Clinton aide asks Starr for report Personal lawyer seeks copy before prosecutor submits it to House

Detailed response weighed

September 08, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton's private lawyer requested yesterday that Kenneth W. Starr, the independent prosecutor, allow him to review at least a week in advance the report Starr is preparing for Congress, in a sign the White House is readying a defense against possible impeachment hearings.

The request came as Clinton, according to some of his advisers, is trying to decide how to reassure Democrats as criticism of his handling of the Lewinsky affair mounts in his own party.

One option is for him to apologize again for his conduct, an approach he seemed to be inching toward in Ireland last week. Another would be to disclose embarrassing information or perhaps answer questions about his sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky when she was a White House intern.

With the House coming back into session tomorrow and mid-term elections just two months away, the prospect of Starr's report has alarmed congressional Democrats and caused some to distance themselves from the president.

But Clinton's aides say that they are are still scrambling for a strategy to take the political initiative in the country and the Congress against Starr.

Outside advisers to the president said that the White House is not yet running the kind of aggressive, coherent damage control operation that Clinton made famous when he first battled accusations of dishonesty and adultery during the 1992 presidential campaign.

In a letter to the prosecutors yesterday, David Kendall, Clinton's attorney, wrote that out of "fundamental fairness," Starr should let him and the White House counsel review any report early enough to permit them "one week to submit a written reply." That reply, together with the report, might then be given to Judge Norma Holloway Johnson, who has been supervising the grand jury in Starr's investigation, or sent straight to Congress.

Kendall argued that Starr may transmit information he has gathered to the Congress, but that he is not authorized by law to prepare a report that summarizes or analyzes it. And Congress, he wrote, has in the past expressed concern that judgments made in such a report could intrude on its constitutional responsibilities in weighing impeachment.

"We believe that fundamental fairness dictates that we have the opportunity to review such a document and submit simultaneously any reply we wish to make," Kendall said.

Starr had no comment on the letter, a spokesman said last night.

White House officials have argued that Starr, a Republican, will not produce a balanced report on his seven-month inquiry into Clinton's relationship with Lewinsky. Noting that Starr's witnesses have not been cross-examined, they are eager to produce a report or memorandum providing their own interpretation of the facts.

If Starr refuses to provide the advance copy, White House aides will argue that he is acting unfairly, trying to sandbag the president by surprising him with a report that they expect to read like an indictment, according to one adviser to Clinton.

After taking a pasting from Senate Democrats last week, the White House is bracing for the possibility of more criticism from House members who have gotten an earful from constituents during the Labor Day weekend.

Some of Clinton's aides believe that Democrats have been criticizing him in part out of fear that the Starr report will contain damaging information not yet disclosed.

As a result, some Clinton advisers are pushing his legal team to release all records relating to Lewinsky that Starr has obtained, such as the logs of her visits to the White House. Then, they argue, the president should answer detailed questions from journalists about the relationship.

Lanny Davis, a former White House special counsel, urged that strategy when Clinton was responding to accusations about his 1996 campaign finances. He said that the White House should now "help reporters write all of the details of this story prior to the Starr report, because fundamentally, the only chance we have of a balanced presentation is if we put this information out ourselves."

Pub Date: 9/08/98

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