February 14, 2003
"The Woman Who Wouldn't Talk," Susan McDougal, Talks With BuzzFlash.Com
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
Some people don't seek to become heroes, but circumstances conspire to put them in a situation where they can either be a coward or a champion of honesty and integrity. Such was the role thrust upon Susan McDougal by the self-righteous prosecutor for the right-wing extremists who ran roughshod over our legal system in their effort to unseat Bill Clinton. And Susan paid the price.
Ken Starr's Legal Shock Troops didn't care about slashing through people's lives or using intolerable prison conditions to try and get Susan McDougal to lie. They engaged in unethical, immoral conduct, all the while thinking that they were on a mission from God (to unseat a democratically elected president) and could do no wrong. They tried to break Susan McDougal's soul, but they didn't succeed because she held the higher moral ground: she told the truth, while Ken Starr and his minions wallowed in the sleazy underworld of prosecutors without a conscience, who particularly liked to legally beat up on women.
In the end, Susan emerged as a heroine. Ken Starr, however, will be remembered for hearing scriptural hymns while he played with his devices of legal torture. This is Susan McDougal's story. It is the story of a heroine --someone who didn't ask to play the role, but stepped up to the plate when confronted with the Republican version of the "axis of evil."
Susan faced three trials, including one involving the wife of the famous conductor Zubin Mehta, in a few short years. It is difficult to explain how the trials related to each other without reading "The Woman Who Wouldn't Talk," her account of "why I refused to testify against the Clintons and what I learned in jail." (The book, by the way, is climbing to the top of the New York Times bestseller list.) BuzzFlash will let this interview stand for itself. Susan's candor and integrity comes through loud and clear. You can clarify the details for yourself by reading the book. (BuzzFlash is offering "The Woman Who Wouldn't Talk as premium at http://www.buzzflash.com/premiums/Wouldnttalk.html.)
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BUZZFLASH: The title of your book is The Woman Who Wouldn't Talk. Helen Thomas says in the introduction to the book it should be the woman who wouldn't give Kenneth Starr what he wanted. Why didn't you give Kenneth Starr what he wanted?
SUSAN MCDOUGAL: That is really the entire book. It's one reason I wrote the book is it's so hard to explain in a short, pithy way -- you know, for television newscasts.
I met with the Independent Counsel's office for the first time when I got my first subpoena. And I went with the hope that they would ask me questions, and I would answer them, and I would be able to shed light on what I thought was an honest investigation. Buy when I got to the first meeting, they were not interested in asking me any questions -- they told me that was not what the meeting was about. Even though they had never met me before, they said that they would trade global immunity for a proffer against the target of their investigation, Bill and Hillary Clinton.
I told them then that I didn't know anything that I could give them in a proffer. I didn't say, "Oh, gosh, I would never say anything bad about the Clintons." Or, "I'm the Clintons' friend." Or anything like that. I said, "Look, I don't know anything they've done that's illegal. I can't help you there."
So the pressure escalated, and they started to threaten me and told me that they would prosecute me and they would put me in jail. They expected my cooperation. I repeated that I was willing to cooperate again. I said, "You have documents in front of you. Why don't you let me see them, and I'll answer any questions you have about them."
And the prosecutor for the Independent Counsel took his hand and he pushed them aside. And he said, "No. You've heard our offer. That's what we have on the table. We are very good at our jobs, and that's what we're telling you. You give us a proffer we can use, and you get to have your life back."
And we left the meeting. Well, Bobby McDaniel, who had never come up against anything like this before, said, "You know, this is the strangest system I've ever seen."
BUZZFLASH: And he was your attorney?
MCDOUGAL: Yes. He said, "I've never come into a prosecutor before, offered to answer any question, look at any document, and have them turn me away. This is the most unusual meeting I have ever had with a prosecutor."
He said most prosecutors, when they get somebody in who's willing to talk, are just delighted. He said he had never seen anything like it.
So the investigation progressed. And it became more and more adversarial with them, because every time I dealt with them, they were threatening me. And when that didn't work, they threatened my brothers. I had three brothers who had worked with me and [my former husband] Jim McDougal. And they were bringing them before the grand jury and threatening to indict them. And they were still telling me, "Look, you know, life can get a lot easier if you come up with this proffer."
I was not going to give them a lie. So I decided I would go to trial, and I'd be found innocent.
I wasn't. I was found guilty.
