By: Kenneth Starr
Date: September 9, 1998
Source: Office of the Independent Counsel. Referral to the United States House of Representatives (The Starr Report). September 9, 1998. Available online at http://thomas.loc.gov/icreport/2toc.htm; website home page http://thomas.loc.gov (accessed April 4, 2003).
About the Author: Kenneth Starr (1946–) was born in Vernon, Texas. In 1973, he earned a law degree from Duke University. After clerking for two years for Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger, he later was appointed to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In 1989, President George H. Bush (served 1989–1993) appointed him Solicitor General, where he argued numerous cases before the Supreme Court. In 1993, he became a partner in a prestigious Washington, D.C. law firm.
President Bill Clinton (served 1993–2001) is likely the most investigated president in American history. The most serious of these probes initially looked into the president's conduct in Whitewater, an Arkansas real estate venture. In 1978, the Clintons, along with two Arkansas associates, borrowed $203,000 to purchase riverfront acreage in the Ozark Mountains. The two couples formed the development corporation with the intention of building and selling vacation homes.
In 1985, James McDougal, one of Clinton's Whitewater partners, held a fundraising event helping then-Governor Clinton to eliminate a $50,000 campaign debt. It was alleged that this revenue was improperly withdrawn from the accounts of depositors from McDougal's Madison Guaranty, a savings and loan that McDougal owned. In 1989, Madison financially collapsed, and the federal government spent $60 million to bail it out.In 1992, the Federal Resolution Trust Corporation, which investigated the causes for Madison's failure, named the Clintons as "potential beneficiaries" of alleged illegal activities at Madison. The referral was sent to the U.S. Justice Department. In 1993, Vince Foster, Deputy White House Counsel (who had also acted as personal counsel for the Clintons), committed suicide. A month prior to his death, Foster had filed three years of delinquent Whitewater Development Corporation tax returns. Immediately after Foster's death, the White House denied federal investigators access to Foster's office. However, Clinton's associates were allowed to enter his office. It was widely speculated that Clinton's aides had removed relevant Whitewater records, and records from Foster's office were discovered eventually in the private living quarters of the Clintons.
In January 1994, Attorney General Janet Reno appointed Robert Fiske as Independent Counsel to investigate Bill and Hillary Clinton's involvement in Whitewater. That August, at the insistence of Congressional Republicans, Kenneth Starr replaced Fiske. At this point, the focus of the investigation shifted from Whitewater to Clinton's personal life. The sudden change resulted from a civil lawsuit filed by Paula Jones, an Arkansas clerical worker. Jones charged that when Clinton was Governor, he had sexually harassed her in a Little Rock hotel room.
Remarkably, during the Jones controversy, Clinton began an eighteen-month illicit affair with a twenty-two year old White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. Lewinsky confided intimate details of the affair to a friend, Linda Tripp, who secretly tape-recorded twenty hours of their telephone conversations. Tripp then gave the recordings to Starr. On January 17, 1998, when President Clinton gave a pretrial deposition in the Jones suit, he denied having "sexual relations" with Lewinsky and did not remember ever being alone with her in the White House. This denial would become grounds for an article of impeachment. That July, Starr granted Lewinsky full immunity in return for her assistance. In September 1998, Starr delivered a 453-page report and thirty-six boxes of evidence to the House, enumerating eleven impeachable offenses allegedly committed by Clinton.
On December 18, 1998, the House of Representatives, for the first time since 1867, debated whether to impeach a president. For thirteen hours, over two hundred Representatives delivered impassioned speeches attacking and defending the president. Contributing to the almost surreal atmosphere was President Clinton's simultaneous order to begin bombing Iraq. After being impeached by the House on two counts, Clinton was tried in the Senate. On February 12, the Senate overwhelmingly acquitted the President on both articles of impeachment. At the end of the trial, to the lasting frustration of House Republicans, Clinton's approval ratings ranged between 65 and 70 percent. Most Americans believed that he had lied to the country, but wanted him censured, not impeached.
Primary Source: Referral to the United States House of Representatives (The Starr Report) [excerpt]
SYNOPSIS: On September 11, 1998, the Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee posted the Starr report on the Internet, allowing thousands of Americans to download it. The most controversial portion of the report was its detailed description of the President's relationship with Lewinsky. Although later Clinton admitted to having "inappropriate intimate contact" with her, he denied having "sexual relations" with her during the Jones deposition and in his immediately following public disclosure of the relationship.
