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Clinton makes deal with independent counsel

By MARK KUKIS

WASHINGTON, Jan. 19 -- President Bill Clinton acknowledged "false" statements under oath as part of an eleventh-hour deal with Independent Counsel Robert Ray to avoid indictment for perjury after he leaves office.

"I tried to walk a line between acting lawfully and testifying falsely," Clinton said of his sworn testimony in the dismissed civil suit brought against him by Paula Jones, in which he was asked pointed questions about his sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. "I now recognize that I did not fully accomplish this goal and that certain of my responses to questions about Ms. Lewinsky were false."

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Clinton's comments came in a statement after the White House and Ray's office finalized the deal Friday morning after negotiating the terms for several weeks.

Under the arrangement, Clinton accepted a five-year suspension of his law license in Arkansas and agreed to pay a $25,000 fine. In exchange, an ongoing effort to disbar Clinton in his home state would be dropped and Ray would not seek to prosecute Clinton for perjury after he steps down. Clinton also agreed to not to seek reimbursement for legal fees.

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The deal effectively closes six years of tangled investigations that nearly drove Clinton from office. It also rules out any lingering legal or political fallout stemming from Clinton's impeachment in the House and subsequent Senate acquittal.

"The country has reached the end of the tortuous path it has traveled," Ray said in a statement timed to coincide with Clinton's remarks. "This resolution, by agreement with President Clinton, means that justice has, in fact, been done. It is in the best interests of law enforcement and the country."

House Judiciary Committee chairman Rep. Henry J. Hyde, R-Ill., welcomed the deal, though struck a defiant stance against Clinton's longstanding claim that his impeachment was unconstitutional and politically driven.

"There is much to be said for closing this phase of our history," said Hyde, a leading GOP figure in impeachment. "The action taken today vindicates the House impeachment proceeding and reaffirms that our actions were in defense of the rule of law rather than merely a political initiative.

Clinton's attorney David Kendall said the president's acknowledgment of false statements didn't amount to an admission of perjury, in legal parlance.

"He did not lie," Kendall told reporters at the White House. "He admits that in his testimony he gave evasive and misleading testimony."

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White House spokesman Jake Siewert also drew esoteric distinctions in the language used to characterize the legality of Clinton's testimony vis-vis his statement Friday.

Siewert said Clinton "wasn't trying to be particularly helpful" when questioned about Lewinsky but "was trying to be truthful at the time."

"And that's the key piece," Siewert said.

Called to provide a deposition in Jones' sexual harassment suit against him, Clinton denied having sex with Lewinsky under oath. He later admitted publicly that he did have sexual relations with Lewinsky.

Beginning in 1996, three independent counsels, most notably Kenneth W. Starr, investigated whether the president and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton were guilty of criminal wrongdoing in a failed Arkansas real estate deal known as Whitewater. The probe officially ended in September, when independent counsel Ray determined that there was insufficient evidence to convict the Clintons of either crimes related to Whitewater or an alleged coverup. But Ray had left open the possibility of pursing the perjury charges.

Republicans had dampened prospects for a protracted legal fight after Jan. 20 by signaling willingness to consider a pardon for Clinton. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said he supported a Clinton pardon, and president-elect George W. Bush did not foreclose the possibility of a pardon as well if the ex-president faced charges.

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