TOPICS > Politics

Kenneth Starr Sends His Case to the House

September 9, 1998 at 12:00 AM EDT

JIM LEHRER: Kenneth Starr’s findings go to the House. We begin with some words from his spokesman, Charles Bakaly, who spoke with reporters late this afternoon at the Capitol.

CHARLES BAKALY, Spokesman, Office of Independent Counsel: Today, following the Ethics in Government Act, as required by the Ethics in Government Act, and with the authorization of the court supervising independent counsels, the Office of Independent Counsel submitted a referral to the House of Representatives containing substantial and credible information that may constitute grounds for impeachment of the President of the United States. We have just – Mr. Bitman has delivered transmittal letter to both the Speaker and to the Democratic leader of the House. The independent counsel statute requires that the independent counsel advise the House of Representatives if the independent counsel receives substantial and credible information of potential impeachable offenses. The office has fulfilled its duty under the law. Responsibility for the information that we have transmitted today and for any further action now lie with the Congress as provided for by the Constitution. Thank you.

REPORTER: What is the evidence?

REPORTER: What is the evidence? Can you sum up the general conclusion?

CHARLES BAKALY: No, we cannot. The Office of Independent Counsel is not going to make any public statement about the contents of the referral. All that information now is with the House of Representatives. And we will not be discussing it publicly.

REPORTER: But what makes it impeachable?

REPORTER: This process, which is a very public process, kind of contrasts to the months of secrecy. Can you explain this contrast.

CHARLES BAKALY: A criminal investigation under our system is conducted by the grand jury in secrecy. And that is for the protection of the people who are involved. So, by definition, a grand jury investigation has to be conducted and should be conducted in secret. And prosecutors are forbidden from talking about the evidence gained in the investigation. The Independent Counsel Statute, itself, specifically provides that the independent counsel shall advise the House of Representatives if we receive substantial and credible information of impeachable offenses. So we felt that it was concurring with that statute that we had an obligation and been counseled to provide that information directly to the speaker, as well as to the Democratic leader. And that is what we did today.

REPORTER: Impeachable on what grounds?

REPORTER: Have you provided grand jury material to the Congress?

SPOKESMAN: Don’t answer that.

CHARLES BAKALY: I’m not going to discuss what — the information has been submitted.

REPORTER: Mr. Bakaly, impeachable on what kind of grounds?

REPORTER: Can either of you, Mr. Bitman in particularly, comment on the historic day that this is, your particular feelings about the delivery of this report?


CHARLES BAKALY: No. As I have said, we have fulfilled our duty, consistent with the oath that we took of the office. We have fulfilled our duty. We have gathered the information. And now we have submitted to Congress, which is what’s provided for in the Act. And now it is with them.

REPORTER: Can you agree to that?

REPORTER: Is the work of the Office of Independent Counsel still going to continue?

CHARLES BAKALY: The Office of Independent Counsel investigation is still continuing.

REPORTER: What kind of grounds for impeachment?

REPORTER: Is it Monica Lewinsky-related alone, or does it incorporate other aspects of your investigation?

CHARLES BAKALY: We’re not going to discuss the grounds. We are still bound by the restrictions. We’re not going to discuss the information that is contained in what we referred to the House. That is —

REPORTER: Why did Mr. Starr not come up here with the documents?

CHARLES BAKALY: Mr. Starr has things he’s doing. We did the transmittal; he sent a letter. We – no significance one way or the other to draw from that.

REPORTER: When he testified —

CHARLES BAKALY: That will be up to the House.

REPORTER: For what, sir?

CHARLES BAKALY: It is in their custody and control now. It is now no longer in our custody. Thank you.

JIM LEHRER: A few minutes later at the White House the President’s lawyer David Kendall read a brief statement.

DAVID KENDALL: The President has apologized for his relationship with Ms. Lewinsky and has asked for forgiveness. People should keep in mind that the documents delivered to Congress today represent only the prosecutor’s allegations, allegations that we have been denied a chance to review. But we do know this: There is no basis for impeachment. Thank you very much.

JIM LEHRER: Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post is here now. She joins us from the Post newsroom. Ruth, what can you tell us about the process of the delivery of this report today?

RUTH MARCUS, Washington Post: Well, it was quite an extraordinary scene with the vans arriving with the boxes full of documents and the report, itself, and the folks from Starr’s office delivered it to the sergeant at arms, as you said, and then the Capitol police whisked it off to this special room that’s been set off in one of the House office buildings, the Ford House Office Building, with all of the kind of Nixon overtones that that brings to it. And it is there and sealed, and there is no procedure yet for anybody in the House to be authorized to see it until the members of Congress work out the procedures for handling this kind of ticking time bomb.

JIM LEHRER: What was the nature of the communication between Starr’s office and say the speaker’s office, or Congressman Gephardt’s office that led to this delivery today?

