Starr to tell of Clinton's misconduct Today's testimony to accuse president of pattern of obstruction

Whitewater will be raised

Counsel to exonerates Clinton on FBI files, travel office firings

November 19, 1998|By Jonathan Weisman and Susan Baer | Jonathan Weisman and Susan Baer,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- In 58 pages of blistering testimony, independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr plans to lay out the widest possible range of presidential misconduct in the Monica Lewinsky matter today, arguing that President Clinton engaged in a "pattern of obstruction" that is "fundamentally inconsistent" with his "duty to faithfully execute the law."

Starr's testimony, obtained last night, will be the first order of business in the second presidential impeachment hearings of this century.

Before the House Judiciary Committee, Starr will present a case that seems at times politically devastating, at other times banal. Never does he actually call for the president's removal from office.

The independent counsel, though, leaves no doubt of his belief that the president's conduct betrayed the public trust and warranted the harshest scrutiny.

But in presenting his arguments, Starr also dismisses some of the most damaging allegations pending against the president and may thus actually undermine his own case.

For example, he exonerates Clinton of wrongdoing in the firing of the White House travel office staff and in the alleged misuse of FBI personnel files -- two matters that Republicans have long considered most threatening to Clinton.

Indeed, Starr will testify, "we found no evidence that information contained in the [FBI] files of former officials was used for an improper purpose."

And Starr will reveal that last year, he and his deputies drafted an impeachment report on the original Whitewater land deal, only to decide they lacked evidence to prove wrongdoing.

However, Starr's testimony does raise questions about not only Clinton's conduct in Whitewater but also the first lady's. It suggests that testimony from two key witnesses -- Susan McDougal and former Gov. Jim Guy Tucker of Arkansas -- could still implicate the Clintons.

In general, the prosecutor's harsh testimony resembles the conclusions in his report to Congress in September that accused Clinton of 11 impeachable offenses involving the Lewinsky affair.

Starr's testimony could further polarize the committee. And his dismissal of the matters involving Whitewater, FBI files and the -- travel office will likely turn more Republicans in the House against voting for impeachment.

But the Judiciary Committee is undeterred. The chairman, Rep. Henry J. Hyde, unveiled a new blueprint last night that would broaden the scope of the proceedings against Clinton beyond the Lewinsky matter.

More witnesses

Along with Starr, Hyde said he planned to subpoena four additional witnesses for depositions.

They are Bruce Lindsey, a deputy White House counsel and Clinton confidant; Robert S. Bennett, Clinton's attorney in the Paula Corbin Jones sexual misconduct case; Daniel Gecker, a lawyer for Kathleen Willey, who accused Clinton of making an unwanted sexual advance; and Nathan Landow, the Maryland Democratic donor who had been suspected of trying to silence Willey.

"I intend to do all I can to complete this inquiry by the end of the year," Hyde said in a statement. "At the same time, we must not look away from any evidence that relates to the core issues of this inquiry: lying under oath, obstruction of justice, witness tampering and abuse of power."

Committee members said other witnesses are likely to appear after Starr presents his case and raises new questions that would need to be answered.

Starr will pose plenty of questions -- not only about the Lewinsky matter but also about Whitewater, alleged "hush money" arranged for Webster L. Hubbell, and Hillary Rodham Clinton's conduct as a lawyer overseeing the failed Madison Guaranty Savings and Loan.

But his main case nevertheless revolves around Clinton's attempts to cover up his affair with Lewinsky.

'President chose deception'

"The key point about the president's conduct is this," Starr writes in his testimony. "On at least six different occasions, from Dec. 17, 1997, through Aug. 17, 1998, the president had to make a decision. He could choose truth, or he could choose deception. On all six occasions, the president chose deception."

In trying to conceal his affair, Starr says, Clinton "engaged in a pattern of behavior to thwart the judicial process," including lying under oath, lying to the American people and lying to his Cabinet, thus using them as "unwitting surrogates to publicly support the president's false story."

Parrying Democratic arguments that the scandal involves only a private matter, Starr will testify "that the president misused his authority and power as president and contravened his duty to faithfully execute the laws. That is not a private matter."

It is that misuse of power that Hyde now seeks to flesh out with more witnesses. He intends to question Landow and Gecker on Monday and Tuesday, with the other depositions scheduled for the following week.

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