Well, let me just tell you, I believe to this day that they knew that the charges that they were trying to prove against the Clintons were not true. I think that they knew all along that the story David Hale had told them -- that Clinton had come to him and told him he wanted to borrow $300,000, but he couldn't have his name on the document, so Susan McDougal should come and sign the documents and give him the money -- was not true.
They had the checks from the $300,000 loan. They knew where the money had gone. David Hale had stolen millions of dollars through this SBA, and he was trading that story for leniency. And when he lied at my trial, I believe the Independent Counsel knew that that was perjured testimony.
So I'm now at the point where they have convicted me with my husband's perjured testimony piggybacked on the testimony of a man who admitted stealing millions of dollars from the U.S. government. He put fake names on there and kept the money for himself. He would send the loan forms back to the SBA with made-up companies. And he was keeping the money, and he got caught by the FBI. And he made up this story and went to them and told them: I can give you Bill Clinton if you'll cut me a deal. And in fact, he was very smart. He did less time in jail than I did -- in spite of stealing millions of dollars from the SBA.
BUZZFLASH: You described in your book, if I recall, that you were kind of surprised, because you'd been told usually the way they go after "big fish" is to get the little ones to rat on bigger ones. In this case, the big fish, in terms of criminal conduct, was the chief witness for the prosecution or for the Independent Counsel in this case.
MCDOUGAL: There were no big fish to them except Bill Clinton.
BUZZFLASH: And yet in the case they claimed to be pursuing, really David Hale was the big fish. But he ended up being their chief witness.
MCDOUGAL: Yeah, he was. He was the guy. Yeah, he was the biggest criminal of all, and he got less time than anybody. I was starting to really feel like these were a bunch of people who are not caring at all what the truth is. They can see who their witnesses are. So I was getting angrier and angrier. Then they convicted me, and man, I was like there is no way these people believe that I'm guilty. There was no evidence against me at all except the word of David Hale.
And so, after we were convicted, Jim McDougal decided that he was going to also claim that the David Hale story was true. And he came to me and said, "I'm going to say whatever they want me to say, because I do not want to die in jail." And I said, "I understand. I absolutely understand. Jim, you know that I am not going to do that. I could not live with myself and do that." And he said, "Well, you're an idiot."
So I came to believe over time that they were pressuring Jim to have me also make that deal. But Jim McDougal would come back from meetings with them, after he had decided to cooperate. And he would be kind of laughing and telling me these stories that they were making up to try to convict the President with. And he was kind of saying, "How does this story sound?" And he would give me these detailed stories of what he was going to say that Clinton and he had done.
And I said, "Jim, how are you ever going to go to court with these made-up stories and survive? They're going to kill you." And he looked at me so seriously -- just dead in the eye -- and he said, "The Independent Counsel is giving me the documents to weave these stories around, Susan. And the Clintons don't have them."
And I was like, oh, man, I am such an idiot. I kept thinking there's no way anyone's going to believe these stories. And then Jim's telling me that they've got these documents that they're weaving these lies around to make them look real. And I thought, my God. And at that time I pretty much decided not one step more. They are not going to do this with me. And watching Jim McDougal become this craven sort of lackey for Kenneth Starr made me just sick, because Jim McDougal was the man I had once loved and respected.
To see him turn into this person who could just kind of laughingly tell lies about someone to destroy their life -- and know that he was under terrible pressure to do that -- it made me hate them. And I decided then, watching him, that I would have no part of it. No matter what it cost me.
BUZZFLASH: What happened next?
MCDOUGAL: It was about two days before my sentencing and Jim McDougal calls me on the phone. He says, "You are such an idiot. You could write your own ticket. They are frothing at the mouth to have you as their witness. Why don't you call them and see if you can't work something out? Because if you don't, they are going to ask for 16 years in jail. They have already told me they're going for the maximum, and you are going to just sit there."
And I said, "Jim, have you told them that I knew nothing about any of this with David Hale or you, or anybody?" And he said, "Yes, I've told them that. And they said they knew that all along. But they're not going to let you out of this. They've got to have your testimony."
So I go to Bobby McDaniel's office. We called the Independent Counsel's Office and Bobby says, "What do you want from her? She's scared to death." And they say, "She knows what we want. And if she gives us that, she does probation. She doesn't do a day of jail, and she walks away."
And they also said they were starting a new grand jury. They were going to try to indict me on tax evasion. But if I told them that day I would cooperate, then they would stop the grand jury. But I had to call them that very day. So I just lost it. I walked out. I called [attorney and former employee of Madison Guaranty] Pat Harris and I said, "All I have to do is say that David Hale is telling the truth. Jim McDougal is already cooperating and saying it's a true story. All I have to do is back that up, you know, and I walk away. I don't have to worry about this one more minute."
