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Arkansas Project

The Arkansas Project was a reporting venture in the mid-1990s undertaken with the aim of discrediting President Bill Clinton and his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton. Writers and investigators—who were paid from a fund of more than $2 million provided by Richard Mellon Scaife, owner of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and billionaire heir to the Mellon fortune—delved into matters such as the Whitewater land deal in the Arkansas Ozarks, the suicide of Vincent W. Foster Jr., mysterious deaths and drug schemes in Arkansas, and Governor Clinton’s alleged 1991 tryst with state employee Paula Jones.

Much of the work was later discredited or else repudiated by the authors and others involved, including Scaife, who years later became an admirer of the former president and a supporter of Hillary Clinton (his newspaper endorsed her when she ran for president in 2008). But the stories developed by the Arkansas Project played a pivotal role in the impeachment of the president by the U.S. House of Representatives on December 19, 1998.

The American Spectator, a monthly conservative magazine published in Washington DC, was the main forum for the project’s investigative reporting, but much of it also appeared first in Scaife’s Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and secondarily in many other journals and electronic publications. As the main heir of Andrew W. Mellon’s banking, oil, steel, and aluminum fortune, Scaife was a major financial backer of the Spectator for several years. He gave the magazine $3.2 million and an additional $2.3 million specifically to fund the Arkansas Project. The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, another foundation supporting conservative causes, also gave major funding to the Spectator when its Clinton reporting began, although it was never linked directly to the Clinton stories.

Separately, Scaife hired Christopher W. Ruddy, a writer at the right-wing New York Post, at his Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, newspaper to unearth and report scandals on Clinton, mainly the suicide of Deputy White House Counsel Vince Foster in the summer of 1993. Ruddy suggested that Foster, an old friend of the Clintons, could have been murdered to cover up the Clintons’ alleged wrongdoing in the Whitewater real estate venture in Marion County in the late 1970s, when Clinton was the Arkansas attorney general and his wife was a lawyer at Rose Law Firm in Little Rock (Pulaski County).

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr., the founder and editor-in-chief of the Spectator, said the Arkansas Project began during a fishing trip on the Chesapeake Bay soon after July 20, 1993, the day Foster’s body was found in Fort Marcy Park in suburban Washington DC, a gunshot to his head and his father’s old pistol lying beside him. Among those on the fishing boat were Tyrrell; Scaife’s senior aide at his foundation; and Steven Boynton, a Washington attorney and conservative activist who had a fishing buddy in Arkansas, Parker Dozhier, who hated Clinton and claimed to know about scandals involving the Clintons. Boynton subsequently received $577,000 from the Arkansas Project for his work on the Clinton stories.

Speculation about Foster’s death was rampant because he possessed the Rose Law Firm’s billing records with James D. McDougal, the Clintons’ partner in the defunct Whitewater real-estate development and later head of a Little Rock savings and loan association that went bankrupt in the collapse of the savings-and-loan industry in the 1980s. Like Hillary Clinton, Foster had been a partner at the law firm. Congressional committees were investigating Whitewater and McDougal’s other business ventures. At the Spectator and at Scaife’s foundation, the work undertaken with Scaife’s money was called the “Editorial Improvement Project,” but it became known publicly as the Arkansas Project. The magazine had been an outlet for conservative commentary but did little original reporting.

The magazine’s first hires were David Brock, a Republican writer and operative, and Rex Armistead, a former Mississippi state policeman and detective who had investigated civil rights causes in Mississippi and Louisiana. They collaborated with Parker Dozhier, who ran a bait shop on Lake Catherine near Hot Springs (Garland County) and was an old friend of David Hale, whose indictment and conviction for financial fraud and accusations against Clinton triggered the long Whitewater investigation by independent counsels. The Spectator’s records showed that Armistead was paid $353,517 and perhaps more for investigating rumors that Clinton used cocaine, that he and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) had protected international drug smuggling through the municipal airport at Mena (Polk County), and that he had plotted Vince Foster’s murder. A group associated with television evangelist Jerry Falwell had promoted the stories of the drug smuggling and of Clinton’s possible connection with the death of two teenagers who were run over by a train south of Little Rock in 1987. Shortly before the 1996 election, Tyrrell reported in the Spectator Armistead’s unsupported allegation that Clinton used cocaine.

Foster’s suicide was the main preoccupation of both the Arkansas Project and the allied reporting for Scaife’s daily paper in Pittsburgh. The suggestion that the Clintons had Foster killed and his body moved to the military park to prevent him from revealing something unlawful about the Clintons’ transactions with McDougal in the 1970s and 1980s was recirculated widely on conservative radio shows and often in newspapers and magazines, although usually only as a rumor.

