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Clinton 'Thwarted' Probe, Starr to Say

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  • By Ruth Marcus and Peter Baker
    Washington Post Staff Writers
    Thursday, November 19, 1998; Page A1

    Independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr plans to tell Congress today that President Clinton misused "the machinery of government" and "thwarted the search for truth" in a wide-ranging scheme to illegally interfere with Paula Jones's sexual harassment lawsuit and Starr's subsequent criminal investigation.

    But in a 58-page prepared statement to be delivered at the opening of impeachment hearings, Starr acknowledges for the first time that he has not found enough evidence to accuse the president of criminal conduct in the Whitewater financial venture that generated his appointment in 1994 or in a host of other allegations he has investigated since then.

    As the House Judiciary Committee expanded its inquiry into new areas yesterday, Starr steeled himself for a contentious daylong appearance before the panel, which is scheduled to meet at 10 a.m. today. With eight television networks broadcasting live, the nation will have its first sustained opportunity to hear him explain the conduct of his controversial investigation. The advance text he delivered to Capitol Hill last night indicated that the reserved former judge intends to offer an unusually personal defense.

    In making his case, Starr says the inclusion of so much explicit sexual material about Clinton's affair with Monica S. Lewinsky in the 453-page impeachment referral to the House was necessary to give lawmakers "the full story." And he portrays himself not as a rabid partisan out to get the president, but a high-minded disciple of the rule of law.

    "I am not a man of polls, public relations, or politics – which I suppose is obvious at this point," Starr says in the prepared text. "I am not experienced in political campaigns."

    The independent counsel directly wades into the debate over the significance of his findings in the Lewinsky matter, a dispute that has torn the committee and the country. Saying the president repeatedly "chose deception" over truth, Starr maintains that Clinton's actions were "not a private matter" but a pattern of misconduct that undermines his fitness to serve. Perjury, Starr asserts, is undeniably among the "high crimes and misdemeanors" cited as the standard for impeachment in the Constitution.

    While offering no new revelations about the Lewinsky scandal, Starr offers what amounts to the first authoritative status report on his office's other inquiries. Starr says that Clinton had no involvement in the 1993 firing of White House travel office employees and that there was no evidence that the president or any other senior officials were involved in the improper collection of FBI files of Republican appointees. The independent counsel reveals for the first time that in 1997 his office drafted an impeachment referral to Congress stemming from Whitewater but chose not to send it "because of the difficulty of establishing the truth with a sufficient degree of confidence."

    Still, Starr seeks to tie Clinton's conduct in this year's Lewinsky controversy to the four years of controversy that came before. "The pattern of obstruction of justice, false statements and misuse of executive authority in the Lewinsky investigation did not occur in a vacuum," Starr says.

    The White House last night seized on the exonerations in Starr's statement and brushed off the rest as rehashed material. "The only thing that's new is to be found near the end . . . when Starr declares that the president is not guilty in the travel office and FBI files," said a senior official who asked not to be named. "The rest of the argument are essentially the facts of the referral alleged in a new format."

    As both sides prepared for today's hearing, the Judiciary Committee yesterday expanded its inquiry by requesting information about Democratic campaign finance irregularities from the Justice Department. Republicans also decided to issue subpoenas for four more witnesses, including two lawyers for Clinton.

    Judiciary Chairman Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.) announced that he wants to conduct private depositions of Bruce R. Lindsey, the deputy White House counsel and Clinton's most trusted aide, and Robert S. Bennett, the private attorney for the president in the Jones case.

    Hyde also wants to extend the committee's research beyond the Lewinsky matter, naming two witnesses who may shed light on any efforts to influence Kathleen E. Willey's testimony in the Jones case about an alleged sexual advance by the president. Hyde wants to interview Daniel A. Gecker, Willey's Richmond lawyer, and Nathan Landow, a Maryland developer who she has said talked with her extensively about her testimony.

