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White House Braces for Starr Report

Independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr (AP)
By Susan Schmidt
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 6, 1998; Page A01

The White House is bracing for a punishing report to Congress from independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr that some of President Clinton's advisers have now concluded will be more sexually explicit, and possibly more politically damaging, as a result of his grand jury testimony last month.

At least six of Starr's prosecutors have been rushing to write a 300-plus-page report on possible impeachable offenses arising from the Monica S. Lewinsky investigation, knowledgeable sources said. Starr is expected to be ready to send it to Congress in the next several weeks.

Some White House aides and outside advisers to the president said privately in recent days that they are more concerned than ever about what Starr will include in his report because of Clinton's Aug. 17 grand jury testimony and his nationally televised speech that evening. They worry that the president handed Starr new ammunition for perjury allegations -- and grounds to include raunchy details about his sexual encounters with Lewinsky -- by claiming that his earlier testimony denying "sexual relations" with Lewinsky was "legally accurate."

As Clinton returns to Washington after almost three weeks out of town, the impending delivery of Starr's report to the election-year Congress is all but certain to dominate the White House's agenda. Some of his advisers are convinced that Starr will now see fit to spell out not only the times and places of the sexual encounters but also explicit details in order to charge that the president knowingly lied in his Jan. 17 deposition in the Paula Jones lawsuit and that he engaged in acts that were covered even by his own interpretation of the Jones case's definition of sexual relations.

"The report is going to be blistering," said one adviser trying to prepare a defense strategy for Clinton. "It's going to connect every dot and draw every negative inference. It's going to say his actions have tarnished not only him but his office."

Another adviser, predicting a "devastating" report, called Clinton's decision to deny that he lied in the Jones case "tragic." This adviser and several others faulted the president and his personal lawyer, David E. Kendall, for a legal strategy that they said now all but requires Starr to detail sex acts in or near the Oval Office.

But people who agree with Kendall's approach said Clinton's tortured definition of sexual relations was a necessary defense against the serious accusation of perjury in the Jones case. Kendall declined to comment yesterday.

Some Clinton advisers privately have voiced concerns that details about unsavory and even odd sexual behavior could be included in the report, making the allegations against Clinton more difficult for Democratic lawmakers to defend even as the White House prepares for battle over the interpretation of every fact.

However, there is another camp of presidential advisers who believe that Starr would only help their cause if he fills his report with lurid sexual details, arguing that such a move would ultimately create more sympathy for the president. Already, the White House is trying to make the case that Starr is motivated by vindictiveness and is trying to compensate for what advisers say is the lack of evidence of obstruction of justice by titillating the public.

Clinton told the grand jury that he had an inappropriate physical relationship with Lewinsky but, without providing an explanation, said that his Jan. 17 deposition denying "sexual relations" -- and saying he could not recall them ever having been alone together -- was not perjury.

Clinton was asked during his grand jury testimony whether he believed certain sex acts were covered by the Jones definition: Intercourse was covered, but oral sex was not, he said.

However, Clinton refused to answer questions about whether he engaged in any specific sex acts with Lewinsky.

Lawyers familiar with her testimony have said that Lewinsky told the grand jury that, in addition to oral sex, she and Clinton engaged in other sexual activities covered by the Jones definition, including intimate touching and fondling.

About a half-dozen associate independent counsels have been drafting sections of the lengthy Starr report. People knowledgeable about the operation said that Starr, his deputies and other lawyers in the office are reviewing and editing the material. The report will include exculpatory and well as incriminating information, those sources said. Voluminous attachments, including transcripts of grand jury testimony and other evidence, will accompany the report.

The House, which will return from its summer recess this week, has yet to determine the procedure for the House Judiciary Committee's inquiry when the report arrives later this month. But Rules Committee Chairman Gerald B.H. Solomon (R-N.Y.) announced Friday that Republicans want an executive summary of Starr's findings to be released to all 435 members and to the public soon after the report arrives.

Starr is almost certain to limit his report to the Lewinsky investigation, sources said. His office considered but decided against including all investigative findings on other aspects of the four-year Starr investigation, though that material could be sent later if Congress requests it.

Starr was originally appointed to investigate the Clintons' dealings relating to the Whitewater land venture and a defunct savings and loan in Arkansas. Under the independent counsel law, Starr is required to report to the House when he finds "substantial and credible information" that may constitute grounds for impeachment, but the Whitewater material does not meet that standard, sources said.

Starr's office has been weighing whether to include material bearing on whether Clinton told the truth when he testified as a witness in the 1996 bank fraud trial of his former Whitewater business partners, James and Susan McDougal. Clinton testified that he knew nothing about a fraudulent, federally backed $300,000 loan obtained by Susan McDougal. A portion of the loan proceeds -- which were never repaid -- went to the benefit of the Whitewater Development Corp., jointly owned by the Clintons and the McDougals.

Despite the lengthy investigation, Starr has had trouble bringing the matter to a conclusion, in part because of problems securing testimony from key witnesses. James McDougal, who was cooperating with Starr, is dead, and former Arkansas municipal judge David Hale, another cooperating witness, was convicted himself and is under renewed scrutiny as a result of allegations that he was paid off by a conservative organization to implicate Clinton.

Two other potential witnesses -- Susan McDougal and former associate attorney general Webster L. Hubbell -- have been convicted in connection with the Starr probe and have refused to cooperate.

Staff writer John F. Harris contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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