Emerging Details Suggest An Unusual Connection
By Amy Goldstein and Dan Balz
The audiotapes may have been enough to trigger an investigation by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr. But prosecutors knew they would need more.
Two-and-a-half weeks later, much remains unknown about the extent and the nature of the relationship between President Clinton and Monica S. Lewinsky. Nevertheless, considerable information has emerged beyond the tapes to indicate a relationship that, on the surface anyway, seems highly unusual between a president and an intern.
The information now comes in many forms, from White House logs to confirmation of gifts exchanged between Clinton and Lewinsky to new reports that the president discussed the young woman with his personal secretary the day after he had given sworn testimony about her in the Paula Jones sexual misconduct suit.
"The first question that everybody wants to ask is, was there a relationship other than an intern relationship between the president and Monica Lewinsky," said Stephen Saltzburg, a law professor at George Washington University.
Yet, as additional facts have emerged, their value in understanding what transpired is tantalizing but fundamentally ambiguous. Many suggest a friendship between Lewinsky and the president -- but do not necessarily prove there was an affair.
The president has steadfastly maintained the stance he took nearly two weeks ago, when he stared stonily into a bank of television cameras, shook his finger, and declared, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky." This past week, Clinton was asked to define precisely what the nature of his relationship was with Lewinsky, since he had taken pains to say what it was not. The president offered no explanation.
As for Lewinsky, she has remained in seclusion. Her lawyers have been unable to reach a deal with investigators in which she would renounce her only sworn statement thus far in the matter -- an affidavit in the Jones case -- in which she denied having a sexual relationship with the president.
Starr's investigation is aimed not only at establishing whether Clinton urged Lewinsky not to tell the truth in her Jones affidavit but at defining the relationship between the two. Starr said last week his team has made "significant progress," but would not elaborate on what it had learned.
Saltzburg said that, so far, the information emerging about the relationship "is damning" and will begin to color how people interpret more nebulous elements of the puzzle.
Coaching or Clarifying?
The most intriguing new elements have been furnished by Betty Currie, who works a few feet from the Oval Office as one of Clinton's two personal secretaries. By all accounts, she has been a trustworthy, aide to the president for the past five years.
According to a person familiar with her account, Currie has told investigators that Clinton telephoned her the evening of Jan. 17, after spending several hours that day giving a deposition to lawyers who represent Jones, the former Arkansas state employee, who has sued him for sexual harassment.
During the deposition, Jones's lawyers had questioned him about Lewinsky. During their telephone conversation that night, Clinton asked Currie whether she could meet him at work the next day, a Sunday, to discuss the matter.
When she arrived at the White House the next morning, Currie has told investigators, Clinton explored her memory of his interactions with Lewinsky to learn whether they matched his own, according to the source. At one point, the president told Currie she always had been within earshot when Lewinsky was present, then asked Currie if he was right, the source said.
Currie replied that she had been within earshot, although she later told investigators that she had not been in the same room at all times. She said she considered the president's statement "basically right," because she had always been in the office just outside his.
Whether Currie's information will help investigators build a case against the president is not clear. Her account could be construed, as prosecutors apparently view it, as signifying that Clinton had been coaching his secretary and, thus, attempting to obstruct justice, in the event Currie ever was called to testify. On the other hand, one source close to Clinton has said the president was engaged in the more benign exercise of testing his own memory against hers to assure himself he had told the truth in his deposition.
Also this week came more information from Linda R. Tripp, the former co-worker of Lewinsky's who secretly recorded her friend's conversations and thus triggered the current investigation. On Friday The Washington Post reported that the 48-year-old Pentagon employee had given Jones's lawyers a sworn statement, dated Jan. 21, in which she wrote that Lewinsky "revealed to me in detailed conversations on innumerable occasions that she has had a sexual relationship with President Clinton."
Tripp's statement also contained the first known reference to a precise date on which the alleged sexual relations began: Nov. 15, 1995. It was a day on which Clinton had stayed at the White House and canceled travel to an economic summit in Japan, to deal with a budget fight with Congress so severe that the federal government temporarily had shut down.
In one sense, the fact that Tripp has given a statement under oath means she stands firmly behind the version of events in the tapes.
But once again, there is a less damning way to view her statement. It largely reiterates the contents of her secret tape recordings and it remains a second-hand account that she gleaned from Lewinsky. Tripp's account, in other words, is accurate only if Lewinsky herself was telling the truth to Tripp.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company