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Betty Currie/TWP Betty Currie arrives for her first grand jury appearance. (Bill O'Leary/The Post)
Currie Testimony May Prove Pivotal

By Peter Baker and Amy Goldstein
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, March 9, 1998; Page A01

Betty Currie returns to the grand jury this week a far more crucial witness than before, now that prosecutors have obtained sworn testimony from President Clinton placing his personal secretary at the center of a series of events involving his relationship with Monica S. Lewinsky.

Currie was the first witness in grand jury proceedings six weeks ago, but since then, independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr has received a copy of Clinton's Jan. 17 deposition in the Paula Jones case, in which he was asked at length about Lewinsky and pointed to his secretary as her main point of contact in the White House West Wing.

That deposition gives prosecutors a window to compare Currie's original testimony with Clinton's version of events and explore any contradictions. Most significant may be their accounts of whether it was the president or his secretary who initiated a plan to line up high-powered job help for Lewinsky at a time when Jones's lawyers were seeking to question her about an alleged sexual relationship with Clinton.

During his interrogation by Jones's lawyers, Clinton suggested that Currie may have stuck her head in the Oval Office one day late last year to ask if it was all right for her to call presidential confidant Vernon E. Jordan Jr. to seek help finding employment in New York for Lewinsky. If so, Clinton testified, he would have said fine.

Clinton said he did not remember with certainty whether he gave approval or not. But he insisted he was not the precipitating force for a job search that investigators believe may have been an effort to ensure Lewinsky's silence.

Jordan, who testified for two days before the grand jury last week, has said it was Currie who made the call to him about Lewinsky. However, Jordan told reporters that he kept the president informed about his help for the former White House intern and his lawyer has said that Jordan inferred that Clinton was behind Currie's call.

Now, Clinton's defense appears to rest on the notion that Currie, 58, who has worked for the president since his first day at the White House, essentially acted on her own -- a theory that strikes a number of friends and associates as implausible.

"By her nature, she is not a free-lancer," said one friend who worked with Currie on several Democratic campaigns and has been in touch with her since the controversy began. "That is not her style or her past."

Jesse L. Jackson, who has provided spiritual counseling to Currie as well as the first family in recent weeks, said that she impressed him as someone who did not stray beyond her job's customary bounds. "Betty Currie isn't a lone gunman shooting from the hips," Jackson said in an interview. "She is a government servant and a Christian woman. . . . It isn't like Betty to be making independent decisions of her own volition."

While it has been clear from the start that Currie has been central to the Lewinsky investigation, never was that clearer than in Clinton's deposition, a detailed account of which was reported last week in The Washington Post.

At virtually every important point in Clinton's testimony about Lewinsky, according to the account, Currie was drawn into the picture. His secretary, he testified, basically had adopted the younger woman.

When Clinton went to Martha's Vineyard for three weeks of vacation last summer, he said Currie told him that Lewinsky liked souvenirs from the Black Dog, an island eatery and local institution. As the president recalled the tale, he brought back a large bag of T-shirts, sweat shirts and other Black Dog memorabilia, kept some of it and gave the rest to Currie to distribute to Lewinsky and others.

Currie generally was present whenever Lewinsky stopped by the Oval Office, the president testified. She was there, for example, when he warned Lewinsky that she might be called to testify in the Jones case, Clinton testified.

As the president told it, Lewinsky's late December visit to the White House was to see Currie. Clinton remembered it taking place a few days before the holiday, while White House logs reportedly show that Lewinsky came by on Sunday, Dec. 28. The president told Jones's lawyers that while Lewinsky was visiting with Currie outside the Oval Office, he stuck out his head and said hello.

Other sources have said since the deposition that Clinton and Lewinsky were the ones who met on Dec. 28 and that they apparently were alone.

Currie brought Clinton personal messages from Lewinsky after she left for a Pentagon job in April 1996, the president acknowledged. Clinton testified that they included a Christmas card, a birthday card and notes with small talk. Asked why Currie was listed as the recipient, Clinton said that was a common practice with friends who wanted to make sure their correspondence actually got through.

