Starr refuses Clinton request to see report Independent counsel says findings will be secret, wide-ranging

Brusque letter to Kendall

September 09, 1998|By Lyle Denniston and Jonathan Weisman | Lyle Denniston and Jonathan Weisman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr brusquely refused yesterday to let President Clinton and his lawyers have an advance look at his long-awaited investigative report to Congress about the White House sex scandal.

In a letter that could complicate an imminent battle over possible impeachment, Starr told Clinton's private attorney David E. Kendall that a report to Congress will be secret and that it is up to the House to determine who may see it.

"It is for Congress to decide if and when such information should be provided to your client," Starr wrote to Kendall. "I suggest you address your concerns to the House of Representatives."

The independent counsel insisted that he had authority to deliver a report to Congress without permission from a court and without sharing it with Clinton.

"No barrier should intervene between the House of Representatives and its prompt receipt of impeachment-related information," Starr wrote.

The report is expected to contain Starr's conclusions about whether Clinton committed perjury, obstruction of justice, witness tampering or abuse of presidential power.

And, Starr said, the report would not be limited to a simple recital of what his investigators and a federal grand jury have turned up -- as Kendall had said it must be. Rather, Starr said, the report will amount to his wide-ranging analysis of "the severity and gravity of the facts uncovered" -- phrasing that telegraphed a harsh critique of Clinton's conduct.

On Monday, Kendall had written to Starr, asking for a one-week advance review of any report Starr sent to Congress, with a chance to comment on it before it goes to Capitol Hill, as a matter of "fundamental fairness" to Clinton.

Kendall contended that the law allowed Starr only to recite his evidence without analysis, and that Starr would need a court's permission before sending a report to Congress.

The letter from the president's lawyer was widely considered to be a broad hint of a lawsuit if Starr resisted. Starr's rejection of each of Kendall's points seemed to enhance the prospect that Clinton's team would sue, with the aim of delaying any Starr report to Congress for weeks.

Members of Congress believe the report's arrival is imminent. Starr could inform the House as early as today that he is ready to send his findings to Capitol Hill, Republican and Democratic aides to the House Judiciary Committee suggested yesterday.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, a Mississippi Republican, said he expects "a truckload of material" to arrive from Starr's office "later on this week or next," even though Starr's letter to Kendall said nothing about a timetable and declined to confirm news reports that he was preparing to send Congress the report.

With anxiety growing on Capitol Hill, the president will move today to try to shore up his crumbling political base. Clinton will meet with House Democratic leaders at the White House to discuss how to handle Starr's report on the Monica Lewinsky matter.

The Democrats will then meet immediately with House Republican leaders to set procedures for handling of Starr's report.

As Congress waits, the drumbeat of criticism from Democrats continues. Yesterday, five days after Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut publicly castigated the president from the Senate floor, two more Democratic senators, Barbara Boxer of California and Ernest F. Hollings of South Carolina, denounced the president's behavior. Both senators are locked in difficult re-election bids against opponents determined to make Clinton an issue on the campaign trail.

"We're fed up," Hollings said. "The behavior, the dishonesty of the president is unacceptable, and we'll see with the report what course the Congress will take."

Boxer, whose daughter is married to Hillary Rodham Clinton's brother, called Clinton's sexual relationship with Lewinsky "indefensible" and "immoral." She tempered her criticism, however, with praise for the president's policies and pleas for Congress to move ahead with Democratic initiatives on health care, education and campaign finance reform.

"I don't believe there are differences in this body about the immorality of the president's relationship with an intern," Boxer said from the Senate floor. "Now I would like to ask us today to deal with public policy morality."

Though Republicans and Democrats expect Starr's report soon, last-minute hurdles could emerge. Lott raised the prospect yesterday when he said he would not be surprised if the president or his allies went to court to block or delay its release.

Under the independent counsel law, it appears mainly up to Starr to decide when he sends a report to Congress and what it will say.

But his choices could be complicated by legal challenges under way or now threatened. The outcome of such challenges is uncertain because no court has defined exactly what is to happen when an independent counsel finds evidence of presidential misconduct that could prompt impeachment proceedings.

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