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Monica Lewinsky is shown greeting President Clinton during a May 8, 1996 fund-raiser. (CNN via AP)

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Was Career Help Intended to Silence Lewinsky?

By Amy Goldstein and John Mintz
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, January 28, 1998; Page A19

As independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr begins presenting evidence to the grand jury about the Monica Lewinsky controversy, he will try to resolve a crucial question: Was the help Lewinsky received from President Clinton's aides and friends in finding a new job an attempt to silence a potentially troublesome witness -- or merely an odd string of coincidences?

On Monday, Clinton glowered and shook his finger at a thicket of television cameras as he insisted, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky. I never told anybody to lie, not a single time -- never. These allegations are false."

Emphatic as his denial was, Clinton did not seek to address a set of undisputed facts: Starting last October, at the time of a significant turning point in the sexual harassment lawsuit of Paula Jones, 24-year-old Lewinsky was benefiting from a strong career boost not available to most junior government employees.

The effort to land Lewinsky a job in New York began the same month that Jones's lawyers first received several anonymous tips that Lewinsky may have had a sexual relationship with the president, sources said. Also in October, Lewinsky's friend and Pentagon colleague Linda R. Tripp, who had begun secretly taping conversations with Lewinsky some weeks earlier, was subpoenaed by Jones's lawyers.

It remains unclear exactly when the White House -- or Lewinsky, for that matter -- found out that the young woman was within the sights of Jones's attorneys and that she could cause enormous political damage to a president she apparently adored. But a key question for Starr is whether the career help offered to Lewinsky was connected with an attempt to sway her testimony in the Jones case.

Whatever investigators conclude, it is clear that the past four months represent the second time in Lewinsky's relatively brief stint in Washington that White House officials took unusual steps to boost her fledgling career.

Lewinsky had been working in the White House for less than a year, first as an intern and then as a legislative affairs aide, when she was steered toward a public affairs position at the Pentagon for which she had little experience.

Evelyn S. Lieberman, deputy chief of staff at the time, was the official who decided Lewinsky should leave the White House. The young woman displayed "inappropriate and immature behavior," Lieberman, now director of Voice of America, said through a White House spokesman this week.

Lewinsky's co-workers at the time said that she had not mastered her duties as a staff assistant in the White House's legislative affairs office.

"She couldn't write the letters by herself," said one former White House employee who worked near her. "She was making mistakes, having misspellings, not calling people 'chairmen' when they were chairmen," he recalled. "She would get very frustrated or flustered over the simplest complication in her job. The computer would freeze up and it would be the end of her life."

Even so, Lewinsky's name was the only one the White House forwarded to the Defense Department when Pentagon officials called during the first week of April 1996 to say they had an opening for a confidential assistant in the public affairs office -- a job that came with top-secret clearance.

The Pentagon's top spokesman, Kenneth Bacon, said that Lewinsky had less experience than previous occupants of the job. But he said he decided to hire her anyway because he wanted a younger person who might be better able to endure the job's grueling hours and menial tasks.

Lewinsky's skills -- particularly her typing abilities -- were unpolished when she arrived at the Pentagon, her co-workers there said, but she worked diligently and soon fit into her new office.

Eighteen months later, Lewinsky was, once again, being furnished with career help directly from the White House. This time, the assistance was even more remarkable, because it reached outside Washington and -- in three cases -- outside the government entirely.

And this time, the assistance took place as the young woman was being drawn unwittingly into the heart of Jones's efforts to prove her sexual harassment charges against the president.

Lewinsky did not know at the time that Tripp, her 48-year-old friend and colleague at the Pentagon, had begun secret recordings of her account of an alleged affair with the president. She also did not know that Tripp was already considering going public with Lewinsky's alleged affair, meeting in October with her book agent Lucianne Goldberg and a Newsweek reporter to tell them what Lewinsky said on the tapes about Clinton.

And it is unclear whether Lewinsky knew that Tripp had received her October subpoena from Jones's attorneys.

Nevertheless, it was at that very time that the former intern benefited from the first in a rapid series of high-level interventions aimed at finding her a new job in New York. That intervention came first in the form of an interview for a low-level public affairs post at the United Nations.

One source said yesterday that Lewinsky was referred to the staff of Bill Richardson, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, sometime in October by John D. Podesta, the White House deputy chief of staff, and Betty Currie, one of Clinton's two personal secretaries.

The source said Richardson and his chief of staff, Rebecca Cooper, met with Lewinsky for breakfast one morning in late October at the Watergate, where she lives and where he typically stays when in Washington. She was offered a job, but turned it down, saying she preferred to switch to the private sector.

On Nov. 4, Lewinsky, who colleagues said had talked for some time of leaving the Pentagon, informed her bosses that she intended to resign. She told them "her mother had moved to New York and she wanted to be near her," according to a Pentagon official.

It was that same month, Newsweek magazine has reported, that Lewinsky first paid a visit to Clinton's close friend, Washington lawyer Vernon E. Jordan Jr., on Currie's advice. Before the end of the year, Jordan would open the doors to three more job prospects.

Meanwhile, Lewinsky was drawn into the Jones case in early December. As long ago as the summer of 1997, Lewinsky's taped conversations with Tripp suggest, she had been worried that her alleged relationship with the president would surface in the Jones case. During the recorded conversation, she told Tripp that she had expressed her fears directly to Clinton, and that Clinton told her the lawyers would never find out, according to the tapes.

But about Dec. 5, Jones's lawyers informed Clinton's legal team that they intended to summon Lewinsky as a witness, sources said. On Dec. 17, Lewinsky received her subpoena in the Jones case. By the time she left her Pentagon position nine days later, Lewinsky's job search was in full swing.

According to Michael O'Neill, a spokesman for American Express, the head of the company's human resources department received a call on Dec. 10 or 11 from Jordan, who sits on the company's board of directors. Jordan said the department could expect to receive an application from a job candidate that he was recommending.

Lewinsky's resume arrived there on Dec. 11. She telephoned a few days later to arrange for an interview and her application was forwarded to Thomas Schick, executive vice president for American Express's corporate affairs and communications, who interviewed her in Washington on Dec. 23.

During the interview, O'Neill said, Schick told her the company had no opening for which she was qualified.

Meanwhile, Jordan also had telephoned Young & Rubicam Inc., the parent company for Burson-Marsteller, the large New York-based public relations firm. Jordan is a friend of Young & Rubicam's chief executive officer, Peter Georgescu. A Young & Rubicam official "kicked it down and said, 'Hey could you look at this person,' " a source at Burson said yesterday.

Lewinsky had two interviews there -- one in mid-December, and the other on Dec. 30. She was not offered a job.

Her third corporate job opportunity materialized at Revlon, the cosmetics manufacturer. Jordan, a director of the company's parent corporation, contacted an official there in December on behalf of Lewinsky, who interviewed her for a public affairs job the same day as her second interview at Burson and the same week she visited Clinton in the White House's West Wing, according to a knowledgeable source. Revlon offered her a job this month, but rescinded it after Lewinsky became embroiled in the Clinton controversy.

Jordan said last week that the career help was standard practice for him. And despite the criticism some White House colleagues have leveled at Lewinsky's job performance, the president's friend praised the woman he had tried to assist.

"I was pleased to be helpful to Ms. Lewinsky, whose drive, ambition and personality were impressive," Jordan said.

Staff writers Lorraine Adams, Peter Baker, John M. Goshko and Dana Priest contributed to this report.


© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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