April 2, 1998
The Paula Jones case has been dismissed now leaving the focus on the Starr investigation. After a background report, Margaret Warner gets an update on the Starr investigation from Washington Post correspondent, Dan Balz.
JIM LEHRER: Kenneth Starr. Yesterday's dismissal of the Paula Jones civil suit intensified the attention on the independent counsel's criminal investigation of the president. That caused him to speak at length to reporters this morning outside his home in Northern Virginia.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
KENNETH STARR: My task is to get the job done with my very able colleagues. Our job is distinct. And it's important to recognize the distinction between the civil case and the disposition of that and then whether there was in the course of that civil case, which has now been resolved--I mean, there may be appeals and the like--but the real issue is that we're examining, were there crimes committed? We hope for the sake of the nation that we would conclude that no crimes were committed.
But that's our obligation. It's not whether a particular civil complaint filed by one individual has merit or has no merit. If a case has no merit, that's why judges sit, to resolve issues and to determine what the right legal answer is. But the real question that we're examining is were crimes committed. Now, what were those crimes that we've been charged with examining?
Those crimes--and again there's a presumption of innocence that attaches to each person--but the crimes that we've been charged with investigating are subornation of perjury, intimidation of witnesses, and obstruction of justice. Those are very serious matters, and that's what we've been given--are charged to do, and we're going to continue to do that. And we're trying to do it as quickly as we can because we do recognize there is a very keen and powerful interest in bringing all these matters to resolution as quickly as possible. We're very sympathetic to that. We are seeking to gather the evidence, bring it before the grand jury.
The grand jury is sitting, as you know, at a very hectic pace. These are citizens from the District of Columbia who are working very hard. They want information. They want evidence and the like.
REPORTER: Are you still working in the draft for the Congress?
KENNETH STARR: No. We view our exercise as being--here comes a truck, so you hear the background noise--welcome to the suburbs here--we are to do a job. And that is a law job. It's not a political job. It's a job of professionals gathering facts and putting them before citizens who are serving in the grand jury and then for the grand jury to make its assessment. That's our task. That's not politics. And I think it's so important for us to know that law and the legal process--and what you saw yesterday was a legal process, not a political process--that's what courts do.
That's what grand juries do. That's not politics. That's law. But we have been reminded recently that we are all under law. Law governs, facts govern, and what we saw yesterday was a very considered judge coming to a conclusion. And now that process will go on. What I have said all along is our process is independent. We have been given a task by the attorney general of the United States and then by the special division of the U.S. Court of Appeals. Why did the attorney general give us that task? Because she came to a legal judgment based upon the facts that were at hand that there should be an investigation of whether Monica Lewinsky and others engaged in certain criminal activity in connection with a civil case.
That is our system, and my job is to do that part of the examination.
REPORTER: Just a follow-up. How unusual is it to investigate perjury in a case that didn't warrant going to trial?
KENNETH STARR: Well, I have not done research in terms of what dispositions of civil cases and so forth, but I will say this: It's very important--here comes our truck again--it is very important that the law and the legal process have complete integrity and that people be honest. That's why we put people under oath. They don't just come in and say, well, tell us whatever you think.
They said, okay, you're taking an oath. You're affirming or swearing under God that you will, so help me God, that I will tell the truth. That's awfully important. Now, that means we attach special importance to it. There's no room for white lies. There's no room for shading. There's only room forth truth. What happened? Now, what the attorney general determined, based upon the information that we had and brought promptly to her attention, was that there are allegations.
There's a presumption of innocence that all of our citizens enjoy that in a civil case--and whatever happens in that civil case--someone will eventually be a winner; someone will eventually be a loser. But in that civil case you cannot defile the temple of justice. You can't prove--and I hope it was not done--subornation of perjury, intimidation of witnesses, and obstruction of justice.
Rather, you must play by the rules. And if you don't play by those rules, if you lie under oath, if you intimidate a witness, if you seek otherwise to obstruct the process of justice, it doesn't matter who wins and who loses in a civil case. What matters from the criminal law's perspectives were crimes committed and for the sake of the nation we hope for the best, but our job is to determine whether crimes were committed.
REPORTER: How much longer do you expect this to go on?
KENNETH STARR: Well, we're moving very quickly. As I've said before, this grand jury is sitting more frequently or more regularly more days than I think any grand jury in the country. And we're very appreciative, and all of us should be appreciative, because this isn't just some prosecutor operating in a conference room. This is going on in a United States courthouse. You are there from time to time. You see witnesses coming in and coming out. And we are moving as quickly as we can.
Now, let me say, it would be very helpful if all witnesses who were summoned before the grand jury would simply answer the questions. I can't comment about specifics. We don't control the clock. It's out of our hands so frequently. But I want you to know we're doing everything that we can to move very, very quickly. And we are moving very quickly. I'm just not going to give you a specific here's the date.
JIM LEHRER: More now on the Starr investigation and to Margaret Warner.
MARGARET WARNER: For an update on the status of Kenneth Starr's probe we return to the Washington Post's newsroom and to Dan Balz, a correspondent on the Post's national staff. Dan, we just heard Ken Starr say he wants to resolve this as quickly as possible. How far along is he?
