November 19, 1998
Jim Lehrer talks with Margaret Warner, journalist/author Elizabeth Drew and National Journal columnist Stuart Taylor about Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr's prepared statetment.
JIM LEHRER: Good afternoon from Washington. I'm Jim Lehrer. And we're back with our special PBS NewsHour coverage of Kenneth Starr's testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. Stuart Taylor of the National Journal and Newsweek Magazines and author/journalist Elizabeth Drew are back to offer their commentary. The NewsHour's chief Washington correspondent, Margaret Warner, is here to assist me in keeping the story line going, among other things.
The commitee lawyers.
JIM LEHRER: Margaret, the first order of business now, when they reconvene, the two counsels are going to cross-examine Starr. Tell us about these two men.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, David Schippers, the Republican counsel, actually is a lifelong Democrat, but he's a 68-year-old former prosecutor. He's spent a lifetime as a prosecutor in Chicago, and he really brings the prosecutor's approach to this. When he laid out the case for the Republicans back before they voted for the impeachment inquiry, he said that he believes very much, as Henry Hyde does, that lying under oath is not only an impeachable offense, but it really attacks the very foundation of our rule of law. And he made that very clear.
Abby Lowell is 20 years younger, 48. He's a lawyer, of course, but he's had a much more sort of inside Washington practice. He's defended a number of -
JIM LEHRER: There he is there. There he is now on camera, right?
MARGARET WARNER: Yes. In fact, he's spent some time on camera too doing court commentary on television, but he has also defended individuals such as Jim Wright, who have been under fire for ethics violations, or alleged violations. He made clear in his comments two months ago that as far as he was concerned, or as far as the committee was - as far as the committee Democrats were concerned - having an improper relationship and lying about it was not an impeachable offense.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Now, just lay out what the day - what the rest of the day is supposed to hold. After Lowell and Schippers have done their thing, then all 35 of the other members - because Congressman Hyde and the chairman and the ranking minority member Congressman Conyers have already had their time, so the other 35 members each get five minutes to question Starr and then David Kendall, the President's lawyer, is supposed to have a loose gavel - 30 minutes, right?
MARGARET WARNER: That's right.
JIM LEHRER: Before we go.
MARGARET WARNER: So the Schippers and Lowell presentations will be our first chance at what is the strategy of each side.
|The Democrats' strategy.|
JIM LEHRER: Yes. Now, Elizabeth, the strategy of each side, the Democrats, the members-not the counsel because we haven't heard from them yet, but John Conyers came on very strong, accused Starr of all kinds of things, and clearly there were - and there were other attempts early on to make - to cast this as a partisan exercise. Is that where they're going with this, the Democrats?
ELIZABETH DREW: Yes. Well, one of the specialties of the Democrats in the White House against investigations conducted by the majority Republicans in the Congress is to cry unfair, partisan at every turn. And they did this quite a bit and I think with some success, for example, in the Thompson hearings on campaign finance reform. They kept saying -
JIM LEHRER: That was in the Senate, right.
ELIZABETH DREW: Unfair, partisan, partisan, and pretty soon, you know, the people on television were saying, well, another round of partisan squabbling, and everybody forgot what the issue was, and I think you saw some of that this morning, and in the - in asking for the time - and I think some extra time for the President -
JIM LEHRER: Let's tell people that just tuned in what we're talking about here. They granted the President's lawyer 30 minutes.
ELIZABETH DREW: Right.
JIM LEHRER: The first order of business when they opened this morning was Congressman Delahunt, a Democrat, asked for two hours.
ELIZABETH DREW: Right.
JIM LEHRER: There was a - for the President - and then there was a big argument about it on the grounds that there should be no restrictions, et cetera.
ELIZABETH DREW: And actually some Democrats thought that Hyde, who likes to appear lenient and to be leaning over, would give the President's counsel more time; he didn't. In the end, the Democrats and some people in the White House, as you would put it, would rather have the issue. It's just as fine with them that they could say this was unfair. That is their strategy.
JIM LEHRER: And that strategy is based on - that goes either way, right? I mean, they can even have a good result, but it would still be an unfair process? Are they taking a risk, do you think, Stuart?
STUART TAYLOR: Well, I think they see it as this politically smart course. I think the interesting thing to watch in the Democratic side's questioning will be how much of their attack on Starr goes to what the President did. Will any of it go to what the President did? We're complaining about this unfair process. Are there any facts Starr alleges that they think are so procedurally unfair that the contest? Is there any evidence the Democrats will cite this - and say, well, Mr. Starr, you said he lied and this or that thing, but, in fact, he told the truth, or will it simply be attack, attack, attack? There was one of the newspapers this morning quoted a Democratic aide as saying the Democratic strategy was - and I think this is a quote - full committee meltdown. Let's make it a partisan brawl so nobody pays any attention to what the President did. And I think what Sen. Baker said about Nixon could be translated here. I think the real -
JIM LEHRER: Sen. Howard Baker of Tennessee, who was the vice chairman of the Watergate -
STUART TAYLOR: Yes. If I could take a little liberties with - it would be what did the President do and when did the President do it - why did the President do it? That's what I think you'll find the Democrats don't want to talk about. They want to talk about whether Starr misbehaved in various ways.
