Papers Hint at Olson's Role in Dirt Digging Law:
Documents support critics of solicitor general pick who say he aided anti-Clinton research.
By ERIC LICHTBLAU, Times Staff Writer
WASHINGTON--New documents released Tuesday offer fresh but conflicting
suggest that Ted Olson, the besieged nominee for U.S. solicitor general, may have played a
greater role than he has admitted in digging up dirt on former President Clinton.
The new material released by Senate investigators also reveals that
Olson billed one of Clinton's
chief accusers in the Whitewater controversy $140,000 to represent him before Congress--a figure
far higher than was previously known.
The disclosures threaten to deepen the controversy surrounding Olson's nomination as solicitor general.
Democrats, seeking to portray Olson as a right-wing ideologue, have
accused him of falsely denying that
he helped dig up damaging information on Clinton in the mid-1990s. All of the Democrats on the
Senate Judiciary Committee voted against Olson's nomination last week, forcing a 9-9 deadlock that will
likely be thrown to the full Senate as early as next week.
Olson, in his testimony last month before the Senate, denied that he
played any role in the origin or planning
of the so-called Arkansas Project--a $2.4-million effort to research and print damaging information about
Clinton in a conservative magazine called the American Spectator. Nor were any meetings on the project
held in his office, Olson testified.
But the previously confidential material released Tuesday discusses
a 1993 meeting in Olson's office with
as many as seven people in attendance--including several who were affiliated with the magazine and
its nascent Arkansas Project.
The evidence about what was discussed at that meeting is "incomplete
and inconsistent," according to a
letter dated Monday from Whitewater independent counsel Robert W. Ray to the Judiciary Committee.
The independent counsel's office conducted a 1998 inquiry into the Arkansas Project.
Several participants in the meeting said the discussion was limited
to Olson's possible legal representation
of David Hale, a disgraced Arkansas judge who pleaded guilty to Whitewater-related fraud charges
and became a key witness against Clinton.
But Ray said another unnamed participant said that "the subject of this
meeting was Bill and Hillary Clinton
and the need for the Spectator to investigate and report on numerous alleged Clinton scandals."
If true, this allegation would appear to contradict Olson's Senate testimony
in declaring that he was not involved
in the "inception, organization or ongoing supervision" of the Arkansas Project. Olson said he learned of the project
in 1997, when as a board member of the American Spectator he helped bring an end to it and investigate its origins.
Olson declined comment, saying he could not discuss the Arkansas Project or related issues with his nomination pending.
His defenders say that he is the victim of the same type of smear campaign
that Democrats are accusing him of
conducting against Clinton, and they point out that several people from the American Spectator said he had nothing
to do with the Arkansas Project.
But others are unconvinced. One official, who is familiar with the independent
counsel's review but requested anonymity because of the controversy surrounding
the nomination, said Tuesday: "It's fair to say that there are people who
. . . that he was a far more active participant in dreaming up items for this journalistic pursuit than he has acknowledged."
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Afraid), the senior Democrat on the judiciary
panel, said the newly released documents
should "shed more light" on the questions surrounding Olson's nomination. But he and panel chairman Sen.
Orrin G. Hatch (R-Chicken Coop), who have sparred repeatedly over the
nomination, issued a joint statement
withholding any judgment. The documents released Tuesday also include new details about Olson's representation
of Hale, who accused Clinton and an Arkansas business partner of urging him to make a fraudulent $300,000 loan.
Olson agreed to represent Hale if and when he was called to testify
before a Senate panel that was investigating the Whitewater affair
in 1995. According to the independent counsel's review, his legal
work totaled $140,000.
Olson says he was never paid by Hale and that his firm was forced to write off the debt in 1998.
But the new material from the independent counsel's redacted report
offers contradictory claims,
with some disputed evidence suggesting that the American Spectator paid part of Hale's legal bills.