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Attack on Starr Angers Congress

It is not President Clinton's apology, but his attack on special prosecutor Kenneth Starr that has members of Congress talking Tuesday, CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer reports.

The White House chief of staff was calling around to Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill, most of whom were on vacation and out of the city, to say the president intended to take full responsibility and express full regret in his speech, Schieffer reports.

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So when the president said he was sorry, that did not come as much of a surprise to people at the Capitol. But when he attacked the independent counsel, it did come as a surprise and will not sit well on Capitol Hill.

On Monday night, just minutes after the speech was broadcast, it drew strong words from some Republicans.

"This is not a presentation which can be accepted at face value," said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa. "I want to know what the hard facts are. I'm not prepared to convict the president on this state of the record, nor am I prepared to excuse him on the state of the record."

Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the chairman of the Senate judiciary committee, had stronger words. He said he found the president's words about the independent counsel offensive.

Rep. Bill McCollum told CBS 'This Morning' Co-Anchor Jane Robelot that the speech shed little light "on the critical question of whether [Clinton] committed perjury" in the deposition the president gave in the Paula Jones sexual harassment suit against him.

"We don't know what was said in the grand jury yesterday, and we may get some leaks, but we're really not going to know. Those of us on the judiciary committee are going to have to wait and listen very carefully. There may be hearings. But we're going to have to see if there is clear evidence he lied.

"But if he did, I think it's going to be very difficult not to vote impeachment, despite the fact that we would like to put this behind us. The reason I say this is important: What kind of precedent would it set if we let the president of the United States be above the rule of law in this case?"

Other reactions on Capitol Hill included:

  • House Speaker Newt Gingrich's office said he would not comment Monday night and maybe not even Tuesday.

  • Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said: "We are all human. We all make mistakes - even a president. Most Americans share my belief that it's in our best interests to put this behind us and move on."
  • Rep. James Traficant, Jr., D-Ohio, said some Democrats were still skeptical. "If the presiden lied tonight on the second count, like he lied on the first count, I am a Democrat that will vote for impeachment," Traficant said. "If the president is lying about Monica...and I hope to God he's not, then we can't trust him about China," he said, referring to allegations that China tried to influence the 1996 presidential election through illegal campaign contributions.
  • Sen. John Ashcroft, R-Mo, said minutes after the speech ended: "I don't think the president explained his behavior. He used a new set of phrases. We have another set of words."
  • Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., said in a TV interview, "The American people are sophisticated enough to say, 'I disapprove of his personal behavior. I don't like what he did, but I approve of the policies'."
  • Sen. Christopher Bond, R-Mo, said: "I don't think that his supporters or those who oppose him were satisfied. I didn't hear a public apology or real admission of guilt. The bigger question remains to be solved and will have to be handled by Kenneth Starr, and that question is: Is there credible evidence to show that there was abuse of power or obstruction of justice by Clinton and or his advisers and others closest to him?"
  • Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said: "As painful as this has been for his family and friends and supporters and for the American people, it was important for the president to confront these questions fully and truthfully in his testimony today."
  • Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., said: "This is an unfortunate day for the country and for all the individuals involved. While I do not condone this conduct, I do hope the president's testimony is a step toward putting this long and difficult matter behind us."

©1998 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved. The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report