Clinton Pledges to Testify 'Truthfully'
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, August 1, 1998; Page A01
President Clinton pledged yesterday to testify "completely and truthfully" about his relationship with Monica S. Lewinsky, but said he will offer no public explanation before he submits to questioning under oath by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr in two weeks.
As Starr's investigation moves quickly toward a possible conclusion, Clinton briefly broke his long silence on the inquiry to say he was eager to put the matter behind him. He did not, however, repeat past denials of allegations that he had a sexual affair with Lewinsky and encouraged her to lie about it during the Paula Jones lawsuit.
"No one wants to get this matter behind us more than I do -- except maybe all the rest of the American people," the president said. "I am looking forward to the opportunity in the next few days of testifying. I will do so completely and truthfully. I am anxious to do it. But I hope you can understand why, in the interim, I can and should have no further comment on these matters."
After being subpoenaed by Starr, Clinton agreed this week to testify on Aug. 17 at the White House, the first time a president ever will be interrogated in a grand jury investigation of his conduct. While his attorney David E. Kendall said Wednesday that the session would be videotaped, in fact it will be transmitted live to the federal courthouse where grand jurors will watch and be allowed to forward their own questions through prosecutors, according to sources familiar with the arrangements.
Hours after Clinton's statement, Starr said he has entered "a critical stage" in his investigation and announced that he will devote his full energies to the case. After four years of criticism for maintaining a lucrative part-time law practice on the side, Starr disclosed that he will take an unpaid leave of absence "until I complete my public duties."
The ostensible purpose of Clinton's six-minute appearance in the Rose Garden yesterday was to talk about new economic figures, but aides scripted it as a chance for him to respond to a week of troublesome developments on the investigation front -- most notably that Lewinsky has agreed to testify that they had a sexual relationship and has turned over a dress that is being tested for DNA material.
Lewinsky spent another day being debriefed by Starr's prosecutors and will meet with them again over the weekend in preparation for her own testimony, although there is no indication whether she will appear before or after Clinton.
Despite the latest events, the president maintained a casual, unaffected appearance, slapping his hands together jovially as he walked out of the Oval Office into the garden and employing a light tone, in contrast to his stern-faced, finger-wagging statement in January that he did not have "sexual relations with that woman." Afterward, aides called reporters to note how "very open and at ease" Clinton seemed.
Indeed, he did not even wait for a discernible question to provide his carefully prepared answer. After finishing his statement on the economy, a cacophony of shouted questions from reporters erupted. "Wait, wait, wait," Clinton said with an amused smile. "Everybody has got a question. Let me give you the answer to all of them." After his five-sentence response, he pivoted and disappeared back into the White House without taking other questions.
Starr's announcement later may have been intended to defuse a fierce and repeated theme of attacks by Clinton allies, who have criticized him for keeping his position at Chicago-based Kirkland & Ellis, where he has earned up to $1 million a year representing clients that include tobacco interests at odds with White House policies.
"Since my appointment, my duties as independent counsel have been my top priority," he said in a statement released by his office. "I have said that I would fulfill my obligations to my private clients and I have done so."
Starr argued an important case for Meineke Discount Muffler Shops Inc. before a federal appeals court in Richmond in May, but lately has spent little time on his private practice. Thomas Yannucci, managing partner of the firm's Washington office, said Starr would be welcome to return. "It's open-ended," he said.
Starr's dual roles became a point of controversy in the Jones case, too, as Clinton's attorneys tried to prove that Kirkland & Ellis had provided legal advice to her lawyers. A federal appeals court in Washington, however, refused to enforce a subpoena issued by the president's defense team to Kirkland & Ellis.
The Jones case moved to its next stage yesterday, too, as her lawyers filed their brief asking the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis to overturn the ruling of a judge who threw out the sexual harassment lawsuit in April. Among the reasons the case should be reinstated, the Jones brief argued, are Starr's ongoing investigation and Lewinsky's purported relationship with the president.
"Mr. Clinton's behavior toward Ms. Lewinsky is evidence of his habit of making aggressive sexual advances to young, low-ranking employees (those who were most vulnerable and easily exploited)," Jones's lawyers wrote.
U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright refused in January to allow Jones to use evidence involving Lewinsky in the case, before ultimately dismissing the lawsuit altogether.
The Jones lawyers argued in their appeal that the ruling deprived them of important evidence, including whatever Clinton may have told Lewinsky about Jones. Moreover, in a reference to the job-hunting help Lewinsky received from Clinton's circle, they wrote, "The obvious quid pro quo aspects of the relationship with Ms. Lewinsky are strong evidence of Mr. Clinton's intent to discriminate based on gender and his intent to harass sexually."
Jones, then a low-level Arkansas state clerk, accused Clinton, then the governor, of luring her to a hotel suite in Little Rock in May 1991, dropping his pants and asking for oral sex. Clinton denied it. Wright did not judge whether it happened but ruled that such "boorish and offensive" behavior would not constitute sexual harassment and had not been proved to cause emotional distress.
The Jones lawyers argued that Wright misinterpreted the law, writing that Clinton's behavior "could be viewed by a rational jury not as the charming excesses of an affable rogue (apparently the District Court's view) but as the systematic posturing of a predator."
A Clinton lawyer, Robert S. Bennett, tried to prevent public examination of Jones's brief yesterday, filing a motion asking the appeals court to put it under seal, which the court agreed to do. The Rutherford Institute, a conservative Virginia foundation backing Jones, removed the brief from its Internet Web site after Bennett filed his motion. But The Washington Post obtained the document before it was taken off and posted it on its own World Wide Web site.
That was not the only time this week that the Clinton team has sought to keep secret details of the president's legal troubles. Kendall, who represents Clinton in the Lewinsky matter, released a statement earlier this week in which he said the president's Aug. 17 testimony "will be videotaped," suggesting that grand jurors would see it only after the fact.
But sources close to the situation said the president's testimony actually will be transmitted directly to the courthouse as it occurs. Grand jurors will be able to pose questions by passing them to a prosecutor in the chamber who will relay them to prosecutors at the White House with Clinton, the sources said.
Kendall has not returned telephone messages over three days nor explained the discrepancy to White House officials outside of the counsel's office, who were frustrated at being kept in the dark and said they consider his statement deceptive if reports of a live transmission are true.
On Capitol Hill yesterday, Sen. John D. Ashcroft (R-Mo.), chairman of the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution and a 2000 presidential hopeful, announced that he will hold hearings exploring whether a president can be prosecuted. He denounced Clinton allies who have said he should not be impeached even if he lied in the Jones case about an affair with Lewinsky.
"I believe that perjury is unacceptable conduct and that it is an impeachable offense. How can it be otherwise?" Ashcroft said. Quoting the presidential oath of office, he added, "It is not possible to 'take care that the laws be faithfully executed' while deliberately violating the law against perjury."
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company