Week 4: All Eyes on Grand Jury, Lewinsky's Mother
By Dan Balz
The federal courthouse in Washington sits near the foot of Capitol Hill at a point where Constitution Avenue intersects with Pennsylvania Avenue. Since the Monica Lewinsky story broke, it has taken on the appearance of a modern-day, covered wagon encampment, with satellite trucks and media vans lined up end-to-end to form a protective wall.
On the plaza between the trucks and the courthouse, a temporary village of cables, barricades, microphone stands and risers has sprung up. On the days when the grand jury impaneled for independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr is sitting, there is an atmosphere within the village that reflects the strange mixture of boredom and anticipation that comes from waiting and waiting for something big or nothing at all to happen.
The unfolding investigation into whether President Clinton had an affair with Lewinsky and then urged her to lie about it under oath has played out in many locations over the past few weeks, from the shopping mall at Pentagon City to the White House to the Capitol building. But increasingly, the focus has narrowed to the proceedings inside the blocky courthouse. There, the grand jury meets in a drab, third-floor room 23 ordinary citizens locked away in secret proceedings that have the capability to change the country.
The story once seemed to be spinning out of control, with allegations and new information cascading forth at a pace too rapid for many people to absorb. No longer. The grand jury proceedings now dictate the pace of news and will help determine the fate of Clinton's presidency. Last week there was a perceptible shift as Starr's team of lawyers began to zero in on the principal players in the continuing drama. The events set the stage for what could be the crucial hours of testimony in the coming weeks.
As the Lewinsky story entered its fourth week, something unusual happened: Pictures became as important as words in conveying the story of the investigation; the video images beamed out of the temporary village on the courthouse plaza were as telling as blind quotes in the morning papers.
No image was more revealing last week than that of a slender, blonde woman who appeared before the grand jury on successive days. On Tuesday, Marcia Lewis, Lewinsky's mother and confidante, emerged from the grand jury after several hours of questioning, her head high, a smile on her face. She was wearing a black jacket, skirt, stockings and shoes, and she carried a black Gucci handbag. She looked as chic as one might expect of someone whose life has caromed between Beverly Hills, New York City and Washington, D.C.
She had sought not to testify, but her request had been rejected. She testified under a grant of limited immunity. But on that first day, she appeared to have maneuvered through the questioning with relative skill, and her attorney, Billy Martin, promised reporters "a full statement" at the end of her testimony. Lewis's only comment was "no comment," but Martin said "part of what she's feeling is a lot of pain for her daughter's going through this ordeal." She departed with what seemed an air of confidence.
By Wednesday, that self-confidence was gone. Lewis emerged after a full day of testimony with her head down and her arms clutched around her sides, as if she were ill. It was clear the questioning in the grand jury room had cut deeply. Lewis was in black again, but this time she might have been a woman in mourning, a distraught mother overcome by emotion. She did not pause to speak to reporters. This time the pain she felt was as much for herself as for her daughter.
"This is a very emotionally draining and difficult time for my client," her attorney said later. "No mother should be forced by federal prosecutors to testify against her own child."
Parade of Witnesses
The list of witnesses who have appeared before the Starr grand jury numbers at least a dozen. The patterns of the investigation are difficult to discern, in part because Starr's investigators have interviewed more people than have testified before the grand jury. But as the investigation has continued, there appear to be several categories of witnesses who have been called to testify or who are due to appear soon.
The first category includes those who know how the White House operates, from a former chief of staff (Leon E. Panetta) or a former deputy chief of staff (Evelyn S. Lieberman) to Betty Currie, the president's personal secretary, or a White House steward, who works out of the pantry-kitchen near the president's private study. With their help, Starr's team conducted a primer on the Executive Office of the President; the physical layout of the West Wing; the corridors that lead to the Oval Office; the lines of sight into and around the Oval Office and the study and private presidential dining room; the security arrangements; and who stands or sits where at any particular time. These witnesses could tell a grand jury who would be in a position to see what was going on around the Oval Office and some were in a position to say whether they had seen anything directly. They were among the first round of witnesses to testify.
