Clinton sends replies to Hill President provides 24 pages of answers to panel's 81 queries

No new ground broken

Judiciary committee drafting articles of impeachment

November 28, 1998|By Paul West | Paul West,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Responding to 81 questions from the congressional impeachment committee, President Clinton has again denied that he lied under oath when he testified about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

The president's written responses were sent yesterday to Rep. Henry J. Hyde, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, whose staff is preparing possible articles of impeachment against Clinton. The articles could include charges of perjury, obstruction of justice and abuse of power.

The full House may vote on the matter as early as the middle of next month.

In a statement, Clinton said he hoped that his answers "will contribute to a speedy and fair resolution of this matter." But there was little fresh information, and outright evasion on several points, in the 24-page response released yesterday afternoon by the White House.

Many of the written answers simply repeat the statements he gave in the now-settled Paula Corbin Jones sexual misconduct lawsuit in January and again before a federal grand jury in August. Clinton's critics, including independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, have accused him of lying under oath in both those appearances.

As in earlier testimony, Clinton repeatedly answers that he cannot recall such facts as what he told his secretary, Betty Currie, when he summoned her to the White House on the day after he gave a deposition in the Jones case and appeared to have been coaching her about the Lewinsky matter.

"I do not remember exactly what I said," Clinton responded, when asked to "admit or deny" that he led Currie through a series of statements that seemed designed to help him conceal the Lewinsky relationship.

Hyde said three weeks ago, at the time he submitted the questions, that the Judiciary Committee was hoping to speed the impeachment inquiry by having Clinton agree to certain facts.

In preparing the response, Clinton and his lawyers walked a fine line. They had to avoid saying anything which might irritate the general public, which wants the issue resolved and clearly favors keeping him in office -- but which also believes he deserves some form of punishment for misleading the country.

At the same time, Clinton had to be careful not to make any new admission that might increase the likelihood that charges would be brought against him, either by the House of Representatives or after he leaves office.

'Conduct was wrong'

In his response to Hyde, Clinton tried to straddle that line, as he has before. Reiterating that "my conduct was wrong," Clinton said he had also been "wrong to mislead people about what happened, and I deeply regret that."

"For me, this long ago ceased to be primarily a legal or political issue and became instead a painful personal one, demanding atonement and daily work toward reconciliation and restoration of trust with my family, my friends, my administration and the American people."

Clinton confirmed that his friend Harry Thomason, a Hollywood producer, had encouraged him to "state my denial forcefully" after the Lewinsky story broke. And, the president admitted, he "misled people about the relationship" when he stated that he "did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky."

But in answer to specific questions about the statements made under oath, he firmly refused to admit having given false and misleading testimony. Instead, he stuck to the narrow, often legalistic, responses that he has given on other occasions.

The president defended his testimony in the Jones case, when, in response to the question, "Has Monica Lewinsky ever given you any gifts?" he responded, "Once or twice."

"My testimony was not false and misleading," said Clinton, who recalled at the Jan. 17 deposition receiving "a book or two" and a tie from her. "At the time, those were the gifts I recalled."

Unable to recall

Asked by Hyde about 13 specific gifts to Lewinsky, including an Annie Lennox compact disc and some Davidoff cigars, Clinton said he did not remember giving most of them, "although I might have."

In response to many of the questions, Clinton often said he could not recall the details of conversations that he had with Lewinsky.

He did say, as he has before, that he never asked or encouraged Lewinsky to lie "as Ms. Lewinsky herself has confirmed." Clinton's lawyers and his defenders in Congress have repeatedly accused Starr of downplaying Lewinsky's statement that the president never asked her to lie -- a claim that could help defend Clinton if obstruction of justice charges are brought against him.

Clinton's lawyers, in a letter accompanying the president's submission, said they planned to give the Judiciary Committee a further memorandum "in the near future" defending Clinton against possible charges of perjury, suborning perjury, witness tampering, obstruction of justice and abuse of power.

David E. Kendall, the president's private lawyer, said Clinton had responded in "good faith" to the House inquiry.

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