TOPICS > Politics

The 81 Questions

November 27, 1998 at 12:00 AM EDT


MARGARET WARNER: President Clinton was still at Camp David this afternoon when the White House released his long-awaited answers to a questionnaire from the House Judiciary Committee. The questions asked the President to admit or deny 81 finds drawn from independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s report on the President’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky. House Judiciary Chairman Henry Hyde sent the questionnaire three weeks and asked the President to respond to the questions under oath.

REP. HENRY HYDE: I’m sending a letter to the President asking him to admit or deny certain facts that appear to be established by the record now before us. No one should take these requests as establishing our final conclusions. Rather, they will simply help us to establish what facts are in dispute and what facts are not.

MARGARET WARNER: Committee staffers have begun drawing up three possible articles of impeachment against the President — on perjury, obstruction of justice and witness tampering and abuse of presidential power. Some of the 81 questions ask the President to admit to conduct that would be tantamount to admitting the truth of these potential impeachment counts. Several go to the heart of the perjury allegations, for example, like question number 20: “Do you admit or deny that you gave false and misleading testimony under oath when you stated during your deposition in the case of Jones v. Clinton on January 17, 1998, that you did not know if Monica Lewinsky had been subpoenaed to testify in that case?” One of the last questions asks the President to admit or deny that his now famous public declaration on January 26th was a lie.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: But I want to say one thing to the American people. I want you to listen to me. I’m going to say this again. I did not have sexual relations with woman, Ms. Lewinsky.

MARGARET WARNER: Two days ago Hyde sent a letter to the President saying that if the White House didn’t submit the answers by next Monday, November 30th, he’d have no choice but to subpoena them.

MARGARET WARNER: The President began his 24-page response today by stating that, “My conduct was wrong,” and “It was also wrong to mislead people about what happened.” But he didn’t give much quarter on the specific impeachment counts, for example, on a key perjury-related question that we cited earlier, whether he’d misled Paula Jones’s lawyers during his deposition by saying he didn’t know Lewinsky had been subpoenaed, the President gave the following response: “It is evident from my testimony that I did know on January 17, 1998, that Ms. Lewinsky had been subpoenaed in the Jones v. Clinton case. Ms. Jones’s lawyers’ question, ‘Did you talk to Mr. Lindsay about what action, if any, should be taken as a result of her being served with the subpoena,’ and my response, ‘No,’ reflected my understanding that Ms. Lewinsky had been subpoenaed. That testimony was not false and misleading.” Committee staffers have pointed to a different answer in the deposition that they think does show the President was trying to mislead Jones’s lawyers on that point.

On possible obstruction of justice, the committee asked several questions dealing with whether the President had encouraged Lewinsky to mislead Jones’s attorneys. For example, question number 18: “Do you admit or deny that on or about December 17, 1997, you suggested to Monica Lewinsky that the submission of an affidavit in the case of Jones v. Clinton might suffice to prevent her from having to testify personally in that case?” In his response, the President acknowledged that when Lewinsky spoke to him about her desire to avoid testifying, “I told her I believed other witnesses had executed affidavits, and there was a chance they would never have to testify.” But he went on to say, “I never asked or encouraged Mr. Lewinsky to lie in her affidavit, as Ms. Lewinsky, herself, has confirmed.” The President flatly denied other assertions that he’d suggested Lewinsky move to New York to avoid being deposed by Jones’s lawyers, for example, or that he’d suggested to her that Vernon Jordan could help her find a job in New York.

On another possible obstruction issue, the committee asked in question number 27: “Do you admit or deny that on or about December 28, 1998, you requested, instructed, suggested to, or otherwise discussed with Bettie Currie that she take possession of gifts previously given to Monica Lewinsky by you?” The President’s answer was: “I never told Ms. Currie to take possession of gifts I had given Ms. Lewinsky. I understand Ms. Currie has stated that Ms. Lewinsky called Ms. Currie to ask her to hold a box.” The President also insisted that his January 1998 conversations with Ms. Currie, his secretary, about her recollections about the relationship with Ms. Lewinsky took place before he had any knowledge that she had or might be called as a witness in any case. On another point, the President freely acknowledged lying to his aides about the relationship, saying: “I misled people about this relationship. I have repeatedly apologized for doing so.” Finally, when asked if he had misled the American public when he denied “having sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky,” the President today responded: “In referring to ‘sexual relations,’ I was referring to sexual intercourse. Answers like this misled people about this relationship, for which I have apologized.”

