Hatch Says Clinton's Best Course Is Truth
By Barbara Vobejda
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) said yesterday that if President Clinton had a sexual relationship with Monica S. Lewinsky it would not necessarily force him from office, provided the president were to come forward and admit he made a mistake.
Hatch, in television appearances yesterday, described a scenario that he said could extract Clinton from political and legal problems he faces in independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's investigation into whether he had an affair with Lewinsky and urged her to lie about it.
Clinton has denied that he had a sexual relationship with the former White House intern and clerk, who last week was granted immunity by Starr and is to testify soon before the grand jury.
If Clinton "comes forth and tells it and does it in the right way and there aren't a lot of other factors to cause the Congress to say this man is unfit for the presidency and should be impeached, then I think the president would have a reasonable chance of getting through this," Hatch said on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Hatch's committee would play a critical role in any congressional investigation into whether Clinton should be impeached, although any impeachment proceedings would begin in the House. "I don't know anybody at the top of the system . . . who really wants to see the president hurt in this matter," Hatch said. And if Clinton admitted he had lied to protect his family from embarrassment, then asked for "some sort of consideration . . . I think we would bend over backward to try and give him that consideration."
Hatch is one of several political figures, including Democrats, who have recently said Clinton's best hope of saving his presidency, if he has lied about his relationship with Lewinsky, would be a public "mea culpa" either before or after his testimony to a grand jury, scheduled for Aug. 17.
Former White House chief of staff Leon E. Panetta said yesterday on CNN's "Late Edition" that Clinton "has to explain what this relationship was about. . . . If it comes down to a question of having lied about a consensual sexual relationship in the White House, I just can't imagine that that, in and of itself, is an impeachable offense."
Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), ranking minority member of the House Judiciary Committee, said on ABC's "This Week" that the president has denied having a sexual relationship with Lewinsky and there is no reason to believe the president is not telling the truth.
While Hatch seemed to predict that the American people and Congress would forgive the president if he admits he has been untruthful, he cautioned that there could be other damaging findings by Starr, who is also looking into the Whitewater land deal and other White House controversies.
"If, in fact, there is obstruction of justice or if he did counsel others to lie under oath or if he conspired to do these things, these are all felonies. . . . A mere apology is not enough here," Hatch said. "He'd have to really pour his heart out to the American people."
Speaking on CNN, he said, "I do not want to see the constitutional crisis that an impeachment proceeding would bring about. That doesn't mean that I would not support impeachment if the facts were otherwise."
The lineup of talk show guests also speculated on the blue dress Lewinsky has turned over to investigators, which the FBI is analyzing to determine whether it contains genetic material from the president.
Time and Newsweek magazines report in their issues on newsstands today that Linda R. Tripp whose tape recordings of conversations with Lewinsky triggered the investigation discussed with literary agent Lucianne Goldberg ways to get the dress out of Lewinsky's Watergate apartment. Tripp attorney Anthony Zaccagnini flatly denied the reports.
"We had . . . a sort of Nancy Drew fantasy" about getting the dress, Goldberg said yesterday on Fox "News Sunday." Tripp "called me one night and said you are not going to believe what this girl has. What she's kept as a souvenir," Goldberg said. "And we were . . . just winging a fantasy on it."
Zaccagnini said he called Tripp about the reports and said Tripp said she never tried to get the dress from Lewinsky, although she saw the garment on three occasions.
On a related topic, Tripp's lawyer, Joseph Murtha, said on CBS's "Face the Nation" that in 1994 presidential adviser Bruce R. Lindsey warned Tripp that she should "keep quiet" about the death of White House attorney Vincent W. Foster Jr. and other matters under investigation at the White House.
"In a non-menacing fashion, Mr. Lindsey told Linda that if she didn't keep quiet, that she would be destroyed," Murtha said. Tripp, a career employee who was then about to become a political appointee, interpreted that to mean her career would be damaged, but she did not take that as a personal threat at the time, Murtha said.
William Murphy, an attorney for Lindsey, denied that Lindsey threatened to destroy Tripp, according to the Associated Press.
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