Clinton Aide Named 'Co-Conspirator'

WASHINGTON -- Senior White House official Bruce Lindsey, one of U.S. President Bill Clinton's closest confidants, will be named an unindicted co-conspirator in the bank-fraud trial that Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth Starr has just opened in Little Rock, Arkansas, a defense lawyer in the case said Wednesday.

Clinton promptly defended Lindsey, an Arkansas friend of nearly 30 years, while Lindsey himself told reporters he had done nothing improper as treasurer of Clinton's 1990 gubernatorial re-election campaign. The campaign is the principal focus of the newly opened fraud and conspiracy trial involving two longtime Clinton political backers whom he appointed to state positions. Clinton is scheduled to testify for the defense, probably early next month.

Starr had investigated Lindsey's role as treasurer last year and that May decided against seeking an indictment against him. Clinton said Lindsey was "thoroughly investigated and not charged, with ample opportunities. I've got lots of confidence in him. I'm confident he didn't do anything wrong."

Naming Lindsey now as an unindicted co-conspirator would be a courtroom tactic Starr's prosecution team might use to introduce potentially damaging hearsay testimony that would otherwise be inadmissible. Such a move would have little legal importance, but could further hurt the image of a White House already grappling with several Whitewater-related embarrassments.

"It has political significance, obviously," said Allen Snyder, Lindsey's Washington-based attorney.

Snyder said Starr's office had not notified him of any decision to name Lindsey, but in Little Rock, Dan Guthrie, a Dallas lawyer for one of the two defendants, told reporters he had been told by Starr aides that they intended to name Lindsey at some point in the trial that opened Monday.

"The independent counsel has chosen to brand him -- without him really having an opportunity to defend himself, quite frankly -- an unindicted co-conspirator," Guthrie said. Starr's office declined to comment Wednesday.

When naming someone as an unindicted co-conspirator, a prosecutor merely announces it in open court; the person faces no subsequent legal action just for being named. Carl Stern, a Justice Department spokesman, said the practice is "sort of disfavored" today, largely because "it's fundamentally unfair for someone not to be able to have a trial to clear their name." But, he added, prosecutors will still name some individuals, particularly if they intend to use their testimony at trial. Lindsey has been subpoenaed to testify for the defense.

Lindsey, 48, a White House deputy counsel, met Clinton in 1968, when the two men worked for Arkansas Senator J.W. Fulbright, a Democrat. After Clinton lost his first gubernatorial re-election effort in 1980, he went to work for Lindsey's Little Rock law firm.

Lindsey was a member of Clinton's original 1992 campaign team and came to Washington along with a host of other close friends from Clinton's Arkansas days. He is Clinton's shadow and hearts partner on trips abroad.

Lindsey's work as Clinton's 1990 treasurer brought him in close contact with the defendants in the new Little Rock trial, Herby Branscum and Robert Hill, two country bankers who own the Bank of Perry County in rural Arkansas.

The bank held Clinton's campaign accounts and loaned him $180,000 for the race. The bankers are charged with diverting $13,000 in bank funds to reimburse themselves and family members for contributions to political campaigns, including Clinton's 1990 re-election effort.