And that's when Pat said, "A lie's not just for today. You know, you'd be lying for the rest of your life. Do you want to lie the rest of your life, every time somebody asks you: 'Did you tell the truth? Is it true -- what you said?'" And he said, "I know you, and I don't think you can live with this."
So we didn't call them back, and I went to the sentencing. And they did ask for the maximum, and I was sentenced to two years in jail. And the minute the sentencing was over, an FBI agent came over, and he was kind of laughing and smiling. And he handed me a subpoena for the grand jury. And so it was kind of like "gotcha." Not only did we convict you, but you're going before the grand jury. And we're still going to get your testimony. And so that was the moment I just said there is no way that I am going to talk to these people.
BUZZFLASH: And so what happened that led to the formal charges?
MCDOUGAL: Then I went to the grand jury and I told them that I loved this country. I loved the laws of the country -- that I had never been in any kind of trouble before in my life, and had nothing to do with any of that. But I did not believe that the people who were holding the grand jury -- the Independent Counsel -- were looking for the truth, and that I would not be answering their questions.
If they wanted to give me anyone else -- a U.S. attorney -- any other investigative body, then I might talk. But I did not believe that Kenneth Starr wanted the truth. And I kind of went through and gave them the history of what I knew. And Judge Susan Webber Wright told me that unless I answered their questions she was going to jail me for contempt. She explained that it was not a punishment, because you are not going to jail for a crime. You're going to be coerced for your testimony.
BUZZFLASH: In your book, you have very vivid descriptions of your life in jail. After you were finally in the third trial, you were acquitted on one charge, and the other two charges were dropped because of a hung jury. You became a spokesperson for women in jail. You were in -- was it seven jails?
BUZZFLASH: And in wide-ranging conditions, but most of them all dreadful in different sorts of ways, including the Hannibal Lector glass enclosure. If I recall, it was that experience that almost finally broke you.
MCDOUGAL: That is true.
BUZZFLASH: It's basically solitary confinement -- you could see everyone, but you couldn't hear. As the judge said, it is coercion. And the Independent Counsel said that they had nothing to do at the time with the deplorable conditions you were held under, and the fact you were being moved around. And you subsequently used the Freedom of Information Act request to try to find out if it was at the orders of the Independent Counsel that you were treated like an animal.
BUZZFLASH: Has that been resolved?
MCDOUGAL: No. I think that Mark Geragos [Susan's attorney in her second and third trial] has just filed that recently. But Mark also put on -- in the third trial, he subpoenaed one of the investigators for the Independent Counsel's office who admitted on the stand that they had a hand in how I was held, and where I was held.
The administrators at the jail would come to my cell and I would say, "Please let me out of solitary. Why don't you just let me in with the general population?" And they'd say it was out of their hands -- that it didn't have anything to do with them.
BUZZFLASH: Tell us about that experience in the glass enclosure. Really, it's very excruciating just to read. You're confined in this -- it's an enclosure more than a cell, where you can see out but you can't hear anybody. Could they see you?
MCDOUGAL: Oh, yes. It was complete glass, lit 24 hours a day. And there's a single guard tower that looks over all the cells. And so no one ever comes by, but the guard can see everything from the tower. And most of the people on that block were there for being mentally ill. And the things that you could see were just unimaginable, unbelievable. It's one reason that I am really -- you can't say glad, but you can say fortunate -- that I was able to see that, because that's one of the things I really talk about when I go around the country is how the mentally ill are treated in prison.
They throw a sheet over their heads and knock them into the wall and knock them unconscious, or spray them with gas, because they're mentally ill and they don't follow orders and do what they're told. And these people are just held in the most horrible conditions -- naked, starving; they don't feed themselves. The prison staff goes in with these rubber suits and hoses and washes the feces and urine out of the cells, where these people are housed like animals.
BUZZFLASH: And all you could do is watch.
MCDOUGAL: That's right.
BUZZFLASH: And that's basically all you had to do.
MCDOUGAL: Yes. I read a book a day in that cell. The ACLU had joined with Mark Geragos to try to get me released from there. And one of the ACLU lawyers was into books about the old pirate days and the sailing ships. And so my memories of Twin Towers and the glass cell are intermingled with these sailing books that this lawyer used to bring me, very detailed, about the rigging and the way you sail and the people on the boat. It's very funny -- I think about those days, not being able to hear anything, totally in sensory deprivation, and reading those books that this young lawyer would bring me. He was so young and he was so apologetic. He'd say, "This is what I'm reading." And I would read it. I would be so glad to get the books from him.
