President Clinton vigorously denied Friday that he tried to get his personal secretary to provide misleading testimony about Monica Lewinsky’s visits to the Oval Office and accused his foes of orchestrating “unlawful” news leaks from a grand jury investigation.
At a news conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Clinton gave an unequivocal answer to a question about whether he would consider resigning rather than endure the pain of investigations: “Never.”
In a sign of the administration’s increasing anger, Clinton’s personal attorney denounced independent counsel Kenneth Starr for “a deluge of illegal leaks … of false and misleading information” that violate “the fundamental rules of fairness.”
Clinton’s attorney, David Kendall, said he would seek criminal charges against anyone in Starr’s office who may have illegally leaked secret grand jury information.
Similar complaints were lodged on Capitol Hill, where Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, called for a Justice Department investigation into possible “misconduct and abuses of power” by Starr and his team of prosecutors.
For his part, Starr responded by telling reporters in Little Rock, Ark., that he would start an internal review to determine whether confidential information has been compromised.
“If there was an act of unprofessional activity, I’m confident we will find it out,” he said. “I don’t know if there was. I take it very seriously.”
At the White House, the Clinton-Blair event provided an extraordinary spectacle as the president, flanked by his loyal British ally, fielded a barrage of questions from the press corps of each nation about the president’s current predicament.
While appearing tired, Clinton kept a calm demeanor, repeatedly maintaining that the “rules” of the investigation prevented him from saying more, even as others violated them.
From the start, Clinton seemed eager to respond to a report first published in the New York Times suggesting he sought to influence the grand jury testimony of his personal secretary, Betty Currie. At issue is whether Clinton attempted to influence Currie’s recollections about Oval Office visits by Lewinsky, the former White House intern at the center of the White House crisis.
Clinton reportedly met with Currie, who sits right outside the Oval Office, Jan. 18, the day after he gave a deposition in the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit. Clinton denied at that time having a sexual affair with Lewinsky.
Although the first question at Friday’s news conference was about his relationship with Lewinsky, Clinton seemed eager to talk about the leak involving Currie.
“Let me first of all say, once again, I never asked anybody to do anything but tell the truth,” he declared.
Clinton repeatedly cited “rules” that prohibit him from answering certain questions, such as the query about the nature of his relationship with Lewinsky.
Currie’s lawyer, Lawrence H. Wechsler, said he was “shocked and dismayed” by the leaks, adding: “I want to be absolutely clear: To the extent there is any implication or the slightest suggestion that Mrs. Currie believed that the president or anyone else, tried to influence her recollection, that is absolutely false and a mischaracterization of the facts”.
Though a witness is permitted to release that information, legal experts say that law is very strictly enforced if a prosecutor or grand juror violates it. A violation can be prosecuted as criminal contempt or obstruction of justice.
Also citing the rules in his criticism of Starr, Kendall said “the leaking of the past few weeks is intolerably unfair.” He promised to go to the U.S. District Court in Washington on Monday seeking contempt sanctions against the independent counsel’s office.
“These leaks make a mockery of the traditional rules of grand jury secrecy,” Kendall said, speaking to reporters outside the Williams and Connolly law office building where he works. He refused to take questions.
“They often appear to be a cynical attempt to pressure and manipulate witnesses, deceive the public, and smear persons involved in this investigation,” he said.
In unusually combative language, Kendall asserted that Starr’s office “is obviously out of control.”