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Lott Mutes Complaints of Starr after Firestorm of GOP Criticism

By Helen Dewar
The Washington Post

Under fire from some Republicans, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) Monday played down his recent suggestion that independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr quickly wrap up his probe of President Clinton and sought instead to blame Clinton for any delays.

Lott drew criticism from House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) and some other GOP leaders for saying Friday during taping of a television interview that it is time for Starr to "show his cards" and that Congress might consider censuring Clinton if there is not enough evidence for impeachment.

But by Monday Lott and his GOP critics were back in step, with Lott praising Starr for "doing a great job under very difficult circumstances" and urging Clinton to stop "stonewalling" and tell "the whole truth" about allegations that he had an affair with former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky and lied about it.

"So while I encourage Mr. Starr to continue his work and try to complete that work, I today call on the president to come forward, tell the American people what has happened," he said. "What is the truth? What is the whole truth? Tell that to the independent counsel, call off his attack dogs, get this behind us so that we can go on with the people's business."

Lott did not back off his earlier comments, saying only that they had been "distorted" and overblown by the news media and the president's allies. At one point, however, he also seemed to concede he might have said too much.

"When you start being quoted by the White House, [former White House chief of staff] Leon Panetta and Senator [Robert] Torricelli (D-N.J.) you know that you've either been misinterpreted or you said something you shouldn't have," Lott said.

Lott also said the controversy was "beginning to have an impact" on Clinton's ability to govern, suggesting it was affecting issues ranging "from Social Security to what's going on in Iraq to now what's going on in Kosovo."

He said he came to that conclusion because the administration is "taking either small steps on big issues or they're silent on big issues."