But I remember I'd come to the attorney meetings, and everything was behind glass -- everything. And Pat and Mark would say, "Your eyes are not even tracking us anymore." I was really starting to kind of pull away, because it was just so intense to be locked up like that.
BUZZFLASH: Well, there's a point where you think you're about to go out of your mind, and you call Pat Harris [Susan's legal advisor and companion at the time] and....
MCDOUGAL: And I told him -- I said, "You've got to get here right now."
BUZZFLASH: You were basically like an animal in the zoo. People could see you. You were on display. The OIC had accomplished its goal, and you were just about to break. What kept you going?
MCDOUGAL: As I said, the ACLU joined the fight with Mark and Pat. We had already tried to go to court against the jail authorities, but they kept arguing that because I was a prisoner for the OIC, the local sheriff of that jail couldn't intervene. So they actually filed against the Independent Counsel and it was due to go to court. Pat tells the story very well about saying to me, "It's OK, you don't have to do it. You can get out of here today. You don't have to stay in here." And my telling him, "No, I'm going to stay. I just think I need hope that there's going to be an end to it."
It had gone on for ages with us thinking that they couldn't hold me there; judges in California at the level of district court had issued three sets of orders saying release her from this glass cell. And they finally went to the federal court, and the hope was there. And on the day that I was to go to the court and talk about the conditions, the Independent Counsel had me moved to a different facility. So I never got to go to court on it.
BUZZFLASH: And what led to your release from prison just before the third trial?
MCDOUGAL: Mark and Pat wrote to Judge George Howard in Arkansas and said this is just the most unbelievable incarceration of a person for civil contempt in the history of this country. I had literally been strapped to a gurney and taken to the hospital to go into surgery for a back condition with Mark calling and saying, "Don't do it."
So they sent me to Arkansas to have this hearing before Judge Howard because Mark and Pat wanted it to be a public hearing so people would know what was going on. And Judge Howard heard the evidence and released me for medical reasons. But I will tell you: there are people in much more horrible shape. I saw women who literally will never walk again -- with IV's in their arms -- that were not released.
When I left, I had no clothes. All of the pictures, when I was released, are in orange. I didn't even bother have my family bring clothes because I thought I'd be going right back to the jail. I remember thinking this can't be happening, when I walked out of there. So I had nothing to change into.
BUZZFLASH: You must have been elated.
MCDOUGAL: I couldn't believe it. When the judge released me from the courtroom, he said, "Bailiff, do you understand I want her released forthwith from this room?" And that never happens. You're always taken back. You do the paperwork. And I had to talk to the women back in prison; I had to tell them. The last thing I said to them before the court hearing was that no matter what happened, I'll be back, and I'll see you again. Because we had all talked before, and we had had our meeting before I left to go to the court. And so I was, like, excuse me -- I really need to go back to the jail. I called the jail, and I said, "Could I go back in there just for a minute?" And they just laughed. They said, "You know, we can't let just anybody back in here."
BUZZFLASH: At this point, you are finally out of prison.
MCDOUGAL: Yes, I was on the outside. So I went through the Mehta trial after that, and the third trial was almost immediately after I won the Mehta trial. I would say I got probably a month between the two. I came back to Arkansas because Starr charged me again with contempt -- only this time, it wasn't civil contempt, it was criminal -- and obstruction of justice.
BUZZFLASH: And what happened at the third trial?
MCDOUGAL: I was in jail when he charged me again. And so Mark and Pat come back, and they've just got these terrible faces. And I think -- oh, my God -- someone I love is sick or dying or something. And Pat says, "I'm so sorry to tell you, but Starr's charged you again. You've almost done all of your time for the civil contempt, and he's charged you again. We just can't believe it."
I said, "Gosh, you know, this one is going to be a good one, because this time, we're going to put him on trial." And they both just started laughing. I said we are going to show people who this man [Starr] is at the third trial, and it's going to be our chance to tell the truth. Because every time we try to get a hearing, they would move me or something. And I never did get a hearing the whole time that I was in for civil contempt. So this was going to be the first time.
BUZZFLASH: So now we're at the crucial third trial, and you've got a very gripping account about how it unfolded. At moments you felt a lot of emotional relief and vindication, particularly when the head of OIC for Arkansas from their Arkansas satellite office, Hickman Ewing, is put on the stand as a witness and says things in very evasive ways -- the very type of language which Clinton was accused of using, and which they charged other people as they went along, including Julie Hiatt Steele.
