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Starr's Office Watches Vigilantly

Impeachment Hearings

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  • By Susan Schmidt
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Friday, December 11, 1998; Page A23

    Lawyers at independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's office gathered around television sets yesterday morning to watch with irritation as Abbe D. Lowell, chief counsel for House Judiciary Committee Democrats, poked holes in their impeachment report and skewered their boss for memory lapses during his testimony last month.

    But by mid-afternoon, they were buoyed enough by the forceful presentation from GOP counsel David P. Schippers that they broke away from monitoring Congress for yet another of their endless meetings. This one, like all the others: topic unknown. "I can't go into that," said spokesman Charles G. Bakaly III.

    "We're not all glued to it," Bakaly said of the Judiciary Committee action. "People are floating in and out. We're doing other things."

    Starr allies said prosecutors feel satisfied that the committee has treated their referral seriously, and they view as a major victory the near certainty that articles of impeachment will be sent to the House floor. Starr's staff views Lowell's attack and White House counsel Charles F.C. Ruff's criticisms a day earlier as mere bumps in a road that seems clearly headed for the full House, allies said.

    "This has been out of our hands for quite a while," said Ronald D. Rotunda, a constitutional law professor who serves as a legal consultant to Starr. "It's a significant and very sad proceeding. There's no joy about this for anyone."

    While the Office of the Independent Counsel may not follow every twist and turn of the committee, Starr and his lawyers clearly home in on it when their work is under attack. On Wednesday, the normally silent and secretive OIC posted a banner day in public communications, churning out two press statements, both intended to rebut claims Ruff made in his testimony.

    "Our focus is limited to discussions related to the referral, since it's our work product being discussed," Bakaly said. "The White House has had three months to analyze, critique and attack the referral. They are trying to change the discussion to process rather than fact."

    Lowell scored perhaps his highest points yesterday not by attacking the report, but by mocking Starr -- and comparing his failure of recollection to the testimonial lapses that President Clinton may be impeached over. Lowell played videotaped snippets of Starr saying over and over during his Nov. 19 testimony that he would have to "search his recollection" for one answer or another.

    "Before this committee starts making the phrase 'I don't recall, I don't remember, I'd have to think about it' something that you would bring to the floor of the Senate, see what an unfair tactic that really is," Lowell said.

    Starr, responded Bakaly, "testified voluntarily for 12 hours on the subject of an 11-month, very detailed and expansive investigation."

    And that investigation continues, though the office has lost a few lawyers since the report was completed and sent to Congress Sept. 9.

    What are they doing?

    Prosecutors are continuing to investigate whether Clinton lied under oath about his relationship with former White House volunteer Kathleen E. Willey, and whether there were efforts to influence or intimidate Willey and other potential witnesses. But some of the office's work -- and some of those many meetings -- concern issues that have spun off the Lewinsky investigation. Lawyers are responding to requests for more information from Congress, they are battling -- in court and under seal -- litigation initiated by the president's lawyers alleging they illegally leaked secret grand jury information to the press.

    And they still have to decide such prosaic matters as when and how they are prepared to allow their star witness, Monica S. Lewinsky, to tell her story to Barbara Walters.

    Even as they try to wrap up, new issues arise. Last week, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) demanded that Attorney General Janet Reno investigate whether Starr violated court secrecy rules in his committee testimony when he told Clinton lawyer David E. Kendall that the OIC had prevailed in one of its many court arguments with the White House that is still under seal.

    "Mr. Starr disclosed the contents of the sealed case," Nadler complained to Reno.

    Bakaly said lawyers in the office are used to getting bashed no matter what they say: "If Starr had said 'I don't recall,' they could have added that to the video montage or whatever they did today."

    © Copyright The Washington Post Company

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