The trials of Whitewater defendant McDougal, a sorry case who isn’t afraid to admit it but never deserved the treatment dished out by Kenneth Starr’s janissaries.
Nothing ever came of Whitewater, that distressing example of politically partisan venality, except the 18-month incarceration of McDougal, who refused to testify before the Office of the Independent Counsel. Here she endeavors to put her role in Whitewater—if so minor a part in such a non-event can be called a role—within the context of her life. This includes being the wife of Jim McDougal, a manic-depressive whose delusions included paranoia and a taste for grandiosity; and it also includes her tendency to “surrender control to stronger personalities,” namely to Jim but also to Nancy Mehta, wife of Zubin Mehta, portrayed here as a scary eccentric who accused McDougal of credit card fraud. McDougal’s version of things is buoyed by her acquittal of any charges beyond refusing to recognize the legitimacy of the Starr grand jury. She freely admits not just to incompetence but to a measure of reckless disregard concerning her own financial matters, as well as to a weakness for histrionics. But her tale is also salted with comments like “To this day I still don’t know the answer to that question” (why a single loan broke the bank she and her husband started) or “To this day, I have no idea what that check was for” (a check to Bill Clinton with the memo “Payoff Clinton”), which is hard not to regard as convenient ignorance. Most forcefully presented are her reasons for refusing to testify: the twisting of her words that could easily result in perjury, the overdue need to assert some control over her life, and her contempt for Starr’s motivations.
Even with her memory gaps, no reader will feel McDougal got what she deserved, or that the grand-jury process can be anything less than the rotten apple in the legal barrel.