Starr report reveals more than many wanted Seeming trivia needed to avoid questions on truth, clarity, experts say

The Clinton Investigation

September 23, 1998|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- These are books only a Monica junkie could love.

The 3,183-page, two-part tome by Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr's office that went public this week is not just full of materials delving into the sexual relationship between Monica Lewinsky and President Clinton but crammed with Monica minutiae and other pieces of esoteric White House scandal material.

Everything but Starr's kitchen sink? Perhaps, but some legal experts say such detail is necessary to establish the relationship between Clinton and Lewinsky and to ensure that relevant elements of his case do not appear taken out of context or selectively edited.

Even details from Starr's evidence that may be irrelevant emerge with the same urgency as information about the president's potential perjury. Consider what the world now knows: Catherine Allday Davis, a friend of Lewinsky's, went to Japanese Disney World; Lewinsky worried about Princes William and Harry after Princess Diana's fatal car crash; and Linda R. Tripp, Lewinsky's former friend, drank so much water in one day that she suspected she gained weight.

"You have to weed through the chaff to really get to the wheat," George Mason University law professor William H. Lash said of the appendixes. "Lawyers think everything is relevant. To lawyers, more information is always better. You don't want anyone to have any questions about veracity and clarity and so that's why you include everything in the documents."

The Starr evidence released so far is composed mostly of testimony by Clinton and Lewinsky, plus FBI interviews with Lewinsky, correspondence between White House and independent counsel lawyers and reams of reproduced news reports and interview transcripts.

Sandwiched between these accounts are seemingly peripheral materials. The result, for better or worse, is an immediate hit on the voyeur's best-seller list.

The two volumes offer uncensored glimpses into the White House. Readers can examine candid pictures of Clinton chomping down pizza with presidential aides (with and without Lewinsky) on the night of one of the sexual encounters. They can learn that Clinton owns a copy of "Vox," the book on phone sex Lewinsky gave him, but also that he keeps a San Mateo County Library copy of Louis W. Koenig's "Chief Executive" in his West Wing study.

These documents include private details, the sort of thing Lewinsky calls "juicies" to her friends. Like Lewinsky's insistence in an e-mail that she craves a steady boyfriend and her defensive protest: "I don't only think about sex." In the midst of her chatter -- much of it with her young and similarly breathless friend Catherine Davis -- readers get a glimpse of Washington 90210, with long, heartfelt exchanges on the glories of shopping.

Starr's defenders say that if the e-mails were heavily edited, then Congress and the public would believe they were selectively cut and pasted for the most damaging effect.

Some don't think any e-mails should have been included in the first place.

"I thought the entire report was glaringly out of place," said George Washington University law professor Stephen Saltzburg. "It was unnecessary to have more than a paragraph" on Lewinsky's recounting of the sexual affair, he said, adding, "That's all Congress had to know."

More seemingly useless side notes: When Lewinsky met with presidential good-buddy Vernon Jordan, for example, readers see that somebody drank a hot chocolate. And the public can leaf through pager messages from Lewinsky's mother, a note to her mother that Lewinsky will fly to New York and see her at temple, receipts from Lewinsky's American Express credit card, and so on.

Criticisms aside, the document reads like anything but a dull government report. Page 2559, for example, begins with the lyrics of an entire Sarah McLachlan CD, "Surfacing."

The lyrics are included because Lewinsky once said that the song, "Do What You Have To Do," reminded her of the president. Legal experts say the lyrics get at the emotional bond between the president and Lewinsky -- an intimate relationship Clinton once denied.

Starr does not stop there, reproducing every song on the CD, not to mention a head shot of the singer herself. "The independent counsel is being very careful so no one could say he is selectively editing data about these songs," said Lash. "Maybe another cut on the CD is, 'I'm imagining having affairs with married men.' You don't know what could be relevant."

While the independent counsel stopped short of including details about the instrumental cut on the McLachlan CD, some legal experts would not have put doing so past him. Such additions to the evidence left them perplexed about Starr's thinking in assembling the evidence.

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