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Clinton Lawyers Apologize to Lewinsky

Clinton attorneys Cheryl Mills (left), David Kendall and Nicole Seligman (right) arrive at the Mayflower hotel Monday. (Reuters)

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  • By Peter Baker and Juliet Eilperin
    Washington Post Staff Writers
    Tuesday, February 2, 1999; Page A1

    President Clinton's legal team apologized to Monica S. Lewinsky "on behalf of the president" yesterday for all she has been put through after the former White House intern testified for more than four hours behind closed doors as part of his impeachment trial, according to sources familiar with the session.

    Under questioning by a House Republican prosecutor, Lewinsky stuck tightly to her past sworn testimony about her affair with Clinton and their attempts to keep it hidden in the Paula Jones case, providing no new evidence to be used against the president when his trial resumes Thursday, the sources said.

    While some of her testimony remained damaging to the president, the sources said, Clinton's lawyers passed up a chance to cross-examine Lewinsky when Rep. Edward G. Bryant (R-Tenn.) was done, apparently confident that she had not said anything to change the dynamic in the Senate, where they garnered enough support on a test vote last week to guarantee acquittal. Instead, they ended the session with a one-sentence apology to a woman who told the grand jury last August that she was upset when Clinton did not offer any words of regret to her in his televised confession a few days earlier.

    "On behalf of the president, we would like to tell you that we are all very sorry for what you've been through," attorney Nicole K. Seligman told Lewinsky, as one person in the room recalled it. Other sources offered slightly different paraphrased versions with the same thrust. Lewinsky thanked Seligman but offered no further reaction, they said.

    The deposition, conducted in the $5,000-a-night presidential suite at the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel in downtown Washington, was the first of three scheduled for this week as the House "managers" take the only testimony so far permitted by the Senate. Clinton confidant Vernon E. Jordan Jr. will be interviewed today and White House aide Sidney Blumenthal tomorrow.

    While six senators attended at least part of yesterday's session, all 100 will be allowed to view a videotape or review transcripts starting at 8 a.m. today. But the testimony will not be made public unless the full Senate agrees to do so on a majority vote when it reconvenes Thursday.

    Although Lewinsky provided House prosecutors with no new damning information, neither did she retreat from any of her past grand jury testimony, which has provided the basis for the case that Clinton committed perjury and obstruction of justice during the Jones case and subsequent criminal investigation by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr.

    Lewinsky has sworn that she and the president engaged in sexual activities that he has denied under oath and she detailed again yesterday an elaborate chain of events that prosecutors maintain establishes Clinton's obstruction, including conversations with the president, a job search conducted for her by his friends and the hiding of presidential gifts to avoid a subpoena.

    Even without additional information, House managers viewed the session as positive because she reaffirmed the evidence they have been using. "The notion of no-new-ground has two sides to it," said one source familiar with the deposition. "There were no denials or rejections or inconsistencies."

    Bryant, the manager who handled the questioning, told reporters as he left the hotel that the interview was "good" and "productive" but said he could not disclose the specifics under Senate rules. He also canceled a scheduled appearance for last night on CNN's "Larry King Live."

    Lewinsky, 25, who has been interviewed by FBI agents, prosecutors and grand jurors about two dozen times already, maintained her composure throughout the session and was in clear command of details, to the point where she sometimes corrected Bryant, according to people in the room and others who were briefed afterward.

    Several sources described her demeanor as less open than when she met more informally with Bryant, Rogan and another manager a week earlier. "She provided very limited answers. She didn't volunteer information," one source said. "She was much more coached and guarded."

    But several people in attendance were struck with her now-honed skills as a witness. A Senate lawyer afterward told others there that she should give lessons to corporate executives about how to testify under oath.

    Bryant asked about the job search, the gifts, the "cover stories" and other familiar elements of the saga that led to only the second impeachment trial of a president. He focused intently on her Dec. 17, 1997, telephone conversation with Clinton when he first informed her that she was on the witness list in the Jones case. And he elicited a statement from Lewinsky that it was possible Oval Office secretary Betty Currie picked up the gifts about 90 minutes later than she remembered, a key point of dispute at the trial.

