New Grand Jury Investigates Clinton

Friday, August 18th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — Independent Counsel Robert Ray is signaling that the Monica Lewinsky scandal is far from over, assembling a new grand jury to investigate the president's conduct, legal sources say.

News that the grand jury was impaneled a month ago reverberated to the other side of the country Thursday, with Democratic Party loyalists at the convention in Los Angeles decrying the story as a politically motivated leak designed to hurt Vice President Al Gore.

``If Clinton was to drop dead, the Republicans would dig him up,'' complained Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y.

The timing of the news ``hours before Al Gore is to give this speech'' warrants a federal investigation, said Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill.

``You can bet your bottom dollar that the Republican Party was behind'' the leak, said House Minority Whip David Bonior, D-Mich. ``I think the American people are going to reject this kind of behavior.''

Gore spokesman Doug Hattaway said the judicial system was being ``manipulated for political purposes.''

With the convention in its final day, Clinton was 3,000 miles away at the White House, where spokesman Jake Siewert pointed to prosecutors as a likely source of the leak. Ray's office denied it.

The sources telling The Associated Press that a new grand jury was convened July 11 in the Clinton-Lewinsky matter are outside the Independent Counsel's office. The sources spoke only on condition of anonymity.

The setting up of a new Clinton-Lewinsky grand jury at the U.S. Courthouse in Washington, D.C., follows through on Ray's promise to weigh whether the president should be indicted after he steps down from office next January.

Clinton was impeached by the House and acquitted by the Senate, which fell 12 votes short of convicting him on a perjury charge and 17 votes short of conviction on a charge of obstructing justice. Now, a year and a half later, a special panel of judges is renewing Ray's mandate for another year.

The judges issued a legalistic one-sentence order Wednesday declaring that ``termination of the office ... is not currently appropriate.''

The legal questions are whether Clinton committed perjury or obstructed justice when he denied an affair in sworn testimony in the Paula Jones case.

The judge in the Jones case has already ruled the president gave false testimony and fined him for civil contempt of court. The disciplinary committee of the Arkansas Supreme Court has also moved to revoke Clinton's law license.

Keith Ausbrook, senior counsel to Ray, declined comment about any grand jury activity, which is kept secret by law.

But in response to the judges' order, Ausbrook noted that ``we've made public that the Lewinsky investigation remains open and that the e-mail investigation remains open.''

The e-mail probe focuses on whether the White House concealed thousands of electronic messages sought by investigators. Presidential aides deny wrongdoing.

In the e-mail probe, a conservative group, Judicial Watch, revealed that Ray's office is using a federal grand jury in Alexandria, Va.

Judicial Watch released the first page of a subpoena for records of a major witness in the investigation, Sheryl Hall, a former White House computer specialist who said some of her fellow workers had been threatened with jail if they revealed a problem with the e-mail archiving system. The absence of archiving of incoming messages made it impossible for the White House to review thousands of e-mails to determine if they should be surrendered in various investigations — from the Lewinsky scandal to Whitewater.

Judicial Watch has been critical of Ray's office for recently closing the books on two other Clinton-era controversies — the White House gathering of secret FBI files on Republicans and possible lying regarding Hillary Rodham Clinton's role in the firings of White House travel office employees. The prosecutor declined to bring criminal charges in either case and Judicial Watch says Ray should have waited until the White House reconstructs e-mail that was missing from the archives.

Seven other federal grand juries are sitting at the courthouse investigating a variety of matters, yet Ray has sought and obtained permission to form a separate grand jury focusing on Clinton-Lewinsky rather than using any of the other seven, the sources said.

Getting a separate grand jury for Clinton-Lewinsky is ``a way for Ray to be prepared to act quickly and to deal with this question efficiently when he turns to it,'' said John Barrett of the St. John's University School of Law.

The new grand jury is likely to get up to speed on the scandal by receiving evidence in the form of transcripts and summaries of previously gathered evidence.

``At this stage in this particular investigation it would be highly unlikely for a new grand jury to receive any new information that had not already been considered at length by Ken Starr, the United States Congress and the prior grand jury,'' said John Douglass, an expert in criminal law and criminal procedure at the University of Richmond.

Barrett and Douglass did extensive work before grand juries in the Iran-Contra investigation of Reagan and Bush administration higher-ups conducted by Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh.