WASHINGTON -- While a tearful President Clinton vowed to fight to keep his job, the House laid independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's voluminous case for Clinton's removal from office before the American people yesterday.
Starr's report contains no major revelations that had not become public through leaks to the news media in recent weeks. But the wealth of detail in its 445 pages, filled with raw, sexually explicit language, spread shock waves across the country as millions of ordinary citizens scanned its contents over the Internet on their personal computers.
Along with lurid descriptions of oral sex and secret assignations near the Oval Office, Starr's prosecutors spelled out the specific crimes they are accusing Clinton of committing: lying under oath, obstructing justice, tampering with witnesses and abusing the power of his office, all in an ultimately futile effort to conceal a sexual affair with Monica Lewinsky.
In all, 11 "grounds" for impeachment are included in the report. With "all phases" of Starr's investigation nearing completion, it appears that Starr found no evidence of impeachable offenses in his four-year, $40 million investigation relating to the Whitewater land deal, the alleged abuse of FBI files, the firing of the White House travel office, Hillary Rodham Clinton's work for the Rose Law Firm and other matters.
For Clinton, the graphic delineation of his trysts with the 22-year-old White House intern are at once a crushing humiliation and a grave threat to his presidency.
After apologizing publicly to Lewinsky and her family for the first time yesterday, Clinton signaled his determination to hold on to the presidency for the final two years of his term. In an emotional speech to religious leaders, a remorseful Clinton said he would instruct his lawyers "to mount a vigorous defense, using all available appropriate arguments," but without hiding the fact "that I have done wrong."
The president's attorneys waged a daylong effort to refute Starr's charges, claiming that the independent counsel had "dangerously overreached" in his investigation. A 73-page memorandum by White House lawyers, made public a few hours before the counsel's report was released, painted Starr as a partisan Republican bent on overturning the results of the 1996 election.
"The simple reality of this situation is that the House is being confronted with evidence of a man's efforts to keep an inappropriate relationship private," wrote White House counsel Charles F. C. Ruff and Clinton's private attorney, David E. Kendall, and their associates. Their "preliminary rebuttal" -- issued even before they had read Starr's report -- argued that Clinton's transgressions do not rise to the level of impeachable offenses.
Clinton's fate now rests with members of the Republican-controlled House, who must decide whether Starr's evidence is sufficient to consider removing the president through the impeachment process.
Clinton's job approval rating remains at 62 percent, about where it was before Starr's report was issued, according to a CNN/Gallup poll taken hours after the report was released yesterday. About the same percentage believed that Clinton should not be impeached.
Analysts caution that such polls taken immediately after an event might not pick up shifts in public opinion, which can take longer to register. For example, six out of 10 respondents in last night's poll had not heard details of the report. The poll had a margin of error of 4 percentage points.
Most members of Congress left town for the weekend soon after receiving the report, deferring judgment until they had time to absorb its contents and listen to the reaction of their constituents.
A vote on whether to start impeachment proceedings could be taken before Congress adjourns next month for the November election. Another option would be for the House to come back into session after the election to consider the question.
While yesterday was surely the darkest of Clinton's presidency, further embarrassments may await. The Starr report only summarizes the voluminous information sent to the House by the independent counsel's office. Additional releases are scheduled this month, after the thousands of pages of grand jury testimony, videotapes and audiotapes -- including hours of recorded conversations between Lewinsky and her one-time friend Linda R. Tripp -- have been screened by the House Judiciary Committee.
A day of high drama at opposite ends of Pennsylvania Avenue began with a previously scheduled White House prayer breakfast. At the same hour, the House began debating, in often partisan terms, the immediate release of Starr's report, which it eventually authorized by a lopsided 363-63 vote.
'Grounds' for impeachment