MCDOUGAL: They almost charged Hillary Clinton with perjury at her grand jury testimony because she kept saying, "I don't know." And so Mark says to the OIC prosecutor, "Do you realize, during your testimony here today, you've said 'I don't know' 26 times? And you're talking about events with Hillary Clinton that happened 15 years before? And we're talking about events with you that happened six months before?"
BUZZFLASH: And he almost admitted, but without saying firmly yes, that he had prepared an indictment of Hillary Clinton in advance of her grand jury testimony.
MCDOUGAL: Because she acted evasive and said she didn't know sometimes.
BUZZFLASH: And he did exactly the same thing.
MCDOUGAL: This guy's a snake handler. He has a church in his back yard because none of the churches where he's from in Memphis, Tenn., are conservative enough, or right-wing enough, for him. So he built his own church. And Jim always called him the snake handler because he would have these meetings with Ewing. And Hickman was always after Clinton for sex stuff.
So McDougal would go and meet with him. And he'd come back and he'd say, "Susan, he is just dying for you to say that you had an affair with Clinton. I mean, if you would give that to Hickman Ewing, you could write your own ticket with this guy. Because he is obsessed with Clinton's morality."
BUZZFLASH: And so they each had their own little obsession.
MCDOUGAL: Yes. This guy was really right-wing, a very conservative preacher. And he wanted Clinton on the morals issue.
BUZZFLASH: And in fact, during that trial, one of the OIC prosecutors went up to a witness for the defense during a recess to ask if you had ever told her that you had a sexual liaison with Clinton. And that was brought up in the trial right after the recess by your attorneys.
MCDOUGAL: Oh, everyone was shocked because they kept saying it's not about sex. Everyone was still reeling from Monica Lewinsky and all of that. But they kept saying -- oh, no, it's not about sex. It's about lying.
So then an Independent Counsel prosecutor goes up to this 70-year-old woman -- a former governor's wife. She was so shocked by this young Independent Counsel asking her such an impertinent question that she refused to say the word sex. She said "liaison." She, the 70-year-old woman, is so shocked by it she couldn't even say the words. But it just showed that this Hickman Ewing was just pushing, pushing, to get Clinton on a morals deal. They really wanted to smear him.
BUZZFLASH: And you feel that was their personal obsession?
MCDOUGAL: Oh, I definitely do. I think it was an absolute revulsion at Clinton's morality and at his whole picture of how life in America ought to be. Clinton's lifestyle was at such odds with Kenneth Starr and this Hickman Ewing guy. But all of them were true believers. I mean, all of these young Independent Counsels were very much cut out of the same mold.
BUZZFLASH: Well, were they -- from your opinion -- just revolted with Bill Clinton's reputation as a philanderer? Was it more that he empowered women, minorities?
MCDOUGAL: It was really an idea that he was destroying the moral fiber of America. Abortion, women's rights, gay rights -- you name it. Bill Clinton was the great Satan to the very conservative, very religious, very moralistic crowd, who very much believed that they had the high moral ground. And it was really a battle about how will people view Bill Clinton if they put his morals on trial? And they believed that by doing that, they could make enough people despise him and hate him that they could ruin him.
BUZZFLASH: But on the other hand, it was also a means to the end -- i.e., the Independent Counsel's activities ultimately led to the impeachment process.
MCDOUGAL: And you could see that they were so out of step with the regular person that when they began it, and the evidence started coming out of what they were trying to smear him with, people were shocked. They just wanted it over with. They wanted it stopped. The great thing about my mail that would come to the jail is it came from all across the board -- Republicans, Democrats. People said this is unbelievable, that in America, all this money was spent, and we are talking about this man's sex life.
But see, they thought that it would outrage people. Do you remember the speeches that they gave during the impeachment -- that this man has defiled the Oval Office? The mainstream of America did not want to hear it.
He used to come out during my trial -- Starr -- and talk to the press. And I remember once he came out and he said, "You know, I went jogging today. And I stopped at a red light and sang a hymn."
And I would be standing behind him knowing that Jim McDougal had been making up the lies that he was going to tell about the President of the United States, and I would be sickened to hear how he was proselytizing his Christianity while destroying innocent people.
BUZZFLASH: Do you think that in their own minds -- Kenneth Starr and all these prosecutors who shared a similar religious and right-wing outlook felt that no matter what -- the ends justify the means?