    Complaining about witnesses being chosen without them, Democrats planned to challenge subpoenas for Gecker and Landow on the grounds that the Willey matter was outside the scope of Starr's referral and will try to block Bennett's subpoena by citing attorney-client privilege. Anticipating a fight, Hyde said the privilege does not apply to an impeachment hearing and in any case the lawyers would not be asked about their clients' confidential communications.

    Hyde separately asked Attorney General Janet Reno yesterday to allow committee investigators to review still-secret portions of two memos outlining possibly illegal campaign finance activities that congressional Republicans have tried to obtain for months with limited success, one by FBI Director Louis J. Freeh and the other by former chief Justice investigator Charles G. LaBella. Hyde also asked Starr for access to evidence stemming from the cooperation of former Democratic fund-raiser John Huang regarding any "hush money" paid to former associate attorney general Webster L. Hubbell.

    Hyde said he still hoped to complete the probe by the end of the year "if it's humanly possible," but added that the White House needed to cooperate more.

    "The Democrats narrowed the scope. They didn't want to talk about anything but Lewinsky," he said late yesterday afternoon. "We want to talk about anything credible and substantive that might be an act of impeachment."

    In his prepared statement, Starr does not back away from the conclusions in his Sept. 9 referral to Congress. Indeed, he emphasizes how Clinton's actions – including invoking various legal privileges – constitute an abuse of his presidential power, an avenue of attack that committee Republicans have already said they do not intend to pursue.

    Starr argues that Clinton did not panic when confronted with questions about Lewinsky by Jones's lawyers, but rather "made a series of premeditated false statements under oath" during the deposition, part of a "pattern" of obstructive behavior that also included "an apparent scheme to conceal gifts" that had been subpoenaed from Lewinsky and "coach[ing] a potential witness, his own secretary Betty Currie, with a false account of relevant events."

    Perhaps addressing those who argue that Congress should refrain from acting because Clinton could be criminally prosecuted, Starr says that "criminal prosecution and punishment are not the same as – or a substitute for – congressionally imposed sanctions." He is silent about whether he intends to proceed against Clinton now or in the future.

    In defending himself, Starr argues that he had to include sexual detail about Clinton's relationship with Lewinsky because Clinton's legalistic defense about what constitutes "sexual relations" made it "relevant – indeed critical – in determining whether" Clinton lied.

    On other matters, Starr reveals how close prosecutors came to concluding that Congress should consider impeaching Clinton over Whitewater. In particular, Starr says he considered asking lawmakers to weigh whether Clinton was responsible for a fraudulent $300,000 loan to former business partner Susan McDougal that went in part to benefit their Whitewater Development Corp. and whether the president lied under oath when he denied any involvement or knowledge of the loan.

    Starr says that he refrained from acting in part because he had yet to hear McDougal's account of the loan, and he offered biting criticism of what he views as Clinton's encouragement to her, in a PBS interview, to maintain her silence in the face of a court order requiring her to testify.

    "So far as we are aware, no sitting president has ever publicly indicated his agreement with a convicted felon's stated reason for refusing to obey a federal court order to testify," Starr says. "Essentially, the President of the United States, the chief executive, sided with a convicted felon against the United States."

    In providing an update on the rest of his sprawling investigation, Starr says it "remains a mystery to this day" how long-subpoenaed Rose Law Firm billing records detailing Hillary Rodham Clinton's legal work suddenly resurfaced in the living quarters of the White House in January 1996.

    But he strongly suggests that Hubbell, Hillary Clinton's former law partner who was indicted by a Starr grand jury for the third time last week, may still be holding out on prosecutors about information relating to Castle Grande, the complicated real estate deal that was the subject of the billing records. Hubbell's father-in-law, Seth Ward, was involved in the Castle Grande deal on which Hillary Clinton worked.

    Intimating that Hubbell still may have information about Castle Grande, Starr notes that when Hubbell resigned from the Justice Department in May 1994 after reports that he bilked his firm's partners and clients, then-White House Chief of Staff Thomas F. "Mack" McLarty III told Hillary Clinton, "We're going to be supportive of Webb."

