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Clinton and Lewinsky
Frequently Asked Questions

By Dan Froomkin
Washingtonpost.com Staff

We're putting together a new FAQ on the impeachment process. Please submit your questions.

In the meantime, below are the answers to the questions most frequently asked during independent counsel Kenneth Starr's probe of President Clinton.

Updated August 26, 1998:

_ General Questions
_ Who Says What?
_ About Starr and His Investigation
_ About the Evidence


General Questions

Q. Why should I care about this?

A. The allegations swirling around President Clinton could still cost him his job.

Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth Starr is investigating whether Clinton lied under oath about the nature of his relationship with former intern Monica S. Lewinsky, urged Lewinsky to lie under oath or in other ways obstructed justice in relation to evidence being gathered for the now-dismissed Paula Jones civil lawsuit. Starr is also checking the veracity of Clinton's grand jury testimony on August 17.

In polls taken in August, a majority of Americans said they don't really care about Clinton's sex life. They said they don't think he should be removed from office, and they said that Starr should drop his investigation.

But Starr is preparing a report to Congress containing evidence of what he is said to consider possible impeachable acts growing out of Clinton's relationship with Lewinsky.

There's also a basic credibility issue: In January, Clinton emphatically denied having a sexual relationship with Lewinsky, then seven months later acknowledged in grand jury testimony that they had engaged in oral sex. Clinton insisted the distinction was "legally accurate," but he said that his earlier comments "gave a false impression" and "misled people."

For More Information: Clinton Admits to Lewinsky Relationship (Aug. 18)
What Clinton Said About Relations With Lewinsky
Post-ABC News Poll Results (Aug. 23)

Q. What happens next?

A. Now that Starr's grand jury has finally heard from Lewinsky and Clinton, Starr is expected to file a report to the House of Representatives, which holds the power to initiate impeachment proceedings. (In fact, the independent counsel law requires Starr to "advise the House of Representatives of any substantial and credible information . . . that may constitute grounds for impeachment.")

For More Information: Report Expected to Focus on Lewinsky (Aug. 12)
Legal Guide: Untangling the Issues

   


Q. Could Starr actually indict the president?

A. That is a topic of debate. By most interpretations, the Constitution places the power to bring criminal proceedings against a sitting president solely with Congress.

For More Information: Legal Guide: Untangling the Issues

Q. How does impeachment work?

A. Traditionally, the impeachment process begins with the House Judiciary Committee holding hearings. If the committee then passes an impeachment resolution and accompanying articles of impeachment, those go to the full House. And if the resolution and articles are approved (by a simple majority), the president is impeached, the equivalent of being formally charged.

That is the first step of a two-step process. There is then a trial in the Senate, with members of the House serving as prosecutor and the chief justice serving as judge. If the Senate finds the president guilty of any of the articles of impeachment – by a two-thirds vote – he is removed from office and the vice president immediately assumes the presidency.

For More Information: Hyde Likely to Lead Impeachment Inquiry (May 12)
Judiciary Committee in Impeachment Light (March 30)
Legal Guide: Untangling the Issues

Q. Could an affair really be an impeachable offense?

A. The Constitution provides for impeachment by Congress as the remedy for "high crimes and misdemeanors" by a president. The term, which comes from English common law, generally refers to offenses of abuse of power and corruption.

Then-Rep. Gerald R. Ford uttered a famous line in 1970, during the impeachment investigation of Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas, saying "an impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history."

Q. Has any president ever been removed from office by Congress?

A. No. In 1867, Andrew Johnson was impeached but not convicted. In 1974, the House Judiciary Committee approved articles of impeachment against President Richard M. Nixon. He resigned, making further proceedings moot.

For More Information: Legal Guide: Untangling the Issues



Who Says What?

Q. Exactly how is Clinton now describing his relationship with Lewinsky?

A. In his nationally televised statement on Aug. 17, Clinton acknowledged that his relationship with Lewinsky was "not appropriate. In fact, it was wrong." He also said that his prior public comments had given a "false impression. I misled people, including even my wife."

Clinton went into slightly more detail earlier that day during his closed-circuit testimony from the White House for Starr's grand jury. Sources familiar with his testimony told The Washington Post that Clinton specifically acknowledged engaging in oral sex with Lewinsky and detailed some times and places where they met.