B. Evidence Establishing Nature of Relationship
1. Physical Evidence
Physical evidence conclusively establishes that the President and Ms. Lewinsky had a sexual relationship. After reaching an immunity and cooperation agreement with the Office of the Independent Counsel on July 28, 1998, Ms. Lewinsky turned over a navy blue dress that she said she had worn during a sexual encounter with the President on February 28, 1997. According to Ms. Lewinsky, she noticed stains on the garment the next time she took it from her closet. From their location, she surmised that the stains were the President's semen.
Initial tests revealed that the stains are in fact semen. Based on that result, the OIC asked the President for a blood sample. After requesting and being given assurances that the OIC had an evidentiary basis for making the request, the President agreed. In the White House Map Room on August 3, 1998, the White House Physician drew a vial of blood from the President in the presence of an FBI agent and an OIC attorney. By conducting the two standard DNA comparison tests, the FBI Laboratory concluded that the President was the source of the DNA obtained from the dress. According to the more sensitive RFLP test, the genetic markers on the semen, which match the President's DNA, are characteristic of one out of 7.87 trillion Caucasians.
In addition to the dress, Ms. Lewinsky provided what she said were answering machine tapes containing brief messages from the President, as well as several gifts that the President had given her.
2. Ms. Lewinsky's Statements
Ms. Lewinsky was extensively debriefed about her relationship with the President. For the initial evaluation of her credibility, she submitted to a detailed "proffer" interview on July 27, 1998. After entering into a cooperation agreement, she was questioned over the course of approximately 15 days. She also provided testimony under oath on three occasions: twice before the grand jury, and, because of the personal and sensitive nature of particular topics, once in a deposition. In addition, Ms. Lewinsky worked with prosecutors and investigators to create an 11-page chart that chronologically lists her contacts with President Clinton, including meetings, phone calls, gifts, and messages. Ms. Lewinsky twice verified the accuracy of the chart under oath.
In the evaluation of experienced prosecutors and investigators, Ms. Lewinsky has provided truthful information. She has not falsely inculpated the President. Harming him, she has testified, is "the last thing in the world I want to do."
Moreover, the OIC's immunity and cooperation agreement with Ms. Lewinsky includes safeguards crafted to ensure that she tells the truth. Court-ordered immunity and written immunity agreements often provide that the witness can be prosecuted only for false statements made during the period of cooperation, and not for the underlying offense. The OIC's agreement goes further, providing that Ms. Lewinsky will lose her immunity altogether if the government can prove to a federal district judge—by a preponderance of the evidence, not the higher standard of beyond a reasonable doubt—that she lied. Moreover, the agreement provides that, in the course of such a prosecution, the United States could introduce into evidence the statements made by Ms. Lewinsky during her cooperation. Since Ms. Lewinsky acknowledged in her proffer interview and in debriefings that she violated the law, she has a strong incentive to tell the truth: If she did not, it would be relatively straightforward to void the immunity agreement and prosecute her, using her own admissions against her.…
5. Consistency and Corroboration
The details of Ms. Lewinsky's many statements have been checked, cross-checked, and corroborated. When negotiations with Ms. Lewinsky in January and February 1998 did not culminate in an agreement, the OIC proceeded with a comprehensive investigation, which generated a great deal of probative evidence.
In July and August 1998, circumstances brought more direct and compelling evidence to the investigation. After the courts rejected a novel privilege claim, Secret Service officers and agents testified about their observations of the President and Ms. Lewinsky in the White House. Ms. Lewinsky agreed to submit to a proffer interview (previous negotiations had deadlocked over her refusal to do so), and, after assessing her credibility in that session, the OIC entered into a cooperation agreement with her. Pursuant to the cooperation agreement, Ms. Lewinsky turned over the dress that proved to bear traces of the President's semen. And the President, who had spurned six invitations to testify, finally agreed to provide his account to the grand jury. In that sworn testimony, he acknowledged "inappropriate intimate contact" with Ms. Lewinsky.
Because of the fashion in which the investigation had unfolded, in sum, a massive quantity of evidence was available to test and verify Ms. Lewinsky's statements during her proffer interview and her later cooperation. Consequently, Ms. Lewinsky's statements have been corroborated to a remarkable degree. Her detailed statements to the grand jury and the OIC in 1998 are consistent with statements to her confidants dating back to 1995, documents that she created, and physical evidence. Moreover, her accounts generally match the testimony of White House staff members; the testimony of Secret Service agents and officers; and White House records showing Ms. Lewinsky's entries and exits, the President's whereabouts, and the President's telephone calls.
