McDougal Gets Three Years

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LITTLE ROCK: Apparently, whatever Jim McDougal knows about Whitewater is worth about 81 years. In exchange for providing Kenneth Starr with what he called "important new information" in the labyrinthine case, a U.S. District judge whittled a possible 84-year prison sentence down to just three years, including one year of house arrest. McDougal is also to pay $4.27 million in restitution to the federal government and a $10,000 fine. For a man convicted of 18 felonies, "there's no doubt that it's a good deal," says TIME's Jef McAllister. "Not wonderful, but good." Some of that leniency arose from McDougal's array of mental and physical ailments. McDougal takes seven different medications for a bipolar disorder and has a complete blockage of an artery that leads to the right side of the brain, which causes memory loss. But after testifying that the frail 56-year old had "truthfully and substantially aided" the Whitewater investigation, Starr insisted to reporters that McDougal's testimony had led prosecutors to evidence that "independently corroborates substantial portions of Mr. McDougal's account." He did not provide details, but in an investigation limited to McDougal and the Clintons, that word "corroborate" might be enough to strike fear into a few White House hearts. Indeed, even the pixyish McDougal, coming briefly before reporters on the way out of the courtroom, managed to sound ominous. Asked if he stood by an earlier statement that his testimony would absolve the Clintons, McDougal said with a smile: "I wouldn't go to the bank on that." But McDougal's mental health, along with the litany of crimes, defraudings, and reversals in testimony, does not make for a particularly unshakable case. "Starr had to promote McDougal to the judge as a reliable witness, because without that testimony, his investigation is nowhere," McAllister notes. "But relying on Jim McDougal as your ace-in-the-hole is a very peculiar approach." Because of McDougal's problems as a witness, Starr has tried to get cooperation out of Webster Hubbell or Susan McDougal. As long as both remain silent, the Whitewater investigation hangs of the very slim reed of Jim McDougal.