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Report Expected to Focus on Lewinsky

Kenneth Starr
Kenneth W. Starr (Post file photo)

Related Links
Starr Will Not Submit Interim Report (Washington Post, July 6)

Political Clock Ticking on Interim Starr Report (Washington Post, June 6)

Legal Guide: Untangling the Issues


By Susan Schmidt and Juliet Eilperin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, August 12, 1998; Page A01

Independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr could send his long-awaited report to Congress within weeks of President Clinton's testimony next Monday, and it is likely to be limited to evidence of possible impeachable acts growing out of the president's relationship with former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky, according to sources familiar with the investigation.

The report is not expected to include material related to Clinton's past financial dealings in Arkansas -- the so-called Whitewater matter Starr has been investigating for four years. Instead, the sources said, it is expected to concentrate entirely on whether the president lied in the now-dismissed Paula Jones civil lawsuit about an affair with Lewinsky or urged her to do so.

The arrival of a narrowly focused report on Capitol Hill would threaten the election-year game plans of Republicans and Democrats and would set off a legal and political process for which neither party seems fully prepared. Only White House strategists appear anxious to see the matter move from the grand jury room to Capitol Hill.

Congressional Republicans will soon have to map out procedures for handling Starr's report, and they say they will change House rules after they return from their summer recess in an effort to maintain the secrecy of the grand jury evidence when the Starr report is received. But members of both parties, as well as White House strategists, anticipate that the report's findings could quickly become public, triggering a partisan and acrimonious debate that could complicate efforts to handle the material in an orderly fashion.

Starr's report, which has been in preparation for months but whose final form likely will be affected by the president's Aug. 17 testimony to the grand jury, is not expected to contain conclusions or recommendations to lawmakers. Instead, the sources said, it will be a presentation of evidence about Clinton's conduct in the Jones lawsuit.

The report is expected to lay out the evidence against the president and the procedures used to gather it, along with voluminous supporting material such as grand jury transcripts, physical and documentary evidence, and the secret tape recordings made by Linda R. Tripp of her conversations with Lewinsky.

The bulk of the evidence Starr has assembled relates to whether Clinton lied under oath when he denied a sexual relationship with Lewinsky in his Jan. 17 deposition in the Jones case and whether he encouraged her to provide false testimony. Clinton was asked about other women in the Jones deposition, and the lawyers said the report could also include an examination of that testimony and whether the president or others tried to discourage any of the other women from testifying truthfully in the Jones case.

Earlier this year, Starr's team was considering whether to include allegations of possible perjury by Clinton in the 1996 bank fraud trial of his former Whitewater business partners, Susan McDougal and her late ex-husband James B. McDougal. The sources close to the investigation said Starr and his team have decided not to include these allegations in the report to Congress.

Other issues that Starr's office has spent four years investigating -- from the original Whitewater land deal and the controversy over the firing of the White House travel office staff in 1993 to the improper handling of FBI background files on hundreds of former Republican appointees -- will become part of a report Starr will file later with the federal appeals court panel that appointed him.

White House officials and congressional Democrats said that a report limited only to the Lewinsky investigation -- and not including evidence of presidential wrongdoing in other matters -- would be good news for Clinton, even if the report contains damaging evidence. They argue that the public already has reached a judgment about Clinton and Lewinsky and is ready to move on.

"If it's focused on the president's private life, it's perilous for the Republicans and less so for the Democrats," one White House official said. The official was less confident about the impact of a report that provided compelling evidence of obstruction of justice or subornation of perjury.

A congressional Democrat said "it's a pretty big deal" if the report is limited to whether Clinton and Lewinsky had a sexual relationship and "the gray areas" of what Clinton said to Lewinsky about keeping the relationship secret. Sources have said that Lewinsky told the grand jury last week that she and the president discussed "cover stories" to disguise the relationship but that he did not directly tell her to lie in the Jones case.

Faced with the prospect of receiving a report from Starr earlier than they had previously anticipated, House members are taking tentative steps to prepare for a review of the allegations against the president. Democrats are explicitly preparing for battle, having just hired a seasoned defender of accused politicians as their lead counsel on the House Judiciary Committee, while Republicans are working assiduously to avoid appearing eager for a full-fledged impeachment inquiry.

Under the independent counsel law, Starr would transmit to the House "any substantial and credible information . . . that may constitute grounds for an impeachment." Then, Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) would be expected to refer the report to the Judiciary Committee where the first step, according to Republicans, would be a preliminary review of the evidence submitted by Starr. Only after that could GOP leaders move to seek House approval for a formal impeachment proceeding -- a step that most lawmakers assume would not happen until next year.

Republicans and Democrats recognize that once they receive a report from Starr, they must take steps to keep the contents secret while evaluating whether it merits an impeachment inquiry. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) and the panel's top Democrat, Rep. John Conyers Jr. (Mich.), recently discussed confining the report to the two of them and a few aides, but other members might bristle at the idea of being excluded from the process. Hyde issued a statement last week saying that he would not create a smaller task force to examine Starr's report.

"I believe the consensus view is we'll all have access to any information that comes up," said Rep. Bill McCollum (R-Fla.), a panel member. "The committee will make this decision as a group."

The House will need to pass a resolution to amend its rules to keep the report confidential because congressional documents are usually accessible to all 435 members. The same measure could define the requirements for issuing subpoenas and granting immunity to witnesses.

But Democrats are already warning that if the majority denies them input into the decision-making, it could run the risk of a political battle over the process.

"The minority is going to demand that we be included, be treated fairly, and that these proceedings be conducted in a nonpartisan manner," said Jim Jordan, spokesman for Judiciary Committee Democrats. "We're absolutely sure Republicans would pay an extremely high political price with the American public for politicizing this process."

Clinton supporters already are bracing for a partisan battle. "This will be a very partisan report," said senior adviser Rahm Emanuel. "Regardless of its contents, people know that anything that bears Ken Starr's imprint is anything but objective."

In recent weeks, House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) -- working with senior Judiciary Committee Democrats Barney Frank (Mass.), Howard L. Berman (Calif.) and Conyers -- began preparing for the report's arrival. All four Democrats personally interviewed the final candidates vying to become the minority's chief counsel for the inquiry and eventually settled on Abbe Lowell, a white-collar defense attorney who has secured the acquittal of House Democrats and Republicans alike.

In contrast, Gingrich has given Hyde considerable latitude to determine how the House should handle the Starr report and has urged his colleagues not to discuss the issue while the Judiciary Committee conducts its preliminary review of the evidence.

In a leadership meeting last week, according to Republicans who attended, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) raised the question of whether GOP leaders should issue statements after the president's testimony to the grand jury. Gingrich reportedly responded with a simple admonition: Say nothing.

But some Republicans are growing concerned that a decision to remain silent could inadvertently help the president. "We have to set up a spin operation," a GOP leadership aide said. "If we don't set up a war room, we could get outfoxed by the White House."

Staff writer Dan Balz contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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