The Starr Report: White House tries to get in retaliation first

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THE WHITE HOUSE made a dramatic effort yesterday to pre-empt Kenneth Starr's allegations by sending its own report to Congress, declaring the President did not commit perjury, obstruct justice, tamper with witnesses or abuse the power of his office. "Impeachment is a matter of incomparable gravity. Even to discuss it is to discuss overturning the electoral will of the people," Bill Clinton's lawyers wrote.

"We do not believe the OIC (Office of Independent Counsel) can identify any conduct remotely approaching the impeachment standard", said the 73-page rebuttal, written by attorney David Kendall and a White House counsel, Charles Ruff, and their associates.

"Instead from press reports, if true, it appears that the OIC has dangerously overreached to describe in the most dramatic of terms conduct that not only is not criminal, but is actually proper and lawful."

The report was released by the White House less than an hour after lawmakers voted to make public the report by Mr Starr, which accused him of 11 impeachable offenses.

The Clinton rebuttal was part of a massive counteroffensive, planned in secret over the last few days by the President's top troubleshooters.

White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said the rebuttal, sent to a half- dozen House leaders, was not based on an advance look at Mr Starr's report. "We don't know what's in the report, but we can read the newspapers," he said.

The White House report was sent to leaders of the House Judiciary Committee, to the Speaker Newt Gingrich, the Minority Leader Dick Gephardt and House Oversight Committee chairman Bill Thomas. The document offered a point- by-point rebuttal of allegations expected in Starr's report.

"This private mistake does not amount to an impeachable action," the report said. It went on to say that Starr's report had the "intent to embarrass".