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THE STARR REPORT

White House Strongly Rebuts Starr Report

Inquiry: Legal team calls document 'hit-and-run smear campaign,' counters allegations point by point. But key lawmakers, Democrats included, call for some punishment.

September 13, 1998|RICHARD A. SERRANO and EDWIN CHEN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — The White House, fighting to preserve the Clinton presidency, counterattacked forcefully Saturday against independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, claiming his report into the Clinton-Monica S. Lewinsky affair was a "hit-and-run smear campaign" that places politics above fairness.

The president's lawyers issued an acid-worded rebuttal that, point by point, sought to refute Starr's 11 grounds of possible impeachment. The president's advisors, after enduring the release of Starr's report Friday in all its lurid allegations of sex and perjury, now hope to convince the nation that Starr overstepped the bounds of common decency when a repentant Clinton already had asked the nation for forgiveness.

Clinton's lawyers denied that Clinton lied when he testified in a sexual harassment lawsuit filed by Paula Corbin Jones. Nor did he obstruct justice or attempt to conceal his relationship with former White House intern Lewinsky, the lawyers said.

They said Starr had far exceeded his original mandate to investigate the failed Arkansas real estate deal known as Whitewater.

But some influential members of Congress, including Democrats, acknowledged that even if the worst Clinton has done is lie and perjure himself about an extramarital affair, Congress will apply some punishment.

"I don't think they [voters] will say, 'It's OK,' and I agree," Rep. Tim Roemer (D-Ind.) said in an interview. "The range of punishment goes from censure to some type of reprimand to the possibility of encouraging the president to do the honorable thing" and resign from office.

Clinton, in his weekly radio address, acknowledged that it has been an "exhausting and difficult" week. He also strove to appear presidential, hoping to divert attention from the crisis to such issues as the continuing troubles in Russia and problems with the global economy.

Some Democrats think the latest White House attack on Starr is misguided.

"Mr. Starr would normally have been vulnerable but for the fact that Clinton's words and actions have both empowered, strengthened and given credence to Mr. Starr," said Rep. James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.).

Still, Clinton was not without his supporters.

In Hillsboro, Ore., a suburb of Portland where he was attending opening ceremonies of a new light-rail line, Vice President Al Gore told reporters that he still embraces Clinton's defense.

"I do not believe this report serves as the basis for overturning the judgment of the American people that Bill Clinton should be their president," he said.

"He has accepted responsibility for his actions. He has said he did wrong. He has asked for forgiveness. He has addressed the issues he needs to address."

In addition, Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D-N.Y.), a member of the Judiciary Committee that voted to impeach President Nixon 24 years ago, said the lurid Starr language proved prosecutors do not have a strong case.

"When you got nothing else going for you, you go for the dirt and the filth," Rangel said outside the White House after attending Clinton's radio address. "When you get down to the living rooms, you're dealing with a cheating husband that lied about it."

Clinton Ventures Out Only on the Radio

Clinton's day Saturday was short on public appearances. His radio address was the only shot he took at recognizing the crisis that is increasingly consuming his presidency.

"It's been an exhausting and difficult week in the capital--not only for me but for many others," he said. "But, as I told my Cabinet on Thursday, we cannot lose sight of our primary mission, which is to work for the American people, and especially for the future of our children."

He separately spoke for half an hour with Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin about the tumultuous situation there, and he held a foreign policy meeting with top advisors--his first such session since his vacation last month.

The legal team, led by Clinton's private attorney, David E. Kendall, said in its rebuttal Saturday: "This referral is so loaded with irrelevant and unnecessary graphic and salacious allegations that only one conclusion is possible. Its principal purpose is to damage the president."

They said Starr's piling-on of sexual descriptions was totally partisan. "They are simply part of a hit-and-run smear campaign, and their inclusion says volumes about [Starr's] tactics and objectives."

The White House's rebuttal also painstakingly goes through each of Starr's 11 counts of possible impeachment.

On the five counts of perjury, the White House lawyers denied that Clinton ever purposely lied either in his January legal deposition in the Jones civil lawsuit or his grand jury testimony on Aug. 17.

Their position remains that Clinton simply did not consider oral sex to be covered by the broad definition used when he was asked whether he had ever had sexual relations with Lewinsky.

"It is the president's good faith and reasonable interpretation that oral sex was outside the special definition of sexual relations provided to him," the rebuttal said.

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