Hale Bait

Chatterbox is a bit baffled by all the attention being paid to Salon’s charge that “gravelly voiced outdooorsman” Parker Dozhier, owner of a Hot Springs, Arkansas bait shop, might have slipped some cash to David Hale, the felonious businessman who says Bill Clinton pressured him into making an illegal $300,000 loan. The cash-to-Hale accusation is made by Caryn Mann, Dozhier’s ex-girlfriend, and her son Joshua Rand. There are plenty of reasons to doubt their story–Mann , originally billed in Salon as one of two “eyewitnesses” to the cash transfer, now says she “has a vague memory of seeing Dozhier give Hale money once,” according to the Washington Post. Her son, who has more vivid memories, was 13 years old at the time. But that doesn’t mean they’re lying. If Mann said she had been groped by Clinton, Chatterbox would probably believe her even if she also said (as one of Dozhier’s friends claims) that she could direct U.S. troop movements through telepathy!

What Chatterbox doesn’t understand is why “If Ms. Mann is telling the truth, the implications for the President’s enemies would be devastating” (as the New York Observer’s Joe Conason crows) or why the whole affair promises to be “one of the last nails in [Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr’s] coffin” (Salon contributor Bruce Shapiro). Keep in mind that Hale first told his story about Clinton and the $300,000 in the fall of 1993, before any of the payments were even alleged to have been made. Indeed, according to the Post’s John Mintz, the right-wing conspirators at the American Spectator only started their “Arkansas Project” after reading about Hale’s accusations in the paper. So even if Dozhier gave Hale a fistful of Franklins, those payments couldn’t have been made to induce the accusations.

So what’s the big deal? Well, the payments apparently might still constitute a violation of the federal witness-tampering statute, which bans any attempt to “corruptly … influence” testimony. You could argue that the Spectator people were trying to get Hale to stick with his story. It all depends on their intent. But unless some powerful evidence turns up, this is obviously one of those cases where those giving the money (who probably had multiple motives) can plausibly claim they were simply trying to help out a man they regarded as a brave anti-Clinton hero who was destitute. That’s as plausible as, say, Erskine Bowles and various other Clinton allies saying they were just trying to help poor old Webster Hubbell when they steered him $700,000 worth of consulting work and donations even as he was being pressured by Starr to talk about potential Clinton misdeeds. And when it comes to influencing testimony, what’s a more powerful lure: a few C-notes, plus occasional use of an Arkansas fishing cabin and a 1989 Chrysler K-car–which is what Hale allegedly got–or an expense-paid trip to Africa on Air Force One with the president, complete with warm receptions by heads of state, which is what Clinton gave his secretary Betty Currie even as her seemingly crucial testimony before Starr continued. Not that the Currie trip was a crime, and not that Currie will be influenced–Chatterbox is keeping hope alive!--but the same probably goes for Hale.

Sure, even if the Hale payments weren’t criminal, they would tend to undermine his credibility. The lawyers for Susan McDougal and now-ex Arkansas governor Jim Guy Tucker, whom Hale’s testimony helped convict in 1996, would have wanted to know about them. But there’s no evidence Starr’s office knew about the payments and failed to reveal them. And, good grief, Hale has so many credibility problems already–he’s a felon, convicted of fraud, who is testifying in exchange for leniency from a prosecutor who’d like to hear something incriminating–that the incremental impeachment value of his bait-shop shenanigans seems minimal. It’s hard for Starr’s critics to claim, as they do, that the McDougal/Tucker jury didn’t believe Hale, and to simultaneously claim that the payments to Hale were crucial impeachment evidence the defendants’ should have had. If the jury didn’t believe Hale anyway, what difference would it have made if the defense could have further undermined him?

Forget the payments, says Chatterbox. To blow Hale out of the water, you have to focus on the pre-payment period, in the fall of 1993, when Hale would have been making up his anti-Clinton story (if that’s what he did). In a paragraph toward the end of their March 23 Salon profile of Dozhier, Jonathan Broder and Murray Waas report that during this period when he “first made his allegations,” Hale was staying at the farm of James Johnson, an ex-Arkansas Superme Court justice and “self-avowed segregationist.” Hmmm. Maybe Salon buried the lede! Chatterbox sometimes does that. Further inquiry into the Johnson connection seems called for. … Take it away, Gene Lyons! But, again, even if there’s evidence Hale and Johnson cooked the story up, that only gets rid of Hale’s accusations. It doesn’t get the Clintons off the hook on the rest of Whitewater, or any Lewinsky-related perjury. It isn’t the death of Starr.

For an opposing viewpoint, see Salon editor David Talbot’s April 17 editorial proclaiming that the “secret campaign against Clinton, and its connections to the Starr investigation, is a story of far greater importance, in our opinion, than the Lewinsky saga.” Chatterbox leaves it to you to make your own judgment. It would be bad netizenship to critiicize the editor of a rival webzine, and especially churlish to snipe at Salon’s coup, even if Talbot’s editorial is the most pompous, self-congratulatory piece Chatterbox has read in a long time … Whoops! That just slipped out!