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Summons Thrusts President's Gatekeeper Into View

Betty Currie. (AP)

By Amy Goldstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 23, 1998; Page A20

Betty Currie has been the Oval Office's genteel gatekeeper for five years, a meticulous secretary who is unfailingly gracious while sorting out President Clinton's true friends from those who merely claim to be.

Suddenly, this obscure public servant has been thrust into a spotlight only a Washington scandal can shine. Yesterday, Vernon E. Jordan Jr. acknowledged that he had helped Monica Lewinsky look for a lawyer and a job. It was Currie, Jordan said, who asked him to help Lewinsky, the former White House intern who allegedly had a sexual relationship with President Clinton.

Independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr subpoenaed Currie yesterday, and White House sources confirmed that when Lewinsky returned to visit after she had left to work at the Pentagon, it was Currie who typically cleared her in.

According to those who have worked with her, Currie is a polished professional in her late fifties, a relatively apolitical woman who has been drawn repeatedly to intensely political settings.

"She is a very graceful presence, a soft presence, someone who would put you immediately at ease," said Paul Costello, a New York public relations executive who has known her for two decades. "She just embodies what someone sitting outside the Oval Office should be."

President Clinton called her "a calm, reassuring voice" in a 1996 article in the Chicago Tribune. "She is a family person in the truest sense and a role model for many of us in the White House."

Currie refused to accept a reporter's telephone call last night. Reached at their Arlington home, her husband, Robert, said, "I can't even comment on her resume now."

According to people with whom she has worked, Currie has perfected the art of serving as a confidential secretary.

She first went to work for the government in 1957. During the 1970s, she worked as special assistant to Sam W. Brown Jr., President Carter's appointee to lead ACTION, the agency that includes the Peace Corps. By the next decade, she had moved into Democratic campaigns. She worked on the 1984 vice presidential campaign of Geraldine A. Ferraro, then the 1988 presidential campaign of Michael S. Dukakis.

She went to work in the Little Rock "war room" during Clinton's 1992 campaign, apparently because she was a friend of John D. Podesta, now White House deputy chief of staff. After the election, she was secretary to future Secretary of State Warren Christopher when he was co-chairman of the Clinton transition team.

It was her role in the transition that landed her a job as one of Clinton's two personal secretaries.

The post provides her with a desk in the anteroom of the Oval Office, perhaps 20 feet from the president's door.

A former White House official said: "She's the kind of person, when you have a baby, you go in and show Betty the baby. She's a motherly type."

On her desk, she keeps pictures of Socks, the Clintons' cat; former White House chief of staff Leon E. Panetta recalled yesterday that Socks had been known to walk across Currie's desk while she was on the phone.

Currie wields a quiet power, helping to keep the president's calendar and take his phone calls. "I get a thrill out of watching people come in to meet him," she told the Tribune in 1996.

Last night, current and former co-workers spoke of her in glowing terms.

"This is not Rose Mary Woods," one said, referring to President Richard M. Nixon's secretary who is believed to have erased a key 18 1/2 minutes of the Watergate tapes. "Betty is not someone who would ever do anything unethical, immoral or untoward. She has made it to where she is because of hard work and because she is just an impeccable woman and not a political hack."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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