RUTH MARCUS, Washington Post: Well, it was a very interesting process. For months and weeks before this there had been no contact between the two offices, at least as far as we know. The sense from the House was that it was kind of inappropriate for them to call up Starr and say, hey, do you guys have something for us? But as it became clear that that moment was approaching, four staff lawyers from the House Judiciary Committee, two Democrats, two Republicans, phoned Starr’s office today, spoke to one of his deputies and said, gee, how are we going to handle the procedures? And, as I understand it, basically the next thing they knew this report was on its way, and literally the House was unprepared to get it. It’s something like kind of bracing for a hurricane and bracing for it, but the forecasters have been a little off, and when they think the storm is going to arrive, and you haven’t kind of put up the storm shutters yet.

JIM LEHRER: Yes. But I mean, they didn’t know — know it was coming?

RUTH MARCUS: They knew it was coming eventually. They did not know it was coming today.

JIM LEHRER: Is there any reporting that reflects one way or another about whether there was conversation between Kenneth Starr and either Newt Gingrich or Richard Gephardt?

RUTH MARCUS: Not as far as I know. The conversations were at a staff level. The lawyers, the staffers on the Judiciary Committee and one of the deputies to Mr. Starr, Jackie Bennett, and the communication that we do know about is that the independent counsel did transmit this letter to the speaker in which he said I am transmitting this report. And also there’s some information of a personal nature that’s contained in it, and I urge you to keep that confidential. And that’s the kind of tricky line that the House is going to have to grapple with in the next couple of days.

JIM LEHRER: This was in the letter from Starr to Gingrich.

RUTH MARCUS: That’s right.

JIM LEHRER: I see. All right, now, there were 36 boxes in addition to the report. Now, those contain — do we know what’s in those boxes?

RUTH MARCUS: Well, we think it’s basically the voluminous grand jury material, and it may be two sets of it that the prosecutors have amassed. Remember, they had weeks and months of testimony by dozens of witnesses, and presumably those are the transcripts of those sessions and other information that they’ve gathered, for example, whatever the analysis was – the famous dress that we’ve discussed for weeks now – and things like that. And, so essentially what we could reasonably expect is that the report will contain a recitation of the factual information and will point to those various transcripts that the lawyers will then be able to sift through.

JIM LEHRER: I see. Almost like footnotes?

RUTH MARCUS: Exactly. Like the appendix. You’ll get all the facts that you need in that several hundred page report. But if you want to go back and read all the context and the supporting evidence, that will be what you go to.

JIM LEHRER: So when we talk about 36 boxes, there may be, in fact, two copies of the same and maybe 18 – I mean, 18 for the Republicans and 18 for the Democrats.

RUTH MARCUS: It’s a lot of information either way.

JIM LEHRER: Either way. Now, you say several hundred pages. Do we know exactly how many pages this report is?

RUTH MARCUS: Not yet. Not yet. And, in fact, the sort of odd thing – the situation that we’re facing here is, as far as I know, nobody has actually looked at a single page of this report because there is no process in place for doing that. You couldn’t really even peek to the end to see that it says page 396.

JIM LEHRER: I got you. I got you. Now we heard what Mr. Bakaly said. Has there been anything else that’s come out around the edges? Has anybody characterized the nature of the report as being one thing or another?

RUTH MARCUS: Well, one thing we do know is that there was this dispute over the independent counsel’s authority or lack of authority, as David Kendall, the President’s lawyer, asserted to transmit this report. And while the statute does provide for him to send it, it’s not clear about whether he’s authorized to send this grand jury information. And one thing we do know is that several – a couple of months ago – unbeknownst to us – the independent counsel did go to the special three-judge court that oversees the independent counsel and ask for authority to do just what he did today, which was to send over that secret material.

JIM LEHRER: So that issue has been resolved?

RUTH MARCUS: That issue has been resolved, and, in fact, the argument that Mr. Kendall made may have had a kind of backfiring effect, because this kind of sudden arrival of the report today may, in fact, have been precipitated by the potential threat contained in his letter to the independent counsel that perhaps there would be some court action to stop him. Folks associated with the President were not ruling that out yesterday. And, in fact, the people in Starr’s office who were responsible for writing the report, basically were pulling all-nighters, like college students getting ready for exams, getting this done, a little odd after four years of this painstaking process to have it done in this kind of last-minute flurry.

JIM LEHRER: But the three-judge panel, by clearing it – clearing – allowing Kenneth Starr to deliver grand jury material, which is normally kept secret, to the Congress did not – did they also authorize it to be made public?

RUTH MARCUS: They did not do that. And I don’t think they would think it was up to them. That is really in the hands of the House, as the independent counsel said today. Basically, the 6-E rules, the rules about grand jury secrecy that we’ve heard so much shouting about over the last couple of months, apply to the people in the independent counsel’s office. Now that this material is in the House’s hands, there is nothing in the law that would prohibit them from making copies and giving them all to us, you know, in full, every box worth, tomorrow morning. It’s likely they’ll do something less than that. But there is a strong feeling on the part of folks in the House that it would be better for all concerned to make as much of this public as possible, consistent with privacy issues and perhaps some good taste issues, because they don’t want to look like — either side – like they’re covering up for the President.

JIM LEHRER: Yes. Well, we’re going to talk to some members of the House in a moment, but as you understand it, the House has the authority to release to the public the proceeds from these grand jury proceedings, is that correct?

RUTH MARCUS: That’s correct.

JIM LEHRER: Okay. Well, Ruth, thank you very much.