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Report on first lady is pending

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WASHINGTON — Robert W. Ray, the independent counsel, said he expects to issue a statement of his findings and conclusions about the Whitewater investigation a few weeks before New York voters go to the polls to choose between Hillary Rodham Clinton and Rep. Rick Lazio, her Republican opponent for the U.S. Senate.

Ray, whose office has investigated the president and first lady on a range of issues for more than four years, also said that he would announce his decision shortly after the president left office on whether he would seek an indictment of President Clinton in connection with his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

Ray has already issued two reports, one essentially clearing the Clintons in the collection of confidential FBI files about Republicans, and another critical of Hillary Clinton's role in the dismissal of longtime employees in the White House travel office.

Howard Wolfson, Hillary Clinton's campaign spokesman, said: "New Yorkers have already made up their minds about this. They know there is nothing here."

Ray refused to discuss what the Whitewater report might contain. While it has long been known there will be no recommendation of any criminal indictment, the statement is almost certain to discuss how his findings compare to Mrs. Clinton's assertions to investigators and to the public about her role as a lawyer in connection with several real estate dealings in Arkansas.

"It's my intention to issue those findings and conclusions prior to the election," he said. "Right now I'm trying for mid-September."

Ray said he would issue his Whitewater conclusions the moment they are ready and "not a second later." He said it would be wrong to delay disclosing them.

"Even withholding them could have political repercussions," he said, "and that could be viewed as being manipulative."

Ray said he believed that issuing his statement a few weeks before the election would provide enough time for anyone to respond to it and for the public to fully absorb both his views and those of anyone who disputed his findings.

He said that the one situation that might change his plans would be if the statement was not ready until just a few days before the election. If that were the case, he said, he would consider withholding it.

With regard to his decision about the president and the possibility of bringing an indictment after Clinton leaves office, Ray said he had an obligation to conclude the matter as soon as possible.

"It's time this matter was brought to closure," he said. "And it is coming to closure."

He added: "I know the country is weary of this. The country needs to get past this."

Ray impaneled a new grand jury on July 11 to consider whether Clinton should be indicted in connection with his denials under oath about whether he had a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky, a onetime White House intern.

He described the decision-making process as largely "a deliberative one now, not an investigative one."

Because the sole issue is whether to charge the president after he leaves office, Ray said he intended to take full advantage of the time until Clinton left office to make up his mind. He said his deliberations would require a few months.

Ray also said there were other factors to consider but declined to elaborate.

One possible factor is whether Clinton is disbarred. A state judge in Arkansas is considering a recommendation from a special bar committee that Clinton be stripped of his law license because of his denials under oath of a relationship with Lewinsky. A trial on the matter is likely to be held this fall.

Though Ray is an independent counsel, he is obliged to follow Justice Department guidelines that allow for prosecutors to show discretion and decline to prosecute a case if the subject has already paid a penalty — like disbarment or even suspension from the practice of law.

The Whitewater report that Ray is expected to file with a special three-judge panel at the same time he issues his statement of findings and conclusions will probably be his last investigative report.

He has already filed two reports with the panel, one in March on allegations that the White House, and particularly Mrs. Clinton, collected hundreds of confidential FBI files, many of them of prominent Republicans, as part of a political intelligence-gathering scheme. Ray concluded that the improper acquisition was a bureaucratic foul-up involving midlevel White House officials and that Mrs. Clinton had no involvement, as she had asserted.

But in his second statement of findings and conclusions, issued in June, about whether Mrs. Clinton played a role in the firing of seven longtime White House travel office employees, Ray was far more critical of her sworn statements.

He made a point of saying that despite Mrs. Clinton's strong denials, he concluded that she had played a substantial role in causing the employees to be dismissed.

The Whitewater report may well follow that model as it is expected to explore what Mrs. Clinton did as a lawyer for various Arkansas clients, and contentions that she tried to conceal or minimize her role.

For example, one issue is a 1985 telephone call Mrs. Clinton made on behalf of a client, Madison Guaranty and Trust, to a senior Arkansas official who worked for her husband, then the governor. She telephoned Beverly Bassett, the state securities commissioner in Gov. Clinton's administration, to discuss a proposal for Madison to float preferred stock.

Mrs. Clinton told investigators that she did not remember whom she spoke with at the agency. She also said she had only been trying to find out the appropriate official for an associate at her firm, Richard Massey, to contact, and that she had not discussed the issue.

But the regulator recalled the conversation in detail when she testified before the Senate Whitewater committee. She said that Mrs. Clinton had spoken with her and discussed the substance of the proposal. And Massey testified he had already known whom to contact.