What's in the Evidence Room?

What's in the Evidence Room?

What's in the Evidence Room?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Dec. 30 1998 10:58 AM

What's in the Evidence Room?

In arguing for impeachment and against censure, Republican members of Congress have hinted at a trove of still-secret, non-Monica-related documents about President Clinton's sexual misconduct. "Before people look to cut a deal with the White House or their surrogates ... it is my hope that one would spend plenty of time in the evidence room," said House Majority Whip Tom DeLay. "If this were to happen, you may realize that 67 votes may appear out of thin air. If you don't, you may wish you had before rushing to judgment."

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What are the contents of the evidence room? Why weren't they included in the Starr's referral on impeachment or made public? Who has examined the files? And can senators take DeLay up on his offer?

The evidence room is a real place, located in the Gerald R. Ford House Office Building on Capitol Hill. The room (supposedly) houses (alleged) information on the president's (purported) illicit encounters with at least three women:

  1. Kathleen Willey, the former campaign volunteer who publicly accused President Clinton of groping her when she visited the Oval Office in 1993 to ask him for a White House job. The president denied the allegations during his appearance before the grand jury this summer.
  2. Dolly Kyle Browning, a high school friend of the president's who alleged that they carried on a long-standing affair, and then filed a defamation suit against Clinton for denying the liaison.
  3. Juanita Broderick, named in the Paula Jones suit only as "Jane Doe No. 5." This is the most controversial and damning of the allegations. Paula Jones' lawyers contend that Clinton violently forced himself on Broderick 20 years ago, when he was attorney general of Arkansas and she was a campaign worker, and then bribed and intimidated her into silence. Broderick's friends, who were interviewed by the Jones lawyers and the media, claim to have heard the story first hand. But last winter Broderick signed an affidavit denying that Clinton made any sexual advances towards her. Then, a few months later, she told the Office of the Independent Counsel that the affidavit was false. Like Monica Lewinsky, Broderick was granted immunity from prosecution by Starr.

The files have had many custodians. They began as evidence gathered by Paula Jones' lawyers, who turned them over to the Office of the Independent Counsel. Starr investigated the allegations and footnoted them in his report--but didn't include them in his referral to the House, which was based wholly on the President's liaison with Monica Lewinsky. In contrast to the Lewinsky evidence, which was made public, the House Judiciary Committee inherited these papers, placed them under seal, and began its own digging. Although investigators found what Judiciary Committee Majority Counsel David Schippers called "promising leads" on "more incidents involving probable direct and deliberate obstructions of justice, witness tampering, perjury and abuse of power," the search ended at the December deadline set by Committee Chairman Henry Hyde.

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But the files gathered no dust. Republican leaders are said to have used the materials to sway the moderates who were wavering on whether to impeach the president. Reports say that as few as a dozen and as many as 40 Republican House members were invited into the evidence room to review the documents. Nearly all of the visitors then voted for impeachment. Meanwhile, the president's lawyers have never been granted access. It's unclear whether all members of the House have access to the evidence room, and whether any Democratic members have seen its contents.

The current question is whether these files will surface in a Senate impeachment trial. To do so, they would have to clear two hurdles:

Access. House rules permit access only to House members and their designated aides. But the Judiciary Committee or the full House could vote to open the evidence room to the Senate, or even to amend the articles of impeachment to cover the non-Lewinsky material.

Admissibility. The constitution is silent on how evidence is to be admitted in an impeachment trial. As magistrate, Chief Justice William Rehnquist could rule on what evidence can be introduced by House managers. But admissibility will ultimately be determined by the senators, who will sit as both judge and jury in the case.

This Explainer was written by Jodi Kantor.