Starr has `mountain' of evidence for Clinton perjury

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The Independent Online
THERE WERE new indications yesterday that the report of the independent prosecutor, Kenneth Starr, into the activities of President Bill Clinton could be every bit as damaging as the Clinton camp fears, and could make it hard for Congress to resist an impeachment hearing.

A lawyer close to the investigation was quoted as saying prosecutors had assembled "a mountain" of evidence that Mr Clinton had perjured himself over his now-admitted affair with Monica Lewinsky and obstructed justice in trying to cover it up. Forecasts about the contents of Mr Starr's report have veered in recent weeks, from first indications that it would be more comprehensive and damning than expected, to a report before Mr Clinton's admission of his affair with Ms Lewinsky that it would deal only with the Lewinsky case.

The logic that led the Attorney-General to add the Lewinsky case to the other Clinton investigations being conducted by Mr Starr - into the failed Whitewater land deal, the transfer of FBI files to the White House (Filegate) and the sacking of the White House travel-office staff (Travelgate) - however, has always made the comprehensive version the more credible.

It is speculated that Mr Starr has evidence to back up not only the contention that Mr Clinton lied under oath when he denied an affair with Ms Lewinsky but that efforts to keep the affair - and other indiscretions - quiet entailed the silencing of others, whether by inducements or threats. Mr Starr is expected to present his report as early as next month.

With the Clinton family keeping themselves to themselves behind the walls of their borrowed estate on Martha's Vineyard, the public is being spun tales of a troubled but "healing" family working out its differences. These are intended to rebuild Mr Clinton's image and present him as just another erring family man. Rather than living it up at a noisy party, the Clintons celebrated Bill's birthday at dinner with friends. On Sunday they kept themselves to themselves, not even venturing out to church. On Monday Mr Clinton went to lunch with one set of friends; Mrs Clinton went on a boating trip with female friends. The "healing-reconciliation- closure" language of officials, referred to dismissively by some reporters outside the White House press corps as psychobabble, is paving the way for a reconciliation before the First Family returns to Washington next weekend.

The picture of gradual "healing" in Martha's Vineyard is not replicated elsewhere. Polls from across the country show Mr Clinton's hitherto irrepressible job-approval rating has slipped a little, but, more significantly, his personal credibility rating is on a slide.

One poll has it as low as 19 per cent, similar to Richard Nixon's at his nadir. The number of people expressing outright dislike for Mr Clinton has also risen. Still more worrying to the Clinton camp may be insistent "insider" reports from within the White House apparatus and the Administration, as well as Congress, suggesting the extent of disaffection among Mr Clinton's immediate staff and supporters. As one of Washington's most influential commentators, Thomas Friedman, wrote in The New York Times yesterday, the question may not be whether Mr Clinton "should" be president any more but whether he "can" be president. Unless Mr Clinton can repair the damage to his credibility, he said, "it is going to paralyse his ability to govern, whatever Mr Starr does".