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Senate Set to Air Deposition Videos

Senators Sens. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), left, and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), after a bipartisan news conference Friday. (AP)

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  • By Ruth Marcus and Peter Baker
    Washington Post Staff Writers
    Saturday, February 6, 1999; Page A1

    She was alternately cool and charming, a cagey witness who joked with her interrogators as she deftly sidestepped questions aimed at harming the man for whom she still harbors "mixed feelings."

    He was a commanding, if sometimes haughty presence, a Washington "rainmaker" who began his distinguished career as a $35-a-week civil rights lawyer and now sees himself on an equal footing with "my friend," the president of the United States.

    For a year, the public has seen Monica S. Lewinsky and Vernon E. Jordan Jr. only in street-side cameo appearances and heard their accounts only through the printed record of their endless hours in front of the grand jury. Today, the nation will view videotaped excerpts from their latest testimony, played on the Senate floor and broadcast live as both sides in the impeachment trial of President Clinton show the scenes they think most likely to bolster their case.

    The dry transcripts of this week's depositions printed in yesterday's Congressional Record and posted on the Internet offered a preview of their stories. If the questioning of Lewinsky, Jordan and White House aide Sidney Blumenthal did not break much new ground in a trial where acquittal seems foreordained, a day of what one White House lawyer dubbed "dueling snippets" promises to bring the story to life in a new and vivid way.

    For up to six hours, House Republican prosecutors and defense attorneys will pick out the deposition greatest hits in a video montage interspersed with lawyerly arguments about whether the president committed perjury and obstructed justice to cover up his affair with Lewinsky.

    None of the "pitiful three," as prosecutors dubbed the only witnesses they were allowed to interview, were sympathetic to their cause. But the House "managers" hope that having the senators hear perhaps 27 excerpts from them -- rather than being subjected to more rehashing of the same evidence -- will humanize the drama and vindicate their case.

    The White House, on the other hand, wants to use the video to hammer home its contention that Clinton did not ask Lewinsky to lie under oath or have Jordan get her a job to secure her silence. Although Clinton's lawyers unsuccessfully sought to forestall today's matinee, they will employ their own excerpts to show that even the prosecution's handpicked witnesses do not endorse their sinister interpretation of events.

    Most intriguing, of course, will be Lewinsky, 25, the former White House intern who has been questioned so many times she has it down to a science -- and yet has never told her story in a public setting.

    Through four hours of testimony Monday, she labored to avoid adding anything new to the record, repeatedly referring the prosecutor, Rep. Edward G. Bryant (R-Tenn.), back to her previous sworn statements. "If that's what I said in my grand jury testimony, then I accept that," she said again and again.

    Bryant walked her through most of the crucial events, from her conversation with Clinton about being called as a witness in the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit to her dealings with Jordan as he found her a job and a lawyer to represent her. But she did not make it easy on Bryant. Unlike her grand jury appearances, when she talked openly and at length, Lewinsky often gave just "yes" or "no" answers, corrected Bryant's misstatements of dates and facts -- "I'm pretty date-oriented" -- and quarreled with his characterizations.

    "Do you still have feelings for the president?" he asked at one point.

    "I have mixed feelings," she answered.

    "Maybe you could tell us a little bit more about what those mixed feelings are," he suggested.

    "I think what you need to know is that my grand jury testimony is truthful irrespective of whatever those mixed feelings are in my testimony today," she countered.

    Later in the session, Bryant returned to the topic of her feelings. "I assume you think he's a very intelligent man?" he asked. To which she answered, "I think he's an intelligent president."

    Amid laughter in the room, Bryant quipped, "Thank goodness this is confidential; otherwise that might be the quote of the day."

    Lewinsky charmed the senators who sat in to preside as well. At one point when she whispered a question to her lawyer, Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) warned her that she could be heard over her microphone. "Sorry," she said, "I was only saying nice things about you all."

    But some topics clearly nettled her. Lewinsky objected to Bryant's description of a sexual encounter with Clinton as "the first so-called salacious occasion," saying, "I mean, this is -- this is my relationship." Adopting Clinton's defense of his deceptions, she used words like "misleading" and "incomplete" but "literally true." While the president mentioned their false cover stories when they first talked about her filing an affidavit in the Jones case, she said "they weren't linked for me."

