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Jordan Grilled About Lewinsky Contacts

Vernon Jordan Vernon Jordan after being questioned for nearly three hours in President Clinton's impeachment trial Tuesday. (AP)

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  • By Peter Baker and Helen Dewar
    Washington Post Staff Writers
    Wednesday, February 3, 1999; Page A1

    A House prosecutor grilled attorney Vernon E. Jordan Jr. for nearly three hours yesterday about his dealings with President Clinton and Monica S. Lewinsky, while senators began studying videotapes of her deposition as they decide whether to call witnesses at the president's impeachment trial.

    Jordan, the close Clinton friend who helped find Lewinsky a New York job and a lawyer in the Paula Jones case, provided some new information during occasionally contentious questioning by Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.), but no explosive revelations, according to several sources familiar with his testimony.

    In one key exchange, the sources said, Jordan now remembered having breakfast with Lewinsky on New Year's Eve in 1997, an important encounter he flatly denied in grand jury testimony last year before she began cooperating with independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr. But Jordan adamantly denied telling the former White House intern during their meal that she should go home and destroy any copies or drafts of notes she had sent Clinton that might establish the affair both would later deny under oath.

    Just as they did not question Lewinsky a day before, White House lawyers in attendance yesterday felt confident enough in Clinton's prospects for acquittal that they did not cross-examine Jordan at length either, instead asking only a couple of open-ended questions, according to sources.

    Still, the chief House trial manager, Rep. Henry J. Hyde (R-Ill.), said afterward that he was pleased with the two depositions conducted so far because they will help "to advance the cause of impeachment [and] conviction."

    "We have got some amplifications and we have straightened out some points," he said. Although a final deposition will be taken of White House aide Sidney Blumenthal today, Hyde added that he was not waiting for any smoking guns to emerge. "We never felt we needed any bombshells to have a compelling case. What we need is to validate the record that already exists under oath about obstruction of justice and perjury. And that is being accomplished."

    While Hutchinson quizzed Jordan in a secure fourth-floor room normally used for national security matters, elsewhere in the Capitol senators privately reviewed transcripts and videotapes of Lewinsky's Monday deposition. Senators on both sides of the aisle concurred that she was impressive, but they split sharply on whether her latest testimony made it more likely that she would be summoned to testify in person when the trial reconvenes on Thursday.

    "She appears young, very vulnerable and credible," said Sen. Orrin G. Hatch (R-Utah). "She'd make an effective witnesses, and the American people should be given that right" to hear her. "I think she's come across very credibly."

    Yet several other Republican senators were more skeptical, raising doubts about whether a majority would support live testimony given the certainty of near-universal opposition from Democrats, who hold 45 of 100 seats.

    Sen. James M. Jeffords (R-Vt.) said he was "surprised that she seemed all together, intelligent," but added that "at this point, I don't see any reason to call her" before the Senate. "She just substantiated her earlier statements." Sen. Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah) was briefed on her deposition by his staff and told "there is nothing new. If in fact there is nothing new, I suspect she wouldn't be called." And Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) said that "if nothing dramatically changes . . . I don't think there would be any point" in calling witnesses.

    The likely alternative to live testimony would be a vote by the Senate to authorize both prosecution and defense to use specific portions of the deposition videotapes as part of their closing arguments. Under such a scenario, the Senate could meet its Feb. 12 target for completing the trial, although Hyde said he believed that deadline could hold even with live testimony.

    Senators were still struggling, however, with how to wrap up the trial. In behind-the-scenes talks, Republican leaders reported growing support among their members for a "finding of facts" that would detail alleged Clinton misconduct in anticipation of a final vote acquitting him of the two articles of impeachment charging perjury and obstruction of justice.

    "I think it's fair to say that momentum is gathering for a findings of fact," Senate Republican Conference Chairman Connie Mack (Fla.) said after the issue was discussed, inconclusively, at the Senate GOP's weekly luncheon. "Support is growing but it's mixed," both in terms of whether to do it and what it might say, said Jeffords.

    Republicans are divided over whether to rally behind a lengthy, highly specific statement or a shorter, simpler version that might pick up some Democratic support and thereby put a gloss of a bipartisanship on the bill of particulars condemning Clinton's conduct. A GOP task force appointed by Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) met yesterday morning and hopes to have a couple of drafts ready for a Republican conference planned for today to discuss whether to go ahead and, if so, the details of the plan.

    Snowe, one of the leaders of the task force, said she favors the simple approach because the concept would work only with endorsements from both parties. "There's no point having another party-line vote," she said. "I think that's not the purpose here. The purpose here is to recognize at least that the United States Senate within the court of impeachment [believes] that the president did commit wrongdoing."