    Following that, Hubbell received payments "for little or no work," totaling nearly $550,000 from companies and individuals, many of whom were Clinton campaign contributors and were contacted through McLarty.

    "This rush of generosity obviously gives rise to an inference that the money was essentially a gift," Starr says. "And if it was a gift, why was it given?"

    On the other hand, on two other controversies that embroiled the Clinton White House in weeks of front-page headlines years ago, Starr flatly clears the president of any wrongdoing.

    The investigation into the travel office firings was not yet finished, he reports, but "the president was not involved in our . . . investigation." He adds that "we expect to announce any decisions and actions soon."

    As to the FBI files, Starr says that "while there are outstanding issues that we are attempting to resolve with respect to one individual," who is not named, the investigation "found no evidence that anyone higher" than White House security officials Craig Livingstone or Anthony Marceca "was in any way involved in ordering the files from the FBI. Second, we have found no evidence that information contained in the files of former officials was used for an improper purpose."

    The developments came on a day when the partisan rhetoric between the White House and committee Republicans escalated sharply as the two sides bickered over everything from the scope of the inquiry to the amount of time that Clinton's lawyer will be granted to question Starr today. In one of many letters that flew back and forth, a Starr deputy rejected Democratic requests that four attorneys from the office submit to questioning.

    To finish the inquiry by year's end, Hyde noted pointedly that he needs cooperation and "to date we have not had any help from the White House." His chief of staff, Thomas Mooney, wrote the White House insisting that it turn over by the end of the day any exculpatory evidence and the answers to 81 questions sent two weeks ago.

    White House counsel Charles F.C. Ruff fired back a letter declining, saying he could not send exculpatory evidence because Republicans appear to be changing the scope of the inquiry. He added that the president has not had enough time to finish the 81 questions but will submit them "in the very near future."

    Clinton had to cancel a weekend meeting with his lawyers to go over the questionnaire because of the U.S. confrontation with Iraq, although once that crisis subsided he found time for a golf game Monday. Aides said the president brought the 81 questions with him on Air Force One yesterday morning to review on his way to Asia for a six-day trip that will keep him out of the country when Starr testifies before the committee today.

    White House officials complained that Hyde will restrict their cross-examination of Starr to just 30 minutes and that he instructed them not to delve into Starr's handling of his investigation. "It's very unfair for the committee to say that they can go and talk about any subject they want, go on a fishing expedition, while they tell the White House counsel that there's areas that we're not allowed to raise," said White House press secretary Joe Lockhart.

    Hyde said later he would be "liberal" with the half-hour time limit. "If they're on a line of questioning and they need more time, I will grant them more time," he said. "They're not being mistreated at all."

    To conduct the questioning, the White House yesterday designated David E. Kendall, the president's private attorney who has battled Starr on his behalf for four years. Many White House advisers had preferred that the task fall to either Ruff or special counsel Gregory B. Craig, who have more political experience, but Kendall knows the subject better than anyone else.

    For Democrats, the testimony will offer the chance to attack the legitimacy of Starr's investigation and what they will describe as the flimsiness of his conclusions. "We need to focus on the fairness of his investigation," said Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.). "We need to inquire whether or not he badgered witnesses, whether or not he violated Department of Justice rules and local bar rules. We need to examine how he expanded his jurisdiction from Whitewater to Monica Lewinsky."

    For Republicans, Starr's appearance will provide an opportunity to retell the story of Clinton's alleged wrongdoing and a final chance to convince the American people of the seriousness of his infractions. Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.) said questions about Starr's handling of the investigation were relevant "to a certain extent." But he said, "I don't think you can use that as an excuse or belabor it so much that you never get into the rest of the president's conduct."

    Staff writers Susan Schmidt and Juliet Eilperin contributed to this report.

    © Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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