July 31, 1998
Is the Independent Counsel's investigation of President Clinton coming to a dramatic close? President Clinton, for one, says he is looking forward to testifying before the grand jury. Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot and Boston Globe columnist Tom Oliphant discuss what may lie ahead for the investigation and the president.
JIM LEHRER: Now some end-of-the-week political analysis from Wall Street Journal columnist Paul Gigot and Boston Globe columnist Tom Oliphant. Mark Shields is off tonight.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
July 30, 1998:
Should the President tell the American people his side of the Monica Lewinsky story.
July 29, 1998:
The President agrees to provide videotaped testimony to Ken Starr's grand jury.
July 28, 1998:
Ken Starr makes an immunity deal with Monica Lewinsky.
July 28, 1998:
Law professor Paul Campos discusses the Lewinsky immunity deal.
July 27, 1998:
Ken Starr subpoenas the president to testify in front of his grand jury
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of the Starr Investigation.
The Washingtonpost.com's library of legal documents in the Starr investigation.
Tom, first, on what the President said today, which was, among other things, that he would have nothing more to say publicly about the Monica Lewinsky affair until after he has given his grand jury testimony. How do you read that?
TOM OLIPHANT, Boston Globe: Well, I'm sure the president's most diehard supporters would like to be then reassured that what he said in January is what he will say on August 17th, and I don't think they're going to be very happy. As near as I can pin it down, as authoritatively as possible, the only interpretation I can find is he's agreed to testify on the 17th; he's going to answer every question completely and truthfully; and can we all please wait until then? And so I know what's not being said in that kind of a comment. And some are going to say, well, that means his position is about to change. Others may say he's holding his best card until the end. But there isn't any definitive statement of reassurance tonight that the-that what the President said in January is what he will say on the 17th of August.
JIM LEHRER: You don't believe that that's what he says.
TOM OLIPHANT: The only worthwhile experience in this story is-I would take the facts one inch further than-
JIM LEHRER: Where would you take it, Paul?
PAUL GIGOT, Wall Street Journal: Well, that's news from Brother Oliphant here, if, in fact, there is some hint that the President would change his story, that would be news. But I was interested in what he said was nobody wants this-
JIM LEHRER: All right. That was the other line, right?
Will the public start to blame President Clinton for months of scandal?
PAUL GIGOT: --over more quickly than me, except maybe the American people. And I think that that's reading the polls-would suggest that so far there's a kind of national embarrassment about this whole story. And it comes through the polls, and you can hear people say I just want it over. We have to read all this stuff. I have to explain this to my kids, and for a lot of the public they've been blaming Ken Starr and us, the media. There's a danger for the President. They're beginning to blame him. And I think that's one of the reasons he felt obliged to answer the subpoena and respond, and it means there's some urgency here for him to fish or cut bait on his real story.
JIM LEHRER: Fish or cut bait on his real story-I mean, there are only three options, are there not, on the 17th and then if he does add something to that publicly, is, hey, I said I didn't do it in January, and that's still my story-well, that wasn't quite right, and I'm very sorry, and here's the reason I said what I said in January or something in-between.
TOM OLIPHANT: Well, that's it. There are no others. Though, it might-it might help to perhaps go a little beyond that. The President is in a position where he's facing a case now that is all about impeachment. And he has raised the stakes for the 17th tremendously by what he said today, I think so much so that telling-as he put it-the truth accurately, fully, completely-is essential or not telling the truth on this day might even become grounds for the Republicans on the Hill to want to move forward with impeachment. Until now I think they've made it clear to the leadership, for example, they have no interest in a sex case, as far as impeachment is concerned--perjury not really-if it's just about sex-but August the 17th now has the highest stakes you can imagine-
JIM LEHRER: Because-
TOM OLIPHANT: Because of what the President said.
JIM LEHRER: I raised my hand before a federal grand jury essentially and that opens up the possibility of a whole other set of crimes, you mean, or perjury?
TOM OLIPHANT: It's more than that. It's the president, himself, has called attention to this date. I mean, part of that statement, its importance was to raise the importance of that testimony, and so therefore that only makes the stakes about what he has to say that much higher.
August 17th: a critical date for the President.
JIM LEHRER: Meaning, would you agree with that, Paul, that if he had said today, hey, look, if he just expanded a little bit on the statement, that he would have taken the edge off the 17th?
PAUL GIGOT: I think no matter what happened, what he said-the 17th would be extremely important because a grand jury would be compounding the felony, if you will, if he lied, that is, saying it in a deposition is one thing, but if you say it again before 22 or 23 Americans, in what everybody understands as a decisive moment, you really laid it all on the table.
JIM LEHRER: Now, let's say just overall now-this has been a very busy week-we have this particular event not only today but the basic event where it was announced that he, in fact, going to do this on the 17th-there was the deal with Monica Lewinsky to get her testimony in exchange for transactional immunity, and then there's the Linda Tripp statement that she's been maligned the first time she has talked. Where are we now, Paul?