But the sources said Clinton refused to answer certain questions posed to him by Starr's team of prosecutors, complaining they were graphic and intrusive.

Previously, Clinton had emphatically denied that his relationship with Lewinsky was sexual. In his famous Jan. 26 denial, he said, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky." And during his deposition for the Jones case on Jan. 17, he said he didn't recall being alone with Lewinsky.

For More Information: Clinton Admits to Lewinsky Relationship (Washington Post, Aug. 18)
What Clinton Said
Excerpts of President Clinton's Jan. 17 Deposition
Clinton's Jan. 26 Denial (1.1 Meg. Movie)

Q. What precisely does Monica Lewinsky say happened?

A. Lewinsky claims that she and Clinton had an 18-month affair starting in November 1995 that included numerous acts of oral sex, according to sources familiar with her grand jury testimony and the secretly-recorded tapes made by her friend, Linda R. Tripp. She also alleged that when she spoke to Clinton after being subpoenaed in the Paula Jones case he helped her concoct "cover stories" to hide their involvement. In her only public statement – her affidavit for the Paula Jones case – Lewinsky wrote that the relationship was not sexual.

For More Information: Lewinsky Testifies Before Grand Jury (Aug. 7)
On Tapes, Lewinsky Describes Alleged Trysts With Clinton (Jan. 25)
Excerpts From the Tapes
The Lewinsky Affidavit


   


About Starr and His Investigation

Q. What is an independent counsel?

A. A 1978 law states that when the attorney general decides the Justice Department cannot, because of potential conflicts of interest, investigate a high-level official against whom specific and credible allegations have been made, he or she must ask a special three-judge panel to appoint an independent counsel. The counsels have a great deal of latitude in conducting their investigations. The law was written to avoid another "Saturday Night Massacre" – when President Nixon ordered the firing of special Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox.

For More Information: Legal Guide: Untangling the Issues
Nixon Forces Firing of Cox; Richardson, Ruckelshaus Quit (Oct. 21, 1973)

Q. What is Starr's motivation?

A. Depends who you ask. Starr's supporters say he is a dogged, responsible investigator trying to get at the heart of a matter in which he has no personal stake. His opponents say he is on a partisan and personal vendetta to get the Clintons at any cost and avoid coming up empty after years of digging. Starr was formerly a top Justice Department official under President Reagan and the panel that appointed him as independent counsel was led by a protege of Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.).

For More Information: Kenneth Starr Key Player Profile
Judge Probing Leaks From Starr Team (Aug. 8)
Starr: Following Leads or Digging Dirt? (Jan. 30)
Whitewater Special Report

Q. What is this grand jury all about?

A. Starr is using several federal grand juries to help him investigate the allegations related to the Lewinsky matter.

Unlike trial (or petit) juries, grand juries – which typically have 23 members and are empaneled for 18 months – decide whether people should be charged with a crime, not whether they are guilty or innocent.

Grand juries can be powerful investigative tools for prosecutors. Subpoenas are easily issued, the proceedings are controlled by the prosecutors, no judge is present, and the witnesses – who are under oath – must testify without their lawyers in the room. Witnesses who assert their Fifth Amendment right not to answer a question can be granted immunity from prosecution – which obliges them to answer or be jailed for contempt.

The burden of proof is not the same as in a trial. To bring an indictment, a majority of the jurors must simply believe there is probable cause that a criminal act took place.

While trials are generally public, grand jury proceedings are more like ongoing investigations – and rife with false leads and speculation. That is one reason why prosecutors and jurors are legally prohibited from making public comments about the proceedings. (Witnesses, however, are free to discuss their testimony.)

Starr's primary grand jury was convened last September to investigate Whitewater-related matters and is based in the E. Barrett Prettyman federal courthouse in Washington. Starr is also using another grand jury in the same courthouse to hear testimony from Secret Service officers and one in Alexandria to explore Lewinsky-related events that occurred in Virginia. A series of grand juries based in Little Rock investigated Whitewater-related matters until the last one disbanded in May.

