Help to Ex-Intern
By Jeff Leen
In fact, Vernon Eulion Jordan Jr. has helped many young people over the years -- some say hundreds, others say far more. To both the powerful and the powerless, Jordan has served as a kind of super job bank, a mentor to those navigating the federal waters of Washington for the first time, according to interviews with a dozen people who have benefited from his help and representatives of 10 corporations that count him as a director.
But a close look at the help Jordan has rendered over the years throws his role in the unfolding Lewinsky story into sharp relief: Jordan appears to have helped Lewinsky in a manner and to a degree that he has helped few, if any, others. Robert Strauss, Jordan's friend and law partner, in defending Jordan in a "60 Minutes" interview, said that the help Jordan offered to Lewinsky would occur only "rarely, rarely."
For most of those interviewed by The Washington Post, the majority of them African Americans, Jordan's help entailed a lunch, some career advice and a phone call to a key person. For Lewinsky, Jordan called three companies, had lunch and three other meetings with her and spoke to her on the phone seven times between Dec. 8 and Jan. 12, a source familiar with the matter told The Post this week.
Jordan helped arrange for Lewinsky a job offer and a lawyer at a time when her testimony was crucial to President Clinton. He drove her to the lawyer's office and has said he talked with her about whether she was having an affair with Clinton. Lewinsky swore out an affidavit denying she had sex with Clinton, and a day later, Jordan called the chairman of Revlon and helped her get a job, The Post has reported. Last night, Lewinsky's lawyer, William H. Ginsburg, said his client's first meeting with Jordan occurred on Nov. 5, a month before Clinton was informed that she would be called as a witness in the Paula Jones case.
Jordan's efforts for Lewinsky are at the crux of independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's investigation of whether Jordan, Lewinsky and the president conspired to obstruct justice. Starr had already been looking at the $60,000 retainer Jordan arranged at Revlon for former associate attorney general Webster L. Hubbell in 1994, when Hubbell was being pursued as a witness in the Whitewater matter.
In a brief interview last week, Jordan declined to comment or say whether he had ever helped anyone else referred to him by the White House. "I'm certainly not going to talk about that," he said.
Jordan will not talk in any detail about the help he gives others.
"My mother would be mad at me if I did, and she's not even alive," Jordan said. "You do what you think is right, and you do it and hopefully somebody benefits from it and then you forget."
Jordan's current predicament is a matter of no small irony and pain to many who have seen Jordan help countless others. They see nothing incongruous in the fact that a 62-year-old multimillionaire lawyer with unparalleled access to the corridors of power would put himself out for a 24-year-old former White House intern from Beverly Hills seeking an entry-level public relations job in Manhattan.
"If a friend asked Vernon to help someone, it would not surprise me at all if he went out of his way to help them," said Anna Perez, a former press secretary to Barbara Bush whom Jordan helped find a private sector job. "In fact, it would surprise me more if he didn't help them."
Carolyn Peachey, a Washington event planner, said that some of Jordan's doubters -- including some of his friends -- are people who don't go to the lengths Jordan does to help others.
"I think that is what is making people have a hard time with this," Peachey said. "It looks compromising because there are very, very few people who are this generous."
What no one doubts is that Jordan's generosity and connections have made him many friends. One is R. Peter Straus, the New York media executive who is engaged to Marcia Lewis, Lewinsky's mother. A source close to the family said Jordan and Lewis do not know each other.
Most of the corporations whose boards Jordan sits on are tight-lipped about Jordan's job referrals. A few -- Callaway Golf Co., Xerox Corp., Union Carbide Corp. -- said that Jordan has never referred a job candidate. Others -- American Express, Revlon, Bankers Trust New York Corp., Dow Jones & Co. -- said he had made referrals but refused to provide details. A J.C. Penney Co. spokeswoman said he had not referred anyone since August 1994 and no one she knew of who had worked in the White House. Sara Lee Corp. refused to comment.
"Vernon Jordan recommends a range of people," said Richard Tofel, vice president of corporate communications for Dow Jones. "They're not all young and they're not all African American."
Not one of the corporations could or would say whether Jordan had sent them anyone -- aside from Lewinsky -- who had been a White House intern.
Several of the people Jordan has helped are more willing to talk. Their stories provide insight into the people who owe a debt to Jordan, a vast spectrum ranging from recent college graduates to the president of the United States. The accounts portray a man of unfailing generosity and adroit networking skills, attributes which have had the unlikely result of placing him at the center of the nation's most high-profile criminal investigation.
Leslie T. Thornton, chief of staff to Education Secretary Richard W. Riley, wrote an op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal last month recounting how Jordan arranged a job for her with the president's transition team after she showed up to act as his chauffeur. Later, he landed her a job at the Education Department.
