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Betty Currie
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Full text of Saturday's White House response. The Starr report is also online.

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Key Player: Betty Currie

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Currie Portrayed as a Furtive Accomplice

By Amy Goldstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 13, 1998; Page A29

Betty Currie, the genteel presence just paces from the Oval Office, was a furtive accomplice to President Clinton's affair with Monica S. Lewinsky, arranging the logistics of their rendezvous while taking pains to hide the relationship.

The image of Currie that emerges in independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's report, drawn largely from her own grand jury testimony, is of a personal secretary far more involved in her boss's relationship with the former intern than previously has been recognized.

She told grand jurors she had "sneaked" Lewinsky into Clinton's private study, using circuitous routes to avoid other White House aides. She refrained from listing many of the young woman's telephone calls to Clinton on official telephone logs. Sometimes, she jotted notes or left messages for Lewinsky, using the alias "Kay."

And last year, shortly after Lewinsky had been subpoenaed in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case, Currie drove to the young woman's Watergate apartment the Sunday after Christmas, retrieved a box of gifts from Clinton, brought them home, and stashed them under her bed.

Particularly after Clinton won election in 1996 to a second term, "the president's secretary acted as intermediary," the report says, noting that Currie typically authorized Lewinsky's visits and sometimes went to the White House on weekends "for the sole purpose of having Ms. Lewinsky admitted and bringing her to see the president."

Over time, she seemed to grow less fond of the president's young friend, more troubled by the relationship. At one point, when the effusive Lewinsky appeared on the brink of confirming what Currie had merely surmised, the secretary cut her off, saying, "Don't want to hear it. Don't say any more." And later, after Lewinsky had been banished from the White House and was claiming that Clinton had promised she could return, Currie tried to dissuade her from pressing the issue.

Nevertheless, Starr's report depicts her as facilitating his interactions with Lewinsky long after several other White House aides had become wary of the former intern. Both by bringing Lewinsky to Clinton and later keeping her at bay, she demonstrated loyalty to the president.

"What are you -- nuts?" Evelyn S. Lieberman, the former White House deputy chief of staff, once asked Currie. The rebuke came in April 1996, just after Lieberman had, according to her grand jury testimony, "decided to get rid of" Lewinsky for fear that she was hanging around the Oval Office too much. Currie permitted Lewinsky, who had been transferred to the Pentagon's public affairs office, to return for a visit so she could watch the president's helicopter leave from the White House lawn.

Her complicity -- which continued in various forms until early this year, according to the report -- is at variance with Currie's other images: a churchgoer, a gracious, slightly formal woman who exudes a calm, maternal air in the part of the White House where the height of power and -- often frenzy -- reside.

Currie, 59, continues to work as one of Clinton's two personal secretaries, along with Nancy Hernreich. Her role as a key witness has not seemed to affect her relations at the White House and she accompanied Clinton on his trip to Africa earlier this year. Currie has never commented publicly on her role in the White House, and efforts to reach her lawyer yesterday were unsuccessful.

Starr's report cites ways in which Currie enabled the clandestine encounters between Clinton and Lewinsky to occur. On Feb. 28, 1997, Lewinsky attended Clinton's weekly radio address and had a picture taken with him. Clinton then told Lewinsky to see Currie, because he wanted to give her something, Lewinsky said in her grand jury testimony.

The three walked together into the president's private study near the Oval Office. Then Currie waited nearby for 15 or 20 minutes while, Lewinsky testified, they had a sexual encounter. Afterward, the three left together. Currie testified that she had accompanied them because she "didn't want any perceptions, him being alone with someone."

The report also portrays Currie as a central actor in incidents that had not previously been disclosed. One particularly vivid episode -- in which Currie seems to have been carrying out the president's more recent desire to keep the former intern at a distance -- took place last Dec. 6, when Lewinsky wanted to deliver to Clinton several gifts and a letter complaining that "you want me out of your life." Currie had told Lewinsky that the president could not see her that morning, because he was meeting with his lawyers.

But according to the report, Lewinsky went to the White House anyway, and a Secret Service officer invited her to wait in a guard booth while he tried to find Currie. During her 40-minute wait, one officer mentioned that the president actually was meeting with television personality Eleanor Mondale, prompting Lewinsky to fly into a rage.

Lewinsky "stormed away, called and berated Ms. Currie from a pay phone," the report said. Currie, in turn, "hands shaking and almost crying," told the officers that Clinton was "irate" that they had told Lewinsky with whom he was meeting and warned a Secret Service supervisor that "someone could be fired."

Currie, the report suggests, was developing her own wariness of Lewinsky. When the former intern was first transferred to the Pentagon, Currie testified, she had regarded her as "a friend who had been wronged." But as she endured telephone calls in which Lewinsky sobbed and demanded to reclaim a White House job, she "considered her as a pain in the neck, more or less."

Nevertheless, she continued to act as Clinton's emissary to Lewinsky, even as Starr's investigation into their relationship was beginning. On the evening of Jan. 17, just hours after Clinton gave his deposition in the now-dismissed Jones sexual harassment case, he telephoned Currie at home and asked her to meet him at work the next day, a Sunday. During that meeting, Clinton made statements -- which Currie assented to, but knew were untrue -- that she had always been present during Lewinsky's visits, and that he had "never touched" the young woman.

For the first time, Starr's report documents the aftermath of that meeting. That evening and early the next morning, Currie tried to reach Lewinsky via pager 11 times, using an alias and leaving urgent messages. "Please call, Kay, re family emergency," Currie said in one message. She testified it was "possible" she had called at Clinton's suggestion and that Clinton met with her again approximately a day later to discuss Lewinsky again. Clinton's grand jury testimony differs. He said he "did not remember having a second conversation with her along these lines," according to the report.

Starr contends in his report that such behavior constituted an attempt to obstruct justice and influence a witness. Clinton's lawyers yesterday disagreed, arguing that Currie was not a witness in the Jones case, and Starr at that time had not begun to investigate the Lewinsky affair. By either interpretation, Currie testified she was trying to reach Lewinsky to break the news that her name had surfaced during Clinton's deposition. For all Currie's attempts to shield Clinton's affair, Jones's lawyers had already learned of it.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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