Four criminal charges that could sink the presidency

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The Independent Online
THE POLITICAL typhoon lashing President Bill Clinton intensified last night as word leaked out that the investigation into his illicit affair with the former intern, Monica Lewinsky, will yield grave allegations of serial criminal misdeeds committed over several months inside the walls of the White House.

If upon its release the report by the independent counsel, Kenneth Starr, into the Lewinsky scandal is as devastating as the leaks suggest, it could end the presidency of Bill Clinton.

The report is destined to be made public, at least in part, via the Internet as early as lunchtime today.

The President is expected to face no fewer than four charges of criminal misconduct. Sources said that he would be charged with perjury, abuse of power, witness tampering and obstruction of justice, each committed in a months-long effort to hide his relationship with Ms Lewinsky from the American people.

The report, which was kept under armed guard in a sealed room on Capitol Hill yesterday, is a "straightforward narrative" of a classic cover-up, the sources asserted, which demonstrated that the President of the United States "continued to lie, and lie and lie".

Potentially devastating to the President's hopes for survival, the combined charges could compel Congress to move swiftly towards impeachment proceedings.

The last president to face impeachment, Richard Nixon, choose to resign rather than undermine the office of the presidency 24 years ago, while confronting only one charge, obstruction of justice in the Watergate case.

The consideration of the evidence compiled by Mr Starr, delivered amid high drama to the Hill on Wednesday, is likely to begin in the Judiciary Committee today. The process is likely to drag on well into the new year. Only the President's resignation - which few in Washington dare to predict - would bring a quick close to the entire affair.

As well as reams of testimony and written evidence, the Starr report is believed to contain audio tapes of conversations between Ms Lewinsky and her friend Linda Tripp when the scandal first threatened to erupt, as well as results of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's laboratory test of alleged semen stains on Ms Lewinsky's infamous blue dress.

Mr Starr is understood to allege specifically that the President lied under oath, first in his deposition in the Paula Jones civil suit for sexual harassment last January, and then again in his testimony to the grand jury on the Lewinsky case on 17 August.

Mr Clinton will be accused of sustaining the cover-up by using members of his personal staff. He will reportedly be accused of approving the release of a misleading statement given to the press by the White House spokesman, Mike McCurry, on the day that the revelations first surfaced last January.

Mr McCurry, who resigned some weeks ago when the depths of Mr Clinton's problems became evident, said yesterday that the President might feel the need to apologise publicly yet again. "If he does - and I expect he does - I'm sure he'll make that apology," he said. "He's got a lot of amends to make and he will be making those amends."

A prayer breakfast at the White House today may be the occasion for another display of penitence.

Mr Clinton was energetically maintaining the contrition offensive yesterday, inviting key Senate Democrats to the White House to hear his regret. "He shared his feelings and apologised to us," said Senate minority leader, Tom Daschle. "We expressed the hope that the President will continue to demonstrate his contrition."

In an effort to do just that, the President was due to convene a meeting of his cabinet last night, the first such meeting since he told them last January that there had been no sexual relationship with Ms Lewinsky. Many feel that he betrayed them by making them lie for him. At the time, they stepped up immediately to defend him.

The Clinton apologies have done little to cushion the impact of the new revelations, with more members of Congress yesterday demanding his resignation. The political chaos created by Mr Starr's sudden release of his report hit Wall Street hard yesterday, sending the Dow Jones industrial average down 300 points by lunchtime. If impeachment proves to be the next step, many will fear further damage to the office of US President itself, which is held in semi-religious regard.