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Clinton admits misleading testimony, avoids charges in Lewinsky probe

President's law license suspended for 5 years

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Clinton will leave office free of the prospect of criminal charges after he admitted Friday that he knowingly gave misleading testimony about his affair with Monica Lewinsky in a 1998 lawsuit.

Independent Counsel Robert Ray  

Under an agreement with Independent Counsel Robert Ray, Clinton's law license will be suspended for five years and he will pay a $25,000 fine to Arkansas bar officials. He also gave up any claim to repayment of his legal fees in the matter. In return, Ray will end the 7-year-old Whitewater probe that has shadowed most of Clinton's two terms.

"I tried to walk a fine line between acting lawfully and testifying falsely, but I now recognize that I did not fully accomplish this goal and am certain my responses to questions about Ms. Lewinsky were false," Clinton said in a written statement released Friday by the White House.

The admission, which came on the president's last full day in office, stems from the same allegations that led to Clinton's 1998 impeachment by the House of Representatives, and the later acquittal by the Senate.

In a statement minutes later, Ray said "the nation's interest has been served" by Clinton's admission.

Clinton attorney David Kendall  

"This matter is now concluded," Ray said. "May history and the American people judge that it has been concluded justly."

Clinton's statement dealt only with his sworn testimony in his January 1998 deposition in Paula Jones' sexual harassment lawsuit -- but not his testimony to the grand jury investigating whether he lied during his deposition in that case.

The agreement also closes the Arkansas disbarment proceedings pending against Clinton, who acknowledged that he violated one of the Arkansas Bar's rules of conduct. And in court papers closing the Arkansas disbarment proceedings, he admitted to conduct "prejudicial to the administration of justice."

But David Kendall, the president's personal lawyer, said Clinton's statement was not an admission that he lied or obstructed justice.

"He has from the beginning, at least from the grand jury, conceded that he tried to conceal the relationship with Ms. Lewinsky," Kendall said. "He tried to conceal that, and we have acknowledged that that was evasive and misleading. But it's not obstruction of justice. It's not intentional falsification."

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Clinton said he has had time to "reflect on the Jones case" in recent weeks, and had come to the conclusion that he had wrongly tried to evade questions about his relationship with Lewinsky, a former White House intern.

"I have apologized for my conduct and I have done my best to atone for it with my family, my administration and the American people," Clinton said. "I hope my actions today will help bring closure and finality to these matters."

'Several weeks' of talks clinched deal

Clinton is to relinquish the presidency to George W. Bush at noon Saturday. In recent weeks, Ray has said he was considering criminal charges against Clinton once he left office -- a process that Ray's predecessor, Kenneth Starr, had avoided while Clinton was in the White House.

White House Press Secretary Jake Siewert  

Clinton wanted to remove any legal cloud as he leaves office, and sources in both camps said Ray recognized the growing political consensus that his investigation should be brought to a close as a new administration takes power in Washington. However, sources told CNN that Ray's office insisted that Clinton's statement be made while he was still in office.

White House Press Secretary Jake Siewert said Clinton's lawyers have been trying to work out a deal with Ray's office and the Arkansas bar "over the past several weeks," but the agreement was formally clinched only Friday morning.

"The president is upbeat about his future; looking forward to putting this behind him and returning to life in New York and resuming his duties as a citizen of the United States," Siewert said.

Investigators insisted Clinton admit that he "knowingly" gave misleading statements. But Siewert said Clinton was not admitting he broke the law.

With Clinton leaving office, some -- including Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, the once and future Republican chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee -- have urged Bush to end the matter by pardoning Clinton once he is out of the White House.

Hyde says admission 'vindicates' impeachment

Reaction in Congress was mixed along predictable lines. Hatch said Friday that Clinton's statement showed the proceedings where justified.

"The combination of the president's acknowledgement, the significant suspension of his Arkansas law license, and the imposition of a fine demonstrate that the allegations arising out of this investigation of President Clinton's past actions were not based upon partisanship. They were based upon the facts and the law," he said.

Illinois Rep. Henry Hyde, the Republican former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee who led the prosecution in Clinton's Senate trial, said the admission "vindicates" the House impeachment effort. Hyde's Democratic counterpart, Michigan Rep. John Conyers, called the deal "a sensible accommodation" that ends "this long national farce over an extramarital affair."

The Whitewater investigation began with an inquiry into the financial affairs of Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, now the junior senator from New York. It later expanded to deal with such White House controversies as the firing of travel office workers and the handling of FBI files from background checks of previous Bush administration workers.

Starr sought to expand his investigation to include the Lewinsky matter, arguing it might have been connected to his review of other allegations of misconduct by the president and his associates. In April 1999, U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright found Clinton in civil contempt of court for his "willful failure" to obey her repeated orders to testify truthfully in the Jones case, and fined him $90,000.

Jones, a former Arkansas state employee, sued Clinton in 1994. She accused him of making a crude sexual advance in a Little Rock hotel room in 1991, while he was the state's governor.

Wright dismissed the lawsuit in April 1998, but Jones appealed the decision. Jones and Clinton settled the lawsuit in November 1998, with no admission of wrongdoing by Clinton.

CNN Senior White House Correspondent John King, National Correspondent Bob Franken and Writer Matt Smith contributed to this report.




Friday, January 19, 2001


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