The Slate Gist

Baitgate (or the Corruption of David Hale)

With the closing of Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr’s Little Rock, Ark., grand jury last week, the commentariat pronounced that the Whitewater scandal had passed, with the president emerging unindicted and unscathed. But another Whitewater scandal–which neither implicates the Clintons nor involves shady land deals–still has legs. On the basis of evidence initially published in Salon, the Justice Department has called for an investigation of charges that the conservative American Spectator magazine paid off Starr’s star Whitewater witness, David Hale. Right-wingers bark back that Salon is a mere conduit for White House spin.

Did Hale take money? Is he at the nexus of a right-wing conspiracy? Or is this alleged right-wing conspiracy an invention of a left-wing conspiracy?

First, a Whitewater refresher: In 1993, Hale, the head of an investment firm, accused Bill Clinton of pressuring him to make a fraudulent $300,000 loan to Clinton’s business partner, Susan McDougal, some of which flowed into the Whitewater project. Hale’s testimony helped persuade Janet Reno to appoint an independent counsel–first Robert Fiske, then Starr–to investigate.

However, a March article by Salon’s investigative reporters Jonathan Broder and Murray Waas implied Hale’s motives were less than pure. The reporters say Hale repeatedly received payments that originated with Pittsburgh billionaire Richard Mellon Scaif e–the alleged ringmaster of a right-wing conspiracy aimed at the Clinton presidency. Between 1993 and 1997, Scaife gave the Spectator and the foundation that runs it $2.4 million to track down dirt on Clinton’s alleged malfeasance. (Click to read about this “Arkansas Project.”) A lawyer on the Spectator’s board, Steven Boynton, in turn paid his friend Parker Dozhier–a onetime TV reporter who now owns a bait shop in Hot Springs–$48,000 to be the magazine’s Arkansas “eyes and ears.” For two years, Salon says, Dozhier used Spectator money to support Hale–an old friend. Salon also alleges that on Hale’s trips to Dozhier’s bait shop, the two concocted elaborate schemes to sink Clinton.

Here’s a flow chart to help you track the alleged money trail.

N obody disputes that Hale frequently visited Dozhier or that the two discussed Whitewater–the investigation did, after all, consume Hale’s life. And Dozhier concedes he lent Hale a pickup truck for two years, paid his auto insurance, and gave him about $300 to pay bills. But he denies any intent to influence Hale’s testimony.

The mainsource for Salon’s article is Dozhier’s ex-girlfriend, Caryn Mann, who says Dozhier drastically underestimates the payments to Hale. First, she told Salon that though she didn’t have an accurate fix on the amount paid, it was substantial. (Click here to read the Salon story touting her testimony.) In an article that appeared six days later, she recovered her memory and fixed the figure at $200,000. (Click here to read the story with this version.) In later interviews, she backed down from this number, admitting that she doesn’t recall seeing Dozhier give Hale cash.

M ann’s credibility has been attacked by the Weekly Standard and the Washington Times, who ridicule her for using tarot cards and (allegedly) boasting about transporting soldiers telepathically. They also say she’s a former Democratic operative and still seething from an acrimonious breakup with Dozhier. (Click to read about Dozhier’s own credibility problems.)

The testimony of her son Joshua Rand is far more vivid and detailed. He says he saw Dozhier give Hale money on every occasion that Hale visited their trailer. According to accounts that Rand gave both the Post and Salon, the amounts ranged from $20 to several hundred dollars, with an estimated total of $5,000. Rand admits the figure he provides is only an estimate.

B roder and Waas say they have spoken with two ex-Spectator employees who anonymously corroborate Mann and Rand’s assertion that the Arkansas Project paid Hale. No other reporter working on the story has been able to track down these sources.

Even if the payments to Hale were conclusively proved, they don’t necessarily undermine his Whitewater testimony. Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff, then at the Washington Post, reported Hale’s story on Nov. 2, 1993–months before the Spectator made any of the alleged payments to Hale. Hale’s story hasn’t changed at all since he spoke with Isikoff in ‘93. Other reporters covering the story posit another scenario: Financially ruined–Hale was fined $2 million in 1994–he hung around Dozhier’s bait shop, looking for and receiving petty handouts.

In addition to attacking the story’s source, right-wingers attack its purveyors–Broder and Waas. The Weekly Standard recycles the story that Broder had been fired from his job at the Chicago Tribune when he plagiarized from the Jerusalem Post’s Joel Greenberg. Others point to Waas’ supposedly shoddy reporting of a Pulitzer Prize-nominated article on arms sales to Iraq that he co-wrote for the Los Angeles Times. There is no evidence that the pair repeated any of these alleged sins in their reporting on Hale.

Broder and Waas never explicitly claim that the Spectator money swayed Hale. They let others tease out the implications of their story for them, connecting the dots among Scaife, Starr, and Hale: The billionaire endowed a position for Starr at Pepperdine University (which Starr has subsequently declined) and then bankrolled Hale, Starr’s chief witness. This is the scenario implied by U.S. Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder, who suggested that the Justice Department, rather than a biased independent counsel, should investigate Baitgate. Others such as Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., have used the Hale case to call for Starr’s resignation.

Conservatives counter Salon’s posited right-wing conspiracy by charging that the Webzine is a pawn in a conspiracy by the left. They note Broder’s friendship with Clinton’s now famous assistant, Sidney Blumenthal. R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr., editor of the Spectator, goes further. Salon, he says, is bankrolled by companies run by Clinton donors–Apple (Steve Jobs), Adobe (John Warnock), and Hambrecht & Quist (William Hambrecht, now retired). Last week, right-winger Larry Klayman, head of Judicial Watch, subpoenaed Waas and ordered Salon reporters to produce all their notes relating to the Monica Lewinsky allegation as well as to Whitewater. (To read about how Klayman can do this, click.)

If you missed the sidebar on the American Spectator’s “Arkansas Project,” click. And read about Dozhier’s and.