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Grounds for Impeachment, No. X

From independent counsel Kenneth Starr's report to the House on President Clinton. Some of the language in these documents is sexually explicit.

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X. There is substantial and credible information that President Clinton endeavored to obstruct justice during the federal grand jury investigation. While refusing to testify for seven months, he simultaneously lied to potential grand jury witnesses knowing that they would relay the falsehoods to the grand jury.

The President's grand jury testimony followed seven months of investigation in which he had refused six invitations to testify before the grand jury. During this period, there was no indication that the President would admit any sexual relationship with Ms. Lewinsky. To the contrary, the President vehemently denied the allegations.

Rather than lie to the grand jury himself, the President lied about his relationship with Ms. Lewinsky to senior aides, and those aides then conveyed the President's false story to the grand jury.(424)

In this case, the President lied to, among others, three current senior aides -- John Podesta, Erskine Bowles, and Sidney Blumenthal -- and one former senior aide, Harold Ickes. The President denied any kind of sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky; said that Ms. Lewinsky had made a sexual demand on him; and denied multiple telephone conversations with Monica Lewinsky. The President, by his own later admission, was aware that his aides were likely to convey the President's version of events to the grand jury.

The President's aides took the President at his word when he made these statements. Each aide then testified to the nature of the relationship between Monica Lewinsky and the President based on those statements -- without knowing that they were calculated falsehoods by the President designed to perpetuate the false statements that the President made during his deposition in the Jones case.

The aides' testimony provided the grand jury a false account of the relationship between the President and Ms. Lewinsky. Their testimony thus had the potential to affect the investigation -- including decisions by the OIC and grand jury about how to conduct the investigation (for example, whether to subpoena Secret Service agents) and whether to indict particular individuals.

   


A. The Testimony of Current and Former Aides

1. John Podesta

John Podesta, Deputy Chief of Staff,(425) testified that on several occasions shortly after the media first began reporting the Lewinsky allegations, the President either denied having a relationship with Ms. Lewinsky or otherwise minimized his involvement with her.

Mr. Podesta described a meeting with the President, Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, and Deputy Chief of Staff Sylvia Matthews, in the morning of January 21, 1998.(426) During that meeting, the President stated: "Erskine, I want you to know that this story is not true."(427) Mr. Podesta further recalled that the President said "that he had not had a sexual relationship with her, and that he never asked anybody to lie."(428)

Several days later, on January 23, 1998, the President more adamantly told Mr. Podesta that he had not engaged in sex of any "kind, shape or manner" with Ms. Lewinsky. Mr. Podesta recalled:

JP: [H]e said to me that he had never had sex with her, and that -- and that he never asked -- you know, he repeated the denial, but he was extremely explicit in saying he never had sex with her.

Q: How do you mean?

JP: Just what I said.

Q: Okay. Not explicit, in the sense that he got more specific than sex, than the word "sex."

JP: Yes, he was more specific than that.

Q: Okay. Share that with us.

JP: Well, I think he said -- he said that -- there was some spate of, you know, what sex acts were counted, and he said that he had never had sex with her in any way whatsoever --

Q: Okay.

JP: --that they had not had oral sex.(429)

Later, possibly that same day,(430) the President made a further statement to Mr. Podesta regarding his relationship with Ms. Lewinsky. Mr. Podesta testified that the President "said to me that after [Monica] left [her job at the White House], that when she had come by, she came by to see Betty, and that he -- when she was there, either Betty was with them -- either that she was with Betty when he saw her or that he saw her in the Oval Office with the door open and Betty was around -- and Betty was out at her desk."(431) The President relayed to Mr. Podesta one of the false "cover stories" that the President and Ms. Lewinsky had agreed to use.

Both the President and Mr. Podesta knew that Mr. Podesta was likely to be a witness in the ongoing grand jury criminal investigation.(432) Nonetheless, Mr. Podesta recalled that the President "volunteered" to provide information about Ms. Lewinsky to him(433) even though Mr. Podesta had not asked for these details.(434)

Mr. Podesta "believe[d]" the President, and testified that it was important to him that the President denied the affair.(435) Mr. Podesta repeated to the grand jury the false and misleading statements that the President told him.