BUZZFLASH: So they were entitled to...
MCDOUGAL: Oh, I was road kill. Do you think they cared one moment what happened to me? Or what they were doing when they were threatening my brothers, or Monica Lewinsky's mother, or any of those people that they threatened that they knew had not done anything? We were just like hitting a possum in the road, because the road led to saving America and the moral fiber of Americans. And they did not care one whit about us.
BUZZFLASH: So it didn't matter if innocent victims got destroyed in the process. They felt that the means justifies the end from your perspective, and that's the price that had to be paid to save America.
MCDOUGAL: That's exactly right. I don't think it mattered to them one bit what the means were, because the end was so important to them: that they win. That's always what happens to us, isn't it? You've read that -- be very careful, because you will become what you so hate. And that is I think exactly what happened to them. They became the liars. They became the ones that were breaking the law.
BUZZFLASH: A minor digression, but I thought it was so amusing ... There was a witness there, I believe from the OIC, who was giving fairly strong testimony for the prosecution until he tried to get this Arkansas jury to believe that he and Ken Starr went to a bar one time while they were down there and cheered for the Arkansas Razorbacks.
MCDOUGAL: This guy was from Texas.
BUZZFLASH: And Starr had gone to Georgetown Law School. By the time your lawyer was finished with him, you felt that he had no more credibility because anyone in Arkansas wouldn't believe that a guy from the University of Texas and a guy from Georgetown would be cheering for the Razorbacks.
MCDOUGAL: Yeah, that's true. They were laughing. The jury was smirking -- it was the way he kept trying to convince them that he really DID cheer for the Razorbacks. He'd look over at them, and he just kept pushing the point. Whereas, if he had laughed about it and said, well, we knew we were going to Arkansas, so we wanted to support the Razorbacks. But this guy was such a straight-ahead guy that he couldn't stand that his word was being called into question. And he was going to pound that point through. And the jury, by the time he kept on doing it, was just laughing at him.
BUZZFLASH: So in a humorous way, it illustrated how they would lie to achieve their end, even though, in this case, it was ultimately was a silly sort of point that he had probably been coached to say.
MCDOUGAL: I thought it was interesting that the jury came out later and told the press that they thought the Independent Counsel prosecutors were so arrogant. They were arrogant in their sense of self-purity, which was a very frightening thing. And so many of them were very young. They didn't have a lot of world experience or life experience, and it was so frightening. They had so much power.
BUZZFLASH: OK, now a pivotal point came at the end of your third trial when Julie Hiatt Steele testified. That seemed very crucial from your perspective for a number of reasons. One, she set the tone in that she was a model for what was happening to you. Two, the prosecutor who was handling her from the Independent Counsel overstepped herself and was much too aggressive and demeaning toward Julie. And I think someone said after Julie's testimony, "You won. No one beats up on a woman like that in Arkansas and gets away with it."
After all, she also claimed that the Independent Counsel was charging her with perjury because she was also telling the truth. Do you want to describe a little bit about how you felt watching her testimony?
MCDOUGAL: It was really riveting. It was much more than you would even have thought, because she is a very small person and very soft-spoken. But she spoke with great authority about the things that she was involved in. It was as if to say, I won't be backed down from what I believe is right.
And the young woman who cross-examined her for the OIC was ferocious in her defense of the actions of the Independent Counsel, rather than trying to make the jury believe that Julie Hiatt Steele was lying or shading the truth, or protecting herself. The lawyer's whole point with Julie Hiatt Steele was "we have not done anything wrong." And it became a defense for Starr and the Independent Counsel because so many people, hearing Julie's story, were shocked.
Julie told the story of how she had adopted a child from Romania and she came close to losing that child over all of this. The OIC started investigating her adoption. And then they questioned her on whether or not she had been having inappropriate sexual contact with her daughter's boyfriend. All of the horror stories that we all knew were happening -- like I told you they had written my brother and told him they would charge him. And we know that Monica Lewinsky had the hardest time with her mother being brought in. And so Julie Hiatt Steele, in this very quiet way, began to tell the stories of how she had been coerced, how she had lost everything -- her home, her living -- people really began to listen. And you could have heard a pin drop in the courtroom.
