Susan McDougal

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Susan McDougal
Born Susan Carol Henley
1955 (age 61–62)
Heidelberg, Germany
Occupation Businesswoman
Spouse(s) James B. McDougal
Parent(s) James B. and Laurette (née Mathieu) Henley

Susan Carol McDougal (née Henley; born 1955) is one of the few people who served prison time as a result of the Whitewater controversy although fifteen individuals were convicted of various federal charges. Her refusal to answer "three questions" for a grand jury about whether President Bill Clinton lied in his testimony during her Whitewater trial led her to receive a jail sentence of 18 months for contempt of court. This made up most of the total 22 months she spent in incarceration. McDougal received a full Presidential pardon from outgoing President Clinton in the final hours of his presidency in 2001.

Early life[edit]

McDougal was born as Susan Carol Henley in Heidelberg, Germany, the daughter of James B. Henley and Laurette (Mathieu) Henley. Susan McDougal was married from 1976 until 1990[1] to the late James B. McDougal, also of Little Rock, Arkansas. The McDougals were partners with Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton in the failed Whitewater real estate venture in the 1980s.

McDougal separated from Jim McDougal in the late 1980s and moved to Los Angeles, California, where, from 1989 until 1992,[2] she worked in Los Angeles as a personal assistant to former actress Nancy Kovack, the wife of conductor Zubin Mehta. In late 1993, McDougal was charged with embezzling money from the Mehtas and began preparing her successful defense against the charges.[3]

On August 5, 1994, Kenneth Starr became Independent Counsel to prosecute Whitewater participants, including Susan McDougal.[4] Federal trial began in 1996. During that trial, the government's star witness, Arkansas banker and former municipal judge David Hale, claimed that then-Governor Bill Clinton had discussed an illegal $300,000 loan with himself and McDougal. Hale was himself under investigation for having defrauded the Small Business Administration out of $3.2 million. He also unsuccessfully sought to have his brother Milas Hale corroborate his testimony against Clinton.[5]

McDougal was convicted of her role in Whitewater on May 28, 1996, and was sentenced to spend time in prison for four counts of fraud and conspiracy relating to the Whitewater scandal, but her prison term did not begin until March 7, 1998, as there were court proceedings. Following James McDougal's conviction, but prior to his sentencing, he began to co-operate with the Office of Independent Counsel (OIC), trying to persuade his former wife to do likewise to avoid a prison sentence. Susan's defense lawyer, Mark Geragos, stated that her ex-husband told her that deputy independent counsel W. Hickman Ewing Jr. would be able to "get Clinton with a sex charge" before the 1996 election if she agreed to lie and say she had had an affair with Clinton. She has always denied ever having an affair with Clinton.[6]

Ewing told reporters during a break in the proceedings that he never heard of such a plan: "I never talked to Jim McDougal about that, and I wouldn't. I never heard any discussion along those lines in my office ever at the time frame she's talking about."

Susan McDougal rejected her ex-husband's advice, and the sentencing hearing began August 19, 1996. After the judge levied a sentence of two years in federal prison but before she left the courtroom, Starr had Susan McDougal served with a subpoena for another Whitewater grand jury, to begin two weeks later.[7]

Whitewater grand jury and civil contempt of court[edit]

During the grand jury, McDougal stated her full name "for the record" and then refused to answer any questions. In her book, McDougal explained, "I feared being accused of perjury if I told the grand jury the truth. The OIC had accepted David Hale's lies as the truth. They were also now relying on Jim McDougal's lies, which they'd carefully helped him construct. If I came in and directly contradicted those two -- whose testimony had been used to convict me of four felonies -- I feared the OIC would next accuse me of perjury." She also writes that she feared the same fate as Julie Hiatt Steele,[8] who had contradicted the testimony of White House aide Kathleen Willey: "Simply telling the truth cost Steele everything she had, almost landed her in jail [for perjury], and jeopardized her custody of her adopted son."[9]

McDougal's grand jury testimony included her response, "Get another independent counsel and I'll answer every question."[10] She was publicly rebuked for refusing to answer "three questions"[11] about whether President Clinton had lied in his testimony during her Whitewater trial, particularly when he denied any knowledge of an illegal $300,000 loan. U.S. District Court Judge Susan Webber Wright sentenced her for civil contempt of court.