2. Erskine Bowles

Mr. Bowles, the White House Chief of Staff,(436) confirmed Mr. Podesta's account of the President's January 21, 1998, statement in which the President denied having a sexual relationship with Ms. Lewinsky. Mr. Bowles testified:

EB: And this was the day this huge story breaks. And the three of us walked in together -- Sylvia Matthews, John Podesta, and me -- into the Oval Office, and the President was standing behind his desk.

Q: About what time of day is this?

EB: This is approximately 9:00 in the morning, or something -- you know, in that area. And he looked up at us and he said the same thing he said to the American people. He said, "I want you to know I did not have sexual relationships [sic] with this woman Monica Lewinsky. I did not ask anybody to lie. And when the facts come out, you'll understand."(437)

Mr. Bowles testified that he took the President's statements seriously: "All I can tell you is: This guy who I've worked for looked me in the eye and said he did not have sexual relationships with her. And if I didn't believe him, I couldn't stay. So I believe him."(438) Mr. Bowles repeated the President's false and misleading statement to the grand jury.

   


3. Sidney Blumenthal

Sidney Blumenthal, an Assistant to the President,(439) similarly testified that the President made statements to him denying the Lewinsky allegations shortly after the first media report.

Mr. Blumenthal stated that he spoke to Mrs. Clinton on the afternoon of January 21, 1998, and to the President early that evening. During those conversations, both the President and Mrs. Clinton offered an explanation for the President's meetings with Ms. Lewinsky, and President Clinton offered an explanation for Ms. Lewinsky's allegations of a sexual relationship.(440)

Testifying before the grand jury, Mr. Blumenthal related his discussion with President Clinton:

I said to the President, "What have you done wrong?" And he said, "Nothing. I haven't done anything wrong."

. . . And it was at that point that he gave his account of what had happened to me and he said that Monica -- and it came very fast. He said, "Monica Lewinsky came at me and made a sexual demand on me." He rebuffed her. He said, "I've gone down that road before, I've caused pain for a lot of people and I'm not going to do that again."

She threatened him. She said that she would tell people they'd had an affair, that she was known as the stalker among her peers, and that she hated it and if she had an affair or said she had an affair then she wouldn't be the stalker any more.(441)

Mr. Blumenthal testified that the President appeared "upset" during this conversation.(442)

Finally, Mr. Blumenthal asked the President to explain alleged answering machine messages (a detail mentioned in press reports).

He said that he remembered calling her when Betty Currie's brother died and that he left a message on her voice machine that Betty's brother had died and he said she was close to Betty and had been very kind to Betty. And that's what he recalled.(443)

According to Mr. Blumenthal, the President said that the call he made to Ms. Lewinsky relating to Betty's brother was the "only one he could remember."(444) That was false: The President and Ms. Lewinsky talked often on the phone, and the subject matter of the calls was memorable.

A grand juror asked Mr. Blumenthal whether the President had said that his relationship with Ms. Lewinsky included any kind of sexual activity. Mr. Blumenthal testified that the President's response was "the opposite. He told me that she came on to him and that he had told her he couldn't have sexual relations with her and that she threatened him. That is what he told me."(445)

Mr. Blumenthal testified that after the President relayed this information to him, he "certainly believed his story. It was a very heartfelt story, he was pouring out his heart, and I believed him."(446) Mr. Blumenthal repeated to the grand jury the false statements that the President made to him.

4. Harold Ickes

Mr. Ickes, a former Deputy Chief of Staff,(447) also related to the grand jury a conversation that he had with the President on the morning of January 26, 1998,(448) during which the President denied the Lewinsky allegations.

Regarding that conversation, Mr. Ickes testified: "The two things that I recall, the two things that he again repeated in public -- had already said publicly and repeated in public that same Monday morning was that he had not had -- he did not have a -- or he had not had a sexual relationship with Ms. Lewinsky and that he had done nothing -- now I'm paraphrasing -- had done nothing to ask anybody to change their story or suborn perjury or obstruct justice."(449)

Mr. Ickes recalled that the President probably volunteered this information.(450) Mr. Ickes repeated the President's false statements to the grand jury.

