By Peter Baker and Juliet Eilperin
The Supreme Court's decision this week not to intervene in Starr's fights with the Clinton administration over disputed testimony will force prosecutors to decide whether they should give lawmakers a partial summary of evidence soon or wait to submit a full report, which might not be completed until the end of the year at the earliest.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit yesterday set an unusually accelerated schedule to consider whether Starr can force White House lawyers and Secret Service officers to testify, scheduling oral arguments for later this month. But even with such a quick timetable, the issues are bound to head back to the Supreme Court again for ultimate review after any appeals court rulings. Since the court is not scheduled to begin its next term until October, Starr might not be able not obtain evidence from such witnesses until after the November election.
Even before their setback at the high court, prosecutors had been weighing the merits of an interim report. "We have not ruled out doing an interim report," Starr spokesman Charles Bakaly said earlier this week, "because if we waited for all the litigation to go through . . . it could be some time before we would be able to even get the information."
As a practical matter, though, the political clock is ticking. Congress will be in and out of town over the next two months and will recess Aug. 6 until after Labor Day. By that point, the midterm campaign season will be in full swing and lawmakers will be scrambling to finish business so they can return to their home districts.
The prospect of a politically volatile impeachment inquiry in the House at that point is unpalatable for many Republicans, particularly given President Clinton's continued strong standing in opinion polls.
"Who wants a report between now and the election? And the answer is -- nobody," said Stephen Hess, a Brookings Institution political analyst. "This is a year that everybody knows in their guts is an incumbent year. They are risk-averse."
So for Starr the choice may be to act quickly or wait for another six months. While the independent counsel is famed for a political tin ear, his supporters realize that sending a report that will only sit on a shelf would be a pointless exercise. "Once you get past June, there are questions about the utility or wisdom of" an interim report, said a lawyer close to Starr's office.
Another factor is whether Starr is finally able to obtain testimony from Lewinsky about whether she had sex with Clinton and was encouraged to lie about it under oath during the Paula Jones civil lawsuit. The former White House intern hired new lawyers this week, Plato Cacheris and Jacob A. Stein, who immediately signaled their interest in an immunity agreement with Starr.
If they cut a deal in the next few weeks and Lewinsky offers testimony implicating Clinton in perjury or obstruction of justice, it could be powerful evidence of impeachable offenses that Starr may not feel he can withhold from Congress for months. But if no deal is cut and Starr winds up indicting Lewinsky instead, it could be months before a trial.
Any interim report would be written without the testimony of White House deputy counsel Bruce R. Lindsey or three Secret Service employees involved in the disputes Starr took to the Supreme Court.
While the Supreme Court refused to hear the Clinton administration's appeal of district court rulings ordering Lindsey and the Secret Service employees to testify, the appeals court did respond yesterday with a greatly expedited timetable for hearing the cases. Each side will have to file multiple briefs over the next few weeks, with oral arguments scheduled for June 26 in the Secret Service case and for the week of June 29 in the Lindsey matter.
The Lindsey case will be heard by a panel of two Clinton appointees, Judith W. Rogers and David S. Tatel, and a George Bush appointee, A. Raymond Randolph. The panel on the Secret Service appeal consists of Randolph and two Ronald Reagan appointees, Stephen F. Williams and Douglas H. Ginsburg.
Despite the prospect of an interim report, House Republicans said yesterday that they have given little thought to how they would handle a referral from Starr this summer. Consumed with the task of passing their budget resolution, the leadership did not even discuss the topic during a meeting yesterday morning.
House Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.) said Congress still has an obligation to address the independent counsel's findings whenever he chooses to report to the House. "If it is our duty, we will have time to do our duty, whatever that is," he said.
To some extent, House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) has boxed in the leadership with his recent assaults on the "crimes" committed by the White House. Given the seriousness he has attached to Clinton scandals, Gingrich could find it hard to put off consideration of any Starr referral. Yet other Republicans do not seem anxious to tackle the subject, suggesting yesterday that Starr should not submit a partial report because it would undermine his case.
"Why would he?" asked House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bob Livingston (R-La.). "He would risk prejudicing the facts with incomplete evidence."
That foreshadows a line of attack the Clinton White House is prepared to use. Lanny J. Davis, a former White House special counsel, said yesterday that any interim report would be only "a political document" to influence the election. "If he's a professional prosecutor, what's the rush? When he has his evidence and it's complete, let him make his case."
Staff writers Susan Schmidt and Bill Miller contributed to this report.
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