President Lied and Obstructed Justice, Impeachment Report Contends
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, September 11, 1998; Page A01
Independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's report to the House contends there are 11 possible grounds for impeachment of President Clinton, including allegations that he lied under oath, tampered with witnesses, obstructed justice and abused power to hide his affair with Monica S. Lewinsky, according to sources informed about some of its contents.
The report, delivered to the Capitol on Wednesday and scheduled to be made public today, asserts that Clinton committed perjury during his January deposition in the Paula Jones lawsuit when he denied having sex with Lewinsky and then again during his grand jury testimony last month when he acknowledged a physical relationship while insisting his previous statements were "legally accurate," the sources said.
The report, they said, recounts in sometimes lurid detail about a dozen sexual encounters with the former White House intern and outlines evidence of deceit by the president, including lying to aides, knowing they would then give false testimony to Starr's grand jury. The retrieval of presidential gifts from Lewinsky to avoid a subpoena and job assistance provided to her by Clinton associates are portrayed as elements of obstruction of justice, according to the sources.
Invoking Watergate-era language, Starr also makes the argument that Clinton abused the power of his high office, in part by waging court fights to impede the grand jury investigation, actions that might not be criminal but could be interpreted by Congress as impeachable offenses.
Details of the first presidential impeachment report in 24 years began to emerge yesterday while an edgy Washington awaited its formal release. As Clinton continued his contrition campaign by apologizing privately to Senate Democrats and Cabinet officers, a high-level presidential delegation to Capitol Hill failed to gain access to Starr's evidence before it becomes public. Congressional Democrats likewise lost a bid for a 48-hour delay of its release and Republican House leaders scheduled a floor vote for this morning on procedures allowing the report to be posted on the Internet by the afternoon.
The White House was left in the awkward position yesterday of trying to respond to a report it has not examined. Unable to discuss its specific elements, Clinton's personal attorney, David E. Kendall, dismissed the report as a one-sided presentation of events. "The referral by the prosecutors is simply a collection of their contentions, claims and allegations and we look forward for the chance to rebut them," Kendall told reporters.
Others in the Clinton camp were left uncertain how they would fight back once it is released. "People are just bracing for tomorrow and trying to line people up to at least hold [on] until Kendall and the others have a chance to respond," said a White House adviser.
Despite White House complaints of unfairness, Republican congressional leaders made clear they would proceed with their extraordinary plan of releasing a report that they themselves will not have read before it becomes public.
"The report is made to the Congress of the United States and it is the responsibility of the Congress in as even-handed a basis as possible to make it available to all interested parties . . . at the same time," said House Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.).
Although it remained under lock and key in a House office building, both sides assume the report will dramatically alter the political dynamics of the eight-month Lewinsky saga. Until now, Clinton has survived politically, aided by a strong economy and resilient poll numbers, but the White House fears that unseemly revelations about the president's sex life could prove especially damaging.
Partial descriptions emerging yesterday indicated that the report will include graphic accounts of Clinton's sexual activities with Lewinsky, detailing about a dozen encounters in the private study off the Oval Office as well as instances when they engaged in explicit telephone sex.
On one occasion, according to sources, Lewinsky told prosecutors that she and Clinton used a cigar as a prop in a sex act. In another episode likely to capture attention on Capitol Hill, sources said Lewinsky asserted that she participated in a sex act with Clinton while he was on the telephone talking with a member of Congress.
While the sexual aspects seem likely to be the most sensational parts of the impeachment report, they are intended to rebut Clinton's argument that he did not consider their activities to be "sexual relations" as defined by Jones's lawyers during their deposition.
But seemingly wary of having his investigation be seen strictly as a sex case, Starr emphasized the larger issues of alleged criminal behavior and abuse of power, according to the sources. By stressing the use of the office of president, Starr appears to be trying to counter Clinton defenders who argue that the whole investigation arose out of private behavior in a private lawsuit that was eventually thrown out and had nothing to do with his conduct of the nation's business.
Even as Starr was sending the report to Congress on Wednesday, he also notified U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson, who is overseeing the grand jury investigating the Lewinsky matter, and U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright, the Little Rock judge who presided over the Jones sexual harassment case and ultimately dismissed the lawsuit. Wright said in a footnote to a ruling last week that she is considering whether the president should be held in contempt for his misleading testimony in the Jones case.
All told, Starr delivered two 18-box sets of evidence to the House, including raw grand jury transcripts, Linda R. Tripp's secret tapes of conversations with Lewinsky and Lewinsky's Feb. 1 proffer describing what her testimony would be if given immunity from prosecution, a deal that was not arranged until six months later.
