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Starr Throws Book At Clinton

Independent counsel Kenneth Starr throws the book at President Clinton in remarks prepared for delivery Thursday to the House Judiciary Committee.

Starr accuses Mr. Clinton of perjury, obstruction of justice and abuse of authority in a lengthy opening statement prepared for the panel's impeachment hearings. [CBS.com will provide live coverage of Starr's testimony at 10 AM EST]

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"The president repeatedly used the machinery of government and the powers of his office to conceal his relationship with Monica Lewinsky from the American people, from the judicial process in the Jones case, and from the grand jury," Starr said.

The prosecutor's remarks repeat many of the allegations contained in the report that he previously submitted to Congress. He insisted that Mr. Clinton's actions were not a "private matter."

Starr said that by lying about his relationship with Lewinsky to White House aides, the president had used the aides as "unwitting surrogates" to repeat the lies to the grand jury.

"The pattern of obstruction of justice, false statements and misuse of executive authority in the Lewinsky investigation did not occur in a vacuum," Starr said.

The prosecutor added that his office had faced an "extraordinary" number of legal disputes with Clinton and his supporters that blocked investigations and threw up roadblocks.

Starr rejected suspicions raised about the propriety of his entry into the Lewinsky case, saying it was based on "standard, albeit expedited, procedure" after his investigators were contacted by former Lewinsky friend Linda Tripp.

Over the course of Starr's four-year investigation of the White House, Americans have most often seen the 52-year-old preacher's son through the window of his car or taking out the trash on his way to work. With the nation looking on, Starr will now take center stage as the first witness at the hearings.

Conservatives hope a stellar performance will re-ignite enthusiasm for Mr. Clinton's impeachment. Starr's supporters also see his testimony as an opportunity to show the nation the real Ken Starr rather than the zealot and keyhole voyeur portrayed by the president's supporters. Starr allies complain that the prosecutor has been vilified and demonized by the White House.

"He has been portrayed as some kind of horned beast with a forked tail," said Ronald Rotunda, a law professor who advises Starr on constitutional matters and legal ethics. "He is a very fair, cautious, and careful man. I've never seen him lose his temper or even raise his voice. The angriest thing I've ever herd him say is, 'I'm really frosted'."

The chubby barrister has become a legal Rocky Balboa in recent weeks, with videotaped practice sessions in which he is peppered with questions from staff members playing the role of hostile Democrats.

Indeed, Democrat Barney Frank of Massachusetts, the president's most articulate defender on the GOP-controlled Judiciary Committee, said Starr can forget about the Welcome Wagon.

"We'll want to focus particularly on questions that go to the credibility of what Starr has told us," Frank said. "I think the pattern of intimidation and coercion of witnesses is certainly relevant. People are also going to be interested in the leaking [to the media] and Starr's collusion with Paula Jones' lawyers."

A major problem for impeachment advocates is the fact that the president's supporters have successfully painted Starr's investigation as an excursion into Mr. Clinton's private life, however sleazy and tawdry his affair with Lewinsky may have been. In his remarks, Starr attempted to counter this by repeatedly insisting that Mr. Clinton's actions were not a private matter.

The latest CBS News poll shows that 70 percent of the American people don't think that the president's actions warrant impeachment. And 62 percent say Starr's probe is a partisan investigation intended to damage Mr. Clinton. Only 18 percent have a favorable opinion of Starr.

"There is no political force behind impeachment right now," said political scientist Gary Jacobson. "So the only question is whether Starr's appearance at the hearing can revive it in any way, shape, or form."

In an effort to jump-start the impeachment effort and demonstrate that the case against Mr. Clinton goes well beyond sex, the Republicans have opened a second front by calling additional witnesses to testify before the panel. They are also hoping Starr's perofrmance will convice the public that much more is at stake than sex.

But some observers are betting that Starr won't be able to pull it off.

"My prediction is that Starr will come across as a caring Presbyterian with a dirty mind," said Sam Popkin, a political scientist at the University of California at San Diego.

At the committee level, there has been more scheming and intrigue than a network lineup of soap operas. Democrats had been loudly complaining that calling Starr as the only witness was hardly a way of getting at the truth.

"It would be a travesty to have only Starr as a witness and then vote on articles of impeachment," said Democrat Jerrold Nadler of New York. "That would violate every precept of due process we have held sacred since the Magna Carta."

"It's going to be a Starr chamber," added Democrat Zoe Lungren of California.

In response, GOP Committee Chairman Henry Hyde seemed to be telling the Democrats to be careful what they wish for by announcing that the panel will subpoena four witesses, including White House deputy counsel Bruce Lindsey and Robert Bennett, the lawyer who represented Mr. Clinton in the Paula Jones lawsuit.

The format established by Hyde will give Starr two hours for an opening statement. He will then be questioned by Democrats and Republicans on the panel. The president's lawyers have also been allotted 30 minutes to question the prosecutor. Hyde has told the White House that the questions posed to Starr must be limited in scope.

"You will not be permitted to inquire into other matters not bearing on the question of impeachment," Hyde said in a letter to the White House.

With the White House and congressional Democrats crying foul, partisan fireworks are a certainty when the committee convenes on Thursday.

Written by CBS.com Producer Dan Collins
©1998 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved. Reuters contributed to his report..in

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