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Starr: No one beyond law's reach

By Michael HedgesScripps Howard News Service Published: May 2, 1998 12:00 AM

While declining to discuss his ongoing investigations of the Clinton White House, Starr sounded like a man committed to a long legal struggle.

"A grand jury's job is not complete until it has, to the best of its ability, run down every lead and heard from every witness," he said.

Quoting fellow Texan Leon Jaworski _ who was Watergate special counsel nearly a quarter-century ago _ Starr told an audience in San Antonio Friday, "Watergate taught the nation two valuable lessons, lessons that are especially appropriate for us to recall _ First, our Constitution works. And second, no one _ absolutely no one _ is above the law."

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That pointed comment came a day after Starr indicted Webster Hubbell, a close friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton. Hubbell has been interrogated about possible obstruction of justice involving high-ranking Clinton insiders.

And it comes at the end of a week in which Starr won a legal battle with Monica Lewinsky's attorneys and his prosecutors grilled Mrs. Clinton about allegations that she lied about her legal work on a controversial Arkansas land deal involving a former Whitewater partner of hers.

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White House spokesman Jim Kennedy accused Starr of playing to the public with the speech.

"It is interesting to note that not long ago he said his effort was not about public relations," said Kennedy. "But he appears to have had a change of heart because the speech today is clearly about public relations."

Kennedy said the White House view on executive privilege was "consistent" with Starr's, who, Kennedy said, "acknowledged (in his speech) the need for confidential communications and the need to balance that with the legitimate interests of the judicial branch."

Starr is locked in a legal battle with President Clinton and White House lawyers over the issue of executive privilege.

With briefs in that case sealed, Friday's speech marked his most expansive public comments on the issue.

He noted in his speech that exactly 24 years ago President Nixon invoked executive privilege over Watergate tapes.

Now, Clinton advisers have refused to answer questions by the Lewinsky grand jury after Clinton said such answers could violate his special privilege as president.

While not directly predicting the outcome of his case, Starr told a Law Day audience at the San Antonio bar association that Nixon failed to keep evidence from Jaworski because the Supreme Court decided unanimously that to do so "would encroach impermissibly on the judicial branch."

Starr is hoping to influence an apathetic public _ which has given Clinton high ratings throughout Whitewater and now the Lewinsky sex scandal _ by comparing what he has called Clinton's evasions with Nixon's efforts to suppress Watergate, sources close to his probe said.

"Neither the timing of the address nor the subject was coincidental," said one source.

The Starr wars with Clinton, his wife and close aides have entered a critical stage, and the past week showed the prosecutor trying to seize the momentum.

Last Saturday, Starr and staff prosecutors called on Mrs. Clinton in the White House and grilled her for nearly five hours on matters relating to her Rose law firm billing records that disappeared and then reappeared, her dealings with a land deal in Arkansas that federal regulators called a "sham transaction" and her former law partner, Hubbell.

Then, Hubbell was indicted on tax evasion charges Thursday. Those new charges are directly related to Hubbell's receiving large cash payments from Clinton friends and political allies after he was forced to resign from the Justice Department before going to prison for fraud in 1994.

In between, Starr learned that he had won a potentially significant court victory. A federal judge in Washington decided he had not immunized Lewinsky, which could force the former White House intern who reportedly has claimed a sexual relationship with Clinton to tell her story before a grand jury or risk being indicted.

Starr's Little Rock, Ark., grand jury expires Thursday. He could decide to seek an extension, or he could shift some evidence of crimes that may have occurred in Washington to a separate panel here.

"Any evidence gathered by the Little Rock grand jury of a crime that can be charged in Washington can be transferred," said a source close to the investigation.

Starr's staff has been weighing options ranging from a possible indictment of Mrs. Clinton for perjury and obstruction of justice to indicting Lewinsky in an effort to pressure her into cooperating.

They have also begun drafting a report that potentially could be sent to Congress outlining evidence of any wrongdoing he has found involving President Clinton.

Late this week, a source close to Starr said, "None of those decisions have been made yet."

In his Friday speech, peppered with Watergate references, Starr detailed Jaworski's successful effort to force Nixon to turn over the Watergate tapes.

"As the Supreme Court said in United States v. Nixon, the public has the right to every man's evidence, except for those persons protected by a constitutional, common law or statutory privilege," Starr said.

Starr said the Nixon decision established that, with few exceptions such as military or diplomatic secrets, a president is like everyone else. "If the evidence is relevant to a criminal investigation or prosecution, it must be turned over," Starr said.

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