Under the plan approved by the House Rules Committee last night, only the main report would be made public today, while the rest is reviewed by the Judiciary Committee between now and Sept. 28 to determine what is appropriate for release and what should remain secret.
The main report to be posted on four congressional Web sites today begins with an introduction that explains the relevance of Clinton's actions to the Jones lawsuit and the seriousness of the allegations. It then moves on to a narrative describing the history of the affair that began as Lewinsky, then 22 and an unpaid White House intern, became involved with the president in November 1995 during the federal government shutdown, and how the two tried to conceal it when the Jones lawyers sought their testimony. The final section outlines what Starr contends are possible grounds for impeachment.
Lawyers on all sides expect the report to fill in gaps in the story line that has emerged in fragments over the last eight months. Among other things likely to become public, according to sources, are a hard-edged exchange between prosecutors and Clinton during his grand jury appearance as they debated the meaning of sex and the heretofore largely unknown details of testimony by key witness Betty Currie, the president's personal secretary, as the investigation wore on.
The perjury allegations stem from Clinton's description of his relationship with Lewinsky when interviewed under oath on Jan. 17. Clinton denied having an affair with her, denied having "sexual relations" with her as defined by Jones's lawyers and maintained he did not recall ever being alone with her anywhere in the White House.
During the same session, he also allowed his lawyer, Robert S. Bennett, to introduce Lewinsky's own Jan. 7 sworn affidavit denying a sexual relationship and Clinton did not correct Bennett when he told Judge Wright that the statement made clear "there is absolutely no sex of any kind, in any manner, shape or form, with President Clinton."
Seven months later to the day after Lewinsky recanted and more than 75 other witnesses appeared before the grand jury Clinton sat down with Starr and other prosecutors in the White House and changed his story. During this Aug. 17 session transmitted live to the grand jury at the courthouse, Clinton acknowledged having a physical relationship with Lewinsky but said he did not believe the definition of "sexual relations" included their activities, arguing that oral sex was not covered.
After that session and his subsequent televised statement that his previous testimony was "legally accurate" if not fully forthcoming, an upset Lewinsky met for two hours privately with Starr's prosecutors and gave them a deposition describing in detail their various sexual activities, including intimate fondling that would be covered by the Jones definition.
The obstruction-of-justice allegations arise in part from Currie's retrieval of gifts from Lewinsky that had been subpoenaed in the Jones case and from job help provided by Currie, Clinton confidant Vernon E. Jordan Jr. and other presidential associates.
A source familiar with Lewinsky's testimony said yesterday that Clinton gave her a total of 20 gifts, most of them relatively modest items such as a T-shirt and a book of poetry. Concerned about the subpoena, Lewinsky testified that she discussed it with Clinton and that Currie shortly afterward called her and came by her Watergate apartment to pick up the gifts, a sequence of events suggesting the president may have instructed his secretary to get them. But Clinton denied doing so and Currie told the grand jury that she believed Lewinsky called her about the gifts.
A few new details emerged about Clinton's role in Lewinsky's search for a new job beginning last summer. Clinton tried directly to find work for Lewinsky in summer 1997, asking aide Marsha Scott to find a way to move her back from the Pentagon to the White House, long before she was subpoenaed in the Jones case. But Starr presents that in the context of the Jones suit anyway, given that it occurred after the Supreme Court permitted the case to go forward in May 1997 and even as Jones's lawyers were seeking out women sexually linked to the president.
Jordan, a prominent Washington lawyer who arranged job interviews in New York for Lewinsky at Currie's request, is described in the report as an unwitting participant essentially used by Clinton in his larger effort to placate Lewinsky and thereby influence her Jones case testimony.
The president's defenders have rejected any illegal purpose in connection with the gifts or the jobs, saying there was no evidence of a direct link to Lewinsky's testimony and accusing Starr of twisting innocent actions involving two people who were close.
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the report, however, may be Starr's claim that Clinton abused his office. The argument harkens back to the articles of impeachment drafted against President Richard M. Nixon, who was accused of misusing his power to cover up the Watergate burglary, among other things.
Under this interpretation, Clinton exploited the authority and resources of the White House by asserting what Starr considered frivolous claims of legal privilege to prevent his aides from appearing before the grand jury and by allowing the Secret Service to mount its own doomed court fight to keep its officers from testifying.
But Clinton advisers have ridiculed the contention, saying Starr essentially is trying to criminalize the president's attempts to assert his rights in the course of an investigation. While the administration lost battles over attorney-client and executive privileges, Judge Johnson determined that they were properly asserted even though prosecutors' need for evidence overcame the need for confidentiality.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company