Clinton Legal Fee Debate
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FACT 1 12-18-99
The act authorizing the appointment of independent counsels included a reimbursement provision aimed at protecting innocent parties ensnared in investigations that force them to run up large legal expenses. Thus far, 58 people--many of them White House staffers--have requested legal fee reimbursements stemming from Starr's investigation. Ten have received payments, which totaled $27,356, the Justice Department said yesterday. While the law expired in the summer, its provisions still apply to the Clinton case. By law, the subjects or targets of investigations may recoup reasonable attorney's fees if they are not indicted and if they would not have needed a lawyer "but for the independent counsel statute."
Former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush were reimbursed by the government for some of their legal fees in an independent counsel's investigation of arms-for-hostages deals with Iran in the 1980s.
Thus far, 58 people--many of them White House staffers--have requested legal fee reimbursements stemming from Starr's investigation. Ten have received payments, which totaled $27,356, the Justice Department said yesterday. While the law expired in the summer, its provisions still apply to the Clinton case.
CON 4 12-18-99
The office of Independent Counsel Robert Ray is examining ways to limit or block any effort by President and Mrs. Clinton to get government reimbursement for their legal expenses, The Washington Post reported in its Saturday editions. The newspaper quoted a further unidentified lawyer in Ray's office as saying ``there will be a challenge'' to any reimbursement request by the Clintons. Officials in Ray's office could not be reached Friday night for comment. The Post said the Clintons are strongly considering requesting government reimbursement of several million dollars in legal expenses.
The president's lawyer,
called the story ``entirely premature'' because there is still an
independent counsel. ``The president has a legal defense fund to raise
money for legal expenses and hopefully this will be sufficient,'' said
Clinton attorney David Kendall. The Clintons' legal bills in the
investigation by Ray and his predecessor, Kenneth Starr, into their past
business dealings and the president's affair with Monica Lewinsky have
been estimated at above $10 million. They have been able to pay off
about half that amount through the defense fund.
While some might argue that impeachment is tantamount to indictment, knowledgeable lawyers say Ray's office is more likely to base its challenge of Clinton's request on the so-called "but for" clause. The clause requires applicants for reimbursement to show that they probably would have escaped investigation by regular prosecutors.
Some legal experts say no
reasonable prosecutor would have pursued perjury charges in such a case
if Clinton had been an ordinary citizen, giving weight to a "but
for" claim for fee reimbursement.
President Clinton said Wednesday he had never considered asking American taxpayers to pay his $5 million in unpaid legal fees stemming from the Monica S. Lewinsky and Whitewater scandals. "I've never considered doing that," he said in an interview taped for broadcast on CNN's "Larry King Live" today. "I may be entitled to it, but my instinct is not to do it." Clinton said a story in the Washington Post last week alleging that he was considering seeking reimbursement from the government had been leaked by the independent counsel's office. A lawyer in that office was quoted by the Post on Saturday as saying the office was preparing to challenge such a move. Clinton added: "I think that it (the story) was leaked from the independent counsel's office. That's the way the story read to me."
PRO 6.1Independent Counsel Robert Ray says the White House is trying to undermine his investigation of the president and first lady by wrongly accusing Ray's office of leaking information to the media. "That claim is false," Ray responded in a statement Friday. "This is yet another attempt, in an ongoing effort by the White House, to impugn the integrity of a duly constituted law enforcement investigation through false accusations." Ray's statement was his first public criticism of a comment by the president. Ray said that White House spokesman Joe Lockhart was told "authoritatively" before Clinton made the allegation in his taped TV interview that prosecutors were not the source of the leak.
Asked about Ray's statement, Jim Kennedy of the White House counsel's office said Ray's office had not contacted Lockhart.
``I think that they've cost the
taxpayers enough money already,'' Clinton said of the possibility of applying
for reimbursement funds. Clinton said he considered himself lucky to have a
legal defense fund to pay the legal fees but said other people in his
administration who were repeatedly called to testify before a federal grand jury
had no similar protection. "You have no idea how many completely
innocent people . . . were harassed repeatedly and called into hearings . . .
over and over and over again so that they have these massive legal bills and
they're not eligible for any reimbursement at all," he said. Clinton
said he was trying to find a way to help U.S. officials and other people who
were asked to testify in Kenneth W. Starr's investigation pay their legal bills. "That's
what I wish I could apply for. I wish there was some fund where I could get some
money for them to pay their legal bills because . . . these people, they're not
president, they're not like me, they can't have a legal defense fund that will
pay their bills off," he told CNN.
Clinton's legal-expense trust reported in August that it had paid about $5 million in legal bills but said donations had dwindled since the end of the impeachment battle. That left him with the strong possibility of leaving office in 13 months deep in debt.
"If the Clintons sought the full $5 million" they still owe lawyers from the Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky investigations by Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, "it would be far greater than any amount ever sought under the statute," The most any president has asked to be reimbursed out of taxpayers' pockets was $777,652 by President Ronald Reagan, who was awarded $562,111. President George Bush sought $461,347 and received $272,352.