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President Again Testifies Before Video Cameras

July 7, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Clinton sat before video cameras again Sunday for another Whitewater trial, this time testifying in the case of two Arkansas bankers accused of making political contributions with bank funds.

After attending morning church services with daughter Chelsea, the president returned to the White House for closed-door questioning by attorneys for Herby Branscum Jr. and Robert M. Hill.

They are accused of reimbursing themselves for contributions to political candidates _ including Clinton in 1990 when he ran for governor and in 1991 when he considered seeking the presidency _ with funds from their Perryville, Ark., bank.

While Clinton is not charged with wrongdoing, the White House hoped Sunday to minimize political damage from his second testimony before a federal judge in 10 weeks. In April, the president testified for just over four hours in the Whitewater trial of Gov. Jim Guy Tucker and James and Susan McDougal, all of whom were convicted.

The president’s critics said Sunday that the sight of Clinton testifying again over Whitewater sends a message to the nation that he isn’t being honest about his involvement.

``When’s Bill Clinton going to stand up before the American people and tell them the truth?″ Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, chairman of the House Republican Conference, said on CNN’s ``Late Edition.″ ``The public needs to be able to trust the president.″

Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and member of the now-defunct Senate Whitewater Committee, defended Clinton, telling CNN that the president did not abuse his power of office _ unlike the ``direct presidential involvement in the abuse of power″ of the Watergate scandal during the Nixon administration.

``There is nothing to suggest that either Bill Clinton or Hillary Clinton has done anything wrong,″ Simon said. ``I think we’ve wasted a lot of money and I don’t think the American people have gotten anything out of it.″

Clinton’s testimony began at 2 p.m. EDT in the Map Room on the ground floor of the White House residence. The room, filled with historic maps, was the place where President Roosevelt held top-secret briefings during World War II.

He faced questions by defense attorneys and a cross-examination by prosecutors. The questioning was likely to center on Clinton’s appointment of Branscum to the Arkansas Highway Commission after receiving campaign contributions from him.

Last week, a witness testified that Clinton asked whether Branscum would make a good highway commissioner after thumbing through checks for thousands of dollars in campaign contributions. Five weeks later, Branscum was appointed to a 10-year term.

Branscum’s attorney, Dan Guthrie, said he would ask Clinton about the appointment. Deputy Whitewater prosecutor W. Hickman Ewing Jr. said Clinton’s reason for the appointment is not important, for the bankers obviously were out to curry political favor.

Hill and Branscum, a one-time Clinton campaign aide and former chairman of the Arkansas Democratic Party, are charged with using bank funds to reimburse themselves for political contributions, and trying to conceal from the Internal Revenue Service large withdrawals the Clinton campaign made in 1990 for ``get out the vote″ efforts.

Clinton may also be asked about the withdrawals. One of his closest White House aides, Bruce Lindsey, who had served as Clinton’s campaign treasurer, was named an unindicted co-conspirator in the trial.

Lindsey has said the withdrawals were reported on campaign finance forms after the election, and there was no reason to hide them. However, documents from the Arkansas secretary of state’s office showed the items listed in such a way to make it impossible to determine how much went toward getting voters to the polls.

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