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White House Gets Half-Hour to Query Starr


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  • Full Coverage: Clinton Accused

  • By Guy Gugliotta and Juliet Eilperin
    Washington Post Staff Writers
    Tuesday, November 17, 1998; Page A8

    The House Judiciary Committee yesterday offered the White House a half-hour to question independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr when he comes to Capitol Hill on Thursday to discuss his investigation of President Clinton's involvement with former intern Monica S. Lewinsky.

    White House officials confirmed they had received the letter from committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.). They said there was serious debate among presidential advisers whether to accept the offer, and, if they do, who would handle the questioning.

    For aides who have long waited for the chance to grill Starr, the prospect is sorely tempting, but some argued that it would be smarter to take a pass and let committee Democrats handle it.

    "It's dangerous," said one White House adviser who did not want to be named. "It raises expectation levels. I don't think there's a trial lawyer in America who would tell you you could break a witness like Ken Starr in a half-hour. Anything you do will look ineffectual."

    Starr's appearance will be the highlight of the first – and perhaps only – formal hearing in the Judiciary Committee's inquiry of impeachment against Clinton. Democrats must decide how rigorously to question him about his methods, including his justification last January for expanding his four-year inquiry to include the Lewinsky matter.

    The committee still also must determine the disposition of two boxes of documents sent last week by Starr, which detail former White House volunteer Kathleen E. Willey's allegations that Clinton kissed and groped her in the Oval Office when she came to seek a paid position in 1993.

    Committee members predicted that the Willey papers will not substantially change the panel's deliberations. A committee source who asked not to be named noted, however, that the panel would have to meet in closed session to decide what to do with the material, and "there is no meeting like that scheduled."

    Even without resolving the Willey matter, committee sources outlined an ambitious Thursday schedule beginning with brief opening statements by Hyde and ranking member John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), followed by Starr's uninterrupted oral presentation, to last up to two hours.

    After that, the committee will question Starr in a phase that will last several hours. It will be followed by the White House's questioning and end with half-hour presentations by majority counsel David P. Schippers and Democratic counterpart Abbe D. Lowell.

    If the White House decides to use its half-hour, it likely would send either presidential counsel Charles F.C. Ruff or special counsel Gregory B. Craig to lead the questioning, officials said.

    While Clinton's private attorney, David E. Kendall, has jousted with Starr the longest on the president's behalf, White House officials calculate that Ruff would bring the stature and integrity of a longtime Washington figure who served as the last Watergate prosecutor, while Craig might be the more telegenic and charismatic figure to put before the nation.

    The White House was also working on its responses to 81 often-pointed questions sent to Clinton by the Judiciary Committee and could send them to Capitol Hill as early as today.

    The questions call for "admit or deny" answers, and the White House lawyers plan to follow that format for many. But for a number that they consider loaded or argumentative, they are likely to object or refer the committee to Clinton's grand jury testimony.

    Committee sources said the responses to the questions would likely determine whether the committee calls more investigative hearings before a debate on articles of impeachment now scheduled for the week of Dec. 7.

    "If there are disputes raised in response to central facts, they would have to resolved," said one committee source. Additional hearings could take place early next week, the source said, or the week after Thanksgiving.

    Committee Republicans and Democrats planned to meet separately today to plot strategy. Republicans want to decide whether to call additional witnesses, including Clinton's secretary Betty Currie, adviser Bruce Lindsey and personal friend Vernon E. Jordan Jr.

    Democrats will decide the extent to which they want to attack Starr's investigative tactics. While they may question expenses ranging from the hiring of private investigators to the purchase of a copying machine, their core concern is how Starr expanded his mandate to include the Lewinsky matter.

    They have also sent the Justice Department numerous allegations of misconduct by Starr's office, complaining about the aggressive questioning of Lewinsky at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Arlington on Jan. 16, accusing Starr of violating grand jury secrecy through media leaks, and raising conflict-of-interest questions about Starr's discussions with lawyers for Paula Jones before he was appointed independent counsel.

    Spokesman Myron Marlin yesterday said the department has "dismissed many of [the allegations] as not warranting further inquiry," while asking Starr for further information about some questions still under review.

    In a letter to Starr yesterday, Hyde endorsed Conyers's request for documents provided to Attorney General Janet Reno in January when he asked for jurisdiction to investigate the Lewinsky matter, as well as information related to Starr's court request in the summer to provide Congress with grand jury material. Starr responded with a letter to Hyde saying he would cooperate.

    Hyde did not endorse Conyers's request to obtain copies of raw FBI notes of interviews, and Starr argued that the material fell under the "work product" privilege lawyers assert in certain cases. Hyde also questioned another Conyers move to subpoena documents from Starr's office, his private practice and his deputies' offices, arguing in a letter to Conyers that the Democrats were involved in "nothing more than an attempt to expand the inquiry to investigate the investigator."

    Conyers also asked Paula Jones's former lawyers yesterday to turn over by Wednesday all documents showing any contacts they had with Starr, his deputies or a series of figures in the scandal linked to Starr, including Linda R. Tripp, Lucianne Goldberg and lawyers Jerome Marcus, Richard Porter and George Conway.

    Lawyer Joseph Cammarata said he would not comply because it was not a subpoena from the full committee but merely a request from a single member to voluntarily comply. "Being a volunteer in Washington, D.C., is fraught with peril," he said.

    Staff writers Peter Baker and Michael Grunwald contributed to this report.


    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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