Evidence that could lead to impeachment

Questions and answers: What awaits President Clinton?
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The Independent Online
Q: What does the delivery of the Starr report to Congress mean?

A: Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel, has finished the inquiries that arose out of the Whitewater affair. The Arkansas land scandal led him to investigate the President's sexual adventures with Paula Jones and obstructions of justice he believes arose from them. That is where Monica Lewinsky came in. Witnesses were heard in secret before a grand jury in Washington. But Mr Starr was just an investigator: now Congress must decide if there are grounds for impeachment. All he has done is accumulate evidence, and send it down the line.

Q: What is in all those boxes?

A: There are two sets of the report and supporting documents. Some is steamy, which Mr Starr has asked Congress not to release. Beyond that, we do not know. It is possible Ms Lewinsky's semen-stained dress is there, with copies of books the two gave each other - Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass and Nicholson Baker's Vox, about telephone sex.

Q: What is the President charged with?

A: Nothing. But, according to early reports, the report examines specific charges, although it is up to the House to decide which passes muster. Potentially the most damaging is perjury. The report alleges two occasions on which the President lied - once to the Jones sexual-harassment trial and in his videotaped evidence to the grand jury last month. It examines whether he obstructed justice in his efforts to find Ms Lewinsky a job. It looks at the question of abuse of power - whether the President sought to impede the workings of the Starr inquiry itself. And it looks at whether he pressed the former White House employee Kathleen Willey to lie about another sexual episode in the White House.

It seems Mr Starr concluded the President did not suborn perjury, and that Vernon Jordan, his friend and adviser, did not engage in wrongdoing when he tried to find Ms Lewinsky a job.

Q: What happens next?

A: First, the Judiciary Committee will hold hearings. If there are grounds for impeachment - "high crimes and misdemeanours" in the words of the Constitution - a vote will take place in the House. If that results in a majority verdict, the President will be impeached. He would then go for trial before the Senate.

Q: Is this the end of the Starr i inquiry?

A: No. There are issues outstanding and the grand jury continued yesterday to hear witnesses. Others may yet be indicted on other criminal charges. There are outstanding inquiries, too, into the President's handling of campaign finance during the 1996 election, launched by the Attorney-General, Janet Reno, this week.

Q: What can the White House do now?

A: The legal phase of the inquiry is over; politics and politicians take over. The President's lawyers will want to present their version of the case. A "war room" was buzzing away yesterday. But the most important thing now is congressional opinion, so the President met House Democrats on Wednesday and senators yesterday, to buttress support. Many Democrats think he should be impeached, and since last week have not been shy about saying so.

Q: Can the government turn on Mr Clinton, as it would in Britain?

A: No. The Cabinet is appointed by Mr Clinton; no members are elected. Congress, where Democrats are in a minority, is kept at arm's length from the White House by the separation of powers, which means the executive (White House) and legislature (Congress) have discrete powers. Impeachment is one of the few ways they can directly affect the presidency. But once the House has decided to impeach, the President has no appeal, and must comply.

Q: Who is in charge if the President is impeached or resigns?

A: Vice-President Al Gore would move up to the big chair in the Oval Office, as Gerald Ford did when Richard Nixon resigned in 1974. He had already been lined up as the heir-apparent to Mr Clinton, and had been hoping to slip into the Democratic nomination.

He would have to choose a vice-president; there has been little speculation but one name that has surfaced as a possible running-mate for Mr Gore is the Connecticut senator Joseph Lieberman, who tripped off the latest round of Democratic criticism of Mr Clinton. Mr Gore is also under investigation over allegations of fund-raising irregularities, though it has not reached the stage of an independent counsel. The nightmare scenario for Democrats is that he could be impeached as well.