DAN BALZ, Washington Post: Well, Margaret, as you know, the two cases--the Jones case and the Starr investigation--are closely intertwined but the goals are completely different. The Jones lawyers were trying to prove sexual harassment.
What Mr. Starr is attempting to determine is, as he said, whether there are serious crimes involving perjury, subornation of perjury, intimidation of witnesses, and obstruction of justice. And to that end he has already called a succession of witnesses to the grand jury from people like Vernon Jordan, who's the president's friend and an attorney who helped Monica Lewinsky find a job, to a number of experts on White House operations, both current and former White House employees, to friends of Monica Lewinsky who she's been in touch with recently. So he has already called a lot of witnesses to take testimony, but there is still a lot to do.
MARGARET WARNER: And how many key witnesses remain to testify?
DAN BALZ: Well, you could divide them into a couple of different categories. You could say those who have already been before the grand jury but are likely to return and those significant witnesses who have not yet been before the grand jury.
Now, in the first category we would include Betty Currie, who was the president's personal secretary who testified early on, and we expect that she will probably be back; Bruce Lindsey, who is one of the president's deputy White House counsels, but, more importantly, is one of the president's oldest friends and closest advisers. He's been there before. He may well be back again. Marcia Lewis, Monica Lewinsky's mother, who has attempted to get excused from testimony but has been denied, we think she will be back, and perhaps Kathleen Wiley, who has already been before the grand jury, but may well return.
So those are several witnesses who have at least told part of their story but may be heard from again. Significantly are people who have yet to be heard from. Obviously, beginning with Monica Lewinsky, we don't know when she will appear, but she is still a if not "the" crucial witness. In addition to that, Linda Tripp, who is the woman who secretly taped recordings of conversations that she had with Monica Lewinsky. Perhaps Nathan Landow, who is a wealthy Democratic Party contributor, who has been drawn into this matter by Kathleen Wiley. And, of course, we don't know what Mr. Starr's intentions are in terms of questioning the president, whether he will question him at the White House, call him before the grand jury or what. So the list of significant witnesses who have not yet appeared is still long.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, Ken Starr also said something in the tape we ran, which is that prosecutors don't always control the clock. What is he talking about there?
DAN BALZ: Well, there are a whole series of matters when you get involved in a complicated legal proceeding like this that take time to resolve, that are not necessarily part of the direct testimony but bear on whether he will actually be able to get the testimony. There are a series of those legal arguments that are underway that will inevitably drag out this investigation. The most important, I think, obviously, is the fight over executive privilege.
The president and his team have invoked executive privilege not only involving conversations between the President and his aides but also between the First Lady and other White House officials. That is a struggle that's in its first stages. There has not been a ruling yet from Judge Johnson as to where it is heading, but no matter who wins on the first round, it will be appealed and likely would go all the way to the Supreme Court. There is a dispute over attorney/client privilege.
There was a ruling on that this week that involved Monica Lewinsky's first lawyer. He was ordered to turn over some of his materials from his conversations with Ms. Lewinsky, but his attorney said that that will certainly be appealed, and that will likely go on. In addition, there is an unresolved dispute over how much Secret Service agents may be asked to testify. We don't quite know where that stands, frankly, but we don't think that's been resolved. And, fourth, there is a matter involving several bookstores that were subpoenaed by Ken Starr recently for their records on Monica Lewinsky's book purchases. vBoth of them have said they would fight those subpoenas. And those will go on. And finally, there are the ongoing--and I guess we should say the not ongoing immunity talks between Ken Starr's office and William Ginsburg, the Lewinsky attorney, which certainly has never been resolved. There's been no ruling on that, and we don't know when that may come.
MARGARET WARNER: And all of these could go to a couple of different court levels, is that right?
DAN BALZ: Well, many of them--certainly the executive privilege case and perhaps the attorney-client privilege could go all the way to the Supreme Court. And, if they do, and if they were allowed to go all that way, it would probably drag well into next year, just given the normal timetables of the court, unless they tried to do something on an expedited basis.
MARGARET WARNER: So if Kenneth Starr wants to resolve all of this before he makes a report to Congress, what kind of time frame is likely?
DAN BALZ: Well, that's a good question and in many ways an unanswerable question. Here's a time frame that he has to think about. The Republicans in Congress have made it clear--at least informally--that if they are to do anything with this matter this year before the election, that they would like a report of some sort by mid to late May. Now, that means, given the timetable--
MARGARET WARNER: Of this year.
DAN BALZ: Pardon me.
MARGARET WARNER: Of this year.
DAN BALZ: Of this year, yes, that's right. We were talking about it six weeks away. That being the case, I think Mr. Starr will have to make a decision fairly soon as to whether he will go ahead and do a report without these other legal issues resolved, or simply try to wait and see at what point they are resolved, in which case we're talking about this thing dragging into late this year, perhaps next year.
MARGARET WARNER: But, getting some of the key witnesses depends on resolving these issues.
DAN BALZ: Well, that's true, and as Mr. Starr said today, it would be a lot easier on his part from his vantage point if everybody simply came in and answered all the questions. But that isn't the reality when you're dealing with a case that involves the President of the United States.
MARGARET WARNER: All right, Dan, thanks very much again.
DAN BALZ: Thank you, Margaret.