    Many Democrats have joined the White House in condemning the idea as unconstitutional. So far, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.) has been one of the few Democrats to express any interest.

    Still, Democrats are wary of appearing to condone Clinton's actions. Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.), who sponsored last week's unsuccessful motion to dismiss the case, nonetheless told CNN yesterday that "there's no question" that Clinton testified falsely under oath even if he did not commit perjury in a "strict legal sense."

    "For the chief executive to give false testimony under oath willingly, knowingly and intentionally and repeatedly, certainly to me gets awfully close to abusing and violating the public trust and trust in the judicial system," Byrd said.

    Senators were not the only ones reviewing the Lewinsky videotape in four carefully controlled rooms where they promised not to reveal anything. Clinton lawyers Charles F.C. Ruff, Gregory B. Craig and David E. Kendall all met at the Capitol to watch it as well. And Capitol Police delivered a copy of the transcript to the office of Lewinsky's lawyers, where she spent about four hours correcting it before returning it to the police.

    While Lewinsky's testimony closely tracked her previous accounts to Starr's grand jury, a Clinton lawyer apologized to her in his name. "Ms. Lewinsky, on behalf of the president, we'd like to tell you how very sorry we all are for what you have had to go through," attorney Nicole K. Seligman told her, according to the tape and transcript.

    No apologies were reported out of Jordan's deposition yesterday. Indeed, according to sources in the room and others briefed later, the 63-year-old, well-connected partner from Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld took the same unapologetic tone with lawmakers yesterday that he did under questioning by Starr's prosecutors.

    He bristled at some questions, fiercely defended his integrity and emphasized his position in Washington society. Asked whether he had given Lewinsky a ride on one occasion, a source said Jordan answered, "I gave her a ride in my chauffeur-driven Akin Gump car."

    The deposition began shortly after 9 a.m. but was brought to a quick halt when a circuit problem cut out much of the power to the room for about 20 minutes. Even with the delay, the session took less time than Lewinsky's the day before, breaking up about 2:30 p.m..

    Questioning Jordan was Hutchinson, a former federal prosecutor, and several sources unsympathetic to the House managers said he was particularly effective. Representing Jordan was his partner, William G. Hundley, while the president was represented by Kendall, Seligman, deputy White House counsel Cheryl D. Mills and private attorney Emmet T. Flood. Sens. Fred D. Thompson (R-Tenn.) and Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) presided jointly.

    Jordan is key to the case because managers maintain that his job help to Lewinsky was an implicit attempt by the president to keep her happy as she was swearing out a false affidavit denying their affair.

    Although Jordan was questioned before a grand jury five times, he was never brought back after Lewinsky agreed to cooperate and so yesterday was the first time he was asked about information she provided that conflicted with his recollections.

    One dispute concerned a Dec. 31, 1997, breakfast Lewinsky and Jordan shared at the Park Hyatt Hotel, where Jordan often eats in the morning. On March 5, he told a grand jury, "I've never had breakfast with Monica Lewinsky."

    But five months later, she testified that they did and that she mentioned some notes in her apartment she had written to Clinton. "Go home and make sure they're not there," he told her, according to her testimony. Lewinsky said she understood that to mean she should destroy the notes and she went home and discarded about 50 draft missives.

    During yesterday's deposition, Jordan was confronted with a credit card receipt showing that he paid $39.55 for a fruit plate, fruit yogurt, cereal and English muffin on that date. According to several sources, Jordan said that while he did not remember that encounter when first asked last year, he has come to recall it since reading Lewinsky's subsequent testimony.

    But while he said notes may have been mentioned, he vehemently denied telling Lewinsky to destroy them, the sources said. "He was indignant in his denial," said one person in the room, who quoted Jordan saying, "I'm a lawyer, but I'm not a fool. I would never suggest" that.

    On another conflict, another source said Jordan stuck firm to his assertion that he never saw a draft copy of her false affidavit, as she testified. Jordan has said he only skimmed a signed version of the statement, but Lewinsky said she showed him a draft and discussed deleting a sentence about being alone with Clinton.

    Jordan emphasized that such discrepancies did not reflect on what Clinton knew and therefore were irrelevant to the impeachment trial. As one source described it, "He chose to point out if two people disagree over events, that's fine, but how does that implicate the president in any way?"

    After Hutchinson finished, Kendall asked Jordan if there was anything he wanted to enter into the record, but that drew an objection and the presiding senators asked him to rephrase in a more specific way. According to a source, Jordan described his background and how he got where he is.

    Staff writers Juliet Eilperin, Ruth Marcus and Eric Pianin contributed to this report.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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