The Woman Who Wouldn't Talk

A Tale of Brazen Politics that also Charts an Extraordinary Choice and a Journey of Personal Redemption


How a small-town Arkansas woman became a nationally known felon is one of the most fascinating and unexamined legacies of the Clinton presidency. Born to a U.S. Army sergeant and his Belgian bride, Susan Henley was one of seven children in a boisterous Arkansas family; in her teens, she regularly made patriotic speeches at her local American Legion hall. In 1976, she married Jim McDougal, a mercurial entrepreneur, who soon turned their life into a rolling sideshow of bank acquisitions and real estate deals, including one fatefully dubbed Whitewater.

In the mid-1990s, Susan McDougal unexpectedly found herself facing federal prosecutors who represented Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr. They offered her a deal—relief from legal jeopardy that included Whitewater charges in exchange for damaging information on Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Initially willing to answer prosecutors’ questions, she soon realized that if she did testify truthfully, she’d be opening herself to a possible perjury trap by contradicting Starr’s chief witnesses: the felonious former judge, David Hale, who, it was later revealed, received financial support from the Clinton-hating right-wing millionaire, Richard Mellon Scaife; and Jim McDougal, by then her ex-husband, who had also cut a deal with Starr. Frightened, depressed, and facing financial ruin, in an extraordinary act of courage she simply refused to testify—and was immediately slapped with civil contempt and incarcerated. Though imprisonment was meant to coerce her cooperation, twenty-one months in seven jails—including a hellish seven-week stint in lockdown 23-hours per day in a Plexiglas-enclosed, soundproof cell—failed to extort from her the testimony Starr hoped for.

Now McDougal breaks her silence. In this long-awaited book, she examines the life choices she has made as she narrates her story in a candid and wry voice. She also offers fresh anecdotes about the Clintons’ early years in politics, a close-up view of Starr’s sinister investigation, and a moving portrait of what happens to women in American prisons. For millions of Americans who believe that Starr, appointed by Republicans dissatisfied with the first Whitewater prosecutor, pushed his investigation too far, Susan McDougal remains the very embodiment of the ordinary citizen whose liberty is usurped by a coercive government.

The Woman Who Wouldn’t Talk stands boldly as a cautionary tale for all Americans eager to hear a voice speak truths about our government louder and more fully than the media ever does, because they’ve been learned firsthand and at great personal sacrifice.


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