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Clinton Reply in Bar Case: Testimony ‘Not Legally False’

By Charles Babington

President Clinton is battling to keep his law license by arguing that his statements under oath last year may have been misleading and evasive but were “not legally false,” according to a legal document released Monday.

The Atlanta-based Southeastern Legal Foundation filed a 1998 complaint with the Arkansas Supreme Court’s Committee on Professional Conduct, asking that Clinton be disbarred. U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright, who found Clinton in contempt of her Little Rock court last year, filed her own complaint but did not recommend a specific penalty.

Wright concluded that Clinton, in responding under oath to Jones’ lawyers about his relationship with former White House intern Lewinsky, gave “false, misleading and evasive answers that were designed to obstruct the judicial process.”

Clinton earned a law degree from Yale, but has spent very little time practicing law. He has kept his license active by paying an annual fee to the Arkansas bar.

The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled in 1998 that there is “no place in the law for a man or woman who cannot or will not tell the truth, even when his or her own interests are involved. In the legal profession, there must be a reverence for the truth.”

But the president has never stated that he lied under oath. His 87-page response to the disbarment effort renews the main arguments he made last year when he contended that his statements did not constitute perjury, or lying under oath.

The foundation’s rebuttal says the 11th page of Clinton’s brief states: “Many categories of responses which are misleading, evasive, nonresponsive or frustrating are nevertheless not legally ‘false,’ ” including “literally truthful answers that imply facts that are not true.”

The White House declined to comment Monday. The Arkansas Committee on Professional Conduct could take up the Clinton issue as early as next week, Glavin said.