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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Arkansas Jury Acquits Clinton Allies

LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas -- U.S. President Bill Clinton was handed a political victory over Whitewater prosecutors and Republican critics Thursday when an Arkansas jury acquitted two of his political allies on fraud and conspiracy charges.


Rural bankers Herby Branscum and Robert Hill were found not guilty on four charges, including one that directly implicated Clinton's close friend and senior adviser, Bruce Lindsey.


A mistrial was declared in seven additional charges of breaking the law to support Clinton's 1990 campaign for re-election as governor of Arkansas, after the jury said it was hopelessly deadlocked on those counts.


The verdict eases the threat of an indictment against Lindsey and will take some of the heat out of the Whitewater issue as the presidential election campaign season gets under way with the major party conventions this month.


Whitewater prosecutors, led by independent counsel Kenneth Starr, admitted the outcome was a setback for the wide-ranging probe into Clinton's finances but vowed to push ahead.


"We do continue, as we speak, in the Washington phase of the investigation," Starr said.


Prosecutors got a major boost in May, when the first Whitewater trial ended with convictions against Clinton's former partners in the disastrous Whitewater land venture, and against his successor as Arkansas governor.


But Thursday's reversal was widely seen as taking some wind out of Starr's sails.


White House officials said they hoped it would discourage further trials or hearings this side of the Nov. 5 elections, and Clinton's supporters claimed it proved the Whitewater probe was motivated more by partisan politics than anything else.


"This is a $30-million prosecution machine that has been stopped dead in its tracks today in Little Rock," Branscum's defense attorney, Dan Guthrie, said of Starr's office.


Political pundits said the verdict was a blessing for Clinton and his circle.


"If Republicans hoped that scandal would bring down Clinton, they were kidding themselves. Even before, voters were saying it was not much of an issue. Now, it becomes a complete non-issue," said Mark Rozell, a political scientist at American University in Washington, D.C.


The Whitewater saga revolves around a complex web of land deals, shady financial transactions and alleged cover-ups dating back to Clinton's period as Arkansas governor.


While he has not been charged with any crime, it has dogged Clinton throughout his presidency and has been an electoral liability even though most U.S. voters remain confused or bored by the details of the investigation.