By Susan Schmidt and Ruth Marcus
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said the news this weekend that a subpoena has been served on the president is yet another indication that Starr is near the end of his investigation. "The time has come, I think, to share this information with the House, as the [independent counsel] statute requires, at least with [House Judiciary Committee Chairman] Henry Hyde and the ranking Democrat," he said on CNN's "Late Edition."
"I think he ought to wrap it up," said Specter, a member of the Judiciary Committee. Congress is due to begin a month-long summer recess Aug. 7, and is scheduled to be in session only one month in the fall before the November elections. If Starr sends a report for them to consider, "We could work during the month of August," Specter said.
Starr has taken the extraordinary step of subpoenaing Clinton to testify this week before the grand jury investigating possible perjury, subornation of perjury and obstruction of justice involving Lewinsky, the former White House intern who allegedly had a sexual relationship with Clinton.
The White House said Friday that Clinton's lawyers were negotiating with Starr to find a way for him to provide information to the grand jury, the scope of questions, a venue other than the courthouse, and to determine whether lawyers could be present. But with Clinton and his private lawyer, David E. Kendall, both out of town all weekend, there was no evidence that any discussions are taking place despite the prospect of the president being called to testify as early as Tuesday.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah) warned yesterday that Clinton "has an obligation" to answer questions from Starr and suggested, in an appearance on CBS's "Face the Nation," that defying a subpoena to testify before Starr's grand jury could itself "certainly be grounds to file articles of impeachment."
Specter, however, disagreed, saying that "I rechecked the Constitution" following Hatch's remarks, "and I do not believe that ignoring a subpoena would be grounds for impeachment. The Constitution is very specific on treason, bribery, or high crimes or misdemeanors."
As Republicans stepped up their attacks on the president with the new ammunition of the subpoena, leading Democrats and White House aides repeated charges that Starr had long ago overstepped the bounds of a prosecutor's duty even as they said Clinton would continue cooperating with the investigation.
"He's the most investigated president probably in the history of the country," House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (Mo.) said on "Face the Nation." Whatever Starr is seeking via the subpoena, he said, "I am certain they will work out a way for that information to be conveyed to the special prosecutor. I just hope this thing gets over with."
"We've been doing this now for four years, 40 million taxpayer dollars," Gephardt said in comments that were repeated throughout the day by other Democrats. "Ken Starr has sifted through every aspect of the president's life and background, and it's time to bring it to an end."
Under the independent counsel statute, Starr is required to "advise the House of Representatives of any substantial and credible evidence which such independent counsel receives ... that may constitute grounds for an impeachment." His office originally intended to send an interim report to Congress by last month, but delays in obtaining testimony of key witnesses, including Lewinsky, threw that schedule off months ago. It is unclear whether he intends to report to Congress at all before the investigation is concluded.
Starr has been trying to work out an immunity or plea agreement with Lewinsky's lawyers in exchange for her testimony. However, those talks are at an impasse, and Starr could be faced with the choice of seeking to indict Lewinsky or compelling her testimony without knowing what she will say.
House Judiciary Chairman Hyde (R-Ill.), whose committee is charged under the Constitution with considering impeachment charges, has had no contact with Starr and has no idea what he plans, a committee source said yesterday.
The clock is running down on the time left for the committee to receive such a report before the August recess, the committee source said. There would likely have to be rules changes that could take four or five legislative days to accomplish before the panel would want to accept a report. Under the existing House rules, any member of Congress would have the right to review the material; the Judiciary Committee would want to change those rules to safeguard grand jury material.
Both parties in Congress have been concerned that if Starr sends a report in the fall, it will be seen as politically charged. With campaign schedules, Congress would likely not convene any hearings until next year.
Starr is investigating whether Clinton or others lied under oath, encouraged others to lie, or obstructed justice in actions relating to the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit. Clinton and Lewinsky both asserted under oath in that case, which since has been dismissed, that they did not have a sexual relationship.
No sitting president has ever been subpoenaed to provide personal testimony before a grand jury. Although Clinton could challenge the constitutionality of the subpoena, conceivably tying up the issue for months in court, the prospect of being seen defying efforts to obtain his testimony is not a politically appealing one.
Hatch said yesterday that Starr "is within his rights to require [Clinton] to go to the courthouse before the grand jury. On the other hand, the president is a busy man. We should do everything we can to accommodate him and his schedule and the difficult job he has." But however Clinton and Starr arrange his testimony, Hatch said, "he owes an obligation to the people of America to tell the truth here and to comply with a subpoena of the courts."
Senate Majority Whip Don Nickles (R-Okla.), speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press," accused the president of "stonewalling for a long time" and trying to bury the news of the subpoena by leaking it late Friday night, when it would be eclipsed by news of the shooting of two Capitol Police officers.
White House spokesman Jim Kennedy called the charge "ludicrous," saying "news reports regarding subpoenas were well in circulation prior to the time of the shootings."
But some White House allies were telling reporters throughout the day Friday that while negotiations over Clinton testimony were ongoing, no subpoena had been served on the president.
White House adviser Rahm Emanuel, appearing on "Meet the Press" yesterday, repeated earlier White House attacks on Starr, noting Aug. 5 will mark the fourth anniversary of Starr's appointment, initially to investigate Clinton's Whitewater land dealings in Arkansas.
"I don't think any American ever thought four years ago that we would be at this situation ... that we would not be able to come to a conclusion over a 24-year-old real estate deal," he said. "We do know it's one of the longest-standing investigations, one of the most intrusive investigations."
Staff writer Ceci Connolly contributed to this report.
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