staff in Arkansas said the agents for the FBI and IRS were totally demoralized,” Fiske said in the Yahoo News interview. “They thought we were on the brink of doing all these great things, and now that was not going to happen.”
The long-ago Whitewater probe seems likely to be revived by political foes if, as is widely expected, Hillary Clinton runs for president. (The Clinton library is due to release new documents, including some that are expected to include Whitewater files, this Friday.) For years, the Clintons have sought to portray the entire investigation as a politically inspired witch hunt, pushed by partisans hunting for any ammunition they could find to damage the president and first lady.
“I’m still waiting for them to admit that there was nothing to Whitewater,” Bill Clinton said in a recent appearance.
But the new account of Fiske, a pillar of the New York legal community, offers a more complicated picture. He describes how he had quickly uncovered “serious crimes” in the Whitewater investigation but that his probe was cut short after conservatives falsely accused him of a “cover up.”
“There were indictments, there were convictions,” said Fiske when asked about claims that there was “nothing” to the investigation. “People went to jail. There was never any evidence that was sufficient to link the Clintons to any of it, but there were certainly serious crimes.”
Appointed by Janet Reno in January 1994, Fiske describes how he moved aggressively from the start, carving out a wide-ranging mandate and hiring a top-flight staff of veteran prosecutors. One of his first moves was to subpoena Hillary Clinton’s law firm billing records — documents that were later found under mysterious circumstances in the White House living quarters.