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Starr’s Report Charges That Clinton Abused Powers, Obstructed Justice

TIMES STAFF WRITER

After carrying on a lurid sexual relationship with intern Monica S. Lewinsky inside the White House, President Clinton abused his presidential powers, committed perjury to cover up the affair and obstructed justice by attempting to win the silence of others, according to the independent counsel’s report released Friday.

Prosecutor Kenneth W. Starr strongly recommended that Congress begin deliberating whether to remove Clinton as the 42nd president of the United States.

“Perjury and acts that obstruct justice by any citizen . . . are profoundly serious matters,” he said in the report. “When such acts are committed by the president of the United States, we believe those acts may constitute grounds for an impeachment.”

But even before the Starr report lit up Internet screens around the world, Clinton and White House lawyers toughened their resolve to defend his presidency, issuing a rebuttal report.

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“The president has acknowledged a serious mistake,” his lawyers said of Clinton’s relationship with the former White House intern. But, they stressed, “this private mistake does not amount to an impeachable action. . . . It is not a high crime or misdemeanor,” the Constitution’s only explicit standard for impeachable acts.

The law, they added, “was never designed to allow a political body to force a president from office for a very personal mistake.”

The House vote to release the Starr report became in an instant an historic event like no other in the national drama: the public viewing of the sexual proclivities of the president of the United States.

The report discusses in no-holds-barred detail numerous episodes of oral sex, phone sex and sex using a cigar.

But beyond that kind of prurient material, a much larger moment has descended upon Washington. The House is on the verge of launching an impeachment inquiry, some of the nation’s political and media elite are beating the drum for the president’s resignation and Clinton himself, with his oft-tested ability to find a way out of scandal, is struggling to hang on.

In other developments Friday:

* Clinton once again offered a public apology, this time at a national prayer breakfast at the White House, where he also affirmed that he has instructed his lawyers to “mount a vigorous defense” in fighting to save his second term in office.

* On Capitol Hill, leaders of both parties began realistically discussing a possible lame-duck session to deal with the report after their planned recess in October. “I think it’s important that we come back, that we do our work and that we try as much as possible to bring this to closure,” said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.).

* Throughout the nation, computer activity in search of the report was so extraordinarily heavy that Internet busy signals were flashing even hours before the document was posted. One CNN site alone recorded more than 300,000 hits a minute, volume almost as high as when the stock market crashed last month.

* And despite the sex-and-tell nature of the report, fears that the nation’s financial markets would dive for cover were unfounded. Trading not only seemed stable, but the Dow went up almost 180 points.

* And by the end of the day, it was unclear whether Starr’s report had damaged the president’s standing in the all-important arena of public opinion.

Next week, the House Judiciary Committee is expected to begin debating whether to conduct impeachment hearings soon or after the first of the year, if at all. And the White House strategy calls for Clinton to continue carrying out his presidential duties while his lawyers attempt to persuade Congress to drop any talk of impeachment.

Friday began with much soul-searching. Clinton asked for spiritual assistance at the prayer breakfast while the House wrangled over the need to hurry the Starr report into the public arena.

Forgiveness From Lewinskys Sought

Clinton, in his longest, most encompassing statement yet, told breakfast participants--among them several Cabinet members and religious leaders--that he had asked Lewinsky and her family, among others, for forgiveness.

Declaring in a deliberate tenor that he had reached “the rock-bottom truth,” the president said: “I don’t think there is a fancy way to say that I have sinned.”

At the other end of the National Mall, the House was voting, 363 to 63, to release large parts of the report to the public.

Dissenting votes came from Democrats who argued that the president should receive a preview of the charges first. They also accused GOP lawmakers of launching the congressional process on an unfair note.

“I’m watching what you do,” Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) warned her GOP colleagues.

But Republicans contended that the independent counsel law approved by a Democratically controlled Congress said nothing about advance notice to the White House. And despite the partisan wrangling, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle acknowledged the historic nature of the proceedings.

“There is no joy . . . only a sense of the gravity of our task ahead and mindful of our constitutional responsibilities,” said Rep. Gerald B.H. Solomon (R-N.Y.), chairman of the Rules Committee.

Agreed House Minority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.): “This is a sacred process. This is not a second election. This is not politics. This is not spinning. This is not polling. This is not a lynch mob.”

Immediately after the lopsided House vote, workers unsealed the boxes and began making paper copies for members of Congress and posting the document on several Internet Web sites. Even before the 435 House members began receiving copies of the report, their offices were besieged with requests for it.

Starr’s voluminous supporting evidence--including grand jury transcripts, interviews, depositions, video and audio tapes--was not released.

The 445 pages made public included an introduction, a section detailing what Starr suggests are “grounds for an impeachment” and a lengthy narrative covering the sexual relationship between Clinton and Lewinsky.

The report cited 11 “possible” grounds of impeachment, covering three general areas:

* That the president lied and committed perjury in five separate instances.

