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Tracking the Clark case to the source.

Tracking The Clark Case To The Source

I read with interest about Steve Clark's lawyer endeavoring to imply that Bill Clinton was behind the disclosures about Clark's disgraceful abuse of his access to taxpayer money.

He suggested that Clinton supporters were responsible for tipping the Arkansas Gazette, intimating to the jury that Clark was the victim of a hateful political plot to take him out of the governor's race - which he just might have won.

My particular interest was that only two people know how the Gazette came to raise questions about Clark's upscale dining habits and the veracity of his claims. I am one of them. The other is the fellow who called me.

News people have sources, and the fellow who called me may be the best source I ever had.

I know him mostly by telephone, since he wants no public display of acquaintance or friendship. He never left his name when he called. Once he left a message to say, "Call Davis about your hubcap." My abused Olds was missing a hubcap, and he'd seen me pedaling around town. On the day I came to work here, he left messages as Jack Stephens, Don Tyson and Frank Broyles. He thought the telephone receptionist might be impressed. In each case I knew the real caller.

He is a businessman who warmed to me through a mutual acquaintance, who once suggested that he call me about a matter on his mind. He happens to be a racist. His spewing of epithets offends me, and my taking offense amuses him.

He is apolitical. His interest is in the business maneuverings in our city, which, of course, often are political. But when it comes to supporting candidates or applying his savvy and connections to politics and public policy issues, he declines. He often complained that I didn't react with sufficient excitement to his tips on business-related stories. He said he would have to drum up something political to get me to say anything other than, "Yeah."

He does not like Bill Clinton. Or Sheffield Nelson.

Steve Clark? He didn't really know him. But one Sunday afternoon in January, he heard something about him that he thought I might find interesting, and he called me about it Monday morning.

I do not recall where he said he was when he overheard the discussion. It might have been the grocery store. Or he may have said he was working in his yard and talking to a neighbor, who was passing along what he had heard.

The Sunday morning Gazette had a front-page takeout on the use of expense accounts by the state constitutional officers. Standard story, interesting. Clark happened to have incurred more expenses than anyone else. So he got the lead paragraph and a little more scrutiny than others. The article mentioned a couple of his specific expenses, including a $500 dinner at the Capital Hotel attended by Graham Catlett, Rick Campbell, Marilyn Porter and a couple other friends. He said they were discussing some kind of important state issue.

What my source had heard either at the grocery store or over the backyard fence was that a couple of the people mentioned were surprised to see their names listed because they had no such dinner with Clark at that time and place, or for the purported reason.

Maybe this bit of information was sufficiently political to earn my excitement, he said.

It was.

I wondered if those listed diners - most of them among the closest friends of Clark - would answer if asked if they had been at the dinner at the date cited and for the reasons claimed.

I wondered if they were the only people to be inaccurately listed as dinner guests on state business.

I took my information to an enterprising and talented reporter - the one who had written the article - and suggested she call the people who had been listed Sunday. She did. They denied attending.

A good story. But was it an isolated case? The reporter got Clark's full list of expense account submissions, which went into far greater detail than required by law. Of all the constitutional officers, only Clark put down names of guests.

By that evening, the reporter had uncovered a half-dozen incidents of phantom diners, up to and including Judge Richard Arnold of the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Ladies and gentlemen, we had ourselves a story that would not quit.

Over the next three or four days, we found phantom diners as quickly as we could dial the telephone.

That was how it happened.

As I read that attorney Bill Bristow suggested a political conspiracy in his defense of Clark, I wondered if maybe my great source was in truth an underground friend and supporter of Clinton who had spent months developing a relationship with me so that he could leak the Clark story in the event the Gazette ever provided an opening by developing a story of its own volition about the expense accounts of all constitutional officers.

Or, did a Clinton supporter somehow know of our relationship and set out to use both of us?

I didn't wonder long. It was a remote possibility, almost outlandish.

And it wouldn't matter, anyway. Shooting at imagined messengers doesn't change the message, which is that Clark was abusing a public trust, to understate.

For the record, my source thinks the Clark matter is blown totally out of proportion. He can't understand what he started. He is of the opinion that Clark didn't do anything that all politicians don't know, and whose problem is utter stupidity.
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Title Annotation:Steve Clark
Author:Brummett, John
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Nov 5, 1990
Words:935
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