Among this group of witnesses, the latest person to surface was Lewis C. Fox, a retired member of the uniformed Secret Service, who told The Washington Post that on a weekend afternoon in the fall of 1995, Lewinsky had arrived outside the Oval Office with papers for Clinton. She was ushered in at the president's request, Fox said, and remained there for about 40 minutes. Fox said he believed they were alone, but his attorney said he could only testify that they were together because he could not be certain that no one else had entered the Oval Office.
Fox was subpoenaed but did not testify on Thursday, as Starr's office negotiated the terms of his appearance with the Treasury Department, which oversees the Secret Service, and the Justice Department, which serves as Treasury's lawyer. The two sides reached agreement on Friday, setting the stage for Fox to testify, perhaps this week.
A second category of witnesses could bring the investigation closer to corroborating evidence that Clinton and Lewinsky had a sexual relationship. Starr's team already has in its possession the audio tapes recorded by Linda R. Tripp, Lewinsky's Pentagon colleague, of telephone conversations between the two women in which Lewinsky reportedly describes her relationship with the president. Starr also has the tape made by his investigators when they wired Tripp during one of her meetings with Lewinsky. They also have a copy of a potentially damaging document author still unknown that Lewinsky gave to Tripp on Jan. 14. The document explained to Tripp how she could alter her previous story about an encounter between the president and Kathleen E. Willey, a former White House employee, when she was called to give a deposition in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case.
To bolster that evidence, Starr last week called three people who were believed to have firsthand knowledge of a relationship between Clinton and Lewinsky. The first was Ashley Raines, a White House aide and close friend of Lewinsky. She testified on Monday, a day after Newsweek magazine reported that she had told investigators that Lewinsky shared details of her relationship with the president.
A second witness in that category was Neysa Erbland, a high school friend of Lewinsky's who appeared before the grand jury on Thursday. According to several news reports, she told investigators that Lewinsky had shared with her details of a sexual relationship with the president. Attorney Ralph J. Caccia confirmed Friday night that he represents Erbland but would not discuss what she told the grand jury.
But much more significant than either of the two young women was the appearance of Lewis, the 49-year-old writer. No one doubted the close relationship mother and daughter shared. Lewinsky lived at her mother's Watergate apartment during her time at the White House and later the Pentagon. On Jan. 16, when Lewinsky was detained by FBI agents at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel at Pentagon City, the only telephone call she made was to her mother. Lewis was in New York and joined her daughter at the hotel as a deadline for a grant of immunity came and went. It was Lewis who called Lewinsky's father in California, who asked longtime family friend William H. Ginsburg to become Lewinsky's lawyer. A family friend told The Post, "Monica worships her mother. The two are incredibly close. And alike. Marcia is Monica squared."
On one of the tapes recorded by Tripp shortly before Christmas, Lewinsky received a call from her mother as she and Tripp were talking. According to an account by Newsweek, Lewinsky and Tripp had been discussing whether Tripp could stage a "foot accident" to avoid having to give a deposition in the Jones case. After talking to her mother, Lewinsky returned to the other line and told Tripp that Lewis believed the idea of having a foot accident was "brilliant" and offered to pay any medical expenses.
Lewis arrived at the federal courthouse Tuesday morning, and when Starr also showed up there the independent counsel rarely attends grand jury hearings it was clear that the stakes once again had been raised. Martin, Lewis's attorney, met privately with Judge Norma Holloway Johnson, the chief judge who oversees Starr's grand jury in a courtroom where the windows on the doors had been covered with brown paper. Martin tried to quash the subpoena for Lewis, but failed.
For Starr, already under assault from Clinton supporters who say he is conducting a politically biased, partisan investigation and allowing his office to leak material damaging to the president, the spectacle of a mother being forced to testify against her daughter represented another public relations nightmare. Unlike the spousal privilege, which prevents one spouse from being compelled to testify against another, there is no such privilege when it comes to parents and children.
Starr's decision to squeeze Lewis on her second day of testimony appeared to be part of an acceleration in the pace of the grand jury activity. Starr was no longer building a case from the outside in; he was going straight at the heart of the matter. His handling of Lewis also seemed to signal his determination to press forward relentlessly with the politically explosive case, no matter the risk to his reputation.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company