The House's top GOP impeachment lawyers bluntly told White House attorneys they have no intention now of discarding any of the core evidence submitted by independent counsel Kenneth Starr.
That message was delivered Wednesday, according to knowledgeable officials, during a meeting at which White House lawyers complained that they were unable to find out what charges President Clinton may face.The first closed-door session between White House lawyers and House Judiciary Committee attorneys to discuss the impeachment inquiry was described as cordial, but one that did little to forge any cooperative agreements.
The meeting was described by White House and House officials who asked not to be quoted by name, and the session was followed by harsh public comments by a White House lawyer and a spokesmen for committee Republicans.
"What precisely are the charges? Are there 15, are there 11, are there three?" asked White House lawyer Gregory Craig, who is coordinating the president's impeachment defense. "It's like attacking a man who was blindfolded and handcuffed. These are not fair procedures."
Paul McNulty, the Republican spokesman, said the White House should concentrate on cooperating with Republicans to expedite the inquiry rather than posturing over the fairness issue.
"Now, the allegations against the president are very serious," he said. "As many members of the committee have repeatedly said, the charges, if true, would constitute an attack" on the constitutional system of government.
The committee is expected to begin holding hearings after the Nov. 3 elections. Its chairman, Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., has said he would like to finish by year's end.
Inside the committee meeting room Wednesday, White House lawyers Charles Ruff and Craig, and private Clinton attorney David Kendall, pointed out that chief Republican investigator David Schippers enumerated 15 grounds for potential impeachment.
Starr compiled 11 possible grounds in his referral to the House last month, and Hyde spoke recently of streamlining the investigation to package the allegations differently, the Clinton attorneys said.
None of Schippers' grounds for possible impeachment nor Starr's slightly different list need be accepted by the Judiciary Committee, which, in effect, started fresh once the House authorized an impeachment inquiry this month.
Republican lawyer Thomas Mooney and Schippers told the White House attorneys they should not interpret anything Hyde said about streamlining to mean core issues would be taken off the table, the sources said.
Both Starr and Schippers found that Clinton may have obstructed justice, tampered with witnesses and lied under oath in trying to conceal his admittedly inappropriate relationship with Monica Lewinsky, a former White House intern.