As when the prosecutor saw Julie Hiatt Steele gaining the high ground, she raised her voice and approached the witness. She became very aggressive and threatening. And this lawyer is also very short and very young -- but ferocious, frightening in her intensity, to make sure that there was not the hint of impropriety on the part of the Independent Counsel. And it really showed what was important to them. It was not so important that for them to "prove" that Julie Hiatt Steele had "lied" in her prior testimony (when she was actually telling the truth), but it was most important that they be held morally superior.
BUZZFLASH: Even though they so clearly had been underhanded and deceitful, had lied, had ruined people's lives and family relationships.
MCDOUGAL: That came across to the jury so clearly during Julie Hiatt Steele's testimony. Julie would try to explain how she had reached these decisions to give her testimony. And the lawyer would interrupt her and begin to scream. And the OIC prosecutor's face would contort. And it was really a picture -- a picture that was better than a thousand words -- to show how far they would go to prove that they were right.
BUZZFLASH: You know, at some point it seems there was a chemistry there that the people in the jury probably related to both you and Julie as people, and all the rectitude that the OIC talked about just sort of became shattered, because they didn't seem in any way to care about people. They seemed to be listening to some other marching orders that had nothing to do with everything they were claiming to be about.
MCDOUGAL: Well, I think that hypocrisy is one of the easiest things to see through, especially in a place that's as down home as Arkansas, where people who have money would never admit it, you know? So in a courtroom where you've got 12 farmers, you are going to have problems with the true democracy of a jury.
But I forgot the point that I was going to tell you about the Julie Hiatt Steele thing: This girl came to give her story in spite of the fact that she was about to go to trial, and anything she said during my trial could be held against her. She was so sure that she was telling the truth, and so ready to put that truth on the line, that she came to testify for me even though that could be held against her in her own trial. And I think that really spoke a lot to people. You know, if you're willing to go that far to tell the truth, it really means something.
BUZZFLASH: And then so the jury went out, and what happened? And what was your reaction?
MCDOUGAL: The jury hung, and we came back in. The judge asked them if they could reach a decision, and they were split. Most of them said yes, they could. Some of them said no, they couldn't. But they only hung on the contempt charge, because it's hard to say that I was not in contempt of court. From a technical standpoint, that was a hard charge to defend. But on the obstruction of justice, they reached that very quickly and I was found not guilty. And so the judge just declared it over. And then Starr held a press conference and said something like, "I'm not going to retry her because I can't get a fair jury in Arkansas."
MCDOUGAL: I'm glad you're laughing. We laughed so hard -- "we couldn't get a fair jury."
BUZZFLASH: In Arkansas?
MCDOUGAL: In the state of Arkansas, he couldn't get a fair jury. But isn't it funny -- when I'm convicted and I say I'm innocent, well, didn't a jury of your peers find you guilty? Yes, with the tainted testimony of David Hale, yes, they did. One of the big moments of the third trial came when they tried to get me to admit I'd been convicted and I wouldn't do it. It was very funny, but you had to be there.
BUZZFLASH: And so you held a party that night. You invited everyone in Arkansas.
MCDOUGAL: I had had so many people call. And I said let's just have a party -- everybody come and celebrate. And so everybody did. I mean, they came from very far away to a downtown Little Rock hotel. And so the local paper said Susan McDougal was spinning, because literally I would say hello to someone, and someone would tap me on the shoulder, and I would be turning. And people I've never known in my life came down to say congratulations. And it was a great party.
BUZZFLASH: What do you think, given your experience, about the curtailment of civil liberties since 9/11.
MCDOUGAL: You know Helen Thomas, who has covered so many presidents. She said at a speech she gave that for the first time in her life, she feels a chill in the air and an unease about being able to speak her mind. And that frightened me. Because there is no one who is stronger than she is in the media.
BUZZFLASH: Your persecution, as it were, took place in a democracy. How did this happen in America, where we had what gets known as "the Starr trial" -- a prosecution that basically hijacked the criminal justice system to achieve an end that the criminal justice system was not really structured to achieve: a political end.
MCDOUGAL: I believe it was really tainted from the top down. I think that all of the people took their lead from Starr. And I think that you could have the best laws, the best democracy, but if the person administering the justice is not just, it is nothing but a sham. And when you look at the other Independent Counsels that we have had in this country, you can read their books, you can follow the investigations, and you can see where, although the targets of those investigations were frightened -- and sometimes they were convicted -- the men who administered those cases were held in the highest regard. They were men at the top of their criminal fields. This guy Starr came after they fired Robert Fiske. You know, he was the first Independent Counsel.
