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How Jones Ruling Will Impact Starr's Probe

In the most lengthy defense of his investigation since allegations of a Clinton affair with a White House intern broke nearly 11 weeks ago, Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr insisted that the absence of the Paula Jones sexual-harassment lawsuit would not affect his investigation.

"The real issue we are examining is: Were there crimes committed, and what were those crimes? That's our obligation," Mr. Starr said, speaking to reporters at the end of his driveway in suburban Virginia.

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Specifically at issue in the investigation is whether the president lied under oath in his deposition about his relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky during his deposition in the Paula Jones sexual-harassment case. Now, even though the Jones suit has been thrown out, the deposition is still valid, and Clinton can still be prosecuted .

But many political experts say that this week's decision by Judge Susan Webber Wright weakens Starr's hand. Perjury in civil cases is rarely prosecuted, they say, and the fact that the case has been thrown out only makes prosecution less likely.

Ultimately, however, the focus of Starr's investigation will center on his final report which will be sent to Congress, where the organizational groundwork for impeachment hearings have quietly been discussed by the Republican leadership.

Yet the impeachment process, more political than legal, may well be hampered by Judge Wright's decision, which gives President Clinton a huge boost.

"The question is can a president be impeached for what is overwhelmingly seen as a private, consensual matter in a case that has already been dismissed?" asks George Edwards, director at Texas A&M's Center for Presidential Studies. "I think the answer is no."

Still, despite the conventional wisdom surrounding the investigation, Starr remains undeterred. "You will see us sleeping very well at night because we are professionals. Fact and Law. That is what we deal with, not politics."

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