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Clinton Asked to Admit Lying Under Oath

Hyde House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde sent a list of 81 questions to the White House. (AP)

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  • By Juliet Eilperin and Peter Baker
    Washington Post Staff Writers
    Friday, November 6, 1998; Page A1

    The House Judiciary Committee asked President Clinton yesterday to admit that he gave "false and misleading testimony under oath" about his relationship with Monica S. Lewinsky and that he tried to help her get a job at the same time she was being sought as a witness in the Paula Jones lawsuit.

    As Judiciary Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) unveiled plans for a scaled-back impeachment inquiry, his staff delivered to the White House a list of 81 specific "requests for admission" asking the president to confirm or dispute evidence collected by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr during his eight-month investigation into the Lewinsky matter.

    The inquiries included in the 10-page questionnaire ranged from relatively straightforward matters, such as acknowledging telephone calls already documented by White House records, to more challenging requests that he "admit or deny" lying in a Jones deposition and subsequent appearance before Starr's grand jury. In a cover letter, Hyde said the answers would be under oath but would "not be considered to have any bearing or effect" on any other legal proceeding, an effort to assuage concerns that Clinton would be putting himself in jeopardy in the Jones case or any possible Starr prosecution.

    The request was the first public fact-finding effort by the committee, although it came as some lawmakers in both parties were coming to the conclusion that the process may be moot following Democratic successes in Tuesday's midterm elections.

    While some Clinton advisers privately have resisted the notion of stipulating to any facts in Starr's report to Congress, White House officials yesterday pledged to cooperate without making any specific commitments.

    "There's a lot there that we could do," said special counsel Gregory B. Craig, who is heading the president's impeachment defense. "We'll get through this. We will make a varsity effort to get through this quickly and respond in a timely way and I think that's sooner rather than later."

    Hyde issued a thinly veiled warning that refusing to answer questions would be held against the president. "When the Nixon White House failed to cooperate fully, the committee approved an article of impeachment against the president for usurping the authority of Congress," he told a Chicago news conference.

    The questionnaire was delivered the same day Hyde announced plans for severely limited hearings that for now envisioned calling only one major witness -- Starr himself. None of the central players, such as Lewinsky, presidential confidant Vernon E. Jordan Jr., Oval Office secretary Betty Currie or onetime Lewinsky friend Linda R. Tripp, would be subpoenaed because their sworn testimony is already available from the Starr investigation.

    "We don't need to reinvent the wheel," Hyde said. Starr, on the other hand, has not made his case in person or responded to criticism since sending his impeachment report to Congress. "He's someone everybody wants to hear from," Hyde said.

    Aside from the Starr hearing on Nov. 19, Hyde announced that the Congressional Research Service will conduct a seminar on impeachment law and procedure next Thursday, following a subcommittee hearing Monday on the history of impeachment. While sources said Hyde privately told fellow committee members Wednesday that he hoped to have a vote on articles of impeachment by Thanksgiving, he dismissed that goal yesterday as "too abbreviated" and Republicans said they were aiming for early to mid-December.

    Either way, Hyde sounded as if he expected the committee to send the matter to the House floor and said any deal to avert impeachment would have to be crafted by the Senate.

    Clinton had little to say on the subject yesterday except to repeat his contention that the elections showed voters want Washington "to go back to doing the people's business. The American people sent us a message that would break the eardrums of anyone who was listening."

    White House press secretary Joe Lockhart later welcomed Hyde's announcement as "a positive development" indicating the process "will be done promptly and expeditiously." But the White House still wants more discussion about the standards for impeachment before evaluating evidence, he said, adding that it was too early to judge the inquiry's fairness because "the track record to date isn't good on this particular issue."

    On Capitol Hill, where Republicans were consumed by recriminations following their election losses, the Hyde plan stirred a partisan reaction oddly reversed from the debate preceding the authorization of the inquiry last month. Judiciary Democrats who once fought vigorously to limit any impeachment probe griped that Hyde's version may be too limited, while Republicans who pushed for a wide-ranging probe said they already know enough from Starr's report to begin making a judgment.

    "The fact of the matter is the independent counsel has developed a body of evidence that is available to us, and available to the public," said Rep. Charles T. Canady (R-Fla.). "I believe the committee is in a good position to move forward on the basis of the evidence before us. . . . Unless the president comes forward with something that rebuts the evidence in the record right now, I would support articles of impeachment."

    But committee Democrats who had once demanded that Starr be subpoenaed now complained that calling only the prosecutor would not allow them to independently weigh conflicting testimony.

    "It raises serious questions about whether we're meeting our constitutional responsibilities here," said Rep. William D. Delahunt (D-Mass.). "I don't think we're there to either vindicate or critique Mr. Starr. We're there to discern the facts. We just simply can't substitute our responsibility by accepting the version of facts that have not been tested."

    The questionnaire sent to the White House yesterday provided insight to the Judiciary staff's evaluation of Starr's evidence. The questions focus heavily on Clinton's denials of his affair during legal proceedings, private meetings with aides and events televised to the American public; his involvement in the job search his associates conducted on Lewinsky's behalf; and his succession of telephone calls to central players, such as Jordan and Currie, as the scandal was breaking in January.

    While not publicly released, the document was obtained by The Washington Post and other news organizations after Hyde disclosed its existence. Hyde cautioned against reading too much into the pattern of questions.

    "No one should take these requests as establishing our final conclusions," Hyde said. "Rather, they will simply help us to establish what facts are in dispute and what facts are not. . . . By agreeing to those facts that he does not dispute, he will allow us to narrow the issues and bring this matter to a close more quickly."

    But some committee Democrats criticized the questions as picayune. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) singled out one asking whether Clinton gave Lewinsky a much-discussed hat pin. "What does this have to do with whether our constitutional system of government has been destroyed?" she asked. "That's the only question that has been asked and we've refused to answer it."

    The questionnaire starts with several questions intended more to make a point than to elicit information. The first asks whether Clinton would admit or deny that he is "the chief law enforcement officer of the United States of America." The next few ask whether he took oaths to "defend the Constitution" and to tell the truth when he testified in the Jones sexual harassment case and Starr investigation.

    Dozens of other questions were designed to confirm details of Lewinsky's testimony or other evidence, such as dates and subjects of conversations, that have not been challenged by the White House. Some questions probe areas that did not come up in Clinton's grand jury testimony, such as whether he knew private investigators had been hired to gather information about witnesses against him. Another category of questions is more challenging, asking Clinton to "admit or deny" that he gave false testimony under oath or lied in public statements.

    Among the queries:

    "Do you admit or deny that you had knowledge that any facts or assertions contained in the affidavit executed by Monica Lewinsky on January 7, 1998, in the case of Jones v. Clinton were not true?"

    "Do you admit or deny that you gave false and misleading testimony under oath when you stated during your deposition in the case of Jones v. Clinton on January 17, 1998, that you did not know if Monica Lewinsky had been subpoenaed to testify in that case?"

    "Do you admit or deny that on or about January 23, 1998, you had a conversation with [aide] John Podesta, in which you stated that you had never had an affair with Monica Lewinsky?"

    "Do you admit or deny that you made a false and misleading public statement . . . [by saying] 'I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky'?"

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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