Probe raises host of legal questions

January 25, 1998|By LYLE DENNISTON

Whitewater special prosecutor Kenneth W. Starr's investigation of President Clinton covers allegations that Clinton lied under oath about an affair with a young White House intern and urged her to also lie about it if asked.

Specifically, according to sources, Clinton stated in his deposition in the Paula Corbin Jones sexual misconduct case that he never had a sexual relationship with the former intern, Monica Lewinsky. Starr is trying to determine whether the president lied in saying so and whether he instructed Lewinsky to lie in her deposition.

Starr's investigation raises a host of legal questions. The Sun's legal reporter Lyle Denniston supplies some answers.

If Starr concludes that the allegations against Clinton are probably true, what crimes might have occurred?

Perjury; encouraging someone else to commit perjury; obstruction of justice; tampering with a witness.

Would the president be charged with any crimes for any sexual activity with Lewinsky?

Starr does not appear to be investigating that aspect. He is trying to determine whether there was a Clinton-Lewinsky sexual relationship, but only as background for other charges.

Is Clinton being investigated for any other allegations of extramarital sexual activity, before or since he became president?

Starr says he is not doing so.

How might Clinton have committed perjury in the Lewinsky case?

Perjury is a crime if someone lies under oath. The claim is that Clinton may have testified falsely under oath this month during questioning in the Jones civil case.

Clinton is reported to have denied in that testimony that he had a sexual relationship with Lewinsky. Would Starr find that enough for a perjury charge if he did find that Clinton lied?

Justice Department prosecutors seldom seek charges for testifying falsely in civil cases, and Starr is required to follow the department's normal prosecution standards.

Might there still be a charge of perjury against Clinton?

There could be, if in questioning under oath by Starr, Clinton repeated his denial of an affair and Starr determines that there had been an affair.

Could Starr seek charges on the other crimes -- such as obstruction of justice -- without charging perjury?


Clinton's confidant and personal adviser Vernon Jordan has also been accused of encouraging Lewinsky to lie. What legal risk does he face?

The same risk of criminal prosecution as Clinton. Jordan has been subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury.

Has Clinton been subpoenaed?

Not yet. No president has ever been required to appear before a grand jury as a potential defendant. Starr presumably would not do so, but he may seek to question Clinton under oath himself.

Could the president plead the Fifth Amendment and refuse to testify on grounds that what he said could incriminate himself?

He certainly could. But the political risk of doing so would probably be too great.

What kind of evidence does Starr have for a charge of encouraging perjury, obstruction of justice or witness tampering, and what more evidence would he need?

Starr has possession of recorded phone conversations alleging, sources say, that Clinton and Jordan urged Lewinsky to lie about a sexual relationship with the president. Starr can also put Linda R. Tripp, a former White House aide, before a grand jury and ask her to repeat what Lewinsky said in those conversations. In addition, Starr has tapes of Lewinsky's conversations with Tripp while Tripp was wearing a hidden recording device.

Starr is also gathering documents, testimony and physical evidence -- including gifts Clinton gave Lewinsky -- to show there was a sexual relationship between them. His case would be strengthened if Lewinsky, under oath, stated that there was a sexual relationship and that Clinton urged her to lie about it under oath.

Lewinsky signed an affidavit this month in the Paula Jones case denying that there was a sexual relationship. Why would Lewinsky now say the opposite?

If Starr convinces her that he knew there was a relationship and threatens to prosecute her for lying in the affidavit, he could ask a federal judge to grant Lewinsky immunity from perjury charges in return for her testifying against Clinton.

Is a grant of immunity a normal way for prosecutors to get evidence?

It is common. Judges almost always approve requests by prosecutors.

Have Starr, his staff and the FBI, in investigating the case to this point, done anything improper?

Lewinsky's lawyer has accused the investigators of "squeezing" her through pressure tactics, including prolonged aggressive questioning of her outside the presence of a lawyer. Starr has denied that accusation.

If Lewinsky is granted immunity from prosecution, how far would it extend?

It depends upon what her lawyer could negotiate. Conceivably, she could be insulated from any charges whatsoever. Or she might have immunity only from having the specific testimony she gives used against her in a trial.

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