Starr's report due out today Obstruction of justice, lying by the president detailed, sources say

Congress grinds to a halt

'We look forward to chance to rebut,' Clinton lawyer says

September 11, 1998|By Jonathan Weisman | Jonathan Weisman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- With the Clinton presidency in growing peril, the House of Representatives will release publicly this afternoon independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's report on the Monica Lewinsky scandal, a 445-page barrage of evidence that accuses the president of abuses worthy of impeachment.

The release of a report that arrived on Capitol Hill on Wednesday will occur today despite angry complaints from Democrats that President Clinton and his lawyers have not been given a chance to review the report in advance.

Eight months after Starr launched his inquiry into Clinton's relationship with Lewinsky, the public will finally be able to judge for itself whether the independent counsel has built a persuasive case of perjury, obstruction of justice, witness tampering and abuse of power that would merit the forcible removal of a president for the first time in the nation's history.

Though Starr's report remains under lock and key in a House office building, the first indications of its contents began leaking out yesterday. According to the Associated Press, the evidence includes damaging descriptions of Clinton's contacts with two central witnesses in the case -- Lewinsky, a former White House intern, and the president's secretary, Betty Currie.

The report details what prosecutors believe was a pattern of lying by Clinton and a broad effort to sustain those lies by using government employees and resources -- from statements Clinton approved for his press secretary to issue after the Lewinsky story broke to the legal battles he let his aides fight to block access to witnesses, the AP reported, quoting anonymous sources.

The sources said the report's narrative of evidence depicts efforts by Clinton to thwart the Paula Corbin Jones lawsuit by lying in his deposition in that case and by working with Lewinsky to conceal their relationship. It also accuses the president of lying during his grand jury testimony last month, the sources said.

'To lie and lie and lie'

"The report is a straight narrative," and it alleges that "the president continued to lie and lie and lie," one source said.

Rep. Henry J. Hyde, the Illinois Republican who, as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, would lead any impeachment hearings, said he did not want to delay the release of the report.

"At this stage, we don't know what information the independent counsel has sent to the House, but given the gravity of this situation, we must act now," said Hyde. "Our first challenge is to ensure that the American people are given what is rightly theirs -- information, if any there is, that may constitute grounds for impeachment of their duly elected president."

Much of Starr's material -- including the 445 pages that make up the core of report -- will be posted on the Internet as soon as the House approves a set of rules governing its dissemination. Paper versions will be given to each of the 435 members of the House as well as to reporters.

David E. Kendall, the president's private lawyer, cautioned against jumping to any conclusions solely on the basis of the Starr report. That report, Kendall said yesterday, "is simply a collection of their contentions, claims and allegations, and we look forward to a chance to rebut them."

One day after Starr abruptly delivered his report to the House, momentum built for rapid congressional action that could eventually topple the Clinton presidency.

'A grave day for the House'

"This is a grave day for the House of Representatives," intoned Rep. Gerald B. H. Solomon of New York, the Republican chairman of the Rules Committee, which approved the rules governing the report's release today. "Today, we will do what we are compelled to do under the Constitution, not because we desire it, but because it is our duty."

The report has already overwhelmed legislative efforts that Republicans and Democrats alike had hoped would propel their fall election campaigns. Yesterday, the Democrats' sweeping campaign finance reform bill sank without a sound, as supporters fell eight votes short of the 60 needed to cut off a Republican filibuster.

On Wednesday, the Republicans tried to push through a resolution mandating deployment of a national missile defense system but fell one vote short of ending a Democratic filibuster. That tally, too, received virtually no news media attention.

With their legislative agendas in tatters, the parties' leaders tried to maintain an air of statesmanship. Speaker Newt Gingrich took to the House floor to implore members to put politics aside as they ponder the first impeachment proceedings in 25 years.

"The freedom of speech in debate in the House of Representatives should never be denied or abridged," Gingrich declared. "But freedom of speech in debate does not mean license to indulge in personal abuses or ridicule."

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