Starr Office May Be Open 2 More Years
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, November 26, 1998; Page A8
Independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's office will remain open for business for up to two more years as it wraps up lingering investigations and prosecutors may consider indicting President Clinton after he leaves the White House, a top Starr aide said yesterday.
With criminal charges pending against Clinton associates Webster L. Hubbell and Susan McDougal – and other indictments still possible – prosecutors need more time to complete their work and issue a final report, said Starr spokesman Charles G. Bakaly III.
"Even if everybody came in tomorrow, let's say, and accepted responsibility or somehow we were able to resolve the outstanding aspects of the investigation tomorrow, this office would probably be in existence . . . a minimum of a year and a half, maybe two," Bakaly told a breakfast meeting with reporters.
As some members of the House Judiciary Committee began quietly exploring a possible deal to avoid removing the president from office, the prospect of a criminal indictment against Clinton has emerged as another looming threat and Bakaly's timetable would allow for such a possibility. Asked whether Starr was open to the idea of indicting Clinton after his term ends in January 2001, Bakaly said, "I think that's fair to conclude, but I don't want to send any signals here."
Bakaly added, "There's no statute of limitations problem. We have developed a criminal case."
For the White House, the long-term specter of indictment came as it jousted with Congress over the more immediate danger of impeachment. The president's lawyers yesterday again postponed answering 81 questions about Clinton's version of events regarding Monica S. Lewinsky, prompting an impatient Judiciary Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) to threaten to use subpoena power to force the White House to respond.
Even as Hyde tried to refocus attention on the case against the president, Democrats labored to keep the heat on his chief accuser instead, sending their own list of questions to Starr to follow up on what they called his evasive answers during nationally televised testimony last week.
The flurry of activity masked the opening of informal discussions among some committee members that may serve as a precursor for heading off a partisan showdown on impeachment next month.
Rep. Barney Frank (Mass.), a senior Judiciary Democrat, said he was approached this week by a GOP colleague who suggested a deal in which Democrats would vote for impeachment in the House with the understanding that the Senate would not take the matter to trial.
"It's a crazy idea," said Frank, who would not identify the Republican. "It seems an odd way to vindicate the Constitution. They're flailing around."
Still, key members on both sides appear anxious to find accommodation, with Democrats pushing for a nonbinding censure. While a preliminary GOP survey found as many as 20 or 30 Republicans would vote against impeachment on the floor, a Democrat close to the White House put the number closer to 14, giving Clinton less room for maneuvering.
For now, the Judiciary Committee is moving ahead with its accelerated inquiry into whether the president lied under oath or obstructed justice to cover up his affair with Lewinsky in the Paula Jones case or subsequent Starr investigation.
Hyde sent the 81 questions to Clinton on Nov. 5 to narrow down any factual disputes. The president's lawyers had drafted answers and hoped to send them to Capitol Hill yesterday, but Clinton raised concerns and so the White House put off delivery until Friday.
Hyde found little comfort in the latest White House promises, however, and fired off a letter threatening to subpoena the answers if he does not get them by Monday. Noting that Clinton's legal team made no effort to challenge Starr's evidence during last week's hearing, Hyde also gave the White House until next Wednesday to let him know if it plans to present a defense to the committee at its next hearing, tentatively slated for Dec. 8.
"Just over 10 months ago, you promised the American people that you wanted to present the facts: 'I'd like for you to have more rather than less, sooner rather than later,'" Hyde wrote Clinton. "I respectfully suggest that now is the time to present the facts; now is the time for cooperation."
White House officials insisted they have been cooperative. "As the chairman knows, we will be providing our answers on Friday, so I'm not sure what the point of the letter is," said White House spokesman James E. Kennedy.
Other Clinton advisers said the White House is likely to accept the opportunity to present a defense, although some are inclined not to call witnesses and instead simply have White House counsel Charles F.C. Ruff make a summation.
To keep attention on Starr rather than Clinton, Judiciary Democrats yesterday sent their own list of questions to the independent counsel, in many cases framing them in the same "admit or deny" format Hyde used with the White House. The Democrats' 19 questions covered subjects including the resignation of Starr's ethics adviser Samuel Dash and prosecutors' conduct in confronting Lewinsky at an Arlington hotel on Jan. 16.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), a committee member, sent a separate letter to Attorney General Janet Reno accusing Starr of disclosing the contents of sealed court documents when defending his staff's encounter with Lewinsky. Such disclosures, Nadler argued, "clearly constitute grounds for his removal from office."
As part of his own new public campaign, Starr appeared on national television last night to defend his sex-laden impeachment referral to the House. "Don't blame the messenger because the message is unpleasant," Starr said.
In the hour-long program with ABC's Diane Sawyer, Starr said it would have been "a dereliction of duty" to ignore allegations of Clinton's wrongdoing in the Jones case. "The truth demands respect and maybe in the fullness of time, after the heat of battle has subsided, that will be the abiding lesson of this episode."
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