The untruths cited came from Clinton’s sworn statements in his Jan. 17 deposition in the Paula Corbin Jones civil lawsuit, since dismissed, in which the former Arkansas employee alleged that she was sexually harassed by then-Gov. Clinton, and in his Aug. 17 grand jury testimony videotaped at the White House.

The alleged lies concerned Clinton’s relationship with Lewinsky and his discussions with presidential friend Vernon E. Jordan Jr. about Lewinsky’s role as a witness in the Jones case.

* That he obstructed justice or tried to thwart justice in five separate instances.

Those actions include allegedly attempting to conceal gifts he had given Lewinsky, scheming with her to lie in the Jones lawsuit and trying to help her get a job when he knew her testimony in the Jones suit could harm him.

In addition, the report maintains that Clinton “improperly tampered with a potential witness” by attempting to “corruptly influence” the testimony of his personal secretary, Betty Currie.

Further, “President Clinton endeavored to obstruct justice during the grand jury investigation by refusing to testify for seven months and lying to senior White House aides with knowledge that they would relay the president’s false statements to the grand jury--and did thereby deceive, obstruct and impede the grand jury,” the report said.

* That he “abused his constitutional authority” by lying to the public, Congress and the grand jury about his relationship with Lewinsky and by invoking executive privilege in an attempt to slow down Starr’s investigation.

In an overview of the evidence, Starr asserted that the case he had amassed showed “a pattern” that began as Clinton sought to hide his intimate relationship with Lewinsky, which included 10 separate sexual encounters from November 1995 to March 1997.

He added that the evidence demonstrates that Clinton’s concealment continued as he tried to keep more information about the relationship from coming out in Starr’s criminal investigation.

Starr defended his tactics, including charges that he had invaded the first family’s privacy.

He acknowledged that Americans “are entitled to enjoy a private family life, free from public or governmental scrutiny.” But he also said that his office had legitimate reasons for digging out details in the case, especially since the president was not forthcoming in the Jones lawsuit.

Starr Says Clinton Has a Special Duty

In addition, Clinton, as president, had a special responsibility to follow the law, Starr maintained.

“In view of the enormous trust and responsibility attendant to his high office, the president has a manifest duty to ensure that his conduct at all times complies with the law of the land,” the report said.

Prosecutors also defended their controversial decision to shift their 4-year-old investigation from reviewing the Whitewater real estate deal to the Lewinsky affair.

They pointed out that Lewinsky’s former co-worker and friend, Linda R. Tripp, came to their office with an allegation that Lewinsky intended to perjure herself in the Jones suit, and that she was urging Tripp also to do so.

In their rebuttal, Clinton’s lawyers argued that Starr’s office, in conjunction with congressional Republicans, was acting out a political vendetta to oust the president. They said that the report was thick with sexual innuendo but thin on substantial evidence.

“There are a lot of lurid allegations in the prosecutor’s referral but there is no credible evidence of impeachable offenses,” said David E. Kendall, the president’s private attorney, in an afternoon session with reporters at the White House.

In his written rebuttal, Kendall added:

“No amount of gratuitous details about the president’s relationship with Ms. Lewinsky, no matter how salacious, can alter the fact that the president did not commit perjury, the president did not obstruct justice, the president did not tamper with witnesses and the president did not abuse the power of his office.”

Starr’s report breaks down into four key areas: perjury, obstruction of justice, abuse of power and individual sexual encounters.

Much of his report is based on testimony Lewinsky provided to the grand jury under a grant of immunity.

The report charges that Clinton lied under oath about his relationship with Lewinsky five times during his deposition in the Jones case.

Specifically, it cited his denials of a “sexual relationship,” “sexual affair” or “sexual relations” with Lewinsky; his denials that he touched Lewinsky’s breasts or genitalia “with an intent to arouse or gratify” her sexual desire.

In contrast, the report noted, Lewinsky testified to the grand jury about 10 sexual encounters with the president in the Oval Office area. She said that on nine occasions she performed oral sex on Clinton and that during each encounter he fondled or kissed her breasts, or both and that he stimulated her genitalia with his hand on five occasions.

The Starr report said that Lewinsky’s credibility is bolstered by her stated desire not to hurt the president and by the testimony of 10 friends, relatives and counselors who said that she told them the same stories.

In addition, the FBI “determined conclusively” that semen stains on a dress Lewinsky wore during a February 1997 encounter matched a DNA sample from Clinton.

Another allegation has Clinton lying under oath to the grand jury on Aug. 17.

At that time, Clinton admitted to an inappropriate relationship with Lewinsky but, saying his statements were “legally accurate,” denied committing perjury in the Jones case.

Clinton said that “by receiving oral sex, he would not ‘engage in’ or ‘cause’ contact with the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh or buttocks of ‘any person’ because ‘any person’ really means ‘any other person,’ ” the report said.

