Clinton hits back

White House counter-attack accuses Starr of `gratuitous pornography'
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The Independent Online
THE WHITE HOUSE joined battle with Kenneth Starr last night, accusing the special prosecutor of cramming his report into Bill Clinton's clandestine affair with Monica Lewinsky with gratuitous pornographic detail.

In a 43-page rebuttal, issued exactly 24 hours after the Starr report exploded on to the Internet, threatening a constitutional crisis unmatched since Watergate, lawyers for Mr Clinton sought to turn the tables on the special prosecutor. They questioned his motives and ridiculed his conclusion that the President had committed crimes that could justify impeachment by Congress.

Vice-President Al Gore added his voice last night, saying in Oregon: "I do not believe this report serves as the basis for overturning the judgment of the American people ... that Bill Clinton should be their president."

The White House's counter-attack was part of an emerging strategy to contain the fall-out from the Starr Report and save the President from possible impeachment and ignominy. Mr Clinton, meanwhile, will put on a "business as usual" front. Tomorrow he departs for New York for a day of speeches and a fund-raising gala performance of The Lion King on Broadway.

In his weekly radio address, President Clinton said he had suffered "an exhausting and difficult week", but insisted he was focused on his job. "As I told my Cabinet on Thursday, we cannot lose sight of our primary mission, which is to work for the American people and especially for the future of our children."

The shock-waves from the Starr report will not so easily be overcome, however. The report includes a squirm-inducing narrative of the Clinton- Lewinsky affair with vivid details of 10 sex acts, featuring fondling of breasts and genitals, oral sex, erotic manipulation of a cigar and episodes of telephone sex.

Mr Starr also asserted that Mr Clinton repeatedly broke the law to conceal the affair from prosecutors, which "may constitute grounds for an impeachment". Those charges fall into four categories: witness tampering, abuse of power, lying under oath and obstruction of justice. The House Judiciary will begin considering tomorrow whether impeachment should be pursued.

The White House said the Starr report was "so loaded with irrelevant and unnecessary graphic and salacious allegations that only one conclusion is possible: its principal purpose is to damage the President". While conceding the affair with Ms Lewinsky was wrong, it said: "Such acts do not even approach the constitutional test of impeachment."

There were mixed signals from polls yesterday. A CNN-Gallup poll showed six out of 10 people were unwilling to see the President cast from his job over the affair. However, a Newsweek poll showed a slim majority agreeing the President should be removed from office if, as Starr asserts, he is found to have lied to officials about the relationship.

While the President will stick to his campaign of belated contrition, there is debate in the White House about a possible deal with leaders on Capitol Hill for a vote on a formal censure of the President in place of impeachment proceedings.

Tomorrow's return by members of Congress to Washington will offer a first measure of the ground beneath the President. The White House will be urging Democratic members to resist the temptation to lambast Mr Clinton.