In the final days left for the Whitewater grand jury here, the special prosecutor's efforts, after four years of investigation, to force Susan McDougal's testimony about President Clinton came down Thursday to what her lawyer called a game of chicken.
McDougal, having just completed a maximum 18-month sentence for civil contempt of court after refusing to answer questions before, refused once again. Prosecutors then threatened her with a criminal contempt charge, where an even longer sentence would be up to the prosecutors, the judge and a jury.McDougal, her family and her lawyer struck back with their own threat to turn any trial into an examination of the conduct of the independent counsel, Kenneth Starr.
Whether the prosecutors succeed in indicting or convicting McDougal on another, more serious contempt charge will also depend on the response from U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright. She already sent McDougal to prison once for refusing to aid in the prosecution of Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton, but on Wednesday, she signaled that she was skeptical of the prosecutors' reasons for bringing McDougal back.
"If you are calling her just to ask her the same questions she has already refused to answer, I am very reluctant to give you approval," Wright told the prosecutors at a hearing on Geragos' efforts to quash a subpoena for Ms. McDougal. After the prosecutors assured her that they had new questions, the judge let them go ahead.
McDougal spent only about 15 minutes before the grand jury in morning and afternoon appearances. Her brothers, briefed by her lawyers, described how she had refused an appeal by one elderly juror to soften her resistance.
"We're all Arkansans," this juror rose and said, according to Jim Henley, one brother. "We're all honest people. We'd just like to hear your answers personally."
Henley described his sister's stated reasons for refusing. "I want to answer your questions," she said, according to Henley. "But I don't trust Mr. Starr."
Another brother, Bill Henley, predicted that no jury in Arkansas would convict her for refusing to tell what she knows about the president's finances. "Sometimes principle is far more important than the letter of the written law," he said.