Susan Schmidt on the Lewinsky Scandal
"Levey Live" appears each Tuesday from noon to 1 p.m. Eastern time. It's your chance to talk directly to major newsmakers and key Washington Post editors and reporters.
Our guest today is Susan Schmidt, one of the Post's chief reporters on the Clinton-Lewinsky story.
Sue has covered the investigation of the President since it began with Whitewater in the early 1990s. She has been on the staff of the Post since 1983. Before concentrating on the President's legal troubles, she covered local news and the savings and loan crisis. She worked previously for The Washington Star and The Los Angeles Herald-Examiner.
Your questions and comments for Sue Schmidt are welcome throughout the hour.
Note: This page will automatically refresh every 45 seconds. If you want to freeze the page, click the text link in the left-hand sidebar.
SAlt Lake City, Utah: Why do you think that Clinton is planning not to change his story, despite all the people who are advising him to do that? It seems like he is trying to provoke a showdown. Yet he must know quite a bit about what the grand jury has heard from debriefings -- it just doesn't make sense.
Sue Schmidt: President Clinton's lawyers do know quite a bit about what the grand jury has heard so far, because they participate in a joint defense arrangement with other lawyers representing White House aides and others. The president's advisers have been urging him to tell the truth when he goes before the grand jury. Virtually no one outside a tiny circle of lawyers knows whether he has so far done that.
Lewins, KY: Do think that if Ms. Monica's infamous dress show signs of a "sexual encounter" that the President will submit a sample of his blood for a DNA testing? or Do you feel that if this thing got that far, he would fess up, and/or ship out of the white house?
Sue Schmidt: If he decides to ask the president for a DNA sample, the independent counsel can ask for a saliva sample, a blood sample is not necessary. We don't know whether the independent counsel will ask for a sample only if the FBI lab finds semen on the dress, or whether he will ask for a sample in any event. The president may not know anything about the test results when he testifies.
Bob Levey: The country seems horrified that reporters have gotten information in the Clinton-Lewinsky story via leaks. But leaks happen in just about every story. Why is the public so surprised about the leaks in connection with this story?
Sue Schmidt: It is true that leaks occur in many stories about law enforcement investigations. The White House and President Clinton's lawyers have focused on the leak question as a way to try to discredit Starr's investigation. The fact is, information in this story has come from many sources. The judge overseeing the grand jury will conduct an inquiry into whether there were any improper or illegal leaks by Starr's office, which is prohibited by law from disclosing anything that happened before the grand jury.
stilwell, kansas: Some pundits have suggested Clinton will steadfastly deny a sexual relationship with Lewinski no matter how strong is the evidence presented by Starr, including DNA samples; and predict that Clinton will "O.J." the DNA and whatever else Starr presents hoping the popularity polls will mimic the O.J. jury and give him a pass, no matter what. And if his poll numbers stay up, he calculates congress won't impeach. What do you think?
Sue Schmidt: It is impossible to predict what Congress will do at this point, but if Starr presents a report with powerful evidence, most observers here believe it will get a serious review by the House Judiciary Committee.
Austin, Tx: Why would Starr allow Ms Lewinsky to testify before President Clinton? Wouldn't he gain more by allowing her testimony to come after the Presidents on Aug 17th?
Sue Schmidt: Starr now knows much or all of what Lewinsky is prepared to tell the grand jury as a result of extensive debriefings she is undergoing. She is in effect locked in to a story now. Starr could surprise us and have her testify after the president does, or bring her in for a second appearance after Clinton testifies.
Bob Levey: As I get it, Clinton will testify via some sort of closed-circuit live television on Aug. 17. But the broadcast will go only to the grand jury. The public will not see it. How soon will you (and we) know what the President says that day?
Sue Schmidt: That is really up to him. He may make a public statement about what he has told the grand jury, and it appears there will be great pressure on him politically to do so. If he does not do that, his testimony will become part of Starr's report to Congress, which is likely to move quickly, perhaps by Labor Day.