C. Sexual Contacts
1. The President's Accounts
a. Jones Testimony
In the Jones deposition on January 17, 1998, the President denied having had "a sexual affair," "sexual relations," or "a sexual relationship" with Ms. Lewinsky. He noted that "[t]here are no curtains on the Oval Office, there are no curtains on my private office, there are no curtains or blinds that can close [on] the windows in my private dining room," and added: "I have done everything I could to avoid the kind of questions you are asking me here today.…" …
b. Grand Jury Testimony
Testifying before the grand jury on August 17, 1998, seven months after his Jones deposition, the President acknowledged "inappropriate intimate contact" with Ms. Lewinsky but maintained that his January deposition testimony was accurate. In his account, "what began as a friendship [with Ms. Lewinsky] came to include this conduct." He said he remembered "meeting her, or having my first real conversation with her during the government shutdown in November of '95." According to the President, the inappropriate contact occurred later (after Ms. Lewinsky's internship had ended), "in early 1996 and once in early 1997."
The President refused to answer questions about the precise nature of his intimate contacts with Ms. Lewinsky, but he did explain his earlier denials. As to his denial in the Jones deposition that he and Ms. Lewinsky had had a "sexual relationship," the President maintained that there can be no sexual relationship without sexual intercourse, regardless of what other sexual activities may transpire. He stated that "most ordinary Americans" would embrace this distinction.
The President also maintained that none of his sexual contacts with Ms. Lewinsky constituted "sexual relations" within a specific definition used in the Jones deposition.…
1. Mutual Understanding
Both Ms. Lewinsky and the President testified that they took steps to maintain the secrecy of the relationship. According to Ms. Lewinsky, the President from the outset stressed the importance of keeping the relationship secret. In her handwritten statement to this Office, Ms. Lewinsky wrote that "the President told Ms. L to deny a relationship, if ever asked about it. He also said something to the effect of if the two people who are involved say it didn't happen—it didn't happen." According to Ms. Lewinsky, the President sometimes asked if she had told anyone about their sexual relationship or about the gifts they had exchanged; she (falsely) assured him that she had not. She told him that "I would always deny it, I would always protect him," and he responded approvingly. The two of them had, in herwords, "a mutual understanding" that they would "keep this private, so that meant deny it and … take whatever appropriate steps needed to be taken." When she and the President both were subpoenaed to testify in the Jones case, Ms. Lewinsky anticipated that "as we had on every other occasion and every other instance of this relationship, we would deny it."
In his grand jury testimony, the President confirmed his efforts to keep their liaisons secret. He said he did not want the facts of their relationship to be disclosed "in any context," and added: "I certainly didn't want this to come out, if I could help it. And I was concerned about that. I was embarrassed about it. I knew it was wrong." Asked if he wanted to avoid having the facts come out through Ms. Lewinsky's testimony in Jones, he said: "Well, I did not want her to have to testify and go through that. And, of course, I didn't want her to do that, of course not."
2. Cover Stories
For her visits to see the President, according to Ms. Lewinsky, "[T]here was always some sort of a cover." When visiting the President while she worked at the White House, she generally planned to tell anyone who asked (including Secret Service officers and agents) that she was delivering papers to the President. Ms. Lewinsky explained that this artifice may have originated when "I got there kind of saying, 'Oh, gee, here are your letters,' wink, wink, wink, and him saying, 'Okay, that's good.'" To back up her stories, she generally carried a folder on these visits. (In truth, according to Ms. Lewinsky, her job never required her to deliver papers to the President.) On a few occasions during her White House employment, Ms. Lewinsky and the President arranged to bump into each other in the hallway; he then would invite her to accompany him to the Oval Office. Later, after she left the White House and started working at the Pentagon, Ms. Lewinsky relied on Ms. Currie to arrange times when she could see the President. The cover story for those visits was that Ms. Lewinsky was coming to see Ms. Currie, not the President.
While the President did not expressly instruct her to lie, according to Ms. Lewinsky, he did suggest misleading cover stories. And, when she assured him that she planned to lie about the relationship, he responded approvingly. On the frequent occasions when Ms. Lewinsky promised that she would "always deny" the relationship and "always protect him," for example, the President responded, in her recollection, "'That's good,' or—something affirmative.… [N]ot—'Don't deny it.'"
