The Wall Street Journal
March 3, 1999
A Place Called Mena -- Just Some Facts
By Micah Morrison, a Journal editorial page writer.
Reacting to the Juanita Broaddrick story, White House
spokesman Joe Lockhart said the Journal editorial page
"lost me after they accused the president of being a drug
smuggler and a murderer." We made no such charges, of
course. But we'll give Mr. Lockhart a pass on the grounds
of hyperbole; we have indeed reported stories about the
seamy side of Bill Clinton's Arkansas.
Most of our stories--as opposed to gamier Arkansas tales
traded on the Internet--have revolved around Mena
Intermountain Regional Airport in western Arkansas. Even as
careful an observer as David Frum, writing in Commentary,
criticizes "wild charges" including "drug-smuggling via
Mena airport." Since drug smuggling at Mena is established
beyond doubt, a brief review of some facts seems in order:
Mena was a staging ground for Barry Seal, one of the
most notorious drug smugglers in history. He established a
base at Mena in 1981, and according to Arkansas
law-enforcement officials, imported as much as 1,000 pounds
of cocaine a month from Colombia. In 1984 he became an
informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration, flying
to Colombia and gathering information about leaders of the
Medellín cartel. He testified in several high-profile
cases, and was assassinated in Baton Rouge, La., in 1986.
Two investigators probing events at Mena say they were
closed down--William Duncan, a former Internal Revenue
Service investigator, and Russell Welch, a former Arkansas
State Police detective. They fought a decade-long battle to
bring events at Mena to light, pinning their hopes on nine
separate state and federal probes. All failed. And Messrs.
Welch and Duncan were stripped of their careers.
In 1986, Dan Lasater, Little Rock bond daddy and an
important Clinton campaign contributor, pleaded guilty to
cocaine distribution. The scheme also involved Mr.
Clinton's brother, Roger. Both Mr. Lasater and Roger
Clinton served brief prison terms. Gov. Clinton later
issued a pardon to Mr. Lasater.
On Aug. 23, 1987, teenagers Kevin Ives and Don Henry
were run over by a northbound Union Pacific train near
Little Rock in an area reputed to be a haven for drug
smugglers. Gov. Clinton's state medical examiner, Fahmy
Malak, quickly ruled the deaths accidental, saying the two
boys had fallen into a deep sleep side by side on the
railroad tracks after smoking too much marijuana. A second
autopsy concluded the boys had been murdered and their
bodies placed on the tracks. Despite public outcry, Dr.
Malak remained medical examiner until just before Mr.
Clinton's presidential campaign.
In 1990 Jean Duffey, the head of a newly created drug
task force, began investigating a possible link between the
train deaths and drugs. Her boss, the departing prosecuting
attorney for Arkansas's Seventh Judicial District, gave her
a direct order: "You are not to use the drug task force to
investigate public officials." In a 1996 interview with the
Journal, Ms. Duffey said: "We had witnesses telling us
about low-flying aircraft and informants testifying about
Dan Harmon, who had earlier been appointed special
prosecutor for the train deaths, took office in 1991 as
seventh district prosecutor. Ms. Duffey was discredited,
threatened, and ultimately forced to flee Arkansas. In
1997, a federal jury in Little Rock found Mr. Harmon guilty
of five counts of drug dealing and extortion, and sentenced
him to eight years in prison for using his office to extort
narcotics and cash.
Mr. Lockhart to the contrary, we have never accused Mr.
Clinton of a direct role in these events. Obviously, as
governor for 12 years, he was ultimately responsible for
Arkansas law enforcement. As president, he has commented
only once about events at Mena. Asked about it during a
1994 press conference, he said that it was "primarily a
matter of federal jurisdiction" and "they didn't tell me
anything about it."
In 1984, Seal flew his C-123K to Nicaragua in a Central
Intelligence Agency drug sting of Sandinista officials. The
CIA rigged a hidden camera in the plane, enabling him to
snap photos of several men--including a high-ranking
Sandinista--loading cocaine aboard the aircraft. In 1986,
eight months after Seal's death, his plane was shot down
over Nicaragua with an Arkansas pilot at the wheel and a
load of ammunition and contra supporter Eugene Hasenfus in
the cargo bay.
Three days after the 1996 presidential election, the
CIA issued a brief report saying it had engaged in
"authorized and lawful activities" at the airfield,
including "routine aviation-related services" and a secret
"joint-training operation with another federal agency." The
agency said it was not "associated with money laundering,
narcotics trafficking, arms smuggling, or other illegal
activities" at Mena.
The statement was issued in response to a probe by
investigators for the House Banking Committee, directed by
Chairman Jim Leach. His report has been often promised and
often delayed. Yesterday Leach spokesman David Runkel said
that Banking Committee investigators are "putting the
finishing touches" on their report. "While there is an
extraordinary story to be told, it's unlikely that the
president is going to be too severely embarrassed."
Whatever Mr. Clinton's involvement as governor, something
singular was going on at Mena. Perhaps Mr. Leach will yet
shed some light on the mystery.
See related articles:
Copyright © 1999 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights
- "Arkansas Justice" (6/13/97)
- "Big News From Arkansas" (4/15/97)
- "The Lonely Crusade of Linda Ives" (4/18/96)
- "Who Is Dan Lasater?" (8/7/95)
- "Investigate Mena" (7/10/95)
- "The Mena Cover-Up" (10/18/94)
- "Mysterious Mena" (6/29/94)