B. The President's Grand Jury Testimony

The President admitted to the grand jury that, after the allegations were publicly reported, he made "misleading" statements to particular aides whom he knew would likely be

called to testify before the grand jury. The President testified as follows:

Q: Do you recall denying any sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky to the following people: Harry Thomasson, Erskine Bowles, Harold Ickes, Mr. Podesta, Mr. Blumenthal, Mr. Jordan, Ms. Betty Currie? Do you recall denying any sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky to those individuals?

WJC: I recall telling a number of those people that I didn't have, either I didn't have an affair with Monica Lewinsky or didn't have sex with her. And I believe, sir, that -- you'll have to ask them what they thought. But I was using those terms in the normal way people use them. You'll have to ask them what they thought I was saying.

Q: If they testified that you denied sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky, or if they told us that you denied that, do you have any reason to doubt them, in the days after the story broke; do you have any reason to doubt them?

WJC: No.

The President then was specifically asked whether he knew that his aides were likely to be called before the grand jury.

Q: It may have been misleading, sir, and you knew though, after January 21st when the Post article broke and said that Judge Starr was looking into this, you knew that they might be witnesses. You knew that they might be called into a grand jury, didn't you?

WJC: That's right. I think I was quite careful what I said after that. I may have said something to all these people to that effect, but I'll also -- whenever anybody asked me any details, I said, look, I don't want you to be a witness or I turn you into a witness or give you information that would get you in trouble. I just wouldn't talk. I, by and large, didn't talk to people about this.

Q: If all of these people -- let's leave out Mrs. Currie for a minute. Vernon Jordan, Sid Blumenthal, John Podesta, Harold Ickes, Erskine Bowles, Harry Thomasson, after the story broke, after Judge Starr's involvement was known on January 21st, have said that you denied a sexual relationship with them. Are you denying that?

WJC: No.

Q: And you've told us that you --

WJC: I'm just telling you what I meant by it. I told you what I meant by it when they started this deposition.

Q: You've told us now that you were being careful, but that it might have been misleading. Is that correct?

WJC: It might have been. . . . So, what I was trying to do was to give them something they could -- that would be true, even if misleading in the context of this deposition, and keep them out of trouble, and let's deal -- and deal with what I thought was the almost ludicrous suggestion that I had urged someone to lie or tried to suborn perjury, in other words.(451)

C. Summary

The President made the following misleading statements to his aides:

The President told Mr. Podesta that he had not engaged in sex "in any way whatsoever" with Ms. Lewinsky, "including oral sex".

The President told Mr. Podesta, Mr. Bowles, and Mr. Ickes that he did not have a "sexual relationship" with Ms. Lewinsky.

The President told Mr. Podesta that "when [Ms. Lewinsky] came by, she came by to see Betty [Currie]."

The President told Mr. Blumenthal that Ms. Lewinsky "came on to him and that he had told her he couldn't have sexual relations with her and that she threatened him."

The President told Mr. Blumenthal that he couldn't remember making any calls to Ms. Lewinsky other than once when he left a message on her answering machine.

During the President's grand jury testimony, the President admitted that his statements to aides denying a sexual relationship with Ms. Lewinsky "may have been misleading."(452) The President also knew his aides likely would be called to testify regarding any communications with him about Ms. Lewinsky. And he presumably expected his aides to repeat his statements regarding Ms. Lewinsky to all questioners, including to the grand jury. Finally, he himself refused to testify for many months. The combination of the President's silence and his deception of his aides had the effect of presenting a false view of events to the grand jury.

The President says that at the time he spoke to his aides, he chose his words with great care so that, in his view, his statements would be literally true because he was referring only to intercourse. That explanation is undermined by the President's testimony before the grand jury that his denials "may have been misleading" and by the contradictory testimony by the aides themselves -- particularly John Podesta, who says that the President specifically denied oral sex with Ms. Lewinsky. Moreover, on January 24, 1998, the White House issued talking points for its staff, and those talking points refute the President's literal truth argument: The talking points state as the President's view the belief that a relationship that includes oral sex is "of course" a "sexual relationship."(453)

For all of these reasons, there is substantial and credible information that the President improperly tampered with witnesses during the grand jury investigation.

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