By Peter Baker
President Clinton's attorney has told the judge who oversaw the Paula Jones lawsuit to disregard the affidavit he submitted from Monica S. Lewinsky denying a sexual relationship despite Clinton's January testimony that it was "absolutely true."
Robert S. Bennett, who has represented Clinton throughout the Jones case, introduced the Lewinsky affidavit during the president's Jan. 17 deposition in an effort to cut off questioning about her. During the proceeding, Bennett told U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright that Lewinsky's statement meant "there was absolutely no sex of any kind in any manner, shape or form," and asked Clinton to verify that.
"That's absolutely true," Clinton responded.
But Lewinsky testified before independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's grand jury that the affidavit she signed Jan. 7 was false and that she performed oral sex on Clinton in the White House on 10 occasions. Starr accused Clinton of perjury and obstruction of justice for attesting to the affidavit's accuracy and allowing it to be introduced as evidence.
In a new letter to Wright, Bennett in effect admitted that the Clinton team submitted a false statement, citing Lewinsky's August testimony "that portions of her affidavit were misleading and not true."
"Therefore, pursuant to our professional responsibility, we wanted to advise you that the Court should not rely on Ms. Lewinsky's affidavit or remarks of counsel characterizing that affidavit," Bennett wrote in the Sept. 30 letter, which was filed under seal and made public yesterday.
Sources have said that Clinton lied to Bennett and other attorneys about his relationship with Lewinsky and that they did not know her affidavit was untrue at the time. As an officer of the court, Bennett is obligated by legal ethics to correct the record once a falsehood becomes known. Jones's lawyers have cited the letter in trying to persuade the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to reverse Wright and reinstate the case that she dismissed in April.
In another development, Wright yesterday agreed to begin releasing secret files from the lawsuit Oct. 19, the day before attorneys for Jones and Clinton are scheduled to present oral arguments in St. Paul, Minn., to the appeals court considering whether to revive the case.
While much of the evidence collected by the two sides was made public in the spring, various potentially embarrassing materials have remained sealed and could now be made public. Among the items that could be released are full transcripts of depositions by Clinton and Jones, both of whom were asked in detail about their sexual histories as well as the 1991 encounter in a Little Rock hotel suite that led to the lawsuit. Only portions of both depositions have been released.
Wright said she will review everything in her possession and post it "on a periodic basis" on the Internet as long as it would not harm the prospects of a fair trial should the case be revived and as long as it does not intrude on the privacy of the various "Jane Doe" women interviewed about their interactions with Clinton.
The judge also will review any evidence kept by lawyers if they want to release it. The attorneys have possession of the Clinton and Jones depositions, as well as testimony from women who were asked about alleged sexual encounters with the president and men who were asked about alleged sexual encounters with the former state clerk who sued him.
One item that will not be released will be the videotape of Clinton's Jan. 17 deposition. Wright has turned over a copy of it to the House Judiciary Committee and said in a footnote yesterday that she "did not place any restrictions" on what the panel may do with it. Jones separately has asked an appeals court for the right to obtain a copy of the tape.
Another court document that will not be released, Wright said, will be a secret March 27 filing by Starr asking her to prevent Jones's lawyers from re-interviewing Kathleen E. Willey, the former White House volunteer who alleged Clinton groped her in 1993. Starr asked Wright to keep that sealed, presumably to protect his ongoing investigation into possible perjury or obstruction of justice by Clinton or his allies as part of an effort to keep Willey silent.
Jones, who accused Clinton of exposing himself and asking for sex while he was governor, remains stalled in settlement negotiations with the president's attorneys. She has asked for $1 million and Clinton's lawyer has offered $700,000.
New York millionaire Abe Hirschfeld separately has offered $1 million to settle the case and held a news conference yesterday to promote the idea along with his plan for Clinton to resign. While Hirschfeld's attorney has contacted both camps, White House officials have said privately they want nothing to do with him. Jones's legal team yesterday disputed a report that she might settle in exchange for both offers, totaling $1.7 million.
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