Jones Decision Raises Questions About Starr Probe
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, April 1) -- Independent counsel Ken Starr's investigation of President Bill Clinton had become entangled with Paula Jones' sexual harassment lawsuit against the president. So how does Wednesday's dismissal of Jones' suit affect Starr's case?
It doesn't, says Starr.
"In January, the attorney general ... assigned us to investigate a variety of matters," said a statement issued by the independent counsel's office. "(U.S. District) Judge (Susan Webber) Wright's ruling today has no effect on our authority, and we will continue working to complete the investigation as expeditiously as possible."
But other legal experts believe that Wright's decision to toss the Jones case out of court could have a major effect on the resolution of Starr's inquiry.
"Starr is going to send a report to the House of Representatives, (which) now has to take that report with the full understanding that it's all been very much wrapped up and lashed to the Jones litigation, which a federal district court judge -- a Republican appointee, by the way -- has now said is factually unfounded," said former Clinton White House counsel Jack Quinn.
|Starr reacts to the Jones decision
|"anxious for a quick resolution.." (Courtesy KATV)
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|- On the merits of the Jones civil case (Courtesy KATV)
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"In that very real sense, in the court of public opinion as well as in that federal district court, Bill Clinton comes out a big winner and Ken Starr faces a downturn," Quinn said.
Starr has been investigating whether Clinton, or others acting on his behalf, encouraged anyone in the Jones case to lie under oath during depositions or promised favors in return for perjured testimony.
Former White House intern Monica Lewinsky reportedly made allegations to that effect in phone calls to friend Linda Tripp, which Tripp taped and turned over to Starr.
The independent counsel is also believed to be investigating whether Clinton himself gave false testimony during his own deposition in the Jones case. Clinton denied having a sexual relationship with Lewinsky, as she reportedly claims in the tapes Tripp made, and he also denied that he groped another woman, Kathleen Willey, in a room off the Oval Office, as she has alleged.
But with the Jones case dismissed, the question now is whether Starr should, or will, pursue an investigation into possible perjury or obstruction of justice charges stemming from a civil case that has been thrown out.
Alexa Morrison, a former independent counsel, says Starr would be on solid legal ground to continue his investigation, despite the dismissal of Jones' suit. That's because Starr's probe centers on Clinton's alleged conduct, not the merit of Jones' case.
But because it is widely believed that a sitting president cannot be indicted, Starr's primary option would be to send his findings to Congress for possible impeachment proceedings. That would leave congressional leaders with the politically risky option of pushing for removal of a popular president based on actions stemming from a case thrown out of court.
As one legal expert told CNN, "What's the point?"
However, there are other matters that are part of Starr's wide-ranging investigation that aren't entwined with the Jones case.
Specifically, Starr is still looking into the failed Whitewater land deal in Arkansas, which occurred before Clinton became president. Former Arkansas Gov. Jim Guy Tucker recently agreed to cooperate with Starr in that investigation.
The independent counsel is also looking into the firings of the White House travel office in the early days of the Clinton presidency.
CNN Correspondents Bob Franken and Pierre Thomas contributed to this report.