Starr's grand juries continue their work Panels' likely function would be to return criminal indictments

September 11, 1998|By Lyle Denniston | Lyle Denniston,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- An impeachment report to Congress by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr did not end the task of the two grand juries he has used to gather evidence, and their continuing work raises the prospect of criminal charges in the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

Among those who might be at risk, even though Starr has not given a hint of his intentions, could be President Clinton, according to several legal analysts.

More likely, some of these specialists said, is that Starr will leave Clinton's fate to Congress -- at least for now.

But the grand jury could bring charges against others, such as White House aides. In that case, the president could be named "an unindicted co-conspirator," as President Richard M. Nixon was in the Watergate investigation a quarter-century ago.

Starr's investigation of the president, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and their associates did not shut down Wednesday when the prosecutor sent his "grounds for impeachment" report to Capitol Hill. Two grand juries are still meeting on the matter in Washington and across the Potomac River in Alexandria, Va.

Starr's spokesman, Charles Bakaly, stressed that "the Office of Independent Counsel's investigation is still continuing." He did not elaborate.

The grand jury in Washington was in session again yesterday, but it heard no witnesses. The jury has done little since hearing final testimony last month from the president, former White House intern Lewinsky, and deputy White House counsel Bruce R. Lindsey.

It was unclear why it met again.

But one possibility was to talk about potential criminal charges. So far, only three individuals are known to have been granted immunity from possible charges: Lewinsky; her mother, Marcia Lewis; and Linda Tripp, who made tape recordings of telephone conversations in which Lewinsky reportedly told of her sexual liaisons with Clinton.

"When a grand jury continues to meet after finishing with witnesses, that's the time when indictments are asked for" by prosecutors, according to James E. Moliterno, who teaches criminal law at the College of William and Mary. "Whether or not the president is going to be indicted, I do not even have a clue."

A former special prosecutor, Gerard E. Lynch, now a criminal law professor at Columbia University, said he has been wondering "for a long time" what the Starr grand juries were doing, if not looking for evidence that could lead to indictments.

Beyond the prosecutor's interest in Clinton, and the search for evidence that could support possible impeachment, "I've been wondering whether there is anybody. Why were there no indictments a month ago?

"With the grand jury still going, it seems that there is some possibility of charging someone. But who else is there?"

Lynch said he had no way of knowing what Starr's strategy is.

But he said it was "a very good question" whether the grand jury in Washington was being used for anything other than impeachment-related work. The professor said he doubted that was within a grand jury's powers.

Another law professor who formerly served as a special federal prosecutor, John Q. Barrett, who teaches at St. John's University, said "it would not be a dumb guess" that indictments would now be forthcoming, but he added: "It's too soon [for that] to be a great guess."

Barrett speculated that yesterday's session of the Washington panel with an aide to Starr might have been only a matter of keeping the jurors up to date, advising them about what prosecutors had been doing since the parade of witnesses stopped and Starr's staff began focusing on writing the report to Congress.

He said, though, that there appeared to be a likelihood of "additional investigative activity," which could lead to indictments.

Barrett said there was no way to assess the risk the president might face of criminal charges. But he guessed that Starr had decided, for the time being, to leave Clinton to Congress.

Agreeing with that speculation was Roscoe C. Howard Jr., a University of Kansas law professor who previously worked as a prosecutor with two independent counsels. Starr, Howard suggested, may now have turned his focus to "other individuals who also lied, and who do not have immunity."

Several analysts suggested that, if Starr's strategy has been to focus very intently on Clinton alone, that might reduce the risk that others -- aides and outside "kitchen cabinet" advisers -- might face criminal charges.

They might be seen as having acted only at Clinton's behest, and thus did not have a personal intent to commit a crime.

That might be the case, it was said, with Vernon Jordan, the powerful Washington attorney and Clinton confidant who tried to help Lewinsky find a job outside of Washington, and Betty Currie, the president's personal secretary who was Lewinsky's contact at the White House after Lewinsky was sent to the Pentagon to work.

Pub Date: 9/11/98

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