By Peter Baker
Page 1 of 3
President Clinton has acknowledged under oath that he talked with Vernon E. Jordan Jr. about his friend's efforts to find a new job for Monica S. Lewinsky, but the president testified that it was his personal secretary, Betty Currie, who initiated the career help for Lewinsky, according to a detailed account of his sealed deposition in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case.
During Clinton's five-hour deposition Jan. 17 the first by a sitting president as a defendant in a court case the president testified that he saw her at the White House on perhaps five occasions and that they may have been alone together.
But the president flatly denied ever having had sexual relations with Lewinsky, according to the account. For the purposes of the deposition, Jones's lawyers produced a written definition of sexual relations that encompassed acts such as fondling and oral sex but not kissing on the mouth a definition that leaves Clinton little room to offer a revised explanation of his relationship with Lewinsky.
In recent weeks, some advisers have suggested possible scenarios in which the president might admit to intimate contact short of the oral sex Lewinsky reportedly has claimed engaging in, but any contradiction with his testimony risks a perjury charge.
For Clinton, the deposition was an excruciatingly long and intimate look into his past, as lawyers questioned him not just about Jones and Lewinsky but about five other women who were named by the Jones team as well. The president's mood seemed generally sober, but as the hours wore on there were moments of pique as well.
His voice was so low at times that he was asked repeatedly to speak up. At a couple of points, Clinton seemed agitated, once complaining about conservative attacks on him and later seeming to dare the lawyers to throw any question at him they could come up with.
While Jones was the plaintiff, much of the interrogation by her team actually centered on Lewinsky. Clinton acknowledged exchanging gifts with the young woman she gave him a tie and at least one book, he recalled, while he gave her souvenirs from Martha's Vineyard and did not dispute that he may also have given her a hat pin, a gold brooch and a book of Walt Whitman poetry. Lewinsky and other interns once brought him pizza in the Oval Office during the federal government shutdown in 1995, he testified, and after her April 1996 transfer to the Pentagon, Lewinsky sent him personal messages through Currie.
In addition to denying a sexual relationship with Lewinsky, Clinton repeated his denial that he propositioned Jones for oral sex in a Little Rock hotel suite in 1991. He denied sexual contact with three of the other women he was asked about. U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright, who was present for the deposition, ruled he did not have to answer regarding a fourth woman, because she had no state or federal employment.
But Clinton acknowledged for the first time in any known forum that he did have sexual relations with Gennifer Flowers, saying it occurred just one time in 1977.
Selected aspects of Clinton's testimony in the Jones case have been reported by The Washington Post and other news outlets in recent weeks. But this account represents the president's most detailed description about the frequency and nature of his contacts with Lewinsky that has been made public.
It was secret tape recordings of the young White House aide's allegations of a sexual relationship with him and her assertion in those ostensibly private conversations with a friend that Clinton had urged her to lie about it that launched independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's investigation of whether the president suborned perjury or attempted to obstruct justice. Starr has now obtained a copy of Clinton's deposition through Wright's Little Rock court.
As Starr's investigation enters its eighth week, the president has offered no public explanation for his dealings with Lewinsky beyond several emphatic denials that they engaged in sex.
Even in the sealed deposition, Clinton offered no explanation for his frequent contacts with Lewinsky or why he was kept informed about a former low-level aide's job search nor was he asked by Jones's lawyers to do so. Clinton also testified that he spoke with Lewinsky at some point about the likelihood that she would be called to testify about the nature of their relationship in the Jones case. However, he described the conversation as a quick and casual exchange in the presence of his personal secretary Currie.
Clinton's legal team in the Jones matter was informed on Dec. 5 that Lewinsky was a potential witness. Thus, the president's interactions with her and Jordan after that point are key to Starr's obstruction of justice investigation. Clinton has said publicly that he never urged Lewinsky to lie about any sexual liaison. But in the deposition, he makes clear that he was aware that his secretary and close friend were looking for work for her at a time when her testimony could be critical to the Jones case.
Jordan, who returns for a second day of testimony before a Washington grand jury today, has said that he embarked on a job search for Lewinsky after being asked by Currie and has told associates he inferred that the request had come from the president. According to the associates, Jordan has said he was not aware when he first intervened to help Lewinsky that she was involved in the Jones case, even though Currie's call asking for his help in finding Lewinsky a job came three days after Clinton's lawyers were told she might testify.
Later, Jordan told associates, both Lewinsky and Clinton assured him they had had no sexual relationship.
Even for a roller-coaster presidency, Jan. 17 had to be one of the lowest moments of Clinton's tenure. Despite all his attempts to avoid it, he was being forced to submit to a day-long interrogation not about his politics or his business dealings but about his sex life.
Never before had any commander-in-chief been compelled to testify in a court case brought against him, though several, including Clinton, had been witnesses. Outside the law offices where he was questioned, less than two blocks from the White House, was an unruly mob of journalists beaming the embarrassing story around the world.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company