Salon’s conspiracy


This article was originally published by Salon on April 20, 1998.

Salon is in the news. Stories by Murray Waas and Jonathan Broder concerning Whitewater witness David Hale have ratcheted up the Clinton assault on special prosecutor Ken Starr. They have been cited in the pages of Time magazine and the New York Times, and on television shows such as “Geraldo Live.” The Justice Department has used them as a basis to push for an investigation of alleged conflicts of interest in the independent counsel’s office.

The stories purport to reveal that the “right-wing conspiracy” (aka Richard Mellon Scaife) provided cash payments to Hale through intermediaries running the Scaife-funded Arkansas Project. Despite what you’ve heard, the Arkansas Project did little more than provide money for investigative reports by the American Spectator magazine into various aspects of the Clinton scandals.

In one of the stories, Waas and Broder explain: “The nagging problem for Starr is that the same Scaife-controlled foundations that funneled money to the Arkansas Project have also contributed more than $1 million to the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy in California, where Starr will become dean after he completes his duties as independent counsel. Following the money trail of the alleged payments to Hale inevitably would lead to Pepperdine benefactor Scaife.”

Most of that statement is now inoperative since Starr, citing the pressure of his Clinton investigations, has given up the Pepperdine job. But even if he had not, as I have pointed out in this space before, the Pepperdine connection does not make for even a tenuous thread of conspiracy. How could it be a conspiracy when, on the one hand, Scaife underwrote journalist Chris Ruddy’s efforts to insinuate that Vince Foster was murdered, and on the other, the fact that Starr’s own investigation and report shot that theory down?

Equally indigestible for the conspiracy hypothesis is the fact that if Starr had accepted the Pepperdine job when it was offered — as he originally did — there would be no Starr investigation of Monica Lewinsky, Kathleen Willey, Vernon Jordan, et al. If one nonetheless insists on a conspiracy explanation of these events, the only plausible interpretation of Scaife’s gift to Pepperdine would be that he wanted to buy Starr off the case because he thought Starr was not pursuing his investigation of Clinton malfeasance aggressively enough. This, indeed, was the conventional conservative wisdom about Starr’s efforts before the Clintons launched their full-court anti-Starr strike — a scorched-earth campaign that seems to have forced Starr into an aggressive mode out of sheer self-defense.

Janet Reno, Clinton’s attorney general, has now taken up the Broder-Waas lead. But others, less obligated to Clinton, may wonder about the reliability of their story about Judge Hale. The chief sources of this story (which Hale denies) are an ex-girlfriend of one of the Arkansas project sleuths and her son. The ex-girlfriend is an astrologer who is said to have claimed she knows where Jimmy Hoffa is buried. This doesn’t mean her story about Hale is conjured, but one would have more confidence in it if there weren’t certain questions about how Waas and Broder gathered the Hale-Scaife stories in the first place.