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Bravura Performance by Mr. Inside

Vernon Jordan welcomes President Clinton to Martha's Vineyard in August. (Reuters)

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Key Player Profile: Vernon Jordan

By John Mintz and Dan Morgan
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, October 3, 1998; Page A29

In more than 20 hours of testimony over five days before the Starr grand jury, Washington power attorney Vernon E. Jordan Jr. laid on the full Jordan treatment: by turns cagey with his questioners, stingy with facts, dignified, respectful and haughty.

But Jordan, perhaps the most intimate of President Clinton's Washington confidants, was more than anything else unfailingly a defender of the man he calls "my good friend, the president of the United States." It makes no difference that, as he testified, he has never acted as Clinton's attorney – Jordan revealed himself in testimony as a skilled and consistent defender of the president's interests.

The 4,610 pages of documents released yesterday reinforce Jordan's central role within Clinton's innermost circle, and his intense involvement in that team's sometimes panicked scramble as word circulated of the president's sexual fling with Lewinsky.

What is also striking in Jordan's grand jury appearances was his command of the proceedings, even as he claimed, sometimes to the incredulity of prosecutors, not to recall key conversations with Clinton and others that all of those involved must have realized could potentially undermine his presidency.

It was a bravura performance for a man who had prided himself on never, ever, revealing the secrets of his time with the president. Jordan does not appear to have lost his composure at any point before the grand jurors, though he seemed transparently peeved at times.

There were few surprises in the transcripts of his testimony about the Lewinsky scandal. The gist of it was contained in previous batches of documents prepared by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr. But new details provide nuances about Jordan's role.

The events of last Jan. 19 demonstrate Jordan's role as Mr. Inside. Clinton had been deposed in Paula Jones' sexual harassment case on the Saturday two days before, and on the evening before, Internet gossip Matt Drudge had reported that Newsweek magazine was pursuing a story about a White House intern who had had sex with the president.

Presidential secretary Betty Currie, after a number of frantic efforts that morning to reach Lewinsky, called Clinton with the news of the Drudge report. Within five minutes, Clinton called Jordan at his home, and the men spoke for 10 minutes.

But when asked by a prosecutor what he and the president had talked about – certainly a time of anxious revelation for President Clinton – Jordan said, "I don't know." Asked whether Clinton had told him that he had just spoken with Currie, Jordan replied, "I don't recollect that, and I don't have any reason to know why the president of the United States would relate a call to me based on a conversation with his secretary."

Over the next 10 hours, Jordan was on the phone 25 times with Clinton or top aides, including Chief of Staff Erskine B. Bowles and White House Counsel Charles F.C. Ruff. According to the testimony of deputy White House counsel Bruce Lindsey, during one White House meeting with Clinton that morning, Jordan urged him to settle the Jones case.

Jordan is involved directly or indirectly in two of the 11 possible impeachable offenses that Starr has referred to Congress. Starr's report asserted there was evidence Clinton lied under oath in describing his conversations with Jordan about Lewinsky. Jordan was also the key go-between in helping Lewinsky find a job after she left the White House – help that Starr asserts was intended to keep her from revealing her relationship with the president when questioned in the Jones suit.

During five days of testimony between March and June, Jordan described his considerable attention to helping Lewinsky find a job, but insisted that there was no deal under which she was to deny an affair in exchange for employment.

Jordan testified it was a "bolt out of the blue" when Lewinsky phoned him on Dec. 19 and told him she had been subpoenaed in the Jones suit. At that time, Clinton's attorneys had known for two weeks that Lewinsky was on the witness list provided by Jones's lawyers, and Jordan had been helping Lewinsky look for a job since Nov. 5.

Jordan, on Dec. 11, made a series of phone calls to friends at New York companies to line up a job for Lewinsky. But according to his testimony about the Dec. 19 Lewinsky phone call, and a meeting with her later that day in his office, Jordan had no reason to believe while he was helping her find a job that Lewinsky posed a legal threat to the president or would be called to testify about a sexual relationship with the president.

"I thought quite honestly that I was listening to a bobby-soxer who was mesmerized by Frank Sinatra," Jordan told the grand jury.

Once he learned that she had been summoned to testify in the Jones case, however, he asked her if she had had a sexual relationship with the president, and she denied it.

"You didn't have to be Einstein to know that that was a question that had to be asked," he said. "The subpoena changed the circumstances."

Later on Dec. 19, Jordan went to the White House and met with the president alone. The president, he said, thanked him for his efforts to get her a job and for finding Lewinsky a lawyer, and also denied any affair.

Jordan's memory of his dealings with Lewinsky and the president was frequently vague or shaky. The testimony produced a puzzling discrepancy between his recollection of his initial meeting with Lewinsky, and that provided by Lewinsky herself.

Lewinsky told the grand jury that she first called Jordan last Nov. 4 and came to his office the following day. But when Jordan was first questioned before the grand jury on March 3, he indicated that Lewinsky had first come to his office on Dec. 11.

But in a later grand jury appearance, prosecutors confronted Jordan with an e-mail Lewinsky sent a friend in early November in which she said Clinton's "best friend" was helping her land a job. Over the next several hours, he came to acknowledge he must have met her five weeks before he had testified that he had.

Jordan mostly kept his cool in the grand jury room, but sometimes showed flashes of anger. When one prosecutor asked him repeatedly whether Jones's allegations were what prompted him to ask Lewinsky about any affair, Jordan replied, "Counselor, I've said what I have to say. Don't put words in my mouth."

But Jordan also seemed to charm some members of Grand Jury 97-2. Pausing during his lengthy testimony to offer self-deprecating commentary on his lamentable golf game or his faulty memory, he reached the end of questioning June 9 with one final question, this one posed by the panel's forewoman.

"If ever any of us need a job," she said, "can we feel free to come to you?"

"Madam Forelady," Jordan replied, "my door swings back on welcome hinges to anybody in this grand jury."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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