    The session was occasionally scrappy as Lewinsky's lawyers objected several times to Bryant's questions, sources said. Once when he appeared to be asking about details of her sexual encounters with the president an issue that forms the basis of the perjury count against Clinton her lawyers cried foul. And repeatedly they complained that he was asking two or more questions at once.

    After several such clashes, Bryant himself took back a question when he realized it was a compound question. "See? I'm making my own objections," he said, according to one person in the room.

    "Sustained!" Lewinsky called out, prompting laughter.

    At another point, when he asked her what Clinton was thinking on a particular occasion, Lewinsky's lawyers objected and Bryant complained that he did not think it was fair for her attorneys to complain, sources said. That prompted a brief timeout, but Sens. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) and Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), who presided jointly, ruled that they could object.

    The deposition was set at the Mayflower to spare Lewinsky the media gauntlet she would have had to endure had she been forced to travel to Capitol Hill. The Senate paid for the elaborately appointed presidential suite at a discounted rate negotiated with the hotel.

    The interview started at 9:03 a.m. and broke every hour for five minutes. With about 40 people in attendance, many had to sit in an adjoining spillover room to watch. During an hour-long lunch break starting at 12:40 p.m., the hotel served roast beef and turkey sandwiches, soda, fruit, peanut butter cookies and brownies. With prosecutors limited to four hours and the White House lawyers asking no questions, the session broke up at 3:14 p.m., much earlier than anticipated.

    Lewinsky sat at one end of a long table, with two of her attorneys flanking her on either side, Jacob A. Stein, Plato Cacheris, Sydney Jean Hoffmann and Preston Burton. A video camera recorded her from the other end of the table. To her left was Bryant, joined by another manager, Rep. James E. Rogan (R-Calif.). To her right were two Clinton lawyers, Seligman and Cheryl D. Mills. Another presidential attorney, David E. Kendall, and a young associate, Alicia L. Marti, sat behind them.

    Also at the table were the two presiding senators, DeWine for the Republicans, Leahy and later John Edwards (N.C.) for the Democrats. Three other judge-jurors Sens. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.), Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Fred D. Thompson (R-Tenn.) attended as observers, although the two Republicans left early.

    As the session began, DeWine swore in Lewinsky. One of her attorneys, Stein, read a statement into the record making clear that she was testifying under the presumption that the deposition was covered by the same immunity agreement she struck with Starr last summer, sources said. Lewinsky's legal team solicited and received letters from Starr and the lead House manager, Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), confirming that understanding last week.

    At the end, the two sides briefly quarreled over whether she could be summoned again to testify. Rogan, who left the questioning to Bryant, told Lewinsky that she was not excused and could be recalled. Cacheris objected and said prosecutors would have to obtain a new subpoena, a position upheld by DeWine, sources said. Lewinsky plans to leave town while waiting to find out if the Senate will force her back.

    The deposition came against the backdrop of renewed political skirmishing between the White House and Starr over allegations of leaking. Before heading off for the Lewinsky interview, Kendall filed a "show cause" motion asking Chief U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson to consider holding Starr's office in contempt for violating grand jury secrecy rules in connection with a weekend New York Times story.

    "The Office of Independent Counsel has once again engaged in illegal and partisan leaking," Kendall said, citing a Times article that quoted unnamed Starr associates saying he has concluded he has the authority to indict a sitting president.

    Greeted by television cameras outside his McLean home yesterday morning, Starr declined to discuss the matter. "It is premature for us to be commenting at all on this and so we're not going to be commenting. There is a process that is underway and that process should go forward," he said, before quickly clarifying that he meant "a process that is underway in the United States Senate."

    His spokesman flatly denied that Starr's office violated secrecy rules. "We did not leak this information," Charles G. Bakaly III said on ABC's "Good Morning America." "We have no interest in interposing ourselves in the Senate's business. It would be wrong to do. We do not do that."

    Yet hours later, Starr announced that he would conduct his own inquiry to determine whether in fact his office played any role in the story, saying he was "deeply troubled" by the report. "We are launching an internal investigation to determine whether anyone in this office improperly disclosed the information to the Times," he said in a written statement. "The announcement of this investigation should not be taken as confirmation of anything in the article."

    Staff writer Guy Gugliotta contributed to this report.


    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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