WASHINGTON -- With the Clinton presidency in growing peril, the House of Representatives will release publicly this afternoon independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's report on the Monica Lewinsky scandal, a 445-page barrage of evidence that accuses the president of abuses worthy of impeachment.
The release of a report that arrived on Capitol Hill on Wednesday will occur today despite angry complaints from Democrats that President Clinton and his lawyers have not been given a chance to review the report in advance.
Eight months after Starr launched his inquiry into Clinton's relationship with Lewinsky, the public will finally be able to judge for itself whether the independent counsel has built a persuasive case of perjury, obstruction of justice, witness tampering and abuse of power that would merit the forcible removal of a president for the first time in the nation's history.
Though Starr's report remains under lock and key in a House office building, the first indications of its contents began leaking out yesterday. According to the Associated Press, the evidence includes damaging descriptions of Clinton's contacts with two central witnesses in the case -- Lewinsky, a former White House intern, and the president's secretary, Betty Currie.
The report details what prosecutors believe was a pattern of lying by Clinton and a broad effort to sustain those lies by using government employees and resources -- from statements Clinton approved for his press secretary to issue after the Lewinsky story broke to the legal battles he let his aides fight to block access to witnesses, the AP reported, quoting anonymous sources.
The sources said the report's narrative of evidence depicts efforts by Clinton to thwart the Paula Corbin Jones lawsuit by lying in his deposition in that case and by working with Lewinsky to conceal their relationship. It also accuses the president of lying during his grand jury testimony last month, the sources said.
'To lie and lie and lie'
"The report is a straight narrative," and it alleges that "the president continued to lie and lie and lie," one source said.
Rep. Henry J. Hyde, the Illinois Republican who, as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, would lead any impeachment hearings, said he did not want to delay the release of the report.
"At this stage, we don't know what information the independent counsel has sent to the House, but given the gravity of this situation, we must act now," said Hyde. "Our first challenge is to ensure that the American people are given what is rightly theirs -- information, if any there is, that may constitute grounds for impeachment of their duly elected president."
Much of Starr's material -- including the 445 pages that make up the core of report -- will be posted on the Internet as soon as the House approves a set of rules governing its dissemination. Paper versions will be given to each of the 435 members of the House as well as to reporters.
David E. Kendall, the president's private lawyer, cautioned against jumping to any conclusions solely on the basis of the Starr report. That report, Kendall said yesterday, "is simply a collection of their contentions, claims and allegations, and we look forward to a chance to rebut them."
One day after Starr abruptly delivered his report to the House, momentum built for rapid congressional action that could eventually topple the Clinton presidency.
'A grave day for the House'
"This is a grave day for the House of Representatives," intoned Rep. Gerald B. H. Solomon of New York, the Republican chairman of the Rules Committee, which approved the rules governing the report's release today. "Today, we will do what we are compelled to do under the Constitution, not because we desire it, but because it is our duty."
The report has already overwhelmed legislative efforts that Republicans and Democrats alike had hoped would propel their fall election campaigns. Yesterday, the Democrats' sweeping campaign finance reform bill sank without a sound, as supporters fell eight votes short of the 60 needed to cut off a Republican filibuster.
On Wednesday, the Republicans tried to push through a resolution mandating deployment of a national missile defense system but fell one vote short of ending a Democratic filibuster. That tally, too, received virtually no news media attention.
With their legislative agendas in tatters, the parties' leaders tried to maintain an air of statesmanship. Speaker Newt Gingrich took to the House floor to implore members to put politics aside as they ponder the first impeachment proceedings in 25 years.
"The freedom of speech in debate in the House of Representatives should never be denied or abridged," Gingrich declared. "But freedom of speech in debate does not mean license to indulge in personal abuses or ridicule."
Yet the veneer of bipartisanship and restraint is already wearing thin. Democrats accused Republicans yesterday of treating the president unfairly, while some Republicans said some Democrats were seeking to slow the process.
House Democrats circulated an article in the Idaho Statesman in which Rep. Helen Chenoweth, who has denounced the president over the Lewinsky matter, confessed to her own long-running affair in the 1980s with a married man. It was the second revelation in as many weeks of Republican infidelity, though both Chenoweth and Rep. Dan Burton of Indiana engaged in their affairs years ago, before they were in Congress.
"As much as we like to say this is not a political process, it is," said Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Baltimore Democrat. "And in this case, the stakes are extremely high.
'It's open season'
As Rep. Albert R. Wynn stuffed a copy of the Chenoweth article in his pocket, the Prince George's County Democrat said he, too, was willing to play hardball.
"If they're going to play holier than thou and try to pull the president down, then it's open season," Wynn said.
