A Legal Thunderstorm Looms For Clinton
Why might an alleged affair with a White House intern become a federal case?
By Thomas H. Moore/AllPolitics
WASHINGTON (Jan. 21) -- The controversies swirling around Bill Clinton since the beginning of his presidency have become a roiling thunderstorm in the wake of allegations about an alleged sexual relationship between the president and former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
Having an affair with an intern is not a federal crime, but lying about it, or asking others to do so, is. And that's why Whitewater special prosecutor Kenneth Starr's inquiry has expanded to include it. Allegations so far involve possible perjury, suborning perjury and obstruction of justice.
The first element involves Clinton's testimony in the Paula Jones case. In his deposition last Saturday in Jones' civil-rights lawsuit against him, Clinton was reportedly asked whether he had a sexual relationship with Lewinsky; he reportedly denied it.
In a deposition also taken for the Jones case, Lewinsky has reportedly denied any affair with Clinton.
"He adamantly denies it," says the president's personal attorney, Bob Bennett, "and she under oath denies it."
Next in the mix is former White House aide Linda Tripp, who turned over to Starr taped conversations between Tripp and Lewinsky that allegedly contain Lewinsky's graphic descriptions of sexual activity between her and the president.
The tapes also allegedly contain Lewinsky's accounts of attempts by the president and presidential friend Vernon Jordan, a Washington lobbyist, to get her to lie to investigators about the matter.
If that is what the tapes contain, and if Lewinsky's accounts prove credible, they contradict Clinton and Lewinsky's sworn testimony, and could prove to be the basis of charges of perjury, suborning perjury and obstruction of justice.
Tripp, who now works in the Defense Department, worked with former deputy White House counsel Vince Foster, and knew Starr from his investigation into Foster's death.
Armed with the tapes, Starr went to Attorney General Janet Reno last week to seek permission to expand his investigation into this matter. Reno agreed with the request and took it to a three-judge panel, which approved the probe's expansion on Friday.
If Tripp was in the Pentagon when she made the tapes, her clandestine taping of the conversations is legal under Virginia law. The state's laws say only one party in a telephone conversation needs to be aware that the call is being recorded.
Clinton's potential legal headaches may go beyond the courtroom. Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said if the charges are verified, Congress could consider impeachment.
"I think the charges against the president and Mr. Jordan are just that, charges," he told CNN. Hyde said Starr's investigation will either verify the charges or "disavow" them. "If he verifies these charges," said Hyde, "impeachment might be an option."