If large parts of Kenneth Starr's report are made public today, the presidency isn't the only thing that could come crashing down.
The public's hunger for sexy details about the Monica Lewinsky scandal also could max out Congress's Web sites and potentially bog down the entire Net.
The House and Thomas congressional sites are expected to publish a substantial portion of the report as soon as this afternoon, revealing the results of the special prosecutor's eight-month investigation into President Clinton's relationship with the former White House intern.
A House spokesman yesterday expressed confidence that government sites have enough server capacity to withstand the massive traffic expected from the report. But others--especially mainstream news outlets whose sites were flooded with users when the president made a nationally televised speech following his August 17 deposition--were skeptical that the posting would go as smoothly as expected.
Yesterday the House Rules Committee voted to release the Starr report online. The full body must still approve the resolution this morning, but passage is expected. House leaders propose to publish Starr's 445-page "referral," essentially a summary of material that altogether fills 17 boxes, Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich told CNN today.
"Realistically, my guess is between 2 and 4 [p.m. ET]," he said, referring to when the report would show up online.
Henry Hyde, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said the 445 pages include a 25-page introduction, a 280-page narrative, and a 140-page "rationale." The committee will sift through the rest of the material and rule out publishing private material that could embarrass people on the periphery of the scandal.
"It will be immediately assembled and disseminated to the press and the people through the Internet," he added.
Even White House spokesman Mike McCurry said posting the report online sounded like an efficient way to disseminate information--although some Democrats in Congress argue that the president should be allowed to preview the report first, which Starr has refused.
"Seems like a smart way to get the information out quickly," McCurry conceded during a press briefing yesterday.
There is no doubt that Net users will storm Congress's sites to see if Starr has accused Clinton of perjury, an offense that could lead to impeachment. Also, visitors will probably search for more dirt on the infamous blue dress, private Oval Office visits, and, of course, the tie.
The media have been fishing for details for months about Clinton's affair with Lewinsky, which he admitted was "inappropriate" and for which has since publicly apologized several times.
Whether the House has the technical capacity to handle the online demand for the report is another story, however.
"Yes, we do," said Jason Poblete of the House Oversight Committee. The committee will carry out the project if the report is released.
"We handled about 1 million hits the day [Rep.] Sonny Bono died," he added. "Our server has never crashed."
The House could add more Web servers to accommodate the expected traffic spike, but nothing has been decided. "We are now exploring different options and just preparing for the release of the report," Poblete noted.
But if past experience and numbers from commercial sites are any indication, the House sites could be in for a shock when Net users swarm them looking for information.
Since Clinton confessed his ill-advised relationship with Lewinsky, CNN Interactive has received 320,000 hits per minute, according to spokesman Kerrin Roberts. The site's scandal hits totaled 22 million pages requested on September 1 alone.
"Congress's site is going to have a bit of a nightmare tomorrow," Roberts predicted.
"When we get a hold of the report, we will post it," he added. "We'll go to a 'breaking news' mode on the site and strip down the site to make it as light as possible for downloads."
ABCNews.com (a CNET News.com partner), MSNBC, and the New York Times all are planning online special coverage of the report and expect to publish whatever sections are made available. Netscape Communications' Netcenter portal site also will post the report.
"If the anticipated traffic is higher than we expect, we have some emergency measures we can put in place to handle that," said Noah Mercer of the New York Times Web site. Chris Neimeth, the Times vice president of sales and marketing, added: "We are investing in significant editorial resources to handle this. It is some of the biggest news to hit the country in the last ten years."
ABCNews.com and MSNBC are bracing for the traffic surge as well.
"They are in preparation to possibly add extra servers and lighten the pages if necessary," an MSNBC spokeswoman said.
Even general interest sites like America Online said they would get in on the act. "We feel as if we're well prepared for it," AOL spokeswoman Tricia Primrose said.
AOL has a less-than-sterling reputation for outages within the online industry, but at least the company can throw servers at the problem. It is unclear if Congress can roll out the same technological resources in a pinch if the House or Thomas sites reach their capacity.
On the other hand, this year the House Commerce Committee has put more than 40,000 documents online about Minnesota's lawsuit against the country's major tobacco companies. The site got 250,000 hits in the first week.
David Fish, a spokesman for the Commerce Committee, said the Starr report will presumably draw a bigger crowd.
"This very well may be a record breaker," he added.
The anticipated timing of the release could ultimately slow traffic across the Net, according to Alaina Kanfer, a research scientist at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois.
"The East Coast around the District of Columbia has real bottlenecks in the afternoon. Sometimes it is hard for government workers to use [the Internet], even mirror sites," she said.
"It's going to really show that we are bandwidth-restrained in this country," she noted.
Reuters contributed to this report.