Clinton was also asked several specific questions about Currie's schedule and whether she cleared Lewinsky to visit the White House after the young woman left her job there. The president said Currie was generally with him on the weekends when he worked but rarely after midnight.

The Jones lawyers appeared to be exploring whether any visits by Lewinsky between midnight and 6 a.m. were genuinely to see Currie. Sources familiar with Secret Service logs have said since the deposition that Lewinsky was cleared to enter the White House three dozen times from April 1996 to December 1997 -- often by Currie. However, the sources said there were no records showing any post-midnight visits.

Clinton testified that he was aware that Currie helped arrange a job interview for Lewinsky with Ambassador Bill Richardson at the United Nations, although he said he was not sure whether she was ever offered employment. Richardson interviewed Lewinsky in October, agreed to hire her as a low-level public relations aide and even held open the job for two months until she decided to turn it down in favor of private-sector work instead.

The extent to which Currie was a player in Clinton's testimony may help explain his actions following the deposition. After returning to the White House that Saturday evening, Clinton canceled plans to go out for dinner and called Currie at home to ask that she come into work the next day to confer about Lewinsky.

On that Sunday, Currie has told investigators, Clinton asked her a series of questions comparing his testimony with her recollection of his contacts with Lewinsky. At one point, he told Currie that she was always in earshot when Lewinsky was around, according to a source familiar with Currie's account.

She agreed at the time, although she later told investigators that in fact she sometimes was not in the same room.

It did not come up in the deposition, but sources have also said that Lewinsky gave Currie several gifts she had gotten from the president in what could have been an attempt to avoid having to turn them over to Jones's lawyers, who had subpoenaed any presents from Clinton.

While Currie's testimony is critical, she remains publicly loyal to Clinton. She and her lawyer, Lawrence H. Wechsler, are participating in a joint defense agreement in which they share information with the president's legal team and she shows up each day for work just outside the Oval Office, where colleagues come by and awkwardly offer moral support without discussing specifics of a case in which Currie is a key witness about her boss.

Currie's loyalty to the president coexists with integrity, associates believe, and one longtime friend speculated that Currie would be unlikely to mislead the grand jury if Clinton had, in fact, directed her to facilitate Lewinsky's job search.

"The presumption [by the White House] is that Betty will protect him at all costs. I don't believe that," the friend said. "I don't think she will perjure herself. I can't imagine her making a deal with herself to protect him."

The friend, like others who stayed in touch with Currie in recent weeks, said their conversations have been a bit stilted. "There is not much you can say," the friend said.

Currie arrived at the White House at the start of Clinton's first term. She first went to work for the government in the 1957. By the 1970s, she was the special assistant to Sam W. Brown Jr., who ran ACTION, the agency that at the time included the Peace Corps, during the Carter administration.

In the 1980s, she moved into politics, working for vice presidential nominee Geraldine A. Ferraro in 1984, presidential candidate Michael S. Dukakis in 1988 and Clinton in 1992.

Jackson said he had known Currie "at a distance" for years and has reached out to her since her first grand jury appearance. He said that he has tried to help her find a "storm survival strategy," urging her to "choose prayer over panic" and maintain her dignity in the face of the unseemly allegations.

Several former White House interns said in interviews that they got to know Currie -- to some degree -- while working there, although they could not imagine asking her for help with a job.

Robyn Statman, an intern in the scheduling office in 1995, said she spoke with Currie a few times by telephone, but "she had no idea who I was." Another, who frequently delivered documents to the Oval Office, said interns treated her with formality. "She was very motherly, very, very sweet," he said. "You called her Mrs. Currie. It wasn't, 'Hey, Betty.' "

"She's a political birth mother. Young people gravitate to people . . . like Betty," said Donna Brazile, chief of staff for Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who has known Currie since the 1984 campaign. "Betty tends to be that type of person that helps people. She is very generous."

Staff writer Hamil R. Harris contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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