Once she was named as a possible witness in the Jonescase, according to Ms. Lewinsky, the President reminded her of the cover stories. After telling her that she was a potential witness, the President suggested that, if she were subpoenaed, she could file an affidavit to avoid being deposed. He also told her she could say that, when working at the White House, she had sometimes delivered letters to him, and, after leaving her White House job, she had sometimes returned to visit Ms. Currie. (The President's own testimony in the Jones case mirrors the recommendations he made to Ms. Lewinsky for her testimony. In his deposition, the President testified that he saw Ms. Lewinsky "on two or three occasions" during the November 1995 government furlough, "one or two other times when she brought some documents to me," and "sometime before Christmas" when Ms. Lewinsky "came by to see Betty.")
In his grand jury testimony, the President acknowledged that he and Ms. Lewinsky "might have talked about what to do in a nonlegal context" to hide their relationship, and that he "might well have said" that Ms. Lewinsky should tell people that she was bringing letters to him or coming to visit Ms. Currie. But he also stated that "I never asked Ms. Lewinsky to lie."
3. Steps to Avoid Being Seen or Heard
After their first two sexual encounters during the November 1995 government shutdown, according to Ms. Lewinsky, her encounters with the President generally occurred on weekends, when fewer people were in the West Wing. Ms. Lewinsky testified:
He had told me … that he was usually around on the weekends and that it was okay to come see him on the weekends. So he would call and we would arrange either to bump into each other in the hall or that I would bring papers to the office.
From some of the President's comments, Ms. Lewinsky gathered that she should try to avoid being seen by several White House employees, including Nancy Hernreich, Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of Oval Office Operations, and Stephen Goodin, the President's personal aide.
Out of concern about being seen, the sexual encounters most often occurred in the windowless hallway outside the study. According to Ms. Lewinsky, the President was concerned that the two of them might be spotted through a White House window. When they were in the study together in the evenings, he sometimes turned out the light. Once, when she spotted a gardener outside the study window, they left the room. Ms. Lewinsky testified that, on December 28, 1997, "when I was getting my Christmas kiss" in the doorway to the study, the President was "looking out the window with his eyes wide open while he was kissing me and then I got mad because it wasn't very romantic." He responded, "Well, I was just looking to see to make sure no one was out there."
Fear of discovery constrained their sexual encounters in several respects, according to Ms. Lewinsky. The President ordinarily kept the door between the private hallway and the Oval Office several inches ajar during their encounters, both so that he could hear if anyone approached and so that anyone who did approach would be less likely to suspect impropriety. During their sexual encounters, Ms. Lewinsky testified, "[W]e were both aware of the volume and sometimes … I bit my hand—so that I wouldn't make any noise." On one occasion, according to Ms. Lewinsky, the President put his hand over her mouth during a sexual encounter to keep her quiet. Concerned that they might be interrupted abruptly, according to Ms. Lewinsky, the two of them never fully undressed.
While noting that "the door to the hallway was always somewhat open," the President testified that he did try to keep the intimate relationship secret: "I did what people do when they do the wrong thing. I tried to do it where nobody else was looking at it."
4. Ms. Lewinsky's Notes and Letters
The President expressed concern about documents that might hint at an improper relationship between them, according to Ms. Lewinsky. He cautioned her about messages she sent:
There were … some occasions when I sent him cards or notes that I wrote things that he deemed too personal to put on paper just in case something ever happened, if it got lost getting there or someone else opened it. So there were several times when he remarked to me, you know, you shouldn't put that on paper.
She said that the President made this point to her in their last conversation, on January 5, 1998, in reference to what she characterized as "[a]n embarrassing mushy note" she had sent him. In addition, according to Ms. Lewinsky, the President expressed concerns about official records that could establish aspects of their relationship. She said that on two occasions she asked the President if she could go upstairs to the Residence with him. No, he said, because a record is kept of everyone who accompanies him there.
The President testified before the grand jury: "I remember telling her she should be careful what she wrote, because a lot of it was clearly inappropriate and would be embarrassing if somebody else read it."
5. Ms. Lewinsky's Evaluation of Their Secrecy Efforts
In two conversations recorded after she was subpoenaed in the Jonescase, Ms. Lewinsky expressed confidence that her relationship with the President would never be discovered. She believed that no records showed her and the President alone in the area of the study. Regardless of the evidence, in any event, she would continue denying the relationship. "If someone looked in the study window, it's not me," she said. If someone produced tapes of her telephone calls with the President, she would say they were fakes.
In another recorded conversation, Ms. Lewinsky said she was especially comforted by the fact that the President, like her, would be swearing under oath that "nothing happened." She said:
[T]o tell you the truth, I'm not concerned all that much anymore because I know I'm not going to get in trouble. I will not get in trouble because you know what? The story I've signed under—under oath is what someone else is saying under oath.…
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