MARGARET WARNER: Now reaction from two members of the House Judiciary Committee, Republican Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas and Democrat Jerrold Nadler of New York. Congressman Hutchinson, your reaction to the President’s answers to your questions.

REP. ASA HUTCHINSON, (R) Arkansas: First of all, I’m glad that he answered the questions, rather than having to —

MARGARET WARNER: I’m sorry. I don’t know if our audience is hearing you. I’m not able to hear you. Just a minute. I think we’re having a little audio problem. Okay. Start again with your answer, Congressman.

REP. ASA HUTCHINSON: Well, I’m glad that he answered the questions, rather than having to have them subpoenaed. But of 81 requests to admit or deny facts, none of the 81 were admitted. You had to read through and answer to figure out what the President was saying. I think that some of it is helpful in determining what’s an issue. It’s important to note that the President has not admitted any legal wrongdoing. And that’s a responsibility of the committee to determine the facts of this case and whether there’s been any wrongdoing. And he’s insisted that he did not lie under oath in the Paula Jones deposition, nor did he lie under oath in the grand jury testimony. And so that is still a factual issue, a legal issue that we have to determine, and he has denied that wrongdoing. People think that he’s admitted wrongdoing, and he – these 81 answers makes it clear that he persists in that denial.

MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Hutchinson, staying with you for a minute, there are many questions dealing with whether he lied to the – in the Paula Jones deposition, but I didn’t actually see any questions that specifically asked him, “Did you lie, or did you mislead?” in something that took place during the grand jury testimony. Maybe I missed something, but what is it that the committee believes or believes he may have lied about in the grand jury?

REP. ASA HUTCHINSON: Well, in the grand jury testimony it would be pertaining to, if I remember the facts correctly, his explanations in the Paula Jones case, when he contacted Vernon Jordan, when he knew about the subpoena of Monica Lewinsky, some very specific questions relating to that in his grand jury testimony. The most clear allegations of perjury occurred during the civil deposition. But the grand jury testimony he reaffirms his previous testimony, and he’s asked some specific questions that he gives what is alleged to be false and misleading answers. And he persists in that denial in these answers.

MARGARET WARNER: Congressman Nadler, how do you read his answers to those questions today?

REP. JERROLD NADLER, (D) New York: Well, I think Congressman Hutchinson is quite correct. Today’s answers yield nothing new, and none of us really expected anything new. He continues to deny that he perjured himself or suborned perjury, obstructed justice, or did anything illegal. He admits misleading his aides and the American people, but he says he did nothing wrong in front of the grand jury or in his deposition in the Paula Jones case. And I agree with Congressman Hutchinson. Assuming you think that if he did perjure himself before the committee – before the grand jury, rather, that would be impeachable, and most scholars and most Democrats think that that would not be impeachable in any event. But even if you do think so, then before you can impeach him, the proof has to be brought to bear. And so far, there is no evidence whatsoever before the committee. If the Republicans want to go ahead with impeachment, they have to bring the evidence. That means the witnesses. And they have to be cross-examined. And we have to get to the bottom of it and see what the facts are.

MARGARET WARNER: So you would agree with Congressman Hutchinson then that the answers don’t close the gap between his version of events say and Kenneth Starr’s assessment of events?

REP. JERROLD NADLER: Not by one iota. Kenneth Starr’s assessment of events is a prosecutor’s assessment. It makes every inference from testimony as harshly as possible against the President. It draws conclusions. It goes on theories. It may or may not be correct, and that’s why in our system of justice ever since Magna Carta we’ve demanded that before you conclude that someone is guilty of anything, you call the witnesses. You allow the person accused to cross-examine the witnesses and to bring his own witnesses, none of which has been done before the Judiciary Committee to this date. At this point there is zero evidence in front of the committee.

MARGARET WARNER: Congressman Hutchinson, Chairman Hyde made a point in his letter sending these questions that he wanted the President to answer these under oath. Do you find his answers forthcoming? I mean, given that it’s his version of events, but did you find them forthcoming?

REP. ASA HUTCHINSON: Well, in terms of forthcoming as being helpful and being – telling the whole truth and not relying upon legalistic answers, no. I think that he maintained a previous pattern of word games, of legalistic answers. I want to come back to what Congressman Nadler said. I mean, it is important to have a factual set of hearings, and I think we’re engaged in that process. These answers are important to provide the fairness, giving the President an opportunity to make responses, to provide his version of the facts. We have – it’s very important to note that we have asked the President for any witnesses that he wishes to call, any defense that he wishes to accomplish before the committee. He will have that opportunity. We’ve asked him specifically for any witnesses. And so this is a very important part of setting the stage for the factual determination.



