Independent Counsel Calls New Grand Jury on Lewinsky

Independent Counsel Robert Ray has empaneled a new grand jury to hear evidence against President Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky scandal, ABCNEWS has confirmed. Aug. 17

— Independent Counsel Robert Ray has empaneled a new grand jury to take another look at evidence against President Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky scandal, sources tell ABCNEWS.

The jury was convened several weeks ago, sources say. The Associated Press reported the date was July 11.

In the past, Ray has said he intended to weigh whether the president should be indicted on criminal charges after he steps down. Clinton was impeached by the House in December 1998 and then acquitted by the Senate two months later, allowing him to serve out the remainder of his term.

The timing of the announcement — on the day Vice President Al Gore is set to give his speech accepting the Democratic presidential nomination at the party’s convention — angered the White House.

“The timing of this leak reeks to high heaven,” White House spokesman Jake Siewert said, who added the White House would have no further comment today.

One White House official said the move supports the notion that the independent counsel’s office is an arm of the Republican Party. Ray replaced former Independent Counsel Ken Starr last year.

Perjury, Obstruction of Justice?

The new panel is considering evidence on whether Clinton committed perjury or obstructed justice when he denied an affair in sworn testimony in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case.

A judge has already ruled the president gave false testimony and fined him $90,000 for civil contempt of court, a first for a sitting president. The disciplinary committee of the Arkansas Supreme Court has also moved to revoke Clinton’s law license.

On Wednesday, a three-judge panel said it would allow Ray to continue his investigation even though the independent counsel law expired last year. The judges ruled that termination of the office “is not currently appropriate” and still applies to Ray’s office under a grandfather clause.

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.

Ray’s office recently closed the books on two other Clinton-era controversies — the White House gathering of secret FBI files on Republicans and the firings of White House travel office employees. The prosecutor declined to bring criminal charges in either case.

Majority Oppose Charges

An expert cautioned that empaneling a new grand jury is no guarantee that Ray will seek an indictment.

“It’s merely a step in an investigation, not an indication an indictment would ever be approved by a grand jury or even presented to the grand jury,” said John Douglass, a former prosecutor in the Iran-Contra scandal and an expert in criminal law and criminal procedure at the University of Richmond.

Ray, however, has made no secret he intends to weigh whether Clinton should be indicted.

“There is — as the public is well aware — a matter involving the president of the United States in connection with the Lewinsky investigation,” Ray said in a television interview with ABCNEWS in March. He also confirmed then he was beefing up his staff with two additional prosecutors and planned to add additional agents from the FBI and other federal agencies to complete the probe.

“The country went through the matter of impeachment,” he said. “The judgment was made by the country that it was not appropriate to remove the president from office.”

“It is now my task as a prosecutor, with a very limited and narrow focus, to determine again whether crimes have been committed and whether … it is appropriate to bring charges,” he added.

In a May Gallup poll, 56 percent said Clinton should not be charged in a court of law after he leaves office. Another 38 percent said he should be charged.