Democrats Find New Ammunition
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, October 3, 1998; Page A21
When independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr submitted his report to Congress three weeks ago recommending that it consider impeaching President Clinton, one of the most potentially damning of his 11 suggested grounds for impeachment was that Clinton obstructed justice by helping Monica S. Lewinsky in her job search.
But in making the case that Clinton's career help for Lewinsky was motivated by a desire to ensure her silence about their affair, Starr's report omitted or minimized testimony by presidential secretary Betty Currie, attorney Vernon E. Jordan Jr., and Lewinsky herself that was helpful to Clinton.
With the release yesterday of thousands more pages of documents including grand jury testimony by Currie and Jordan Democrats seized the opportunity to accuse Starr of presenting a slanted and incomplete picture designed more to get Clinton than to present a full picture of the testimony Starr had gathered.
Much as Starr in his report presented no smoking gun that Clinton obstructed justice, the Democrats did not produce any conclusive proof that Starr misrepresented the evidence or reveal any blockbuster new fact that seriously undercut the allegations against the president.
But the documents released by Congress yesterday provided Clinton's side a treasure trove of evidence to mine in its efforts to counter Starr and ammunition with which to argue that the full array of evidence paints a far less sinister and conspiratorial picture than that sketched by Starr. Only hours after the three thick volumes were released, the first salvo was fired by White House lawyer Gregory B. Craig, who accused Starr of a "pattern of evidentiary manipulation and misdirection" in presenting the case against Clinton.
"In its zeal to prop up its allegations against the president," Craig said, Starr's report "intentionally omitted direct exculpatory testimony, paraphrased unambiguous statements to obscure their plain meaning and systematically resolved conflicting testimony in its favor."
When Starr sent his report to Congress last month, spokesman Charles G. Bakaly III said "the office has fulfilled its duty under the law" and "we will not be discussing it publicly." But Starr struck back at the White House yesterday for what he called a "disingenuous public statement."
He said all the exculpatory information was in fact in the report and offered a barrage of page citations to prove it. While Starr was correct about whether he had included some information in the report for example, that Lewinsky's effort to find a new job had started well before the Jones lawyers discovered her the Democrats also appeared to have a legitimate point in complaining about the degree to which Starr included and highlighted the testimony that was potentially helpful to the president.
"Significantly," Starr added, "the White House today did not question Ms. Lewinsky's credibility, or the factual underpinnings of nine of the 11 possible grounds for impeachment including the president's perjury in his civil deposition and before the grand jury."
Like defense lawyers who receive from prosecutors a stack of grand jury transcripts, witness statements and other evidence before trial, the Clinton team is now picking through the Starr material for ammunition with which to attack the prosecution's case and Craig vowed a "full accounting" in the coming days.
The initial Democratic assault centered on two of Starr's allegations that Clinton pushed for Lewinsky to get a job in an effort to secure her silence in the Paula Jones lawsuit and that he orchestrated the return of gifts he had given Lewinsky in order to avoid having them turned over to Jones's lawyers.
As Starr noted, the Democrats were silent, at least yesterday, on the allegations that Clinton lied under oath about his relationship with Lewinsky and other matters, both in his deposition by the Jones lawyers and his grand jury testimony.
A separate, second front of the Democrats' attack yesterday was not Starr but Linda R. Tripp, Lewinsky's former Pentagon colleague who secretly tape-recorded their conversations about Clinton. Newly armed with the transcripts of those calls and Tripp's grand jury testimony, Craig pointed to the "central and troubling role" played by Tripp in the matter.
Tripp was a figure strangely absent from the Starr report because, as Starr disclosed, an FBI analysis suggested that as many as nine tapes may have been altered or duplicated in some way. Starr said he did not base his report on any of those tapes and that it raised "serious questions" about Tripp's credibility since she had testified under oath that she knew nothing about any tampering with the tapes.
But the material released yesterday appears certain to guarantee that she will once again become a central player in the national drama as Democrats seek to cast her as the hidden hand who maneuvered Lewinsky and Clinton into their current predicament.
In his afternoon appearance, Craig emphasized how Tripp at once encouraged Lewinsky to demand a job in return for an affidavit denying any sexual relationship with Clinton, and then turned around and provided information about the president's relationship with Lewinsky to the Jones lawyers as well as Starr's prosecutors.
The question of whether Clinton obstructed justice by trying to buy Lewinsky's silence in the Jones lawsuit by essentially detailing Jordan to get her a job has been one of the central questions since the Lewinsky story first broke.
In his brief against Clinton last month, Starr emphasized how the efforts to find Lewinsky a job intensified after she surfaced as a possible witness in the Jones case and how Jordan, after being enlisted by Currie in the job search, repeatedly reported to Clinton about his efforts.
But the transcripts released yesterday include testimony, not included in the report, in which Jordan insists that his efforts to find Lewinsky a job had nothing to do with her involvement in the Jones case. "There was no anticipation on my part that this intern had anything to do with the Paula Jones case," Jordan testified on March 3. "As far as I was concerned, they were two very separate matters."
The transcripts also include Jordan's assertion that, at the time Currie first enlisted his help, he had no reason to believe that Lewinsky even knew the president testimony that could be helpful to Clinton and that again is not cited in the Starr report.
Likewise, Currie's testimony released yesterday showed Currie's insistence that she acted on her own in contacting Jordan to help with Lewinsky's job search. "I don't remember the president telling me to contact Vernon to . . . help Monica get a job," Currie testified. "I was doing it on my own."
But as Starr tartly noted yesterday, both Lewinsky and Jordan also testified that they believed Clinton was behind Currie's request something that the White House left out of its blast at Starr. Jordan in a later grand jury appearance acknowledged that he had assumed all along that Clinton was behind Currie's call and had told her, "Call Vernon and ask Vernon to help her."
Similarly, on the question of gifts, Starr's report acknowledges conflicts between Lewinsky's recollection and Currie's about who initiated the return of the gifts and concludes that Lewinsky's recollection is more accurate because her recollection is clearer and more logical.
Craig argued, however, that Starr unfairly sided with Lewinsky over Currie, whose testimony was the same as Clinton's on the issue: that Clinton did not use Currie to hide the gifts from Lewinsky or even know about the gift transfer. "Not only does the president's testimony refute that allegation, but Ms. Currie refuted it each and every time she testified," he said.
As much as Democrats would like to make Starr an issue as they defend the president against being impeached, they would also like to raise the specter of Tripp as the manipulative force behind the entire episode and yesterday's release also offers reams of transcripts that will help.
The transcripts show how Tripp played a dual role prodding Lewinsky to make demands on Clinton and then providing information about Lewinsky's actions to Jones's lawyers and to Starr.
The tapes reveal for the first time that Tripp spoke with Jones's lawyers as early as last November, apparently at the behest of literary agent Lucianne Goldberg. She gave them some information about "a young girl, right out of college, interned there [at the White House]" who had a sexual relationship with Clinton.
She pushed Lewinsky to try to use her illicit affair with President Clinton (and the threat that the former White House intern could reveal all) to her advantage, particularly to pressure Clinton confidant Jordan to help her find a good job with good pay.
"You can also hold his feet to the fire a little bit," Tripp tells Lewinsky at one point. "It's not many times that you're going to have someone of that stature opening a door for you."
Some of what Tripp tells Lewinsky on the tapes suggests that rather than trying to steer her on a legal course, she is reinforcing any potential wrongdoing. "Hey, look Monica, we already know that you're gonna lie under oath," she said at one point.
And Tripp's animus toward Clinton emerges forcefully. At one point she said, "I want to kick him in the nuts so that they flatten into little pancakes and he can never use them again."
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