    And without retreating from her account of their sexual activities, she refused to say Clinton was lying when he said he did not touch her in ways that would qualify as "sexual relations" under the definition used in the Jones case.

    "What I remember happened fell within that definition," she said. But noting that the definition was conditioned on an "intent to arouse or gratify," she added, "I'm just not comfortable commenting on someone else's intent or state of mind or what they thought."

    Still, she reaffirmed past testimony under questioning, however reluctantly. On the retrieval of presidential gifts to avoid a Jones subpoena, she stuck solidly by her account that she received an unsolicited call from Clinton's secretary saying the president wanted her to pick something up.

    "I don't think there is any doubt in my mind," she said.

    In his deposition, taken the next day, Jordan's recollection of critical events sometimes conflicted with hers. For example, he vehemently denied Lewinsky's account that at a Dec. 31, 1997, breakfast he instructed her to destroy draft notes she had written to Clinton.

    Lewinsky told a grand jury and repeated this week that she raised the issue of her draft notes to the president at the breakfast and expressed concern that her then-friend, Linda R. Tripp, had seen them. Jordan, she said, told her, "Go home and make sure they're not there" -- a statement that could pose problems for Jordan if true because, he acknowledged in the deposition, such documents were covered by a Jones subpoena.

    When testifying before the grand jury last year, Jordan said he did not recall having breakfast at the Park Hyatt Hotel with Lewinsky. Under questioning this week by Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.), though, Jordan said a credit card receipt made it "undeniable" that the meal took place and added that he was now "certain that Ms. Lewinsky talked to me about notes" then.

    But he maintained that Lewinsky never mentioned Tripp and that he never told her to destroy the notes. "Mr. Hutchinson, I'm a lawyer and I'm a loyal friend, but I'm not a fool, and the notion that I would suggest to anybody that they destroy anything just defies anything that I know about myself," Jordan said. "So the notion that I said to her go home and destroy notes is ridiculous."

    Jordan said that although he questioned both Lewinsky and Clinton about whether they had a sexual relationship (and was told no by both), he "was going to pursue the job in any event" even if they had acknowledged an affair. "I do not think it would have affected my decision," he said.

    The deposition was marked by sparring between Hutchinson and Jordan, who seemed at times to be enjoying the verbal combat. When Jordan described his role as "making rain" for his firm, Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, Hutchinson asked a follow-up question.

    "I think even in Arkansas, you understand what rainmaking is," Jordan told Hutchinson.

    "We've read Grisham books," Hutchinson retorted.

    Jordan described taking Lewinsky "in my Akin, Gump, chauffeur-driven car to Frank Carter's office," a reference to the lawyer he referred her to in the Jones case, only to have Hutchinson seize on that phrase later. "But this is the only occasion that you took your Akin, Gump-chauffeured vehicle and delivered the client to Mr. Carter in his office?"

    At another point, asked whether Clinton had given him "any other instruction" than to find Lewinsky a job in New York, Jordan bristled at the premise of inequality. "I do not view the president as giving me instructions. The president is a friend of mine, and I don't believe friends instruct friends," he said. "Our friendship is one of parity and equality."

    Jordan was not shy about describing his relationship with Clinton, noting that "every year since his presidency, the Jordan family has been privileged to entertain the Clinton family on Christmas Eve." Referring to vacations on Martha's Vineyard, he said, "I think you have seen reels of us playing golf and having fun."

    But the deposition also provided a glimpse of how the Lewinsky scandal has constrained that relationship. Jordan said that his appearance at a state dinner for the South Korean president last year was the first time he had been in the White House since the Lewinsky story broke and that "under advice of counsel . . . it was thought best that we not play golf together."

    Blumenthal's testimony was shorter and more tangential to the case. Under questioning, the aide repeated his account of how Clinton, in the days after the Lewinsky story broke, appeared "very upset . . . a man in anguish" as the president asserted that Lewinsky "had come on to him and made a demand for sex, that he had rebuffed her, turned her down, and that she . . . threatened him."

    Blumenthal testified that he now believes Clinton lied to him about his relationship with Lewinsky, and he denied leaking critical statements about Lewinsky to reporters.

    Asked to describe Clinton as the scandal unfolded, Blumenthal said, "He felt that the world was against him." Replied Rep. James E. Rogan (R-Calif.), "I thought only members of Congress felt that way."

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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