TRACKING THE STORY
August 18, 1998
Following an historic address in which President Clinton admitted to a relationship with Monica Lewinsky that was "wrong," the White House and the nation can't stop talking about it. Washington Post reporter Dan Balz discusses the day's events.
JIM LEHRER: First the events of this day after President Clinton's speech to the nation and to Margaret Warner.
A RealAudio report from Dan Balz of The Washington Post.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, for a look at where the Starr investigation stands the day after the president's speech we turn to Dan Balz of The Washington Post's national staff. Dan, first us bring us up to date on developments today in the Starr investigation.
DAN BALZ, Washington Post: Well, the Clintons left Washington today. They left midafternoon. The President, the First Lady, and daughter Chelsea flew to Martha's Vineyard at midafternoon and arrived a little after 5 PM. Just before they left, the First Lady's office put out a statement in which they said that she had not known the truth about the relationship between the president and Monica Lewinsky until this past weekend. At the grand jury Dick Morris, who's the president's former political strategist, testified for a number of hours about what he later said were five conversations he had with the president during the first three days of the crisis back in January, and, as the News Summary indicated, our reporting confirms, Monica Lewinsky will be due back at the grand jury on Thursday.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. What does that tell you, that he's calling Monica Lewinsky back?
DAN BALZ: It appears that he wants to now go back and ask her a series of questions now that they have the president's testimony in hand to pin down some of the details about earlier testimony. And I presume this looks at the issue of whether perjury was committed on it.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Now, what can you tell us about the president's session yesterday, the private one when he testified?
DAN BALZ: From what we gather, this was a very contentious session. I think, as everybody knows, the feelings between President Clinton and Ken Starr and the White House and the Starr team are very, very bitter, and this colored, I think, the entire afternoon that they spent in the Map Room. The president testified for about four hours, but he was apparently very combative at times, contentious, difficult questioning at other times. There were a number of breaks, including one that lasted for about an hour for reasons that we still have not been able to explain. The president did not answer all the questions he was asked, and there were a number of questions that Mr. Starr was unable to put to the president because time ran out.
MARGARET WARNER: Which questions didn't he agree to answer?
DAN BALZ: We're still trying to find out more about that. The president's lawyer, David Kendall, indicated in his statement yesterday that those questions had to do with sexual matters. He described them as highly intrusive, and he indicated that the president refused to answer them because they involved personal privacy and that they were beneath the dignity of the office. We don't know whether they were merely limited to questions about sex, or whether they had to do with other areas of the investigation.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Now, what does your reporting tell you in the Post now about what the president testified to, in terms of the substance, in terms of what goes to the points that Ken Starr's really looking at?
DAN BALZ: Well, I think it's—from the president's public statement what we can tell is that he testified that he did not commit perjury; that he was, as he said last night, legally accurate in what he told the Jones deposition team last January. Now, we believe that the reason for that was this dispute over the definition of sexual relations and that the president's contention, apparently, is that that definition did not cover whatever behavior and Ms. Lewinsky were involved in. In addition to that, he was very emphatic in his public statement last night that he told the grand jury that he had never asked anybody to lie; that he had never asked anybody to hide or destroy evidence; or that he had ever asked anybody to do anything illegal. Those go to the other main lines of the investigation having to do with obstruction of justice and the subornation of perjury.
MARGARET WARNER: What are Ken Starr's options now, or after Monica Lewinsky returns, if he's not satisfied with the president's testimony either because he didn't get all the answers he wanted, or because there are still discrepancies?
DAN BALZ: Well, from everything we gather, he's clearly not satisfied with what they got yesterday, both because time ran out and because the president refused to answer some questions. His options are first of all to decide whether to subpoena the president to compel his testimony. That's one choice. If he were to do that, that would set off a long legal battle. But he might decide to do that. The other would be simply to take all of the evidence that he is able to accumulate based on what they got from the president and from Ms. Lewinsky and from other witnesses, and submit it to Congress and show whatever contradictions exist and let others sort it out.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. And now that the president finally has testified, what can you say about the timetable of this Starr report? What do we know?
DAN BALZ: Well, what we do know is that they've been working on it for quite a long while and that actually a lot of portions of it have been written. But they had to wait until they got the president's testimony in order to reshape the report and finalize it. We don't know how much more they have to do. They had been shooting to try to send it to Congress sometime in early September. We don't know whether that timetable has been altered by the events of yesterday, but I think they do want to get it up to the Hill as quickly as they possibly can.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, we haven't heard much. Though there was some congressional reaction today, there hasn't been too much from people who work at the White House. What's your reporting telling you about the after day reaction inside the White House?
DAN BALZ: Well, there are a couple of things to report on that. One is that there is still some discussion inside the administration about whether the president's speech was exactly right in tone and substance. There was a debate that went on within the White House over the past several days, and particularly yesterday, about what that speech should say. I mean, if you look at the White House as a series of different groups with certain interests, there are the political people who have some interest. They wanted a very contrite speech. There are the lawyers who were reluctant to have the president say certain things in a public statement, while he's in the middle of an ongoing criminal investigation. And then there are some of the people—and these are overlapping groups, if you will,--who are real hard-liners about Ken Starr and the independent counsel's office, who wanted to make sure that statement included something tough aimed at Mr. Starr. In the end it appears that those who wanted that part of the statement to be strong won out over some of the political people who wanted more on contrition and less pointing at Ken Starr.
MARGARET WARNER: Who would you put in that last group?
DAN BALZ: Well, among the people that we're told are in that group are people who are quite close to the president and Mrs. Clinton. Sidney Blumenthal is one; David Kendall is another, because he's battled Ken Starr for so many years. What we're gathering from our reporting is that the final statement very much reflected the president's views and we believe the First Lady's views.
MARGARET WARNER: And have people at the White House agreed, at least, on a common public strategy.
DAN BALZ: Well, they do have a common public strategy. And that is very much what you heard last night from the president, which is to push in the direction, finishing the Starr investigation as quickly as they can. They know that the public is very tired of this investigation, and they're doing everything they can to play to that sentiment, but like a lot of people on Capitol Hill, they're very much watching the polls. If there is any movement in these polls, you may see a different strategy coming out of the White House.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Well, thank you very much, Dan.
DAN BALZ: Thank you, Margaret.
MARGARET WARNER: Once again.