WHAT IS PERJURY?
September 14, 1998
Margaret Warner is joined by former Assistant U.S. Attorney Bruce Yannett and former U.S. Attroney Joseph diGenova to discuss what constitutes perjury.
MARGARET WARNER: Of the 11 possible grounds for impeachment outlined in independent counsel Kenneth Starr's referral to the House of Representatives, five involve allegations of perjury. Four stem from the President's January 17th deposition in the Paula Jones sexual harassment suit. The fifth stems from his August 17th testimony to Starr's grand jury. In his Jones' deposition, Starr noted, the President flatly denied that he'd had a sexual relationship, a sexual affair, or sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky.
As Starr sees it, the President was relying primarily on a semantic defense. The President, Starr said, argues that the terms used in the Jones deposition to cover sexual activity did not cover the sexual activity in which he engaged with Ms. Lewinsky. For his other false statement, Starr said, the President's response is factual. Namely, he disputes Ms. Lewinsky's account that he ever touched her in an intimate way. Starr concludes the President's denials - semantic and factual -- do not withstand scrutiny.
The President's private attorney, David Kendall, took issue with Starr on the perjury question in a rebuttal issued Saturday. "Literally true statements cannot be the basis for a perjury prosecution, even if the witness intends to mislead the questioner," Kendall wrote. "Likewise, answers to inherently ambiguous questions cannot constitute perjury, and what's more," he said, "Normally, a perjury prosecution may not rest on the testimony of a single witness." Starr charges that the President compounded his perjury before the grand jury.
While the President admitted an inappropriate intimate relationship with Lewinsky, Starr said, he also maintained that he believed his various statements in the Jones case to be legally accurate on the same semantic and factual grounds. "President Clinton's definition of sexual activity is not credible," Starr wrote. "Under any rational view of the evidence, the President lied to the grand jury."
The other three perjury allegations involve deposition testimony in which the President gave vague answers but not outright denials, like this exchange on whether he recalled being alone with Monica Lewinsky. "Question: So I understand your testimony is that it was possible then that you were alone with her, but you have no specific recollection of that ever happening?" "Answer: Yes, that is correct. It's possible that she, I, while she was working there, brought something to me and at the time she brought it to me, she was the only person there. That's possible." Starr noted that the President admitted to the grand jury that he had been alone with Ms. Lewinsky, adding, "It is not credible that he actually had no memory of this fact six months earlier, particularly given that they were obviously alone when engaged in sexual activity."
Yesterday on ABC's This Week, Kendall once again vigorously disputed the allegations of perjury in all these instances.
DAVID KENDALL: The Jones' deposition testimony is a mess. The President did not perjure himself there.