White House Stands By Commitment To Testify Completely
House Republicans alarmed that Starr report could focus on sex
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Aug. 12) -- The White House is discounting speculation that the president might refuse to answer certain personal questions involving his sex life when he testifies Monday for the Monica Lewinsky grand jury.
For the second time this week, the White House is publicly rejecting controversial advice from outside supporters about Bill Clinton's grand jury appearance.
This time those supporters have urged the president to sidestep graphic and humiliating questions about his relationship with Lewinsky.
But last month the president's pledged to testify "completely and truthfully."
Deputy Press Secretary Joe Lockhart says the president stands by that commitment.
"The statement, I think, is pretty straightforward, that he will testify completely and truthfully; he told you that," Lockhart said.
The argument being made against fully answering those questions is that they are degrading and could lead the president into what's called a perjury trap.
If the president refuses to answer certain questions, there could be a legal and political uproar.
"At this point there's nothing Ken Starr can do to force him to answer a question. Now if he refuses to answer a question Mr. Starr could bring the subpoena against him again, subpoena him and then force him to answer the questions, but that would take another course of legal proceedings," says David Strauss.
Earlier this week, the White House also rejected outside advice that the president find an excuse to delay his testimony.
Sources familiar with the arrangements worked out between Starr and the president's private attorney, David Kendall, say the testimony will begin Monday morning and could last six to eight hours.
In preparation, Kendall spent 4 1/2 hours Tuesday screening the videotape of the president's Jan. 17 deposition in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case. At that time President Clinton denied under oath that he had a sexual relationship with Lewinsky.
Several presidential advisers also say they fear they won't know before Clinton testifies if Lewinsky's dark blue dress contains any physical evidence of a sexual relationship.
The dress is still in the hands of the FBI. Clinton's aides fear the worst. They say they already assume that what Lewinsky alleged about the dress during her grand jury testimony could turn out true. That is a reality Clinton has to deal with as he prepares for his own testimony and why some supporters say he should be ready not to answer certain questions.
Meanwhile, some members of the House Republican leadership reacted with alarm Wednesday to indications that any report to Congress by Starr would focus exclusively or almost exclusively on the sex-and-perjury allegations at the center of the Lewinsky controversy.
One of the sources, an influential senior leadership aide, said it was "99 percent certain" that the House would take only initial steps this year toward a congressional inquiry, even if Starr's report contained significant evidence of wrongdoing.
Noting that Congress is due to be in session for less than two months after returning from an August recess, the source said that "barring cut-and-dry evidence, which no one thinks he has," any major steps would have to wait until next year.
This source said that if Starr submitted a report this year, the House would need to pass a resolution appointing a select, bipartisan group of lawmakers to accept the report and review it. House Speaker Newt Gingrich has already told colleagues Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde would lead any such effort.
Rep. Henry Hyde
A Democratic leadership source, meanwhile, told CNN the new Democratic staff hired in case there is an impeachment inquiry or other hearings on a Starr report was beginning research into impeachment precedents and the history of congressional investigations of the executive branch.
Both of the Republican sources said that if the evidence is inconclusive, a Starr report focusing just on the Lewinsky investigation could damage Starr's standing among Republicans.
Echoing this, a top outside adviser to Gingrich told CNN, "We give him the benefit of the doubt because of his history as a credible guy. But to say there would be no hard feelings if he dumped a lot of questions and few answers on us would be an understatement."
The adviser said the speaker was in no rush to deal with a Starr report. "We have yet to answer the question: What is and what isn't impeachable," the adviser said. "The American people will be closely watching how we handle this and there will be consequences if we blow it. To try to do it quickly would be a terrible mistake."
Before Congress broke for its August recess, Gingrich told GOP lawmakers "to just listen when this issue comes up. Don't say anything reckless," the advisor said.
A source close to the investigation told CNN Sunday that if Starr submits a report to Congress this year, "it will be a tightly packaged case, not a list of suspicions."
This source said the report was unlikely to get into considerable detail about the Whitewater and other non-Lewinsky aspects of the four-year old Starr investigation because the threshold for reporting to Congress was evidence of possible impeachable offenses.
The three GOP sources said that as of Wednesday, there had been no contact between Hyde's office or committee and Starr about the timing of any report from the independent counsel. Said one of them, "So a lot of our anxiety about what he is up to is based on media accounts, which may or may not give a fair representation of what Starr has."
CNN's Wolf Blitzer and John King contributed to this report.