BUZZFLASH: Right, and we should point out, by the way, this has been an obsession of BuzzFlash, because we've interviewed Joe Conason about this, and David Brock and Gene Lyons. The Hunting of a President is our favorite book. We think that's the seminal book of all time regarding the extremist right-wing conspiracy to overtake all three branches of the American government, by any means.
MCDOUGAL: Gene Lyons has suffered incredibly for taking a stand on this, from the very earliest times. He's one of the earliest voices to say, "This is just a crock."
BUZZFLASH: In any case, as they have all pointed out, particularly in Hunting of the President, that Fisk was one of those respected people, the type of Independent Counsel you're talking about. He was ready -- back in, was it '93 or '94? -- to close up shop on the Whitewater investigation. And he basically said there's nothing there, let's just wrap this up: no crimes occurred. He pretty quickly had dispensed of the whole crazy theory about Vince Foster being the subject of some assassination attempt and said, no, it was suicide. Then he said Whitewater is a waste of time, basically.
Then it was documented in The Hunting of the President that there was a meeting between Judge Sentelle -- who headed the judicial panel that oversaw the Independent Counsel -- and Senators Jesse Helms and Launch Faircloth, I think it was. And shortly after that meeting, Judge Sentelle removed Robert Fisk, in essence, and replaced him with Ken Starr. The right-wing conspiracy wouldn't allow the Clintons to be exonerated, so they brought someone in who would keep investigating until they entrapped the President of the United States.
I don't know if you want to speculate about this, but who do you think Ken Starr got his marching orders from? Was he told to go in there and get the President?
MCDOUGAL: I think they totally did it the same way Kenneth Starr did with me. It was understood what was expected of him, just like it was understood, when I went into that room, what was expected of me. They wanted me to give them a proffer that would indict the Clintons. And they wanted me to tell that story. And I think Kenneth Starr knew very well what they expected of him. And even when he got a belly full of it and couldn't take it anymore, and was going to go to Pepperdine Law School, they came back and said, oh, no -- we're not through with you yet.
BUZZFLASH: Wasn't that a curious moment? Starr announces he's sort of wrapped up. There's still work to do, but it's winding down, and two or three days later, he says, oh, no, I've decided to stay.
MCDOUGAL: I think that's very telling. I mean, this guy's a paid assassin.
BUZZFLASH: Someone had a talking with him, don't you think?
MCDOUGAL: Absolutely. I mean, it's so clear that this guy's not one to be trying to adjudicate the law. I think that's where it went wrong. I think it could have worked. I think it would have been fine. I think the Clintons believed in the system. They had the Independent Counsel appointed. And I think they eventually ended up with a guy in who could have cared less about the law.
BUZZFLASH: It's Judge Sentelle, who, in The Hunting of the President, is described as an extremist. And he's still on a panel now that oversees security issues with Judge Silberman, who was also feeding information to try to get Clinton, impeached.
MCDOUGAL: It's a fine cast of characters.
BUZZFLASH: It's the same cast of characters -- unfortunately judges are in there for life. Jesse Helms is gone. Launch Faircloth is gone. But if they had not asked Sentelle to replace Fisk, you probably never would have been tried.
MCDOUGAL: I would never even have been involved in it.
BUZZFLASH: And it was only because of Kenneth Starr's zeal in trying to find a crime. Not trying to see if a crime occurred, but trying to find a crime or a reason to impugn there was a crime.
MCDOUGAL: He found a crime from a guy [David Hale] who admittedly had been faking loans for the SBA and incriminated Bill Clinton to get leniency. And that was his only fact. Not a document, not a scintilla of backup evidence, until they got Jim McDougal scared to death that he'd die in jail. And that was the only backup witness they had to the lying David Hale.
BUZZFLASH: And the Independent Counsel housed Hale and gave him thousands of dollars in support money, plus one of the most interesting things is our current Solicitor General, Ted Olson, suddenly popped out of nowhere to be Hale's lawyer.
MCDOUGAL: Yes, and Hale goes before the judge and says he's penniless. And he's got Ted Olsen for his attorney. Olsen charges hundreds of dollars an hour, but he just suddenly appears to represent a "penniless" hustler who is the only thing that the OIC has going for them. I love that story. I couldn't even get an attorney at the time.
BUZZFLASH: You had some difficulty there with the Mehta trial. You ran out of money and suddenly attorney Mark Geragos appears out of nowhere.
MCDOUGAL: No Ted Olsen though. Very funny.
BUZZFLASH: Best of luck. You're our hero.
MCDOUGAL: Thanks Buzz, you're wonderful. You know the facts better than I do.
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