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The publication of the 445-page Starr "referral" into the alleged obstruction of justice, perjury, and power abuse by President Clinton may cause the Net to grind to a halt today between 14h00 and 16h00 East Coast time (19h00 to 21h00 London). The Web is increasingly being seen as the first port of call for avid news readers -- a CNN poll reports 95 per cent of respondents are planning to read it online. The Princess Diana death news and the Louise Woodward verdict have already shown the inability of the infrastructure to cope with surges in demand. Many websites will also be trying to download it for their readers, including the BBC online site -- and Monica Lewinsky's personal site. Some of the text may need censoring for obscenities, although Clinton is regarded as a poor second to Nixon in the scatological stakes. The document has a 25-page introduction, a 280-page narrative, and a 14-page rationale. There are also some 2,500 pages of supporting documentation, but it is apparently the intention of the House Judiciary Committee to review it and remove some personal references before the text is released. Releasing Starr's missive in this way -- before Congress has an opportunity to consider it, and before Clinton has seen a copy -- is extraordinary, uniquely American, and suggests that the motivation is political rather than judicial. It is unlikely that any vote for impeachment could occur for many months. Two IT industry effects can be expected: continuing unsteadiness in US financial markets as any case develops (which will tend to make impeachment less likely as most US investors love money rather than Presidents), and less attention being given to pending technology legislation. The first public knowledge of the affair with Lewinsky was on freelance reporter Matt Drudge's website. ®

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