For More Information: How the Grand Jury Process Works (Jan. 29)

Q. How much is this latest inquiry costing the taxpayers?

A. Nobody knows. Independent counsels are allowed to operate under tremendous secrecy. They file spending reports every six months. The most recent report, which went through Sept. 30, 1997, shows that Starr had spent $29.6 million up to that point, three years into what is now a more than four-year investigation. The new burst of activity – involving many FBI agents and countless hours of work and travel – will almost certainly increase the pace of his spending, which was averaging about $26,000 a day.

For More Information: Starr's Bill So Far: About $30 Million (April 1)

Q. How does all this relate to Whitewater?

A. It doesn't really, except that the same people are doing the investigating. Over the four years since he was appointed to investigate allegations related to the Whitewater land deal, Starr's mandate has expanded several times, sometimes at his own request and sometimes at Attorney General Janet Reno's. For instance, Starr has also investigated White House travel office firings and the mishandling of FBI files. Reno endorsed Starr's request for this latest expansion in part because he was already investigating a parallel allegation involving Clinton's close friend, Vernon E. Jordan Jr.

For More Information: Legal Guide: Untangling the Issues
Whitewater Special Report
Key Player: Vernon E. Jordan Jr.

Q. How does all this relate to Paula Jones?

A. If it hadn't been for Paula Jones's sexual harassment lawsuit against President Clinton, none of this would have happened. But at the same time, the two cases aren't directly related. Jones's attorneys discovered Lewinsky and subpoenaed her – and several other women – as part of an attempt to show that the president has a habit of sexual relationships with people who work for him. It was entirely a civil matter until the possibility arose that Clinton or Jordan suborned perjury or obstructed justice. Then Starr began his criminal investigation. An Arkansas federal judge first excised the Lewinsky-related testimony from the Jones case, then dismissed the case entirely. But Starr said neither move would halt his inquiry.

For More Information: Jones v. Clinton Special Report

Q. What does Kathleen Willey have to do with this?

A. Kathleen E. Willey was one of the other women subpoenaed by Jones's lawyers. A former White House volunteer, she said in her Jan. 11 deposition that Clinton kissed her, groped her and placed her hand on his genitals when she went to the Oval Office on Nov. 29, 1993, to ask for a paying job.

Clinton denied behaving improperly with Willey. He said she was distraught about personal problems and that in an attempt to comfort her he might have hugged her and kissed her on the forehead.

Now, Starr is apparently investigating whether Clinton lied under oath when he gave his version of the events.

For More Information: Kathleen Willey Key Player Profile
Willey Tells of Clinton Advance (March 16)
Excerpts from Willey's Jan. 11 Deposition

Q. What's this right-wing conspiracy the first lady was talking about?

A. Hillary Rodham Clinton has portrayed Starr as an obsessed prosecutor who is part of a "vast right-wing conspiracy" determined to undo the results of the past two elections. The Clintons undeniably have inspired some virulent animosity among conservative critics, and many of the same players turn up behind each new allegation against the president. But that does not necessarily mean that they have all been working together as part of a conspiracy, or that every charge against the Clintons has been instigated by enemies.

For More Information: Pursuing Clinton Suits Him Just Fine (May 30)
Analysis: Has Clinton Reached His Pique? (May 1)
First Lady Launches Counterattack (Jan. 28)
Clintons Long Under Siege by Conservative Detractors (Jan. 28)


About the Evidence

Q. What evidence is there that Clinton lied under oath?

A. In his deposition for the Jones case, which he took under oath, Clinton denied having a sexual relationship with Lewinsky.

In his grand jury testimony seven months later, he acknowledged that he and Lewinsky engaged in oral sex, sources familiar with the testimony told The Post.

Sources familiar with the president's legal strategy said Clinton is relying on the definition of "sexual relations" used during the Jones deposition, maintaining that it did not appear to include oral sex performed on him. It was not clear, however, how or if Clinton explained other sexual activity that Lewinsky reportedly testified about, including intimate touching that would be covered by the definition.

For More Information: Excerpts of President Clinton's Jan. 17 Deposition
Legal Guide: Untangling the Issues

Q. Is there any evidence that Clinton urged Lewinsky to lie under oath?

A. Lewinsky is alleged to have said in her tape-recorded conversations that he urged her to lie. But according to people familiar with her grand jury testimony, Lewinsky said that Clinton did not directly ask her to lie under oath, but rather that the president suggested hypothetical ways for her to avoid cooperating with Jones's lawyers.