Washington, DC: When the president's former aides appear on the tv talk shows and say the president should address the American people and "level" with them, do you think they are privy to information the public is not aware of? To what extent are they still in the White House "loop?"
Sue Schmidt: Those former aides--Leon Panetta, Lanny Davis, David Gergan and others--are not any more privy to information than the rest of us. They seem concerned that the president's refusal to discuss his dealings with Monica Lewinsky is troubling because it suggests he has something to hide. Some of those former aides have long advocated getting the bad news out--whether its about campaign finance abuses or Whitewater. But there are few of those advisers left, those who advocate "more rather than less" from the White House are on the outside now.
Half an hour remaining with our guest, Washington Post Staff Writer Susan Schmidt.
Springfield, IL: Do you think Ken Starr will indict the first lady for her role in the travel office scandel and the FBI files scandal? -- there seems to be more about this whole investigation than just MONICA--- Could you please tell me how many scandals have occurred with this president compared to other presidents? Thank you
Sue Schmidt: Starr's efforts appear concentrated on a report to Congress detailing evidence of potential criminal activity involving the president. He may include material related to Whitewater. The report would not detail activities of the first lady, since she is not subject to impeachment proceedings. It now seems unlikely Starr will indict anyone in connection with Travelgate and the FBI files scandal.
Alexandria, VA: How do you think the much-talked about "24-hour news cycle" brought on by the advent of the Internet and cable television impacted on this case and the reporting of it?
Sue Schmidt: Early on in this story the competitive rush heightened by the new 24-hour news cycle resulted in a couple of much ballyhooed reporting errors. Since then, the media has been more focused than ever on accuracy. The 24-hour news cycle has spawned a whole genre of television talk shows populated with people who have little or no idea what they are talking about. That's one of the unfortunate byproducts of this story. Many lawyers and witnesses in the story refuse to watch these shows--Geraldo et al--because it drives them crazy.
Hilliard, Ohio: Susan McDougal has been jailed for refusing to answer questions about the President's testimony. If the President is now going to answer questions directly, does that let McDougal off the hook?
Sue Schmidt: Susan McDougal was jailed for civil contempt for refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating the Clintons' Whitewater dealings. She specifically refused to answer whether the president had testified truthfully at her bank fraud trial. She faces criminal contempt charges now and set to go to trial in the fall.
First, I think your reporting on this investigation has been excellent - I have really enjoyed your articles.
Sue Schmidt: The real pressure on Clinton is coming from congressional Democrats who are worried about their own reelections in November. The president is scheduled to meet with the Democratic Caucus in Congress tomorrow. Given the president's continued popularity, Republicans don't seem to have any more enthusiasm for impeachment proceedings than Democrats do.
Ottawa, Ontario: Do you believe that if Clinton admits to an affair that the American public will actually support him? Or, do you think that once they find out that he lied, they'll turn on him?
Sue Schmidt: That's a good question. Sen. Orrin Hatch, the Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said Sunday that if Clinton tells the truth about what happened--even if it means repudiating his sworn denial of any relationship with Lewinsky--the American people will support him. He may be right, or that may simply be an indication of how reluctant Republicans are to inherit this investigation from Starr.
We haven't heard much lately on the orignal Whitewater story. Do you think Starr's report to congress will be more damaging to President
Sue Schmidt: Starr may include Whitewater-related evidence if he sends a report to Congress. It seems likely that the bulk of such a report, much of which has already been written, will deal with the Lewinsky matter.
Fairfax, Virginia: "Gotcha!" seems to have become the name of the game in American politics, and the current example is not even the worst. In this day of instant information, do you suppose that we can get back to bipartisan cooperation and a bit more focus on substantive issues, rather than who is to blame?
Sue Schmidt: The good old days of bipartisan cooperation must have been before my time, though I agree there is not much focus right now in substantive issues. The American people are the consumers--and ulitmately the arbitors--of what sort of politics and coverage they want.
That's it for today. Our thanks to Washington Post Staff Writer Susan Schmidt. "Levey Live" takes a vacation on Aug. 11. Be sure to join us on Aug. 18 for the first in a series of special shows about the D.C. mayoral election.