TOPICS > Politics

Background: Gathering Storm

January 22, 1998 at 12:00 AM EDT

JIM LEHRER: And Kwame Holman begins with this report on the day’s developments in the presidential investigation story.

KWAME HOLMAN: First it was announced he would have something to say. Later it was announced he would say nothing. But finally, seeing the mob of media standing outside his Washington office late this morning, Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr decided to work his way to the bank of microphones and at least make a statement about his ever expanding investigation. Starr’s original mandate three years ago was to investigate the president’s involvement in the Whitewater land deal.

The probe expanded to the suicide of White House Counsel Vincent Foster, White House use of FBI background files, then the firing of the staff of the White House Travel Office. Then last Friday, Kenneth Starr was cleared by a judicial panel to investigate allegations President Clinton had a sexual relationship with a young White House intern–Monica Lewinsky–and may have persuaded her to commit perjury by denying the affair. But Starr had very little to say about any of that today.

KENNETH STARR: As much as I understand the questions that you have, I’m operating under h as I understand the questions that you have, I’m operating under constraints of confidentiality. It is simply inappropriate, it’s simply improper for me to be addressing questions in the course of an investigation. What I do want to assure each of you is that we are going about our work, our activity, in a very prompt manner and a professional manner.

We have very experienced people working on all aspects of our investigation. We are also very mindful that any officer carrying out the activities of the federal government must be properly within his or her jurisdiction. And we at all times satisfy ourselves through very careful analysis that we are acting properly within our jurisdiction, which is–which is

REPORTER: How could that be? How is this Whitewater?


REPORTER: How is this Whitewater?

KENNETH STARR: I can’t comment on the specifics with respect to a specific jurisdictional grant. The assurance I can–the —

REPORTER: Mr Starr, how long will this investigation last?

KENNETH STARR: The assurance I can give you is that–if I may finish this one sentence–the assurance that I can give you is that we are mindful of both the Justice Department and the Special Division’s role in determining jurisdiction, and that we are very keenly sensitive to and we have been–

REPORTER: Do you have timetable for this?

REPORTER: Mr. Starr, how long will this investigation take?

KENNETH STARR: I can’t comment, other than to say we’re moving as promptly as we can.

REPORTER: Judge Starr, Judge Starr, let me ask this: I know you can’t comment on grand jury matters, but I will ask you to comment on stories that you’re motivated by a desire to get President Clinton. Can you reassure the public?

KENNETH STARR: Our job is to gather facts and to evaluate those facts and to get at the truth. I have a very strong belief in facts and in truth, and that the facts will come out, and the truth will come out eventually, consistent with the presumption of innocence. Let’s bear in mind that each individual in our country enjoys a presumption of innocence. I think that’s very important in terms of fairness. That’s why confidentiality, which is very hard to maintain now, but we’re doing our very best to maintain confidentiality, because of individual reputations.

REPORTER: The Whitewater investigation has taken three years–

REPORTER: And may I follow up? May I follow up? The Whitewater investigation has taken —

KENNETH STARR: Go ahead. Go ahead.

REPORTER: Is that desire to be fair to get at the truth consistent with wiring somebody to get information?

KENNETH STARR: We use appropriate investigative techniques that are traditional law enforcement techniques. We conduct this investigation the way any other investigation would be conducted.

REPORTER: To what extent did you–

KENNETH STARR: I am not going to comment on any possible investigative–

REPORTER: –immunity to Monica Lewinsky?

KENNETH STARR: I can’t comment.

REPORTER: Judge Starr, Whitewater has taken three years. Do you envision it taking another three years?

KENNETH STARR: We are moving as promptly as we possibly can. I would just by way of reminder say that we have had expansions of our jurisdiction in the past, including at the request of the attorney general, to examine certain aspects of the White House Travel office matter and certain aspects of the FBI files matter. We are moving forward on each of those areas of our jurisdiction. But I cannot comment any further. I apologize for the inconvenience of all this, and I hope that you’re not too uncomfortable with this crowd.

KWAME HOLMAN: Last Friday Starr requested and received permission from a special three-judge panel to expand his investigation after he reportedly produced audio tapes alluding to the President’s alleged affair and attempts to cover it up. The reported 20 hours of tapes were recorded surreptitiously by Linda Tripp, a former White House employee, during telephone conversations with Monica Lewinsky, the White House intern. And reportedly, Tripp just last week wore a wire at Kenneth Starr’s request to record a conversation with Lewinsky. Yesterday Tripp refused to talk with reporters.

REPORTER: Why won’t you tell us about it?

LINDA TRIPP: I’m a witness–

KWAME HOLMAN: But Newsweek magazine editors who claim to have heard 90 minutes of those tapes say Lewinsky is heard clearly intimating that she had a sexual relationship with the president. But Newsweek also quotes Lewinsky as having said, “I have lied my entire life.” Newsweek says Lewinsky at times refers to the President as “the creep” and “schmucko” and and reports Lewinsky says “I’m just going to kill myself” if she has to tell the President she has revealed the affair to others. Newsweek also says Lewinsky makes at least two references to meetings with the President’s good friend, Vernon Jordan. But the magazine reports there is no hard evidence to support allegations Jordan urged Lewinsky to lie about the affair. This afternoon in Washington Vernon Jordan gave a statement to reporters but took no questions.

VERNON JORDAN: I did two things for Ms. Monica Lewinsky: I assisted her in trying to find employment in the private sector in New York City. I referred her for interviews at American Express and at Revlon, where I am privileged to serve as a director. I also referred her to Young & Rubicam, a New York advertising agency. Secondly, when she was served with the subpoena and at her request I recommended a very competent Washington lawyer, Mr. Frank Carter. I actually took her to Mr. Carter’s office, I introduced them, and I returned to my office. I want to say to you, absolutely and unequivocally that Ms. Lewinsky told me in no uncertain terms that she did not have a sexual relationship with the President. At no time did I ever say, suggest, or intimate to her that she should lie.

Throughout my professional career I have been privileged to assist people with their vocational aspirations. I have done so for two reasons: First, I stand on the shoulders of many individuals who have helped me. And second, I believe to whom much is given much is required, and so I believe in giving a helping hand. I was pleased to be helpful to Ms. Lewinsky, whose drive, ambition, and personality were impressive.

KWAME HOLMAN: Lewinsky, who has been subpoenaed to testify in the lawsuit brought against the President by Paula Jones, reportedly signed an affidavit two weeks ago denying an affair with the President. But there are reports Lewinsky will invoke her Fifth Amendment protection against self incrimination and decline to answer questions when she is deposed by Paula Jones’ lawyers. As for President Clinton, he continues to deny having had an improper relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

PRESIDENT CLINTON: Let me say first of all–I want to reiterate what I said yesterday–the allegations are false and I would never ask anybody to do anything other than tell the truth. Let’s get to the big issues there about the nature of a relationship and whether I suggested anybody not tell the truth. That is false. Now, there are a lot of other questions that are, I think, very legitimate. You have a right to ask you. You and the American people have a right to get answers.

We are working very hard to comply, get all the requests for information up here, and we will give you as many answers as we can as soon as we can at the appropriate time, consistent with our obligation to also cooperate with the investigations. And that’s not a dodge. That’s really what–I’ve talked with our people. I want to do that. I’d like for you to have more, rather than less, sooner rather than later. So we’ll work through it as quickly as we can and get all those questions out there to you.

REPORTER: Mr. President–