Possible Outcomes of Starr Probe
Three plausible scenarios emerge for Clinton as special prosecutor's investigation nears its conclusion.
WASHINGTON — As independent counsel Kenneth Starr races through his final witnesses - including the president next Monday - the enduring question is, how will this national saga end?
While it's impossible to see clearly through the fog of unknown facts, political and legal analysts say three scenarios seem to be the most plausible:
A. The president is telling the truth, in which case he is vindicated, his presidency is strengthened, and Monica Lewinsky is punished for lying to a federal grand jury.
B. The president is not telling the truth about his relationship with Ms. Lewinsky. If that's the case, Congress signals disapproval but will likely just shrug its shoulders because the public is happy with the president's managing of the country and sees his personal behavior as irrelevant.
C. The president is not only lying about his relationship with Lewinsky, but hard evidence shows he obstructed justice to keep it secret. This would be "the worst outcome for the president," says William Schneider, a political analyst for CNN and the American Enterprise Institute in Washington. And it's a scenario that could bring President Clinton down - especially if Mr. Starr can prove it's part of a pattern of obstruction stretching back to the beginning of his administration. "I don't see how he could then survive," he says.
Meanwhile, Clinton and the former White House intern appear to be on a collision course. During her grand jury testimony Thursday, Lewinsky reportedly told grand jurors she had more than a dozen sexual encounters with the president over 18 months. According to media reports, she said the two devised cover stories to keep their relationship secret but the president never directly told her to lie about it.
The president has denied under oath and to the American public that he ever had sexual relations with Lewinsky and that he ever urged anyone to lie. He said he would testify "completely and truthfully" on Aug. 17.
Yet even if the prosecutor were able to prove that the president lied about his relationship with Lewinsky, lawmakers would probably not see perjury as grounds to impeach him. Many legal scholars say the president's denial under oath of a sexual relationship with Lewinsky is not significant because it was made in the Paula Jones case - which has been thrown out of court. Before that, the judge ruled that the testimony about Lewinsky was irrelevant to the case, making Clinton's denial doubly immaterial, scholars say.
Politically, the perjury issue is also weak. Ultimately, Congress responds to the will of the people, and polls show Americans don't want the president impeached if he lied about his sex life. And if Republicans wanted to make an issue of it, they would not get the bipartisan support they need from Democrats, says Martin Meehan (D) of Massachusetts, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, where the impeachment process would start. "I don't see this as a bipartisan type of inquiry like Watergate was," he said last week at a Monitor breakfast.
Much more serious for the president would be if he is found to lie in his closed-circuit testimony before the federal grand jury next Monday, or if there is hard evidence showing obstruction of justice.
But obstruction of justice could be hard to prove. Legal experts say the president wouldn't have to directly tell Lewinsky or anyone else to lie in order for there to be obstruction of justice.
The question is, what's the context of such scheming, if it took place? If the coverup were to keep the first lady from finding out, for instance, that's not against the law. If it were to get Lewinsky to lie in the Paula Jones case or the Starr investigation, that would be illegal.
Based on leaks so far, the evidence does not appear to support an obstruction of justice claim. The dress undergoing DNA testing could confirm a sexual relationship, but would not likely relate to obstruction. The only documented evidence of obstruction is the "talking points" Lewinsky shared with Linda Tripp on how to shape her testimony in the Paula Jones case. But Lewinsky reportedly told the grand jury that she had no help from the White House on these.
What's not known is the strength of testimony from credible witnesses about the return of gifts Lewinsky received from the president, or the intricacies of Vernon Jordan's assistance in getting Lewinsky a job. And Starr may have other surprises.
Still, says Mr. Schneider, the bottom line is that the prosecutor would have to have "hard, clear and convincing" evidence, such as a tape or credible testimony from a witness, to seriously damage the president.