PAUL GIGOT: I think we're at a moment of decision for the President and really how he handles this-these next few weeks and this issue may determine whether he goes down in history as the Democratic Warren Harding, that is, a president defined by scandal, or whether he can get it behind him and then have some other presidency-the rest of his presidency to really do much. It's that important, it seems to me, because if he-if he can't somehow convince people that he's telling the truth here and he gets into an extended trench warfare with Ken Starr and goes on and on and there is a damaging report, I think his presidency is-in most respects-except for time-over.
TOM OLIPHANT: However, there's a flip side to what I just said a second ago about what at least I don't think I'm hearing tonight, because I am hearing some other things that issues that have been very prominent for six months have seemed to vanish into thin air this week. The White House has said for six months that no one there had anything to do with the drafting of those famous talking points, and that apparently turns out to be the case. The White House has said for six months that no one there had anything to do with any job search for Monica Lewinsky, whose purpose was to suborn her perjury and the comments relating to Vernon Jordan that we've read about that appear to me to be authentic seem to bear that out, and furthermore, they have said over and over again that the president was not making any agreement encouraging anybody to do anything but tell the truth. And that is appears to be the presentation that Ms. Lewinsky is offering to Ken Starr. So behind that is the assertion that our track record on these very important matters in this inquiry has been pretty good so far.
JIM LEHRER: And that means-
TOM OLIPHANT: Why can't you wait for 16 days?
PAUL GIGOT: Well, I think we'll all wait for 16 days. And we'll see what happens.
JIM LEHRER: What about the possibility that people were talking about today that what Kenneth Starr now will do is continue to write his report and then just tack on what the president says at the end of it but not judge it, in other words, just say here's what we gather, here's what the president says about it, the Congress of the United States, you decide?
PAUL GIGOT: I don't know enough myself about the eternal-
JIM LEHRER: You're not going to let that stand in your way, are you?
PAUL GIGOT: No, I usually don't. To say exactly how-I would say there's still the possibility of some indictments here, not necessarily the President but of other people. And I do know that the Starr report, when it comes out, is not going to be focused on merely the Lewinsky matter. It's going to be much bigger than that, and that might be even just five or 10 percent of it. So it's going to be about a lot more of the behavior of the-over the course of the presidency. This happens to be the real political linchpin of the moment, so-and there's a lot more focus on it-so it still could-the report still could do some damage to the president, quite apart from the Lewinsky case.
Tom Oliphant: "... this is fundamentally an impeachment inquiry that hasn't gotten to the Hill yet..."
TOM OLIPHANT: Yes. But I still think the basic thing that we have learned this week is that this is fundamentally an impeachment inquiry that hasn't gotten to the Hill yet and that-
JIM LEHRER: Now why do you say that?
TOM OLIPHANT: I'm not so sure as a factual matter I can agree with Paul on the basis of anything I know that there are any pending criminal matters before the grand jury, and some very big ones seem to go away this week, and-
JIM LEHRER: In other words, they're not going to indict Monica Lewinsky; they've given her-
TOM OLIPHANT: And her mother.
JIM LEHRER: And her mother-they're obviously not going to indict Linda Tripp. She's the key witness. If you're saying Vernon Jordan is off the table, then who does that-
TOM OLIPHANT: Her first lawyer-second, there's no indication that there was ever a targeting-I've never heard of anybody casting such aspersions on Betty Currie that she was considered in some jeopardy, and, again, on the talking point, there was an awful lot in our business about Bruce Lindsey's alleged role in those things and no one is making that assertion anymore either, so I don't know who it could be.
PAUL GIGOT: Look, I don't want to implicate anybody in the White House and say that there is a pending indictment because I don't know. All I'm saying is I wouldn't rule that off-put that off the table right now, because I don't know enough about the-about their thinking in this case. They're going through an awful lot of information and people and who knows who said what to the grand jury that might have been false?
JIM LEHRER: So put all that aside. Then that only leaves an impeachment process against the President of the United States.
TOM OLIPHANT: I think that's why the grand jury matter has to wind up rapidly, because the report won't be important; the evidence will be important to the Congressmen. They'll probably want see transcripts of the entire grand jury proceeding and will probably have a right to.
JIM LEHRER: They would be less interested then in what Kenneth Starr says about it.
TOM OLIPHANT: That's right. Any inference that's drawn would not really be important. What would matter would be what was said before the grand jury or is said in any subsequent hearing on the Hill.
Apologizing: a new tactic?
PAUL GIGOT: I think one of the fascinating things that's happened this week, Jim, is to watch parts of the Democratic establishment-even in the media and privately on Capitol Hill-some of the members of Congress say to the President, Mr. President, why not try the big apology press conference? Usually, it's the other side, the other team that says, Mr. President, you have to tell the truth. But these are his own allies, people who wish him well: Leon Panetta, George Stephanopolous, David Gergen, a lot of people who say, look, please, here's your moment, you've got a chance to do it, and, if you don't, I think the subtle message is that your own your own.
JIM LEHRER: Our moment's just past gentlemen. Thank you both.
|Search|Past Programs|Essays & Dialogues|Shields & Gigot|
|Letters|RealAudio|Off Camera|Forums|Home|PBS Online|