The independent counsel's report on President Clinton should reach Congress "this week or next," Senate Republican leader Trent Lott said as anticipation rose on Capitol Hill. Kenneth Starr told President Clinton's lawyer he opposed letting him see the report early.
"You are mistaken in your views as to . . . your right to review a report before it is transmitted to Congress," Starr wrote presidential attorney David Kendall.The prosecutor, responding to Kendall's letter asking for access to the report a week early, wrote, "I suggest you address your concerns to the House of Representatives" after any report is delivered under seal there.
Clinton on Wednesday sought support from House Democrats in an emotional meeting while bracing for the potentially damaging Starr report. Congressional leaders from both parties promised to explore impeachment proceedings with no "partisan tirades" or rancor.
House Speaker Newt Gingrich declared that the report should be made available to Americans as soon as possible. "The public has a right to know," he said after the leadership meeting on Capitol Hill.
Gingrich, House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt and their lieutenants met to discuss how to handle the explosive report.
"Next to declaring war, this may be the most important thing we do, so we have to do it right," Gephardt, D-Mo., said in a joint news conference. "We have to do it objectively, fairly and in a nonpartisan way. I think we have a good start today."
Gingrich, R-Ga., said, "It is a constitutional process that requires judgment that is based in fact," not politics.
He bristled at suggestions that the report could affect fall elections, though his party's leaders have predicted big gains because of the controversy. "We should not move a day sooner because of the election; we should not move a day later," he said.
"Any impeachment cannot succeed unless it is done in bipartisan or nonpartisan way," said Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, ranking Democrat on the committee, cautioned that impeachment proceedings are not a given. "We are not planning for impeachment," he said, showing signs of disagreement between Republicans and Democrats.
House Majority Leader Dick Armey of Texas, one of Clinton's fiercest critics, declared, "I will have an attitude that there will not be partisan tirades . . . on either side of the aisle."
Though the report needs to be made public, Gingrich said some materials could be harmful to innocent people and should be reviewed by the Judiciary Committee beforehand.
The meeting and news conference occurred shortly after an embattled Clinton met with fellow Democrats at the White House to express deep sorrow for causing pain in his family and throughout the country by his affair with Monica Lewinsky.
"He wants to carry on with the business of the country but he clearly understands, I think, the deep pain he has caused his family, his colleagues, the people he works with, members of Congress and the country," said Rep. David Bonior of Michigan, second-ranking Democrat in the House.
Bonior said there was no discussion of impeachment or resignation.
Bonior acknowledged that Clinton's investigation could hurt Democrats in November's midterm elections.
Gingrich spokeswoman Christina Martin commented that the speaker "has said since the beginning of discussions of the issue that we would proceed in a bipartisan manner."
In contrast to the House leaders' efforts at harmony, there was only renewed bitterness Tuesday between Starr and Clinton lawyer Kendall.
Kendall had asked for an advance copy of the report so he could rebut its findings, but Starr rejected the request.
"You are mistaken in your views as to your right to review a report before it is transmitted to Congress," Starr wrote Kendall.
The prosecutor, responding to Kendall's letter asking for access to the report a week early, wrote, "I suggest you address your concerns to the House" after any report is delivered under seal there.
Meanwhile, Attorney General Janet Reno opened a 90-day investigation Tuesday into whether Clinton illegally benefited from advertisements that reinforced Democratic themes during the campaign but were funded by the Democratic National Committee rather than by the Clinton campaign.
Clinton had a direct hand in shaping some of the ads and gave them credit for his early success in opinion polls. The new review is the first to specifically name Clinton of three begun so far.
The inquiry will focus on whether Clinton and the White House coordinated Democratic issue ads to assist his re-election and get around federal campaign spending limits. The White House denied any wrongdoing.
Clinton, seeking to shift attention from the scandal to his domestic policy agenda, called on Congress Tuesday to pass his stalled proposals for modernizing the nation's increasingly crowded schools.
"We don't need a crowded or a crumbling classroom . . . as the symbol of America's commitment to education," Clinton told an audience of teachers, parents and students at Pine Crest Elementary School in Silver Spring, Md., just outside of Washington.
Clinton announced that 52.7 million children are enrolled this fall at public and private schools - the most in history.
"The children deserve schools that are as modern as the world in which they will live," he said.