JIM LEHRER: And so - and the Republican strategy, on the other hand, will be to talk about what did the President do and when did he do it on perjury and obstruction of justice, right?
ELIZABETH DREW: Absolutely. Because as of now, the majority of them are planning on voting out at least one or maybe more articles of impeachment, so they're going to try to fortify those.
JIM LEHRER: Sure. I just want to tell the viewers the obvious, which is that's Congressman Henry Hyde, the chairman, chairman from Illinois. He's come back into the room, which means that we may be getting started here again pretty soon. It was only about a thirty-five/forty minute break. That's David Schippers, the man in the beard, to Congressman Hyde's right. Congressman Hyde is now obstructed. Yes, go ahead. Sorry.
ELIZABETH DREW: Well, to the extent that the Republicans can restore or support Kenneth Starr's reputation and his argument, which is one of the reasons - a stated reason to me why he's there - they then will feel that they have more legitimacy and validity behind the articles of impeachment that they are now planning to vote out of the committee, one or several.
JIM LEHRER: So they have to - their strategy is the people have to believe Kenneth Starr, or they don't have a case, is that what it boils down to? If Starr doesn't have credibility, then their case doesn't have credibility, the case for impeachment?
STUART TAYLOR: I think it's more a matter that people have to sort of sympathize with the enterprise. In other words, I don't think anyone is asking anyone to rely on Kenneth Starr's credibility. You know, the President has every opportunity to come forward and attack Starr's evidence. I think the Republicans realizing that Starr's evidence, all of which has been public for a long time or most of it, has not yet swayed public opinion. I think they are hoping -and this is being done largely for the benefit of the cameras and for the folks watching out there - they are hoping that somehow the public will see the validity of the Starr allegations in a way they haven't seen them before by having them detailed on television. We'll see whether that happens.
|Any new information?|
JIM LEHRER: Margaret, just as a practical, factual matter, in going through the 58 pages of testimony this morning and the two hours that it took, did you hear any new information that Kenneth Starr brought to the table on any of these?
MARGARET WARNER: I didn't hear any new information in the Monica Lewinsky matter. He did, as we all discussed earlier, bring up Whitewater and Travelgate and Filegate and dispense with those. I did hear new emphasis, though, and he put a lot of emphasis on the Paula Jones case -- in trying to take on the President's argument that this was private, he was trying to say and point out that the Monica Lewinsky relationship and efforts to hide it were not just private because they went to the heart of Paula Jones's rights as a sexual harassment plaintiff. And I hadn't felt - seen that thread as strong in his referral.
JIM LEHRER: And that goes to the heart of whether or not an impeachable offense or at least in a judgment about an impeachable offense has been - has been committed, right?
ELIZABETH DREW: Well, most of the - even the Republicans feel that their strongest point on impeachable offense would be lying under oath before the federal grand jury in August, more so than in the Paula Jones civil trial. Now, it's interesting, Mr. Schippers - you see - changed the crime or alleged crime from what Judge Starr has said. Judge Starr had talked about perjury. And Schippers moved this down a notch or two by calling it lying under oath, which has a lesser requirement of proof of various aspects about it. It's also interesting that Mr. Starr has -
JIM LEHRER: It's a lesser crime, though, isn't it?
ELIZABETH DREW: Well -
JIM LEHRER: Maybe.
ELIZABETH DREW: The burden of proof is less.
JIM LEHRER: Sure. Got you.
ELIZABETH DREW: Mr. Starr, had, I think, 11 charges. Mr. Schippers - when he and Mr. Lowell laid out their cases in the fall - had 15. And actually the chairman has now boiled this down to three areas: perjury, obstruction of justice, and leading a witness. And what the Republicans want to do is go beyond the Monica Lewinsky case. That's why they're trying to get other witnesses in it, so that even though they say it's not based on sex, it's based on lying under oath, they'd kind of like to have something else.
JIM LEHRER: Something else. Well, Stuart, if they were depending on Kenneth Starr to give them something else, he didn't really give them anything else this morning by cutting - say, hey - he spent a lot of time on Whitewater and yet in the final analysis he said we chose not to bring a referral, which means the possibility of an impeachable offense, said the President wasn't involved in Filegate, the President wasn't involved in Travelgate.
STUART TAYLOR: That's true. And I think Filegate is over and Travelgate is over, as far as this is concerned. Madison Guaranty Savings & Loan, S&L fraud, Webster Hubbell, Susan McDougal, he - through this - and the way I read it - is (a) well, here's what's happened, and this was a serious investigation and we weren't just throwing taxpayers' money away. But also, there are investigative leads here. Will the Congress, will the House want to call Susan McDougal as a witness and say okay, you wouldn't talk to Starr, will you talk to us?
|A look ahead at other possible witnesses.|
JIM LEHRER: Speaking of Mr. Starr, he has now re-entered the hearing room. We should be going in a moment. Stuart, there's another question I wanted to ask you - that kind of leapt out - maybe it's my own lack of knowledge here - but, in Starr's testimony this morning, he made a - it seemed to go out of his way to make a distinction. He said that you can - that the charges brought against the President - I don't have it right in front of me - the charges brought against the President - the first avenue is to the House of Representatives, but he seemed to be saying he could also be prosecuted, that is, that the founders or somebody contemplated that. Did you read that the same - did you read that in any kind of threat way?
