Counsel, Hill Oppose Rebate of Clinton Fees

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The independent counsel's office and members of Congress will challenge any effort by President Clinton to seek government reimbursement for more than $5 million in legal fees in the Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky investigations.

Lawyers and others close to independent counsel Robert W. Ray's office said last night that prosecutors - angry that much of the cost of the probes, including the president's still-unpaid legal bills, were the result of Mr. Clinton's own delaying tactics - already have examined the legal requirements for a reimbursement request.

Prosecutors are preparing formal responses to block or severely limit the effort.

"There is no doubt the request, if made, will be challenged, and challenged vigorously," said one lawyer familiar with the probes of Mr. Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Any request by the president for reimbursement of legal bills also is expected to be met with "bipartisan opposition" on Capitol Hill.

Rep. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican and one of the House managers during the Senate impeachment trial of Mr. Clinton, said both Republicans and Democrats would oppose reimbursement because the White House lengthened the independent counsel's investigation with unwarranted and unnecessary delays.

"Most Americans, regardless of how they feel about the impeachment process, believe the president, through deception and perjury, extended the [independent counsel's] investigation and added greatly to its expense," Mr. Graham said.

He said it was doubtful many Democrats would line up in support of the government's assuming Mr. Clinton's multimillion-dollar legal tab, given that a federal court judge in Little Rock, Ark., fined the president $90,000 earlier this year for delaying the investigation by lying under oath.

"There's not an equitable argument that can be made" for having taxpayers pay the first couple's bills, Mr. Graham said.

Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, agreed. He said Mr. Clinton should not be reimbursed for legal debts in the Lewinsky investigation because of what he described as "a lot of self-inflicted wounds."

Mr. Davis said it would be improper for the government to pay a president's legal bills in situations where he has "hindered an investigation or shredded or withheld documents."

Mr. Clinton's contemplation of a reimbursement request was first reported yesterday by The Washington Post.

But the president's personal attorney, David Kendall, described such reports as "entirely premature" because the independent counsel's investigation is still under way.

"The president has a legal defense fund to raise money for legal expenses, and, hopefully, this will be sufficient," he said.

That defense fund has helped the president and first lady retire about half of a legal tab exceeding $10 million.

On other aspects of the Whitewater investigation, Mr. …