Q. How significant are the "talking points"?

A. For a while, the "talking points" Lewinsky handed Tripp were considered the "smoking gun" of Starr's investigation. They instructed Tripp on how to modify her testimony about Lewinsky and Willey for the Jones case. Knowingly asking someone to provide a false affidavit could easily be considered obstruction of justice.

But in the talks that concluded with Lewinsky receiving full immunity for her testimony, sources said, Lewinsky told prosecutors that she wrote the talking points herself based on ideas and suggestions Tripp made in their many conversations. Tripp disputed Lewinsky's story, but the White House rejoiced in the news because officials there believed it absolved Clinton and his advisers of the most tangible evidence of obstruction of justice in the case.

For More Information: Lewinsky Gets Immunity for Her Testimony (July 29)
Analysts Hear Lawyer's Voice Talking in 'Points' (Feb. 10)
Legal Guide: Untangling the Issues
The Talking Points

Q. Weren't Linda Tripp's tapes of her conversations with Monica Lewinsky obtained illegally, and therefore aren't they inadmissible as evidence?

A. Linda Tripp tape-recorded telephone conversations with Lewinsky from her home in Columbia, in apparent violation of Maryland's wiretapping law, which requires the consent of both parties for a conversation to be recorded. (See below.)

From the point of view of a potential federal prosecution, however, the Maryland law is irrelevant; it's trumped by federal law, which imposes no such two-party requirement.

That does not mean the tapes could be used in every circumstance. In any prosecution of a third party, such as Clinton or Jordan, the tapes would be inadmissible hearsay under the Federal Rules of Evidence – they could not be admitted for the "truth of the matter asserted" (in this case the suggestion that Clinton and/or Jordan suborned perjury or obstructed justice) because they couldn't be cross-examined. Then again, if Lewinsky herself testified, she could theoretically be confronted by the tapes to impeach her testimony if her story changed.

In any potential prosecution of Lewinsky, the hearsay rules would not apply because the tapes would be testimony from the party herself. The prosecutors would just have to authenticate that it was Lewinsky's voice on the tape.

And there is no legal obstacle to Starr playing the tapes for his grand jury. In grand jury proceedings, prosecutors are allowed to present hearsay and other evidence that is normally inadmissible in court, such as evidence that may have been obtained illegally.

Q. Is the state of Maryland taking any action against Tripp for illegal wiretapping activities?

A. Yes. Maryland State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli in July opened a grand jury probe into whether her secret tape recordings violated state law.

Montanarelli assumed control of the investigation in February at the request of Howard County State's Attorney Marna McLendon, a Republican who had been accused by Democrats of dragging her feet on the inquiry for partisan reasons.

McLendon had argued that the investigation should be put on hold until the end of Starr's investigation. Montanarelli said in July that there was no reason to continue to defer to Starr once Tripp had started to testify before his grand jury.

Maryland law prohibits the taping of a phone conversation without the consent of the person being taped. Punishment includes a maximum prison sentence of five years and a $10,000 fine. There is no statute of limitations.

The law is one of the toughest in the nation. But two court rulings in 1995 require proof that defendants know they are violating the law. And Tripp's lawyers have maintained that their client wasn't aware of the law when she was doing the taping.

Law enforcement officials said there have been few, if any, successful prosecutions since 1995.

Q. Do the Lewinsky allegations raise sexual harassment issues?

A. Nobody is suggesting that Clinton forced himself upon Lewinsky or threatened her job – which would clearly constitute illegal sexual harassment. The sexual relationship Lewinsky reportedly describes in taped conversations was consensual. But some experts on gender issues argue that there is no such thing as a truly consensual relationship when one person has power over the other, because the "power differential" inherently raises the possibility of favoritism or punishment.

In Washington, where there is a long history of sexual relationships between powerful men and women who work for them, the Lewinsky matter has led some people to question whether such relationships should be tolerated.

Q. I have another question!

A. Send it to politics@washingtonpost.com and we may add it to this list.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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