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Americans Digest Starr’s Lurid Case

September 12, 1998 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Loaded with sex, the Starr report definitely is not family reading. Its lurid details may cause Americans to recoil and question why the report had to be so explicit. Or perhaps they will spark a moral backlash against President Clinton.

The debate over the report’s language got under way in earnest Saturday as Americans woke up to shockingly graphic descriptions of 10 sexual encounters between the president and Monica Lewinsky _ an X-rated diary of who did what to whom.

``I wish he had told us the truth from the beginning and we would not have read many things that have no place in public literature,″ House Speaker Newt Gingrich said in Atlanta. He said Clinton forced the issue with his narrow legal definition of what constitutes sex.

``I think that the nature of the president’s answers require that kind of graphicness, which I found very sad,″ said Gingrich, R-Ga.

But Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., a member of the House Judiciary Committee that voted to impeach President Nixon 24 years ago, forcing him to resign from office, said the lurid language proved prosecutors don’t have a strong case.

``When you got nothing else going for you, you go for the dirt and the filth,″ Rangel said outside the White House after attending Clinton’s weekly radio address. ``You know, this thing started off with a Whitewater investigation, an FBI investigation. And my God, I quite frankly was afraid as to what shoe was going to drop when this report was over.″

Rangel said Starr ``took a situation of very poor judgment by the president and pumped it into a nickel and dime lurid sex story. I think that’s all he had, he had no choice. He fired his best shot.″

The White House hopes to turn the focus on sex to Clinton’s advantage, portraying Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr as obsessed with the lurid details for the sake of getting Clinton. A White House rebuttal said the salacious allegations were ``intended to humiliate the president and force him from office.″

However, some senior advisers privately worry that Americans will be appalled by the details of Clinton’s conduct and become disgusted with the president. So far, Clinton has counted on political protection from his high job approval ratings in the polls and the public’s insistence that it is tired of this scandal and wants to move on.

Members of Congress, talking with constituents at home this weekend, will be listening to citizens’ reactions. Impeachment is a political process; if Americans don’t have the stomach for it, Congress won’t either.

The Starr report alleges 11 possible grounds for impeachment, including perjury, witness tampering, obstruction of justice and abuse of power. But those topics are a sidelight to the sex scenes.

In the 445-page report, the word ``sex″ is written 164 times, a computer analysis of the text shows. The word ``sexual″ turns up 406 times. There’s also ``sexually″ nine times and ``sexy,″ ``sexier″ and ``sexuality″ once each.

By contrast, the legal side of the case takes up far less space. ``Obstruction,″ often of ``justice,″ appears only 11 times; ``perjury″ 40 times and ``impeachment″ 15 times.

``Given that the issue of perjury turns in large part on the definition of ‘sexual relations’ ... it’s understandable that the report includes explicit details,″ former federal prosecutor Bruce Yannett of New York City said. ``But I think it’s fair to question whether the same case could have been made without providing the time, place, date and every possible detail of every sexual contact.″

Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn, skimmed Starr’s report in the newspaper and said, ``I’m angry at President Clinton. It’s embarrassing. It’s humiliating, It’s awful for the country.″ But he said he also was angry at the graphic detail that ``went well beyond what was necessary.″ Still, he said the most serious charge was perjury.

The Democratic National Committee seized on the report’s sexual emphasis to attack the credibility of Starr’s report. ``No amount of gratuitous details about this PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP can hide the fact that Starr has presented no credible evidence of wrongdoing that would meet the standard of treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors,″ the party said in ``talking points″ distributed to its allies.

Starr’s report shows that Clinton in his grand jury testimony was sensitive to public disclosure of his relationship. ``I certainly didn’t want this to come out, if I could help it,″ the president testified Aug. 17. ``And I was concerned about that. I was embarrassed about it. I knew it was wrong.″