- The Washington Times - Monday, March 20, 2000

Independent Counsel Robert Ray says he is hiring more investigators to help him decide whether to prosecute President Clinton, and he expects to finish his work this year.

"There is as the public is well aware a matter involving the president of the United States in connection with the [Monica] Lewinsky investigation," Mr. Ray said yesterday on ABC's "This Week."

It was Mr. Ray's "first interview" since succeeding Kenneth W. Starr as independent counsel last fall, according to show co-host Sam Donaldson.

"I am anticipating making judgments about whether or not it is appropriate to bring prosecutions. I intend to have the assistance of experienced people, experienced prosecutors, to help me make those judgments," Mr. Ray said.

"The country went through the matter of impeachment. 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."

Last April, U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright in Little Rock, Ark., found the president in civil contempt for giving false and misleading testimony about his relationship with Miss Lewinsky in a deposition in the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit.

Mr. Ray said yesterday he has hired two additional prosecutors for his office and plans to add others to assist with the Lewinsky probe and other unfinished business. "There will be the addition of several experienced agents, both from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other federal agencies," he said on ABC.

Of the Lewinsky case, he said, "It is my intention to thoroughly and fairly address that issue. That is not and should not be seen as a partisan issue."

"No person, including the president of the United States, is above the law. I intend … to vindicate that principle," he said. "This is not a right-wing matter. This is not a matter exclusively of the concern of Republicans. This ought to be a bipartisan matter."

Other investigations that the independent counsel's office has yet to wrap up include the Clintons' involvement in the Whitewater real estate deal in Arkansas and firings in the White House travel office in the early days of Mr. Clinton's first term.

"It is my judgment based upon the several mandates that we have … to arrive at reasoned and considered judgments with respect to each, and when those decisions are made to release them … eventually to the public," Mr. Ray told ABC.

Asked when he expects to finish, the prosecutor said, "I can tell you that I will reach substantial conclusion toward the completion of this investigation in a public way during the course of this year."

With that time frame, the independent counsel's office conceivably could be releasing a report with potentially damaging material about the president, first lady or other White House officials right before the November general elections.

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, told "This Week" he doesn't believe such reports should be issued on the eve of an election. He said he didn't like it when Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh indicted former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger in the Iran-Contra scandal four days before the 1992 presidential election.

Given that the current probe has been under way for five years and already has cost $50 million, Mr. Schumer said, "I don't see why he [Ray] can't finish his report in a month or two."

Mr. Ray announced last week that he found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing in the 1996 "Filegate" episode.

Judicial Watch Chairman Larry Klayman yesterday criticized that conclusion, saying Mr. Ray failed to talk with Linda Tripp "about her sworn testimony that she observed FBI files being loaded onto White House computers and overheard conversations linking this to Hillary Clinton."

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