WASHINGTON – President Clinton could have been indicted and probably would have been convicted in the scandal involving former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, Independent Counsel Robert Ray contended Wednesday in his final report.
Writing his last chapter on the affair that damaged the former president's second term, Ray said Clinton lied in January 1998 testimony denying a sexual relationship with Lewinsky. Clinton also "impeded the due administration of justice" by drawing presidential secretary Betty Currie into his false account, Ray added.
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"The independent counsel concluded that sufficient evidence existed to prosecute and that such evidence would 'probably be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction,"' said the report, quoting from Justice Department guidelines for bringing criminal cases.
Just before Clinton left office early last year, his lawyers made an arrangement with Ray that spared him from criminal charges in the Lewinsky affair. In addition to admitting that he "knowingly gave evasive and misleading answers" about his sexual relationship, the president surrendered his law license for five years.
Ray said "the independent counsel's judgment that sufficient evidence existed to prosecute President Clinton was confirmed by President Clinton's admissions" on his last full day in office "and by evidence showing that he engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice."
Revealing few new facts, Ray's assessment was criticized by Clinton defenders.
Julian Epstein, former chief Democratic counsel to the House Judiciary Committee, called the report's "unnecessarily accusatory tone" was "a bone thrown to the right wing, which was upset that none of the numerous allegations of criminal misconduct were ever borne out."
Clinton lawyer David Kendall said "the $70 million investigation of President Clinton from 1994 to 2001 was intense, expensive, partisan and long ... and there's nothing new in this report."
Regarding Ray's findings in the Lewinsky matter, "it's not clear what the purpose of the report is other than to promote Robert Ray's Senate campaign, Monica Lewinsky's HBO special and the Paula Jones vs. Tonya Harding boxing match," said Jennifer Palmieri, a former spokeswoman for Clinton.
Ray acknowledges that he is considering seeking the nomination to challenge Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., but has not announced his candidacy or filed any paperwork.
But House Judiciary Committee chairman James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., called the report "a welcome event" that "will permit the public to evaluate fully President Clinton's misconduct and the Independent Counsel's investigation."
The report focused on two events: Clinton's testimony in the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit and his interaction with Currie, the presidential secretary he summoned to the White House for a meeting the day after that testimony.
According to Currie's testimony, Clinton told the secretary that she had always been present when Clinton was with Lewinsky, that Lewinsky "came on to" Clinton, that Currie "could see and hear everything" and that the president never touched the White House intern.
"President Clinton's offenses had a significant adverse impact on the community, substantially affecting the public's view of the integrity of our legal system," said Ray.
"The nature and seriousness of the offenses investigated and the deterrent effect of prosecution were substantial federal interests which would have been served by prosecution of President Clinton," the report added.
Rep. Henry Hyde, the House manager for impeachment proceedings against Clinton, said Ray's report ought to be the end of the matter.
"I think that's where America wants it -- way back there," said Hyde.
The House impeached Clinton in December 1998, accusing him of perjury and obstructing justice. The Senate acquitted him the following February.
Ray's report disclosed one new piece of evidence against the ex-president that came from Clinton's own lawyer, Robert Bennett.
In affidavits submitted to prosecutors with Clinton's authorization a year and a half ago, Bennett recalled that during a break in Clinton's testimony in the Jones lawsuit, the president examined Lewinsky's false affidavit which said she hadn't had a sexual relationship with Clinton. Clinton consented to placing the affidavit "on the record at the deposition," one of Bennett's affidavits stated.
When Clinton's testimony resumed, the president's lawyer told the judge that Lewinsky's affidavit established "there is absolutely no sex of any kind" between Clinton and Lewinsky.
Clinton later told a federal grand jury that he "was not paying a great deal of attention" to Bennett's exchange with the judge.