Christopher W. Ruddy, a conservative journalist who first raised the prospect that the Clintons were behind Foster’s death in the New York Post, was hired by Scaife to report on it more fully for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in 1994. He said the park police had staged the scene at the park to make it appear to be a suicide.

By 1999, after President Clinton’s impeachment by the House and acquittal by the Senate, and after repeated investigations of Whitewater and Foster’s death by independent counsels found no wrongdoing, Scaife seemed to have changed his mind. In a 1999 series of articles on Scaife and his foundation in the Washington Post, a Scaife associate, not Scaife personally, was identified as the man who actually drove the Arkansas Project. In 2007, Scaife and Ruddy had lunch with the former president, and Ruddy published a favorable interview with Clinton on his conservative Newsmax.com website and a glowing cover story about the former president in his magazine, Newsmax. Ruddy insisted that neither he nor Scaife had ever accused Clinton personally of being involved in Foster’s death or had personally spread rumors about Clinton’s sexual activities. Both men praised the work of Clinton’s foundation.

The most damaging and consequential of the Arkansas Project stories was Brock’s piece in the Spectator in December 1993 that recited accounts by two Arkansas state troopers of arranging trysts with women for Governor Clinton and of witnessing sexual assignations involving the first lady. Brock said that he had interviewed four troopers for the story. One trooper said Clinton had asked him to send “a woman named Paula,” a state employee, up to his hotel room in Little Rock. Paula Corbin Jones, a secretary at the state Department of Economic Development, publicly identified herself as the “Paula” in the Spectator article and filed a lawsuit in 1994 in the U.S. District Court of Eastern Arkansas against the president, alleging sexual harassment in the hotel incident.

Four years later, during a deposition taken under oath in the Paula Jones case, Clinton was asked about fresh allegations that he had had sex in the White House with an intern named Monica Lewinsky. His answers in the deposition and before the grand jury that was quickly convened by Kenneth W. Starr, the Whitewater independent counsel, led to impeachment articles for perjury and obstruction of justice.

Brock, who wrote a book smearing Hillary Clinton (The Seduction of Hillary Clinton) in 1996, later repudiated his reporting for the Spectator and in other venues by the time of the impeachment. He apologized to Clinton for the trooper article and subsequently wrote a book, Blinded By the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative (2002), in which he renounced not only his reporting on the Clintons but all his work for the Republican Party and the conservative movement. Brock said that he had doubts about the troopers’ stories all along, but he agreed to publish them on assurances that the troopers were not being paid. He later learned that they had been paid by other sources.

Scaife fell out with Tyrrell and ended his financial support of the Spectator after it published a scathing review of Ruddy’s 1997 book about the Vince Foster suicide (The Strange Death of Vincent Foster: An Investigation), in which Ruddy said that Foster might have been murdered. Scaife would later say that he stopped his support because he could not get a good accounting of how the magazine had spent the millions he had given it.

In 1998, accusations in Congress that Scaife had channeled money to David Hale and others to influence their testimony against Clinton led to the formation of a federal grand jury at Fort Smith (Sebastian County) by the Whitewater independent counsel. Scaife and others involved in the Arkansas Project testified. Hale, who was indicted shortly after Clinton took office for fraudulently operating a small-business lending company in Little Rock, accused Clinton of asking him to make an illegal loan to Jim McDougal’s wife. There was testimony that Arkansas Project investigators paid fishing retreat owner Parker Dozhier $48,000 to be their “eyes and ears” for reports of scandals involving Clinton, and also paid one of Hale’s lawyers $8,000. The grand jury ended without indictments.

For additional information:
Conason, Joe, and Gene Lyons. The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill and Hillary Clinton. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000.

DeParle, Jason. “A Life Undone: Portrait of a White House Aide Ensnared by His Perfectionism.” New York Times. August 22, 1993, p. 1A.

Lieberman, Trudy. “The Vincent Foster Factory.” Columbia Journalism Review (March/April 1996): 8–9.

Mintz, John. “Anti-Clinton Billionaire Goes Before Grand Jury.” Washington Post, September 29, 1998, p. 8A

Office of the Independent Counsel. “Report on the Death of Vincent W. Foster, Jr.” October 10, 1997. Online at http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/politics/special/whitewater/docs/foster.htm (accessed February 26, 2014).

Washington Post Staff. “‘Arkansas Project’ Led to Turmoil and Rifts.” Washington Post, May 2, 1999, p. 24A.

Ernest Dumas
Little Rock, Arkansas

Last Updated 9/8/2014

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