Meanwhile, Clinton continued his emotional outreach to Congress. A day after privately apologizing to House Democratic leaders for his sexual relationship with Lewinsky, Clinton summoned Senate Democratic leaders for a similar round of breast-beating. Many congressional Democrats are worried about how the scandal will affect their party's prospects in the November elections.
"It's fair to say we all accept his apology," Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota said after the meeting. "We need to go on from here."
And Democrats appear to be responding. Some House Democrats criticized the way in which Starr delivered his report, calling it a political circus, and vowed to continue pressing for a short delay in its public release to give Clinton's legal team some time to review the independent counsel's allegations.
The president's lawyers had at first asked for 48 hours to review Starr's report. Once that request was denied by top House Republicans, Kendall and White House counsel Charles F. C. Ruff asked them for a single hour to examine the report before its public release. That request, too, was rebuffed.
Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, the Judiciary Committee's senior Democrat, complained: "The U.S. House of Representatives is not the U.S. Postal Service. We are not a delivery service for Kenneth W. Starr. We cannot release anything to anybody unless we know what we are releasing."
Conyers and dozens of other Democrats noted that Gingrich had been granted a week to respond to a scathing report by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct last year. The House reprimanded Gingrich for misuse of campaign funds and levied a $300,000 penalty.
"If I truly want to hear the facts, why not let me hear both sides at the same time?" demanded Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez, an Illinois Democrat. Gingrich "had a week, and the president doesn't get seven seconds."
But even many Democrats, unwilling to appear as if they are obstructing the process or blindly supporting the president, concede that they will vote today for the immediate release of the report. Indeed, Democratic leaders expect today's vote in favor of the release of the documents to be overwhelming.
"Everything ought to be made public as quickly as possible," said Rep. Henry A. Waxman of California, who ardently defended the president for months during Burton's campaign finance investigation. "I won't vote in any way that would slow the release."
Republicans showed no sympathy, saying an early release to the White House would only let the president's political staff spin Starr's findings in the most favorable light.
"The president will get this report the same time as everyone else does, and I don't see why that should be a problem," said Rep. Bill McCollum of Florida, a senior Republican on the House Judiciary Committee. "He should know what's in this report."
The documents reportedly will detail how Clinton summoned Currie to the Oval Office the day after he gave his sworn deposition in the Jones case last January, testimony in which he denied having had sexual relations with Lewinsky and in which ** he said Lewinsky had visited the White House frequently to see Currie.
Starr's report also points to a nighttime Oval Office meeting on July 14, 1997, between Clinton and Lewinsky as an early event in a months-long pattern of trying to derail the Jones sexual misconduct lawsuit, sources told AP. The meeting occurred as there were growing signs that Jones' lawyers were about to expand their case to other women, including Lewinsky.
The 18 boxes of evidence include transcripts of grand jury
testimony of key witnesses, Clinton's videotaped grand jury testimony and the 20 hours of tapes of Lewinsky talking to Tripp about the lurid details of her relationship with Clinton and her efforts to get Tripp to change her story in the Jones lawsuit.
NBC News reported that Starr included FBI lab findings that matched Clinton to semen found on Lewinsky's now-infamous blue dress. And USA Today quoted "a lawyer with knowledge of the report" as saying that Starr had concluded that the president obstructed justice at least in his efforts to find Lewinsky a job, but that he did not ask anyone to lie under oath.
Clinton's most ardent supporters were not impressed. The charges of abuse of power levied against President Nixon a quarter-century ago revolved around his use of federal law enforcement agents to cover up a burglary at the offices of the Democratic National Committee and the payment of thousands of dollars to Watergate burglars.
'Not a high crime'
Wynn contended that none of the revelations about Clinton's behavior in the Lewinsky matter rise to that level, or to the constitutional impeachment level of "high crimes and misdemeanors."
"None of it's impeachable material and, subject to new revelations, it's not material that should lead to resignation," the congressman said. "If you tell someone to lie, that's different, but if all you did was aggressively defend your position, that's not a high crime."
But Rep. James P. Moran Jr., a Virginia Democrat and longtime ally of the president's, hinted darkly that he was not so sure that more revelations would not come soon. And he said Clinton's fate no longer hinged on whether he could legally outmaneuver his opponents.
At 11: 30 p.m. Saturday, Rahm Emanuel, a senior White House adviser, phoned Moran to ask him to go easy on the Sunday ZTC morning talk shows and to tell him that the White House could beat Starr's charges.
Emanuel could not have enjoyed what he heard back.
"I told him I don't think it's a matter of beating charges at this point," Moran said. "It's about restoring the moral authority of the presidency."
Pub Date: 9/11/98