After her article appeared, she attended a meeting of chiefs of staff of executive branch agencies in the Roosevelt Room at the White House. Three or four people congratulated her on the article, Thornton said, and more came forward as she walked through the halls of the White House.
"They were people like me, all of whom have benefited from Vernon's largess," Thornton said.
According to Thornton and others, Jordan's help works in subtle ways. Within the administration, Jordan's legendary biography always precedes him: pioneering civil rights advocate in the 1960s, head of the Urban League and the United Negro College Fund in the 1970s, Washington superlawyer and corporate board member in the 1980s and 1990s, golfing partner and close confidant of Bill Clinton.
A word of support from Jordan can be enough to help ensure that a junior official's points are taken seriously.
"That sends a signal to people: If this is somebody Vernon is comfortable with, then this is somebody that I should show some deference to because he's Vernon and he's friends with the president," said an administration official who worked on preparations for the presidential debates in 1996.
Theodore Marcus, now an assistant U.S. attorney in the District of Columbia, benefited from Jordan's mentoring in the summer of 1990 after bumping into him in an elevator at Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, the powerful Washington law firm where Jordan makes $1 million a year as one of two senior partners. Marcus was then working at the firm as a summer associate.
Jordan invited Marcus for a private chat in his office. The next day, Jordan and Marcus were playing tennis at St. Albans tennis club next to Lloyd Bentsen, then a Democratic senator from Texas. Later in the week, Jordan invited Marcus and other summer associates to a group lunch.
Years later, when Marcus was contemplating leaving Akin, Gump to become a federal prosecutor, he went to see Jordan.
"He said, 'I support what you're doing,' " Marcus recalled. " 'If you ever need anything from me, I'm there for you.' "
It turned out there was something Marcus needed. For months, the federal government shutdown during the budget crisis of 1995 held up Marcus's move to the U.S. attorney's office. Jordan called then-U.S. Attorney Eric H. Holder Jr.
"Two days later I got a starting date," Marcus said. "He has been instrumental in my life and career, and for nothing. It's out of his own heart."
A senior Treasury Department official recalled the two-block walk he took to Sam & Harry's restaurant with Jordan a few years ago. It was like following in the wake of a movie star.
"We were probably stopped six times," the official said. "They were people with varying degrees of familiarity with Vernon. We ran into a secretary and he asked her about her son, by name, and he ticked off three facts about him. Each person he told as he left them, 'If you need anything done, don't hesitate to call me.' "
The senior Treasury official is among those people who have called Jordan. It was when the official applied for his job at Treasury.
"I think Vernon put in a good word for me," the official said. "He's never ever said that. After I got the job, I'd bump into him and he'd just say, 'Tell Bob Rubin I said hi.' "
Bob Nash, the White House director of presidential personnel, said Jordan puts in a good word for a lot of people.
"I've probably gotten at least 500 to 600 letters and 50 to 100 telephone calls from Vernon about people," said Nash, who has handled hiring for the administration for the past three years.
Nash said about 40 percent to 50 percent of the referrals are non-minority candidates. He said Jordan's role as a conduit for administration job seekers dates back to when Jordan was chairman of Clinton's 1992 transition team. People wrote Jordan looking for jobs and continued to do so after the transition.
"He's always continued to try to refer people who write to him," Nash said. "There's never any pressure. Sometimes he'll say, 'This is a capable, competent person.' Sometimes he'll say, 'I don't know this person, but here's their resume.' "
Nash himself contacted Jordan for advice during his own personal transition after the 1992 election.
"I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do in the administration," said Nash, who was one of the top black officials in Arkansas when Clinton was governor there.
Jordan noticed Nash's background in rural minority economic development and advised Nash to go for a position as undersecretary of agriculture for small communities and rural development. Nash got the job.
Jordan's largess has even been known to cut party lines. Perez, Barbara Bush's former press secretary, found herself out of a job after the 1992 election. A day or two after George Bush's defeat, Jordan, a social acquaintance, called her.
"With his roll-of-thunder voice, he said, 'Ms. Perez, when you decide what you want to do, let me know because I can help you do it,' " Perez recalled.
Those words came in handy. Perez got a call from Creative Artists Agency, the powerhouse Hollywood talent agency headed by Mike Ovitz. She flew to Los Angeles to interview. Everything went swimmingly. And then Ovitz, a Democrat, asked Perez, a Republican, about her Democratic contacts.
"I said, 'Well, why don't you ask Vernon Jordan?' " Perez said. "Vernon, being as good as his word, had a conversation with Mike within a week. That's one of the few times I've ever seen Mike Ovitz evince being impressed. And I got the job."
Staff writers Amy Goldstein and John Mintz and staff researcher Alice Crites contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company