REP. JERROLD NADLER: I think that the – Mr. Hyde, the chairman, is being extraordinarily unfair and going about this backward. First, he brings in the prosecutor’s statement, which is not evidence. Then he asks the President in these 81 questions to prove his innocence, if possible. It is not the President’s obligation to prove his innocence. It’s the prosecution’s, if you will, duty to prove that he committed impeachable offenses. And it’s not simply a question of the President calling witnesses. The witnesses have to testify that the President said this, Monica Lewinsky said that, whatever happened, and he has to be given the opportunity to cross-examine those witnesses. None of that has happened.

MARGARET WARNER: So, Mr. Nadler, though, do you agree with Congressman Hutchinson that the President’s answers helped move you all on the committee along to the point where you can resolve the —


MARGARET WARNER: — differences?

REP. JERROLD NADLER: No, I do not. They simply reaffirm the differences that we knew. There is nothing in the President’s answers, nor did I expect anything, different from what we knew after his grand jury testimony. If the special prosecutor and Mr. Hyde and the other Republicans think that the President lied under oath, they have the duty to call the witnesses to try to prove that and then let the President cross-examine those witnesses and call his own.

MARGARET WARNER: So, Mr. Hutchinson, is that the way to proceed at this point?

REP. ASA HUTCHINSON: Well, of course, the trial is accomplished in the Senate of the United States if there’s going to be one. This is, in essence, a preliminary inquiry to see if there is sufficient evidence of an impeachable offense to move forward. And so we don’t have to call all the witnesses. The President does not have to have the opportunity to cross-examine each witness; that’s what happens in a trial. But I think it is important to put forth a factual basis. For example, there’s a conflict, clearly, in the testimony in the President’s version of what happened and in some of the other witnesses. That can be reviewed in terms of the transcript as to whether perjury took place, but we could also did it by calling some witnesses. We might have to call more witnesses in light of the President’s denial in this case. It’s important to be fair in this. We want that to happen, but we do not go back to cross-examining every witness.

REP. JERROLD NADLER: But you cannot be fair without giving the President or his attorneys the opportunity to cross-examine any witnesses that they want to cross-examine. And the fact of the matter is that in Watergate, in every previous instance, for example, every witness was called before the committee in the House, not the Senate, and the President’s attorney was given the opportunity to cross-examine them for as long as he wanted. Mr. Sinclair cross-examined John Dean, for example, for two and a half hours. And this is not simply a preliminary inquiry. It’s not the same as a grand jury. It’s a heck of a thing to subject the American people to the trauma of a four or five or six month trial of the President in front of the Senate with the chief justice presiding. And before we do that, we should resolve the factual question, so the only fair way to do that is in the traditional way that we’ve always done since Magna Carta 800 years ago, and that is that it’s the duty of the prosecution to bring in its witnesses and the defense to cross-examine and then bring in its witnesses.

MARGARET WARNER: Well, Congressman Hutchinson, where do you go from here? You have suggested calling in some of the witnesses like Betty Currie and I think even Monica Lewinsky. But I mean, is your chairman, Mr. Hyde, interested in doing that? Either way, where do you go from here?

REP. ASA HUTCHINSON: Well, there’s a number of days that are still open in this inquiry for any witnesses to be called. Clearly, if the President wants to question any witness, if his lawyers want to question any witness or cross-examine any witness, he has a right to say, “I want to question Betty Currie, I want to question this witness.” He’d give us a list of those witnesses that he wants to bring in, and he will have the opportunity to question them before the entire American public. As far as the witnesses that we call, I think that the record is there, we’re looking for his denials, any exonerating evidence that he has. We can look at the transcripts, and so I think there’s a balance here. We want to get this over with. But we want to be fair. I don’t think the President wants us to call 20 witnesses and drag this out into next January or February, so in accommodating that, we’re trying to streamline that.

REP. JERROLD NADLER: It’s not up to what the President wants to – and the committee – after wasting two months and doing nothing, except dump salacious material on the American people, is ill-heard to question the timing at this point. It’s not up to what the President wants. It’s the obligation of Mr. Hyde and company if they seek to prosecute the President and to declare him guilty of something to call the witnesses to illustrate that, to prove that. And Mr. Starr is not a witness. He witnessed nothing. He knows nothing by personal knowledge. He’s simply someone who heard witnesses and who summarized it. That’s not enough. It’s of no relevance, frankly, to the committee.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, gentlemen. Thank you very much. We have to leave it there. Thanks.