Starr Submits Report to House
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, September 10, 1998; Page A01
Independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr yesterday sent the House of Representatives what he deemed "substantial and credible" evidence that may warrant the impeachment of President Clinton for trying to illegally cover up his extramarital affair with Monica S. Lewinsky.
On a day dreaded at the White House since the Lewinsky investigation began in January, two government vans containing Starr's 445-page report and 36 sealed boxes of grand jury material -- two sets of 18 boxes each -- arrived at the Capitol at 4 p.m., culminating an unprecedented eight-month probe that has explored the most intimate details of Clinton's life and forced him to admit that he lied to the nation.
The sealed report details alleged perjury, obstruction of justice and abuse of power by Clinton in concealing his relationship with the onetime White House intern during the Paula Jones civil lawsuit and subsequent Starr inquiry, according to sources close to the case.
The sudden arrival of the long-awaited report stunned congressional leaders who scrambled throughout the day and finally agreed to release tomorrow the documents that could determine the fate of the Clinton presidency.
The delivery of the report set in motion a presidential impeachment process for the first time since Watergate and marked only the third time in American history that a chief executive has been confronted with a serious threat of being expelled from office. With midterm elections less than two months away, lawmakers now must decide whether Clinton's actions meet the constitutional threshold of "high crimes and misdemeanors" that would justify making him the first president removed from power by Congress.
"The office has fulfilled its duty under the law," Starr spokesman Charles G. Bakaly III said on the Capitol plaza after the evidence was transferred. "Responsibility for the information we have transmitted today and for any further action now lies with Congress as provided by the Constitution."
With his political survival now in the hands of a Republican-led Congress, Clinton rallied Democrats to stand with him by offering new private and public apologies, telling a Florida audience that he "let this country down" and was determined to "redeem the trust of all the American people."
Before leaving Washington in the morning, he sought forgiveness from House Democratic leaders and has asked Senate Democrats and his Cabinet to join him at the White House for similar woodshed sessions today.
Clinton offered no comment on the report but has insisted his testimony in the Jones case was "legally accurate," even if not forthcoming, and has denied encouraging anyone to lie under oath. "The president has apologized for his relationship with Miss Lewinsky and has asked for forgiveness," his private attorney, David E. Kendall, said outside the White House. "People should keep in mind that the documents delivered to Congress today represent only the prosecutor's allegations -- allegations that we have been denied a chance to review. But we do know this: There is no basis for impeachment."
While this was the moment Starr has been building toward since January, it still managed to come as a surprise to much of Washington, if for no other reason than it arrived sooner than expected. The evidence landed on the doorstep of a Congress not at all ready to deal with it, procedurally or politically.
Returning from a long summer recess, House leaders had met earlier in the day for the first time to determine how to handle the report and ordered aides to contact Starr's office to find out when they could expect it. To their chagrin, it showed up just hours later. And with no rules in place, the report was taken into custody by the House sergeant at arms and deposited in a guarded room in the Gerald R. Ford House Office Building, named for the man who assumed the presidency after the last impeachment inquiry.
Never before in the 20-year history of the independent counsel law has an impeachment report been sent to Congress; the lack of precedent showed. The day had a chaotic feel to it as officials all over town rushed to keep up with the hectic pace of events. It began with Clinton's closed confessional with House Democrats at the White House, followed by the meeting between party leaders in the House and then a host of other gatherings as congressional officials tried to figure out how to proceed. It was not until early evening that House GOP leaders emerged to announce a plan.
The deal calls for the main Starr report to be released tomorrow on the Internet while House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), ranking Democrat Rep. John Conyers Jr. (Mich.) and selected staff members review more than 2,000 pages of attachments in six three-ring binders for possible release later.
The rest of the material in the boxes, which includes everything from raw grand jury transcripts to the tapes Linda R. Tripp secretly made of her conversations with Lewinsky, could also be examined to discern whether any of it should be made public.
The Rules Committee and the full House must approve the arrangement and Democratic leaders had not yet sold their caucus on its terms. Nonetheless, leaders from both parties vowed they would not read the report before the full House vote tomorrow, when they will be in the extraordinary position of asking the membership to release confidential evidence that none of them will have seen.
After eight months of mostly hoping the tawdry and uncomfortable issue would go away, the full weight of what Congress suddenly was faced with dawned on members on both sides of the aisle yesterday. "The sense is history is upon us," said Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.), a member of the Judiciary Committee who stood underneath the steps of the Capitol as police vans sped away with the Starr report. "The accelerated pace has cast a very somber tone over the Capitol. The responsibility has struck the members and made them deal with this in a little more subdued manner than we're accustomed to."
Many Republican leaders labored to maintain a high-road, no-gloating approach to avoid the appearance of partisanship. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) noted soberly that "there are very few things in our entire lives comparable in importance" and he plans a floor speech this morning to implore members to maintain decorum through what could be a wrenching moment in history.
Hyde emphasized that he does not relish the task ahead. "This is a lousy job, but somebody has to do it," he said. "We can't change the facts. We can only produce the facts in an orderly fashion." Each member must ultimately make a personal judgment, he added. "This is an exercise in individual conscience."
But House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), a fierce Clinton critic who has called for his resignation, lashed out at the president again, saying his latest statement of contrition yesterday was "unconvincing at best, disingenuous at worst" and may have been "contrived to save his career."
The House was left flatfooted by the development because before yesterday it had had no known contact with the independent counsel. After Judiciary aides consulted with prosecutors at midday, Starr's office called House Sergeant at Arms Wilson Livingood at 3:45 p.m. to inform him the report was on the way. In a transmittal letter delivered to Gingrich and Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.), Starr said the 36 boxes of material contained two complete copies of the report and its attachments.
