White House officials Friday accused independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr of a "miscarriage of justice" for his delay in clearing President Clinton of wrongdoing on Whitewater and other matters he investigated.
White House officials suggested Starr waited until impeachment proceedings were under way in the House before publicly saying he was unable to find adequate evidence of illegal activity by Clinton in the Whitewater land deal, the firing of travel office staff and the obtaining of FBI files on hundreds of individuals.
Starr announced those findings at the start of his testimony to the House Judiciary Committee Thursday, as the panel examined whether to recommend impeachment of Clinton for perjury and obstruction of justice stemming from his affair with Monica S. Lewinsky.
The Lewinsky probe was added to Starr's agenda in January. Most of his four-year, $40 million investigation focused on a Whitewater real estate venture involving Clinton and his wife in Arkansas, along with the so-called "Travelgate" and "Filegate" investigations.
"Usually these things break very little new ground," senior presidential adviser Paul Begala said in an interview. "This time there was a new development and it was that the president was exonerated."
"That's big news . . . how many stories have you seen written that he was being investigated for those things," Begala said, noting the findings were overshadowed by the impeachment hearing.
"When I went to law school they taught me that justice delayed is justice denied, and I think the president and his good name on Whitewater, travel and the file matters was denied justice," he said.
"It was a miscarriage of justice," Begala complained. "The country should have been told of his innocence on these matters a lot sooner, but at least it has come out, belatedly but finally," he said.
Meanwhile, the Republican majority on the House Judiciary Committee emerged from this week's nationally televised hearing determined to impeach Clinton for lying under oath, according to several lawmakers, despite Friday's abrupt resignation of Samuel Dash, independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's ethics adviser.
A day after Starr's marathon testimony, Judiciary Republicans pressed forward with their inquiry by issuing new subpoenas and signaled their resolve to punish the president for his conduct in the Paula Jones case when they vote on articles of impeachment in two weeks.
"I don't think (Starr) moved the American public," said Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, a member of the committee, "but the Republicans came out strengthened in their view that the president committed impeachable crimes."
Yet the momentum among the panel's GOP caucus seemed to defy both public opinion and sentiment among their colleagues outside of the committee. Even before Dash quit Friday to protest Starr's appearance on Capitol Hill as an "abuse of your office," a growing number of House Republicans were wary of evicting Clinton from office because of the Lewinsky matter. Since House Democrats are strongly against impeachment, defections by as few as a dozen Republicans could decide the outcome of a floor vote in Clinton's favor.
"Since the election, I've talked to at least 100 members. Maybe three or four have brought up the impeachment question and all of them have brought it up in the context of how quickly can we get it over with," said retiring Rep. Bill Paxon, R-Amherst. "It's the elephant in the room and everyone's ignoring it."
To White House allies, the prospect of a party-line committee vote followed by a floor vote rejecting impeachment was seen as one of the best possible outcomes. Not only would it remove the danger, according to this view, it would reinforce the impression that the inquiry was a partisan exercise, taking some of the sting out of history recording Clinton as only the third president faced with the threat of impeachment.
On the committee Friday, the focus was more short-term as Republicans expressed disgust at Democratic efforts to discredit Starr during his 12-hour appearance rather than rebut the evidence he collected to support allegations that Clinton engaged in a "pattern of obstruction" to hide his affair with Ms. Lewinsky during the Jones case and subsequent Starr investigation.
If the president's defenders do not begin offering evidence to change their minds, the GOP members warned, they will have to conclude that Clinton did in fact commit perjury in his Aug. 17 testimony before Starr's grand jury.
"I'm expecting the other side to engage the facts and they haven't," said committee member Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. "I'm just absolutely floored that we spent a whole day yesterday and not one person on their side, our side, or the president's lawyer, suggested that the meticulous work done by Ken Starr is in error."
"I'm telling you now," Graham added, "if the facts don't change, this is the most compelling case of grand jury perjury I have ever seen in my life."
Republican officials said they believe virtually all 21 GOP members of the 37-member panel will support an article of impeachment against Clinton for lying under oath to the grand jury, although there was not as visible a consensus about allegations of obstruction of justice or witness tampering and a decided lack of enthusiasm for the abuse of power charge Starr lodged.
But in the early morning hours Friday, after Starr had finally wrapped up his testimony, the committee approved subpoenas for four witnesses who were not central to the impeachment referral: Bruce R. Lindsey, the president's friend and deputy counsel; Robert S. Bennett, Clinton's private attorney in the Jones case; Daniel Gecker, Willey's attorney; and Nathan Landow, a Democratic fund-raiser who allegedly spoke with Willey about her Jones case testimony alleging a sexual advance by the president.
Unlike Starr, the witnesses will be deposed in private, starting with Gecker on Monday and Landow on Tuesday, followed by Bennett on Dec. 3 and Lindsey on Dec. 4. Hyde is still considering calling a witness to testify in public session about the importance of swearing to tell the truth, according to committee aides, and is likely to hold the first public debate on impeachment Dec. 7.