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Democratic conventioneers dismiss new Lewinsky grand jury

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- At a Democratic convention that has struggled to slip out of President Clinton's shadow, Thursday's news of a new grand jury probe into the Monica Lewinsky scandal -- announced on the same day Vice President Al Gore is to accept his party's presidential nomination -- provoked both howls of outrage and studied indifference.

"I think the American people are smart enough to know what this is, and they'll be more upset because it means a bunch of money again," said Sharon Manson, a delegate from Waverly, Ohio. "Forget this."


The grand jury was empaneled in July to consider criminal charges against Clinton stemming from his affair with Lewinsky, a former White House intern. Independent Counsel Robert Ray -- the successor to special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, who first probed the Lewinsky matter and recommended Clinton's impeachment -- has said he would consider bringing criminal charges against Clinton once he leaves office in January.

Ray has said repeatedly that he would make no move to indict Clinton before he leaves office. But Democrats raised questions about the timing of the news that Ray is leading a new grand jury, since it emerged the day Vice President Al Gore accepts his party's nomination to be Clinton's successor.

"The timing of it absolutely reeks, but given the past conduct and record of that office is not surprising," said Deputy White House Press Secretary Jake Siewert.

Clinton's evasive statements about his relationship with Lewinsky in a 1998 deposition led to his impeachment later that year on articles of perjury and obstruction of justice: He was acquitted by the Senate in February 1999.

"They don't want to hear about Monica Lewinsky, said Jack Quinn, Gore's chief of staff. "They don't want to hear about President Clinton and what he and she may or may not have done outside his public life. It is just irrelevant to what's going on here and that's how it should be treated."

Clinton himself won thunderous applause Monday as he addressed the Democrats' national convention for the last time as president. Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank, who fought impeachment in the House Judiciary Committee, called news of the new grand jury "outrageous" Thursday.

"What is one more grand jury going to do in this inquisition by ordeal?" Frank said. He said the timing of the news was not only suspect, "It's outrageous that it was done at all."

"The only thing I can think of is Ken Starr realized how badly he had misbehaved and how terrible his reputation was going to look. So when he recommended a successor, he tried to come up with someone who would be a bigger jerk than he was," Frank said.

By coincidence, Frank and Michigan Rep. John Conyers -- the ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee -- both spoke to the convention's early session Thursday. Neither mentioned the matter in their speeches.

Conyers said he didn't think the disclosure would have much impact on Gore's prospects in November.

Rep. Frank calls Thursday's news of a new grand jury probe into the Monica Lewinsky scandal "outrageous"  

Instead, Conyers said, Democrats should continue to focus on the Republican convention in Philadelphia, where the party softened much of its harsher rhetoric to conform with Texas Gov. George W. Bush's theme of "compassionate conservatism."

"This is not going to be critical to who's going to win the campaign," Conyers said. "This campaign is going to turn on the issues that the Republicans hid with their Trojan horse deal of Bush keeping all the people who run the Republican system out of sight and in the Trojan horse."

Frank cited the 1998 midterm elections as precedent, saying Democratic anger could translate into Democratic gains in November: When impeachment was made an issue in 1998, he said, Democrats gained seats in Congress.

"Kenneth Starr managed to help the Democrats," he said. "This is the last gasp of the right-wing crowd."

But delegate Dave Coder, a county commissioner from southwestern Pennsylvania, said he didn't think the news would have much impact.

"This is the same old stuff," he said. "No effect. I truly believe that."

White House Senior Correspondent John King contributed to this report.


Thursday, August 17, 2000

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