From September 9, 1996 until March 6, 1998, McDougal spent the maximum possible 18 months imprisonment for civil contempt, including 8 months in solitary confinement, and was subjected to "diesel therapy" (the practice of hauling defendants around the country and placing them in different jails along the way).[12] In her case, Susan was shuffled from Arkansas to "Los Angeles to the Oklahoma City transfer center, and then on to the Pulaski County Jail in Little Rock, Arkansas".[13]


Following her release on March 7, 1998 for civil contempt of court, McDougal began serving the two-year sentence for her 1996 conviction.[14]

Soon after, the OIC indicted McDougal on criminal contempt-of-court charges, and charged her with obstruction of justice. After serving four months on the Whitewater fraud conviction, McDougal was released for medical reasons.[15]

After her release, her embezzlement trial in California began. Later, in 1998, McDougal was acquitted on all twelve counts.[16]

A suit in 1999 against Nancy Mehta for malicious prosecution was settled out of court.[17] McDougal's trial for criminal contempt-of-court and obstruction of justice charges began in March 1999. The jury hung 7-5 to acquit her for contempt of court, and found her not guilty on the charge of obstruction of justice.[18] In 2001, in the final hours of his presidency, President Bill Clinton granted Susan McDougal a full Presidential pardon.[citation needed]

After prison[edit]

Following prison, McDougal became an advocate for prison reform. One of her brothers, Jim Henley, ran as a Democrat in the 2006 election for Texas's 7th congressional district but lost to incumbent Congressmember John Culberson; he was elected to the Harris County Department of Education Position Seven At-Large in late 2008. Another brother, Bill "Friendly" Henley, served a term in the Arkansas State Senate. Susan made an appearance and a speech at the announcement of his candidacy. At a December 5, 2011 Chanukah Special, taped at the Clinton library in Little Rock, McDougal told her story and promoted her book, "The Woman Who Wouldn't Talk" which she co-wrote with attorney and former fiancé, Eugene Patterson Harris. McDougal is currently serving as a chaplain of the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences UAMS in Little Rock, Arkansas.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Woman Who Wouldn't Talk, ISBN 0-7867-1302-X, Susan McDougal et al. 2003, p. 172
  2. ^ The Woman Who Wouldn't Talk, pp. 140-46
  3. ^ The Woman Who Wouldn't Talk, pp. 149-50
  4. ^ The Woman Who Wouldn't Talk, p. 160
  5. ^
  6. ^ The Woman Who Wouldn't Talk, p. 205
  7. ^ The Woman Who Wouldn't Talk, p. 213
  8. ^ Starr won't retry McDougal or Steele, CNN, May 25, 1999
  9. ^ The Woman Who Wouldn't Talk, p. 220
  10. ^ The Woman Who Wouldn't Talk, p. 314
  11. ^ The trials and tribulations of Susan McDougal, CNN, April 12, 1999
  12. ^ Malinowski, W. Zachary (2005-05-07). "Hearing set on Cianci request to appear via video". Rhode Island news. Retrieved 2008-11-12. 
  13. ^ The Woman Who Wouldn't Talk, pp. 263-64, 307-08
  14. ^ The Woman Who Wouldn't Talk, p. 306
  15. ^ The Woman Who Wouldn't Talk, pp. 322-26
  16. ^ Jury finds McDougal not guilty of all charges, CNN, November 23, 1998. [1]
  17. ^ The Woman Who Wouldn't Talk, p. 338
  18. ^ The Woman Who Wouldn't Talk, pp. 367-68

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