McDougal, Susan 1954-
McDOUGAL, Susan 1954-
Born 1954, in Camden, AR; married James McDougal (an investor and convicted felon; deceased).
Agent—c/o Carroll & Graf Publishers, 161 William Street, 16th Floor, New York, NY 10038.
Author. Zubin and Nancy Mehta, bookkeeper and personal assistant.
(With Pat Harris) The Woman Who Wouldn't Talk, Carroll & Graf (New York, NY), 2003.
Susan McDougal made headlines in the mid-1990s when she refused to corroborate a statement made against then-President Bill Clinton. Kenneth Starr, the government's independent counsel, was searching for evidence that Clinton had been involved with McDougal and her husband, James, in an illegal investment that was referred to as the Whitewater scheme. Her silence caused her to serve a prison sentence for contempt of court. Her book The Woman Who Wouldn't Talk relates her experience.
McDougal was born in a small town in Arkansas, the middle child of seven. Her position in her family trained her to be a great diplomat, or as Beverly Lowry put it in the New York Times, McDougal learned early about appeasement and it became "the philosophy she would adhere to and depend on as the solution to any problem that arose, for the rest of her life."
After college McDougal met and married James McDougal, a man much older than she and one who suffered from depression and, at times, the mishandling of investments. James, along with James Hale, sought funds for the Whitewater real-estate development plan. Both men asked some of their friends, including the Clintons, to buy into Whitewater. The Clintons did, and although the investments were tainted with illegalities, Starr could not prove that the Clintons knew about them.
McDougal's husband, threatened with a long prison sentence, agreed to testify against the Clintons. His evidence, however, proved to be inconclusive. Hale, disappointed that the Clintons did not come to his defense, also provided the prosecutors with a story that incriminated the by-now president and first lady. But the attorneys wanted more, so they turned to McDougal; she refused to verify the testimonies. McDougal states in her book that she was actually willing to answer Starr's questions, but that was not what Starr really wanted. As McDougal related in an online interview for BuzzFlash, "They told me that was not what the meeting was about. Even though they had never met me before, they said that they would trade global immunity for a proffer against the target of their investigation, Bill and Hillary Clinton." When she refused, they increased the pressure on her, threatening to prosecute her and send her to jail. McDougal states that when she refused again, the investigators began to threaten her three brothers, who had also worked with her husband. "I was not going to give them a lie," she told the BuzzFlash interviewer. "So I decided I would go to trial, and I'd be found innocent. I wasn't. I was found guilty."
Lowry, in her New York Times article, stated that the beginning of McDougal's autobiography would have sounded more authentic if she had sought the service of a good editor. The use of too much "wisecracking" and "offhand prose," made Lowry question the validity of McDougal's statements. However, in the second half of the book, McDougal relates her prison experience, and it is here that the "narrative voice shifts dramatically." It is in the latter part of the book that McDougal "resists the urge to entertain in order to fulfill a higher calling," Lowry commented.
McDougal spent almost two years in seven different high-security prisons, locked up with people who were convicted murderers or mentally ill. In one of the prisons she was put into a glass enclosure through which she could see other prisoners but could hear nothing. It was also lit twenty-four hours a day. A guard in a tower watched everything she did. "Most of the people on that block," McDougal stated to her BuzzFlash interviewer, "were there for being mentally ill. And the things that you could see were just unimaginable, unbelievable." Many of these prisoners were abused, McDougal relates, because they did not follow orders, which McDougal implies they could not do. One of the main reasons behind her book is to tell their story.
A Publishers Weekly reviewer pointed out that McDougal relates all the "horrific details" of her dealings with Starr "with righteous fury," but also offers readers tales of "positive experiences with fellow inmates and supportive friends." These experiences—both the ordeal in court and the suffering in prison—made her "the poster girl for the excesses and overreaching of the Office of Independent Counsel," wrote Ilene Cooper for Booklist. It was the expression of her contempt for that counsel that a Kirkus Reviews writer found most powerful about McDougal's story. In addition, the reviewer thought that the "most forcefully presented" material also includes "her reasons for refusing to testify: the twisting of her words that could easily result in perjury" and her "overdue need to assert some control over her life."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
America's Intelligence Wire, January 20, 2003, "Susan McDougal Explains Her Actions in Whitewater."
Booklist, December 1, 2002, Ilene Cooper, review of The Woman Who Wouldn't Talk, p. 627.
Kirkus Reviews, November 15, 2002, review of The Woman Who Wouldn't Talk, pp. 1678-1679.
Library Journal, December, 2002, Karl Helicher, review of The Woman Who Wouldn't Talk, pp. 155-156.
National Review, February 19, 2001, Byron York, "The McDougal Pardon: If You Knew Susan like He Knows Susan."
New York Times, January 26, 2003, Beverly Lowry, review of The Woman Who Wouldn't Talk, p. 14.
Publishers Weekly, December 9, 2002, review of The Woman Who Wouldn't Talk, p. 74.
U.S. News & World Report, April 16, 2002, Paul Bedard, Suzi Parker, Richard J. Newman, and Ulrich Boser, "It's Not Senator McDougal—Yet!," p. 8.
American Politics Journal online,http://www.americanpolitics.com/ (February 11, 2003), review of The Woman Who Wouldn't Talk.
Mothers in Prison Web site,http://www.aetn.org/mip/ (October 31, 2003), interview with Susan McDougal.*