White House pleased with questioning of Starr
Clinton tells Japan TV he thinks his wife forgives him
By Wolf Blitzer and John King/CNN
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, November 19) -- White House officials said Thursday evening that they were very pleased by the way the questioning of Independent Counsel Ken Starr was unfolding in the House Judiciary Committee's impeachment inquiry of President Bill Clinton.
Administration officials said chief Democratic Counsel Abbe Lowell's questions were "very effective" in putting Starr on the spot. They also cited questioning by several Democratic members, especially Massachusetts Reps. Barney Frank and Marty Meehan.
In preparing for his questioning of Starr, the president's private attorney, David Kendall, brought with him boxes of documents that were available to Starr and the members for reference to specific questions.
Kendall made a brief statement then aggressively questioned Starr during his allotted 60-minute. Originally, Kendall was supposed to receive 30 minutes and be the last questioner but Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde (R-Illinois) changed the schedule -- allowing Republican Chief Counsel David Schippers to speak last.
As the historic impeachment hearings began Thursday, Clinton was thousands of miles away in Tokyo. Even so, White House officials back in Washington lashed out at Starr's morning presentation.
"It's a PG-rated version of his X-rated referral," says one presidential aide. "They scrubbed out the sex."
Clinton was briefly brought up to speed on Starr's dramatic testimony during his second day in Tokyo, administration officials tell CNN. The president was told there were no surprises and indeed a dash of good news in the prosecutor's presentation.
Officials accused Starr of an "unethical coverup" and "obstruction of justice" by failing until now to exonerate the president and first lady in the Whitewater land deal, the mishandling of FBI files, and the firing of the White House travel office.
"He should have made that public much earlier," says a White House official.
According to the officials, Clinton told senior aide Doug Sosnik that he did not watch any live coverage of Starr's testimony but did see a clip of the independent counsel while watching a newscast on CNN International.
Sosnik briefed the president for several minutes, before Clinton made clear he wanted to return to work on a major speech on the Asian economic crisis that he delivered Friday in Tokyo, the officials said.
Traveling White House officials who participated in a conference call with colleagues back in Washington said they were told the "only way the ball moved in Starr's testimony was on the exoneration front," citing Starr's account that there was no evidence of wrongdoing by the president or first lady in some aspects of his more than 4-year-old investigation.
But Clinton couldn't publicly escape the scandal overseas either, as a housewife attending a town-hall meeting Thursday in Tokyo grilled the president about his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
"I have a question about Ms. Monica Lewinsky," said one woman, who identified herself as a housewife. "How did you apologize to Mrs. Clinton and Chelsea? And you know, I feel I would never be able to forgive my husband for doing that. Did they really forgive you, Mr. President?"
Clinton replied that he apologized "in a direct and straightforward manner" and that he believed they forgave him. "I believe they did, yes."
"But that's really a question you could ask them better than me," he added.
"Let's drop that topic now," one of the town-hall meeting hosts said afterward.
Clinton, on the first leg of a five-day trip to Asia and the Pacific, had been taking questions from the audience at a town-hall meeting televised by the Tokyo Broadcasting Corp.
Lewinsky did not come up again at the forum, which was dominated by questions about economics and U.S.-Japan relations and other international issues.
CNN's Wolf Blitzer contributed to this report.
Thursday, November 19, 1998
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David Schippers' questioning of Ken Starr
David Kendall's questioning of Ken Starr
Judiciary Committee impeachment hearing 23 pages
Chairman Hyde's opening statement
Rep. Conyers' opening statement