Jones Deposition to Be Revisited
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 17, 1998; Page A06
The last time President Clinton described his relationship with Monica S. Lewinsky under oath, his testimony made their dealings sound like a passing acquaintance between commander-in-chief and low-level aide. She brought him papers sometimes and a pizza once. He may have given her a T-shirt.
But otherwise he did not remember ever being alone with her and he "never had an affair with her." If she were ever with him at the White House after midnight, he said, it would have involved "nothing remarkable."
Seven months later to the day, the president will be asked about the relationship under oath again and the story he tells to independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's grand jury may sound strikingly different. According to advisers, Clinton is prepared to acknowledge what he did not during his Jan. 17 deposition in the Paula Jones case that he engaged in sexual activities with Lewinsky.
If he goes forward with this approach, he would not admit committing perjury in his previous testimony, advisers said, but instead may rely on a technical defense arguing that any encounters with Lewinsky did not qualify as "sexual relations" as defined by Jones's lawyers.
As his advisers see it, such a strategy would allow him to correct the record in the face of what one adviser called "mounting evidence" of a sexual relationship, while seeking to head off legal jeopardy on a perjury charge. Independent legal experts consider that an iffy proposition dependent on semantic hair-splitting.
At the heart of his legal troubles is Clinton's testimony in the subsequently dismissed Jones case, which lawyers on both sides have parsed in excruciating detail over the last few days. Although the lawsuit was filed alleging that Clinton propositioned Jones when he was governor, much of the questioning focused on Lewinsky as Jones's lawyers searched for a pattern of sexual misconduct they thought would help build their case.
But neither Clinton nor Bennett knew at the time about more fateful events playing out the day before. Lured to an Arlington hotel by her friend, Linda R. Tripp, Lewinsky was suddenly confronted by Starr's investigators and told they had tape recordings of her describing an 18-month affair to Tripp. Tripp then went home, where she met with a Jones lawyer and filled him in on everything Lewinsky had told her about an affair with the president.
As a result, the questioning about Lewinsky was detailed and extensive, so much so that it surprised Clinton, who went back to the White House afterward, canceled his Saturday evening plans and called his personal secretary, Betty Currie, at home to ask her to come into work the next day so he could compare his recollections with her.
The central question about sex turns on a legal definition Jones's lawyers drew in part from federal sexual assault statute. They wanted a three-pronged definition, but U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright narrowed it to a single point. As approved by Wright and shown to Clinton, the definition was: "A person engages in 'sexual relations' when the person knowingly engages in or causes contact with the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks of any person with an intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person." Contact was defined as "intentional touching, either directly or through clothing."
Some of Clinton's legal advisers have concluded that definition includes a loophole that would not cover oral sex performed on him and that he was confused about that point. If he tries that explanation, however, there are a number of other statements in the deposition he likely will be asked to explain or reconcile with the testimony of other witnesses.
For example, he said during the deposition that he did not recall being alone with Lewinsky in the Oval Office, a statement that would be hard to accept if he now acknowledges engaging in sexual activities with her. Asked about Lewinsky's statements to Tripp about a "sexual affair," Clinton said, "It's certainly not the truth."
Clinton also gave an account of his last meeting with Lewinsky that may be hard to square with her testimony and other evidence. He said it was "probably sometime before Christmas" when Lewinsky dropped by to visit Currie "and I stuck my head out [and] said hello to her." He said he joked with her that she might be subpoenaed in the Jones case because the lawyers "were going to call every woman I'd ever talked to," but did not recall her response, except to say it was "probably just some predictable thing."
White House records show that Lewinsky visited Dec. 28, nine days after she was served with the Jones subpoena, and sources have said the president met with her alone. A worried Lewinsky brought up her impending testimony in the Jones case during that session, according to sources familiar with her account.
Clinton also said he did not recall giving her specific presents, although she reportedly has testified that they discussed the gifts and ways she could avoid turning them over to Jones's lawyers in response to a subpoena. Lewinsky later gave the gifts to Currie.
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