Starr Considers 'Abuse Of Power' Allegation Against Clinton
White House says the argument won't stand up
By Bob Franken and Eileen O'Connor/CNN
WASHINGTON (Aug. 25) -- Independent Counsel Ken Starr and his staff are considering whether to include a section in Starr's report to Congress about President Bill Clinton's conduct entitled either "Abuse of Power" or "Abuse of Office," sources familiar with the investigation tell CNN.
The sources emphasize that these are merely discussions and no decision has been made. "There is no mention of abuse of power" in the criminal code, said one of the sources. The source said it must be decided whether "abuse of power" or "abuse of office" fit the definition of "high crimes" which are grounds for impeachment.
Another source tells CNN the main issue is the seven-month legal
struggle put up by the president, and particularly whether Clinton
and his lawyers "intentionally delayed or obstructed" the investigation with their various privilege claims.
"If one reviews his conduct during the investigation," the source said, it has to be decided "whether the tactics were designed to delay the investigation. Is he responsible for the seven months when he could have resolved this early on?"
While the various legal obstacles might not rise to the level of
"obstruction of justice," Starr and his staff are debating whether they are justified in spelling out an "Abuse of Power" or "Abuse of Office" section, or whether that decision should be left to Congress. Said one source, "This may be of more interest to the people on the Hill because he [Clinton] was using his office to delay the investigation."
In answer to arguments that the president and his lawyers had every right to rely on any legal claim at their disposal, a source said, "Once he made his comments last Monday, the tactics had to be analyzed in a different light."
That was an apparent reference to Clinton's admission in his Aug. 17 address to the nation that he misled people about his relationship with ex-White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
The charges under consideration are similar to language in one of the three Articles of Impeachment the House Judiciary Committee approved against President Richard Nixon in 1974. Article 2, Section 5 reads, "In disregard of the rule of law, he knowingly misused the executive power by interfering with agencies of the executive branch, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Criminal Division and the Office of Watergate Special Prosecution Force, of the Department of Justice..."
Congressional and investigative sources tell CNN that Starr is expected to submit his report to Congress sometime next month.
Meanwhile, a senior White House official said reports that Starr is considering accusing the president of abusing power by invoking government attorney-client privilege, or by the Justice Department attempting to shield Secret Service agents from testifying by invoking protective function privilege, are playing to the independent counsel's desire to "invoke images of Watergate and Nixon."
"The argument doesn't stand up," said the official, pointing out that in
his arguments fighting "protective function privilege" the independent counsel admitted the president did not give agents orders.
In fact, the official points out, the judge in the case suggested the argument would have been stronger had the president invoked the privilege.
Regarding the use of government lawyers, the official said these are
public servants doing their jobs. "If he [Starr] wants to call Chuck Ruff and his staff criminals, he better back it up." The official said Starr and his office "have to try to do something that invokes images of Watergate and Nixon and is now contradicting himself."
The White House is not commenting officially, with Deputy Press Spokesman Barry Toiv saying, "We don't comment on the hypothetical."