The report opens with a 25-page introduction followed by two sections, a 280-page narrative and a 140-page outline of grounds for charges against the president. While most of the allegations in the report arise from Clinton's relationship with Lewinsky, prosecutors also have focused on his conduct with former aide Kathleen E. Willey, who charged that he groped her in the Oval Office suite.
The findings stem in part from the testimony of more than 75 witnesses brought before a grand jury to determine whether Clinton committed perjury or urged others to lie in Jones's sexual harassment lawsuit. Starr's office questioned White House aides, presidential confidants, Lewinsky friends and even the Secret Service officers who guard the president to establish whether Clinton had a sexual relationship with Lewinsky contrary to his sworn denial in the Jones suit.
The report examines whether Clinton was truthful not only in his Jan. 17 deposition in the Jones case but also in his grand jury testimony last month, in which he acknowledged a physical relationship with Lewinsky but maintained he had not perjured himself because he did not consider oral sex to be covered under the definition of sexual relations used by the Jones lawyers. A central focus of the report is whether Clinton sought to retrieve gifts he gave Lewinsky that were subpoenaed by Jones's lawyers and whether he tried to arrange a job for Lewinsky to encourage her own sworn denial of their affair in the Jones case.
Starr also investigated possible witness tampering, including whether prominent Democratic fund-raiser Nathan Landow pressed Willey to lie when questioned by Jones's lawyers about her alleged encounter with Clinton. The president has denied accosting her and Landow has denied trying to influence her testimony.
Among the many danger zones for the White House, Clinton advisers fear that the Starr report could be exceedingly graphic in its description of the president's sex life, which could further undermine support in Congress among members reluctant to be seen tolerating immoral behavior.
In addition to the evidence, Starr sent the congressional leaders a heretofore sealed court order issued July 2 permitting the release of secret grand jury material to the House. But Starr said in his letter that "many of the supporting materials contain information of a personal nature that I respectfully urge the House to treat as confidential."
The order, issued by the three-judge federal appeals court panel that oversees Starr's office, "permit[s] disclosure of all grand jury material that the independent counsel deems necessary to comply" with the requirements of the independent counsel act.
Starr's staff worked virtually round the clock for days to complete the report that was begun last spring. Starr allies said the office has been operating in overdrive the past few weeks since obtaining the testimony of the investigation's two central witnesses, Clinton and Lewinsky, concluding they could not sit on the material for any length of time.
While Clinton and his lawyers were vacationing in August, Starr's staff rushed to complete and reconfigure a report that already totaled hundreds of pages. During the 48 hours preceding delivery of the report to the House, more than 15 lawyers in the office worked nonstop, with some not going home at all.
Even though the report has been finished, Bakaly said yesterday that the investigation will continue. The grand jury that has heard most of the testimony is scheduled to meet again today and could hear more witnesses; it could ultimately issue indictments against lesser figures in the case.
Despite more than four years of investigating other matters, Starr made no allegations that Clinton committed impeachable offenses in connection with episodes such as the Whitewater land deal, the travel office firings or the improper handling of FBI files, according to sources. Starr is concluding his inquiries on those issues and will file a final report on them with the court that appointed him.
Under the Constitution, the House can impeach a president with a simple majority vote. The matter then goes to the Senate, which tries the case as if it were a court. A two-thirds vote is required to convict a president and throw him out of office.
Only twice before has this most serious of constitutional clashes reached this far. In 1868, the House impeached President Andrew Johnson in a dispute over his ability to remove Cabinet officers, but the Senate fell one vote short of convicting him. In 1974, the House Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment against President Richard M. Nixon, but the matter became moot when he resigned more than a week later.
Starr's report was far more voluminous than the one Watergate special prosecutors prepared for impeachment proceedings against Nixon. Transmitted to the House Judiciary Committee on March 26, 1974, it included a 60-page "road map," stating highlights that could be gleaned from an accompanying briefcase full of evidence. The briefcase contained about 800 pages of documents and tape transcripts along with 13 of Nixon's White House tapes.
Kendall had asked Starr for a week to review his report before it was sent to Congress, but the independent counsel rejected the request. Gephardt said yesterday that Clinton's attorneys should have an advance copy of the report before it is released so they can offer an informed response but the GOP showed no willingness to do so. Democrats said they may press for permitting the president's lawyers access to the attachments before they are released.
Still, House leaders from both sides vowed to proceed in a cooperative fashion after their closed-door meeting yesterday morning. "We have made a good start in making this a nonpartisan effort," Gephardt said.
The two parties came to an agreement on a few contentious issues which had bogged down the process recently, according to sources familiar with the hour-long meeting. Conyers demanded one-third of the staff resources for any investigation, and Hyde agreed to the request. At the moment, Democrats have about 22 percent of the slots allotted for committee investigators.
On the other side of the Capitol, where Democratic senators have repeatedly taken the floor in recent days to heap criticism on Clinton, one of the party's elders added his voice to the chorus. Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.) said Clinton is "reaping the whirlwind" of his own actions and called the president's Aug. 17 speech to the nation "ill-timed, ill-formed and ill-advised."
But Byrd warned colleagues against a "rush to judgment" on Clinton's fate. Lawmakers should refrain from urging resignation, impeachment or censure, he said. "Who knows? I may do that before it's all over," Byrd said. "But not now."
Staff writers Helen Dewar, Juliet Eilperin and George Lardner Jr. contributed to this report.
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