Admission may not resolve series of legal problems Prosecutor could seek further testimony if probe warrants it

August 18, 1998|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- By admitting that he had an inappropriate relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, President Clinton succeeded yesterday in pushing aside the single, strongest charge that could have led to his impeachment.

Despite claims to the contrary, the Lewinsky investigation has been mostly about sex -- and lying about sex.

Had the president again flatly denied the sexual encounters -- contradicting Lewinsky's latest sworn statement -- independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr could have used this possible perjury before a grand jury as the prime exhibit in his report to the House of Representatives.

But the president's tactical retreat does not necessarily resolve all of his legal problems.

Starr's team of prosecutors has believed for several years that Clinton is evasive and scheming, and they are unlikely to be satisfied just because he has admitted one falsehood.

Much depends on what evidence the prosecutors have obtained and how the president handled the prosecutor's many other questions. David Kendall, the president's personal attorney, told the Associated Press that while Clinton had testified "truthfully," inresponse to "a few highly intrusive questions he gave candid, but not detailed answers."

This leaves open the possibility that Starr will later seek further testimony from the president.

Lawyers who have closely followed Starr's investigation point to at least four other areas where Clinton remains potentially vulnerable. They involve the president's gifts to Lewinsky, the jobs she was offered, his past denials under oath of a sexual affair and his meeting with her Dec. 28 where they may have talked about how to hide their relationship.

"The real concern now is Betty Currie and the gifts," said one former White House lawyer, referring to Clinton's secretary.

Prosecutors have repeatedly questioned Currie before the grand jury. If the president told his secretary to retrieve the small gifts he gave Lewinsky -- or if he told the former intern to quietly return them to Currie -- that exchange could be cited as evidence that he sought to cover up his lie about their relationship.

On Jan. 18, the day after Clinton denied having a sexual relationship with Lewinsky, or even being alone with her, the president called Currie to come to the office.

"We were never alone, right?" he reportedly asked.

Prosecutors could call this evidence of obstruction of justice because it was covering up a lie in a court proceeding.

Lewinsky also obtained sudden, high-level help in obtaining a job outside Washington during December and January, just as the president was preparing to testify in the Paula Corbin Jones case.

Next is the charge that Clinton committed perjury when he denied under oath Jan. 17 having had sexual relations with Lewinsky. Jones, the former Arkansas state employee, had sued Clinton over an alleged crude advance in a Little Rock, Ark., hotel room.

Asked by a lawyer if he and Lewinsky were ever alone together in the Oval Office, Clinton responded, "I don't recall," adding that she might have "brought things to me once or twice on weekends." The White House logs show that Lewinsky came to the Oval Office area 37 times after leaving her job.

After a broad definition of sexual relations was read to him, Clinton denied having had sexual relations with Lewinsky.

During yesterday's testimony, the president was almost surely asked about that contradiction. He may have tried to explain it away by saying he did not believe "sexual relations" included oral sex, or acknowledged his earlier statement was false. Either way, Starr could cite such a statement under oath as a possible grounds for impeachment as well.

In a court of law, Clinton's lawyers could assert this false statement was not "material" to the outcome of the Jones lawsuit, which itself was later thrown out of court. For that reason, it does not amount to perjury.

Pub Date: 8/18/98

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