STUART TAYLOR: I wouldn't read it as a threat. I think his intent in saying it, which you have to sort of infer, is to tell Congress that those who have said - and a lot of Democrats and Democratic witnesses have said, well, he can always be prosecuted after he leaves office, therefore, we don't have to impeach him to vindicate the rule of law. I think he's saying to them, you know, you don't get off the hook so easily on your responsibilities; the Constitution doesn't say impeach or prosecute; it says impeach and then maybe prosecute. The fact is that he could be prosecuted after he leaves office, unless he's pardoned. And, in fact, a great number of Democrats have said that. They have been making the point - not Republicans - as a way of trying to say we're not putting them above the law by saying don't impeach him.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Henry Hyde is - Chairman Hyde is about to get this thing going again. To repeat, there will be the cross-examinations by the majority counsel and then minority counsel or actually the order has been confused. I don't know who's going to - one says Schippers will go first. He's the majority counsel, and the other one says Lowell will go first. We'll find out here in a moment. And then the thirty-five other members will have five minutes each to ask questions and then the President's lawyer, David Kendall, has a loose thirty minutes, and we'll see what time it is at that point as to whether or not they go on tonight or whether they come back in the morning. Yes, Margaret.
MARGARET WARNER: Just one additional information - one reason the counsels are going before the committee members, which is actually a little unusual, is that the Democrats very much wanted that; they wanted at least before the evening news shows started to put together their broadcasts, that you would have a sort of coherent line of questioning from their Democratic counsel.
JIM LEHRER: I confused things. It's Lowell, the - Abby Lowell, the Democratic counsel, is the one who's going to go first. Congressman Hyde just confirmed that to somebody. So anyhow, yes, that was part of an agreement that they made with Conyers and with Barney Frank, two of the leading - the minority -- leading minority members of the committee, that the Democrats wanted the next voice after - after Kenneth Starr to be a Democratic voice.
ELIZABETH DREW: Jim, there's one other factor in the Republican strategy. It is that not only did they want non-sex cases or instances but they also wanted - they were sensitive to the charge that they were simply relying on Kenneth Starr and weren't conducting any of their own investigation, and that's part of what gave rise to all these more than rumors about other people, other witnesses, some of the Republicans want or wanted. I think Hyde has pretty much held them off with four witnesses, three of them minor, one of them Bruce Lindsey, the President's counsel, but I talked to a Republican member. He wanted to call John Huang, who's been given immunity by Starr. So it may be -
JIM LEHRER: John Huang is - you have to always identify these people. John Huang is - was a Democratic fund-raiser in 1996 and '92 and has been mentioned in campaign finance.
ELIZABETH DREW: Well, here's one you won't have to identify. They also wanted Monica Lewinsky and to talk to her about obstruction of justice, perish the thought, not about sex at all, but that she could lay out the conversations between her and the President after she'd been subpoenaed in the Paula Jones case, and they wanted Betty Currie, the President's secretary, who was in and out of various doors, in all of this. Those would be spectacular witnesses, and it looks to me like Hyde has sat on that and he just doesn't want this thing to get out of hand and go into next year.
JIM LEHRER: Is it correct to say that maybe he's saying to everybody let's take it one step at a time, let's see what happens at the end of the Starr thing before we move to decisions on other witnesses, et cetera?
MARGARET WARNER: He said that this morning. He said that very precisely.
JIM LEHRER: That gives both sides a chance to look at their cards. Where are we? How well did we - where are we at the end of Kenneth Starr's testimony?
STUART TAYLOR: I think he also has a tactical reason for saying that, because the Democrats in some ways want to have it both ways. They say get it over right away the public's tired of it, but this is an outrage, that you're not going to have more witnesses. You can't have it both ways. They're trying to have it both ways. I think Hyde is going to wait till he sees the whites of his eyes and say, you want more witnesses, you've got them. Let me just point out what an institutional oddity that everyone is just stuck with, the framers of the Constitution were very precise about how impeachment would work; the procedures are clear. They never imagined in an independent counsel; they never imagined that you would have a federal grand jury churning through all the evidence for eight months before it gets to Congress. And so now you have this odd, somewhat anti-climatic procedure where all of the prosecutorial facts are on the table-- calling witnesses like Monica Lewinsky would be redundant in a way except for they'd be cross-examined, but Starr - but her - nobody's contradicting her story anyway.
JIM LEHRER: The drama -
STUART TAYLOR: And in a way - in a way all of that might seem to be to the President's disadvantage to have this - you know - this engine of destruction, the independent counsel rolling away. It also has a lot less political legitimacy and political resonance than it would have if all this evidence had come out for the first time in hearings before the House Judiciary Committee.
JIM LEHRER: You mean - oh, come on, we've heard this before - here we go. Here we go. Congressman Hyde has gaveled the thing to order.