He further testified that if he had oral sex performed on him, then the contact is “not with anything on that list but with the lips of another person.”

Starr said that Clinton also lied when he played down the number of gifts he gave Lewinsky, was evasive about whether the two were ever alone together and whether there was a quid pro quo arrangement in his helping her find a job in return for her silence.

The report said: “The president’s denials--semantic and factual--do not withstand scrutiny.”

Not so, said the Clinton lawyers, denying that Clinton committed perjury when he testified in the Jones case that he had not had a sexual affair with Lewinsky.

“The president was asked whether he had an ‘extramarital sexual affair’ with Ms. Lewinsky and responded that he did not,” the lawyers’ rebuttal said. “That term was undefined and ambiguous. The president understood the term ‘sexual affair’ to involve a relationship involving sexual intercourse. He had no such relationship with Ms. Lewinsky.”

The report suggests that Clinton attempted to influence a number of close friends and confidants to cover for him when they were called before the grand jury this year.

It also said that Clinton was involved in the job search for Lewinsky because he spoke to Jordan about the matter and that a senior White House aide approached Bill Richardson, then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, about a job for her.

Last December, the report said, Clinton and Lewinsky met and discussed both her move to New York and her involvement in the Jones lawsuit. The next month Lewinsky declined a job offer to work in Richardson’s office at the United Nations.

Two days later, she signed an affidavit in the Jones case denying her relationship with Clinton.

The following day, she interviewed in New York with MacAndrews & Forbes, a company recommended by Jordan. After Jordan interceded, Lewinsky received an informal job offer.

The report stated that Clinton’s efforts on Lewinsky’s behalf “were motivated at least in part by his desire to keep her ‘on the team’ in the Jones litigation.”

In addition, the Starr report said that Clinton, just after his Jan. 17 deposition in which he was asked about Lewinsky, called Currie to discuss what had happened during Lewinsky’s White House visits.

She testified that Clinton told her in this meeting: “You were always there when she was there, right?”

He asserted that the two “were never really alone” and that “Monica came on to me and I never touched her, right?” Currie testified.

Currie said that she believed Clinton “wanted her to agree with him,” the report said.

Again, the White House disputed Starr’s account.

Clinton’s lawyers denied that his efforts to help her find a new job had anything to do with her role as a witness against him in the Jones case. But, they said in their rebuttal, “these actions were totally appropriate.”

“At no time,” the White House lawyers said, “did the president ask that Ms. Lewinsky be accorded especially favorable or unfavorable treatment because of his relationship with her or for any other reason.”

They also denied that Clinton tried to improperly influence anyone, Currie included.

In charging that Clinton abused his constitutional authority by lying to the public, Congress and the grand jury, the report cited his public statements last January that “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” and that such “allegations are false.”

These statements, prosecutors said, stalled a possible congressional inquiry into the matter, which was further delayed when the president asserted executive privilege and refused to testify during Starr’s investigation.

But the White House flatly denied that Clinton had abused his presidential power, declaring that any assertion that he did so “is utterly baseless.”

The Starr report said there is a “massive quantity” of corroborative evidence bearing out Lewinsky’s claims of her sexual relationship with Clinton, including the accounts of the 10 friends, family members and counselors with whom she discussed the relationship and e-mail and audio telephone messages.

In addition, the report said, the FBI examined Lewinsky’s dress and that “forensic tests have conclusively shown it was stained with the president’s semen.”

The report said that most of the sexual trysts occurred as Clinton leaned against a doorway in a windowless hallway adjacent to a tiny study off the Oval Office. He took this position, Lewinsky maintained, to ease a sore back.

In only one case, she said, did they have the genital-to-genital contact that made the encounters fit his narrow definition of a sexual relationship.

In other instances, Lewinsky would perform oral sex on him, then they would stop, and as she was leaving she would spot him masturbating in the bathroom near the sink, she testified.

Other times, she performed oral sex while he spoke on the phone with persons she believed were members of Congress. In another episode, she told Starr’s team, Clinton used a cigar as a sex prop.

Starr added that the pair also engaged in 15 incidents of phone sex, late at night. On one occasion, Lewinsky testified, the president dozed off in mid-conversation.

Lewinsky told prosecutors: “I didn’t expect to fall in love with the President. I was surprised that I did.”

Times staff writers Alan C. Miller and Paul Richter contributed to this story.

INSIDE

* CONGRESS: Clinton’s sexual escapades hit by both sides. A14

* REACTION: Despite all the fuss, old opinions remain. A15

* TV NEWS: Networks’ big guns find going rough. A17

* KIDS: Straight answers are what youngsters need. A23

* EDITORIAL: Past the thicket of salacious detail, a serious task for Congress. B6

* DOW: Stocks gain as Starr’s report holds no surprises. D1

SPECIAL REPORT: A 16-page special section contains summaries and excerpts from the Starr report and Clinton’s defense.


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