Clinton Says He Misled but Did Not Lie
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 28, 1998; Page A1
Responding to 81 questions posed by the House Judiciary Committee, President Clinton asserted again yesterday that he did not lie under oath about his relationship with Monica S. Lewinsky but acknowledged doing wrong and misleading friends, advisers and the American people.
The responses, handed to the committee at mid-afternoon, closely tracked earlier statements by the president and his lawyers, leaving the record basically unchanged as the committee heads toward a decision on whether to vote articles of impeachment against Clinton.
The questions, forwarded to the president Nov. 5, called on him to "admit or deny" statements of fact gathered by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr. Instead, Clinton's lawyer, David E. Kendall, said in a covering letter, "we have treated your requests as questions and responded accordingly."
The responses, frequently citing Clinton's previous grand jury testimony, thus often avoided the direct admission or denial sought by the committee. Asked to admit or deny that he gave a specific list of 13 gifts to Lewinsky, for example, Clinton replied:
"As I have previously testified, I receive a very large number of gifts from many different people, sometimes several at a time. I also give a very large number of gifts. I gave Ms. Lewinsky gifts, some of which I remember and some of which I do not."
In an interview later, Kendall said "the president has responded to the chairman's questions in good faith." But the answers did not seem to placate Republicans who have been clamoring for the president to facilitate the committee's work by stipulating to or denying the facts as laid out by Starr, first in a report submitted in September and then in an appearance before the committee a week ago Thursday.
Rep. Robert L. Barr Jr. (R-Ga.), one of Clinton's harshest opponents on the committee, accused Clinton of "using tortured legal reasoning and convenient memory lapses" while offering "no exculpatory evidence" to counter the charges against him. The committee chairman, Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), issued a short statement after receiving the responses, saying only that "the committee will now carefully review" them.
Committee Republicans have left little doubt that, barring new evidence from Clinton, they plan to vote at least one article of impeachment for perjury, and possibly others for obstruction of justice and abuse of power.
What the committee regarded as the president's desultory response – Clinton signed off on the questions when he returned to the White House yesterday afternoon after a round of golf near Camp David – prompted Hyde earlier in the week to threaten a subpoena if he did not get the answers over the Thanksgiving holiday.
Clinton denied in his responses telling Lewinsky to lie under oath or otherwise avoid testifying about the relationship. He also denied deliberately coaching his personal secretary, Betty Currie, about her grand jury testimony and about recovering and concealing gifts he gave to the former White House intern.
In these and other matters, he repeatedly asserted that his answers in sworn testimony "were not false or misleading," but on at least 22 occasions he responded to questions with phrases such as "I do not recall," or "I do not know."
He acknowledged he "misled" the American public when he said in January, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky." But he repeated earlier assertions that he did not lie under oath about the relationship because "in referring to 'sexual relations,' I was referring to sexual intercourse."
Still, he acknowledged in an introductory statement accompanying the questions, "the fact that there is a legal defense to the various allegations cannot obscure the hard truth, as I have said repeatedly, that my conduct was wrong. It was also wrong to mislead people about what happened, and I deeply regret that."
Articles of impeachment will probably be debated the week of Dec. 7, with floor debate scheduled the following week, committee sources predict. The committee has called for three additional depositions beginning Monday, and has scheduled a public hearing Tuesday on the nature of perjury, but none of these events will deal with the facts of the Lewinsky case. Witnesses in the perjury hearing have not yet been announced.
Senior White House advisers, anxious to move the Lewinsky matter to what one described as a "fair and speedy conclusion," were careful not to question the committee's motives: "We don't run this railroad," said one senior adviser. "We try to be responsive and act in good faith."
Judiciary Committee Democrats were not so restrained: "The White House has made a good faith response to a silly, redundant and wholly partisan political exercise," said Democratic spokesman Jim Jordan. "Clearly the committee majority is interested less in shedding new light on allegations against the president than in playing frivolous semantic games."
Many of the questions were perfunctory, asking whether Clinton is "the chief law enforcement officer of the United States," or whether he telephoned Betty Currie "at or about 1:45 p.m." on Jan. 19, 1998. But others went to the heart of Starr's case against Clinton, and Kendall made it clear in the covering letter that the responses would contain no startling revelations.
"The president did not commit or suborn perjury, tamper with witnesses, obstruct justice or abuse power," Kendall said.
In response to questions about Lewinsky's affidavit in the sexual harassment case brought against the president by former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones, Clinton reaffirmed that "I never asked or encouraged Ms. Lewinsky to lie in her affidavit."
He also again acknowledged that in his own deposition in the Jones case, he had agreed with Lewinsky that they had not had a "sexual relationship," understanding "the definition of sexual relationship was two people having intercourse."
And he denied coaching Currie prior to her grand jury testimony before Starr, quoting from his own earlier statements that in the first few days after the Lewinsky scandal broke, he was "trying to ascertain what the facts were. ... I remember I was highly agitated, understandably, I think." He flatly denied asking Currie to take back the gifts he had given to Lewinsky.
He acknowledged that he had "misled" family and staff regarding his relationship with Lewinsky, but attributed his dissembling to shame rather than any deliberate effort to plant lies with close associates so they could repeat them in public.
"As I have previously acknowledged, I did not want my family, friends, or colleagues to know the full nature of my relationship with Ms. Lewinsky," Clinton said. "I misled people about this relationship. I have repeatedly apologized for doing so."
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