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Washington Journal: Clinton Report Overshadows Other Congressional Business

Washington, 9 September 1998 (RFE/RL) -- A full calendar awaits today's return of the U.S. House of Representatives from its summer recess but legislative issues are likely to be pushed into the background as soon as Congress receives the long-awaited special report on alleged improper behavior by President Bill Clinton.

No one knows for certain when the report by independent counsel Kenneth Starr will be presented to the Congress. However, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Mississippi) told reporters Tuesday that he expects the report to be delivered within the next two weeks.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Georgia) and Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Missouri) along with the chairman and ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, are scheduled to meet today to discuss the procedures for handling the Starr report.

White House spokesman Michael McCurry told reporters Tuesday that Clinton will meet with the leaders of the minority Democratic Party from the House today. Clinton is a Democrat. McCurry said he expects the Starr report will be discussed because, "that's certainly going to occupy some time in the next six weeks."

President Clinton's personal lawyers have asked Starr for a one-week advance look at his report to Congress so they may file their own reply.

Clinton counsel David Kendall sent a letter to Starr on Monday saying that, "elemental fairness dictates that we be allowed to respond to any `report' you send to the House simultaneously with its transmission."

Lott suggested Clinton's lawyers have made the request to stall any inquiry in Congress. He said that he "wouldn't be surprised if they go to court to try to block it."

The 100-member Senate and the 435-member House both plan to conclude the 105th session of Congress on October 9 in order to prepare for the congressional elections set for November 3. The new Congress won't be sworn in until next January.

The report by Starr has been seven months in the making. It is the result of accusations that Clinton lied while under a sworn legal oath about an adulterous affair with a former White House office assistant. The woman, Monica Lewinsky, claims that she and Clinton had a clandestine sexual relationship in the White House for 18th months starting in 1995.

Clinton denied the accusation at first, but after he gave unprecedented testimony to an investigating jury, Clinton conceded in a speech to the nation that he had what he called improper relations with Lewinsky and that he subsequently, in his term, misled people about that relationship.

Clinton could face formal criminal charges stemming from the allegation that he lied while under a legal oath. The scandal could ultimately force him from office, but no one is predicting that outcome yet.

The Starr report would be reviewed by the House Judiciary Committee. Committee Chairman Henry Hyde (R-Illinois) has said the Congress may not have enough time left in this session to evaluate the report. The committee would conduct its own investigation of the findings contained in the Starr report. The committee could throw the case out, or decide there are grounds to begin impeachment proceedings.

The impeachment hearings would be held in the House, and if the full House decides by simple majority that the president committed impeachable offenses. A trial on the charges would then follow in the Senate and a two-thirds majority would be required to remove the president from office. There is no right of appeal.

No president has ever been removed from office, although President Andrew Johnson escaped removal in 1868 by just one vote. Richard Nixon resigned in August 1974 when it became clear that the House would vote to impeach him. The House and Senate have impeached and removed a number of lesser federal officials, mostly judges, in the last 200 years.

Clinton's attorneys are concerned that Starr's report will be one-sided and include extensive conclusions and legal analysis instead of simply a listing of facts gathered in the investigation. They want to produce their own point-by-point response to any Starr document, including their own analysis of the facts. They also want to include more favorable evidence gathered by Clinton's legal team.

Support for President Clinton began to erode after his admission of infidelity, including support from within his own Democratic Party. The governor of the eastern state of Maryland, Parris Glendening, who is campaigning for re-election, canceled an October appearance with Clinton at a political fund-raising event after criticizing the president over the affair. Glendening also declined to attend an event with Clinton at a public school in Maryland on Tuesday, citing the Lewinsky matter.

Asked about Clinton's reaction, spokesman McCurry said: "The governor is entitled to his opinion." He said Clinton "probably understands the way the governor feels." Last week, Democratic Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, a longtime Clinton ally, declared on the Senate floor that the president's actions demanded a formal "public rebuke."

Some Republicans have called for Clinton's resignation, but White House spokesman Barry Toiv said Clinton is not giving that idea any thought.

McCurry also insisted that the president is not distracted by the expectation of the Starr report. Said McCurry:

"Well, the president was elected to do a job by the American people, and so was the Congress. The president is going to do that job to the best of his ability, and Congress will do its job to the best of the abilities of the individual members. Some of it will involve this matter, but some of it -- the work of our government continues and will continue to be of interest to the members and continue, obviously, to be of interest to the president."