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Independent Counsel Robert Ray Holds News Conference on Deal Struck With President Clinton in Whitewater Probe

Aired January 19, 2001 - 2:19 p.m. ET


LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: All right, now Robert Ray is at his podium in Washington to comment on this deal struck between Mr. Clinton and his office.


ROBERT RAY, INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: Fifteen months ago, I promised the American people that I would complete this investigation promptly and responsibly. Today, I fulfill that promise.

President Clinton has acknowledged responsibility for his actions. He has admitted that he knowingly gave evasive and misleading answers to questions in the Jones deposition and that his conduct was prejudicial to the administration of justice.

He has acknowledged that some of his answers were false. He has agreed to a five-year suspension of his Arkansas bar license. And he has agreed not to seek attorney's fees in connection with this matter.

The nation's interests have been served, and therefore I decline prosecution. In doing so, I have tried to heed Justice Robert Jackson's wisdom: "The citizens' safety lies in the prosecutor who tempers zeal with human kindness, who seeks truth and not victims, who serves the law and not factional purposes, and who approaches his task with humility."

I trust that the decision made today meets the expectations of the American people, who deserve a resolution that acknowledges the president's conduct, respects America's institutions and demonstrates sensitivity to our constitutional system of government.

This matter is now concluded. May history and the American people judge that it has been concluded justly.

Thank you very much.


Thank you.

WATERS: All right, Robert Ray stepping before reporters in Washington. With his aspect of the agreement struck between the president of the United States, Bill Clinton, and his office over the Monica Lewinsky investigation.

The bottom line is, from the president of the United States, "I misled investigators. From Robert Ray I declined prosecution."

John King, I was asking you before when we had a little mixup over Robert Ray about the timing of all of this. Jake Siewert admitted there was some kind of agreement over the timing of this but declined to give us any details.

Do you know anything about that?

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Lou, we are told by sources that Mr. Ray, the independent counsel who we just heard from, insisted that, for this deal to go forward, that it would be a current president of the United States acknowledging that he gave misleading testimony under oath, not a former president of the United States.

Mr. Ray apparently believing that that was a significant development -- to have the president of the United States, the sitting president acknowledge this as opposed to, say, two weeks or a month from now when Mr. Clinton is out of office and -- a deal then certainly would have received attention, but not as much attention, obviously, as it would receive today on the final day in office.

We're told Mr. Ray insisted upon that because he believed that that was part of the punishment that he believes fits the crime. You heard him speak of respect for the institutions; he obviously means respect for the rule of law there. Mr. Ray making the case that this president now will lose his law license for five years, pay a fine to the state of Arkansas. Mr. Ray saying he believes the American people will agree with this. Certainly there was a growing political consensus here in Washington that this investigation should be brought to a close.

And in essence, perhaps both sides get what they wanted. Mr. Ray, an admission from the president that he gave misleading testimony under oath. Mr. Clinton closed this sad chapter of his life as he leaves office now without the threat of having to go into a criminal court and face a possible indictment.

WATERS: All right; and CNN's Bob Franken, who has been covering this story from day one when it was the Whitewater investigation; and now this final flourish on the final day of the Clinton presidency.

There will be some questions I imagine, Bob, about the harshness of the penalties here for the president. Do they fit the crime?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, there was a growing feeling in the United States that this had gone on long enough and there was a belief that it should be dispensed with.

We heard just a moment ago Bob Ray talking about that, saying that this matter is now concluded, the American people deserved a resolution. He was very aware of the fact that it would be extremely difficult to get a jury to find the president guilty of the crimes alleged, so they worked on this kind of deal.

Now, the fact is is that when you're dealing with a public official, U.S. attorneys have another consideration, and that has to do with paying a penalty in a variety of ways. And one of the ways is resignation or removal from some sort of public trust office. In this particular case, the Arkansas Bar Association proceedings really, in that context, got into this.

And the fact that the president was willing to accept, as part of this deal, a suspension from the Arkansas Bar Association and a $25,000 dollar fine and an admission in the Bar Association proceeding that the president signed that he had knowingly given those false -- not false, but misleading and evasive answers which were -- and this is a terribly important bit of terminology: "prejudicial to the administration of justice."

That was an important consideration -- that the president was acknowledging that he knowingly impeded the administration of justice which, oftentimes, is an act that is prosecuted. But in this particular case, because of the larger concerns, the independent counsel decided not to.

This ends the saga that has bedeviled the president and his administration almost from the beginning, and it means that he leaves office with a matter that is probably freshest on the minds of most people: his admission of wrongdoing in this investigation.

WATERS: All right, CNN's Bob Franken.

John King, there's a footnote to this story today: bringing closure -- if we can use that word one more time -- to the Monica Lewinsky affair.

Linda Tripp, the woman whose secret tapes of conversations she had with Monica Lewinsky that let to the investigation and ultimately to the president's impeachment, was fired today by the Clinton administration. She was fired because -- and you may have heard Jake Siewert referring to certain political appointees who are turning in their resignations.

Well, Linda Tripp refused to turn in her resignation and was fired as a result. Her lawyers weighed in on the firing: "The termination, they said, of Linda Tripp is vindictive, mean-spirited and wrong. President Clinton should not have ended his presidency on such a vengeful note."

But today, on this final day of the Clinton presidency, we appear to be hearing the last of the Monica Lewinsky affair.



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