The US impeachment hearing

Testimony exposes elements of a political conspiracy

By Barry Grey
24 November 1998

Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr's appearance before the House Judiciary Committee last Thursday failed to revive the flagging impeachment drive.

The only new information Starr presented actually went against his insistence that the case against Clinton is not simply about sex. He reported that he had no incriminating evidence against the White House on either "Travelgate" (the firing of White House Travel Office staff) or "Filegate" (the handling of FBI files of former Republican officials). He also said his office had concluded there were no impeachable offenses arising from the Whitewater land deal.

Much of Starr's account of Clinton's supposedly criminal activity concerned the White House's use of legal means to defend itself and protect the confidentiality of discussions with lawyers and administration aides. In his opening statement Starr also reiterated the position that criticism of his office is tantamount to criminal activity.

Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee went to often ludicrous lengths to praise Starr and excoriate his critics. The Democrats conspicuously avoided defending Clinton. At least one, New York Senator-elect Charles Schumer, seconded Starr's allegation that Clinton lied before the grand jury. They all remained silent on the right-wing conspiracy to effect a political coup that is at the heart of the Starr investigation.

Nevertheless, a number of Democrats on the committee and Democratic Counsel Abbe Lowell raised a series of issues concerning the unconstitutional practices and political intrigues engaged in by Starr's office. Taken as a whole, they make a compelling case that Starr and his allies inside and outside of Congress, as well as in the courts, illegally conspired to set up Clinton for impeachment. These issues can be summarized as follows:

Collusion with lawyers and supporters of the Paula Jones suit

Distortion of evidence, violation of the independent counsel statute, illegal leaks

Witness intimidation and abuse, breach of due process, violation of democratic rights, entrapment

Conflicts of interest

In addition to Starr's legal work for the tobacco industry, his contacts with the Paula Jones camp and his links to Richard Mellon Scaife, several other conflicts were raised in the hearing:

Lying under oath

The mantra of Starr and his Republican supporters on the Judiciary Committee was the sanctity of the oath. The Republican Counsel David Schippers argued that Clinton lied under oath and in so doing all but toppled the American judiciary.

But if the standard for perjury applied by Starr to Clinton's testimony were applied to his own rambling and evasive answers at last Thursday's hearing, he would certainly be a prime target for investigation. Rep. Maxine Waters at one point reminded Starr that he was testifying under oath and said, "When you were asked very specific questions, you said: 'I don't recall. I don't quite remember. I am not so sure. I'll have to search my memory,' those kinds of answers. Yet, when the President of the United States responded in that way, you outright called him a liar."

In this connection, an exchange between Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California and Starr was highly significant:

Lofgren: "In or about November 1997, did you discuss with any person the possibility that a tape recording might exist on which a woman claimed to have had sexual contact with President Clinton?"

Starr: "I am not recalling that. The specificity of your question suggests that there may be information, and I'm happy to respond to information, if that is--"

Lofgren: "How about the question?"

Starr: "If that's--if that's relevant."

Lofgren: "Is there any possibility that the answer is yes?"

Starr: "I have no recollection of it, but I am happy to search my recollection. This is the first time anyone has asked me such a question, and you're asking about something--"

Lofgren: "So it was possible that it was before January, then?"

Starr: "Yes, I gather--but you said very specifically November of 1997, so that's--and I will search my recollection--"

At this point James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), who was acting as temporary chair in the absence of Henry Hyde, broke into the questioning and asked if Lofgren had information "to this effect."

Starr, who had obviously been rattled by the question, repeated that he would "search my recollection and ... provide the committee with information."

Lofgren followed with: "So you would agree to answer that, under penalty of perjury, if we followed up in a written request, after you've had time to reflect upon it?"

She added a second question as to when Starr first heard information about a tape recording of a woman claiming to have had sexual contact with Clinton, and said, "We'll look for an affidavit on that, too."

Neither Lofgren or any of the other Democrats explained the significance of these questions, but they obviously set off an alarm among the Republicans, including Starr. His office has stated repeatedly that it first learned of the tapes implicating Clinton in a sexual affair when Linda Tripp contacted the OIC in early January.

But the Los Angeles Times reported last month that transcripts from Starr's investigation reveal a Linda Tripp tape from November 21, 1997, which records a call to her home from David Pyke, one of Paula Jones's lawyers. Pyke received Tripp's unlisted phone number from Lucianne Goldberg, who had been in regular contact with Starr's former law partner Richard Porter. In the course of Pyke's call, Tripp told the Jones lawyer of Clinton's affair with Lewinsky, without mentioning Lewinsky's name.

If Starr's office had knowledge of this tape before it debriefed Tripp in January, such knowledge could only have come from Jones's lawyers, Tripp or Goldberg. This, in and of itself, would demonstrate the existence of a conspiracy involving Starr to politically embarrass Clinton and set him up for impeachment.

The danger that Starr could be exposed as having lied last Thursday before the House Judiciary Committee, or be compelled to commit perjury in a subsequent written submission, might help explain the sudden decision of his "ethical adviser" Sam Dash to resign on Friday morning.

See Also:
The House Judiciary Committee: a portrait of the American political establishment
[24 November 1998]
The US impeachment hearing:
What a socialist would have said
[24 November 1998]