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Judge Delays Lewinsky Deposition

By Susan Schmidt and Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, January 23, 1998; Page A1

A federal judge last night postponed today's much-anticipated deposition of former White House aide Monica Lewinsky, sparing her from her first public appearance since her allegations of an affair with President Clinton surfaced and giving her lawyer more time to seek a deal with authorities.

Lewinsky had been scheduled to testify in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case this morning, but U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright put off the interview indefinitely as prosecutors investigate whether Clinton tried to persuade the young woman to deny a sexual relationship under oath.

In addition to keeping her out of the public eye, the last-minute delay gives Lewinsky more time to consider which version of her story she will commit to. In an affidavit she gave in the Jones case earlier this month, Lewinsky, 24, denied having had a sexual relationship with Clinton. But last week independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr was given audiotapes on which Lewinsky told a friend that they had had a relationship and that Clinton wanted her to cover it up.

Wright gave no public explanation for postponing the deposition following a telephone conference call with lawyers involved in the case. The decision came as Starr issued a flurry of subpoenas seeking witnesses who could corroborate the tales Lewinsky told on the tapes. Among those who received subpoenas yesterday were Betty Currie, Clinton's personal secretary, a few other low-level White House aides and several former White House interns who had worked with Lewinsky, according to sources familiar with the investigation.

Vernon E. Jordan Jr., a prominent Washington attorney and close friend of Clinton's, said yesterday that he too had received a subpoena from Starr and pledged to answer questions before a grand jury "completely and truthfully." In his first public statement since Starr's probe became public this week, Jordan said that he arranged job interviews for Lewinsky at Currie's request but that Lewinsky told him she did not have a sexual relationship with the president. Jordan insisted he did not tell the former intern to lie about any involvement with Clinton, as Lewinsky reportedly said in the taped conversations.

But there appeared to be little movement toward a deal between Starr and Lewinsky that would protect her from being prosecuted for perjury and obstruction of justice if she lied in her Jan. 7 affidavit. Starr would like to obtain her cooperation, but her lawyer said last night he has not heard from the special prosecutor since Monday, though he said he is open to some sort of plea agreement.

"I wish he would call me," attorney William H. Ginsburg said yesterday evening after arriving in Washington from his home in Los Angeles. "I haven't heard from him. I haven't heard from his staff either. . . . Obviously, if there's jeopardy [to Lewinsky], I'd like a deal."

Negotiations between Ginsburg and Starr's office over Lewinsky's cooperation in the investigation foundered Monday, lawyers in the case said. Ginsburg sought to make a deal for his client that would keep her out of jail in exchange for her testimony, but he refused to tell Starr's office what she would be prepared to say.

Federal prosecutors customarily require a "proffer" that allows potential cooperating witnesses to disclose what they know for the purpose of striking a bargain with the government with the understanding that it cannot be used against them. Ginsburg wanted to negotiate an immunity or plea agreement without proffering information, a move Starr's office flatly rejected, according to lawyers.

Lewinsky wanted to avoid today's deposition and sources had said before the delay that she would refuse to testify under the Fifth Amendment guarantee against self-incrimination.

Although she denied the sexual relationship with Clinton in her affidavit in the Jones case, Starr's office has obtained tape recordings secretly made by a friend, Linda R. Tripp, on which Lewinsky discussed with Tripp the purported affair and alleged attempts by Clinton and Jordan to persuade her to cover it up. At Starr's behest, the FBI made its own surreptitious recording of Lewinsky's allegations last week by attaching a "body wire" to Tripp.

If Lewinsky testifies that what she reportedly said on the tapes is true, Starr likely would have to make a prompt report to the House of Representatives under the Independent Counsel Act. An independent counsel is required to report "substantial and credible information which such independent counsel receives . . . that may constitute grounds for impeachment." The Constitution permits impeachment for unspecified "high crimes and misdemeanors."

Some lawyers said yesterday it is in Starr's interest for Lewinsky not to testify in the Jones case before she tells her story to prosecutors. If she repeats her civil affidavit denial to Jones's lawyers, then later changes her story with Starr to agree with the tapes, her value as prosecution witness against Clinton or Jordan could be diminished.

Even if she is planning to confirm her taped conversations, prosecutors would want to debrief her themselves first, rather than have her give a possibly incomplete account to Jones lawyers that could later be used to try to undermine a fuller version they might obtain.

In his first public remarks about the new inquiry, Starr declined to discuss the situation in detail, but maintained he is "moving as promptly as we possibly can" and cautioned against jumping to conclusions.

"Let's bear in mind that each individual in our country enjoys a presumption of innocence," Starr said on the steps of the Washington office of the independent counsel. "I think that's very important in terms of fairness."

Starr also defended his decision to use a body wire to secretly tape Lewinsky, which some Clinton partisans have called improper. "We use appropriate investigative techniques that are traditional law enforcement techniques," he said. "We conduct this investigation the way any other investigation would be conducted."

Even as the White House confronts Starr's probe of the Lewinsky matter, it must deal with the Jones suit. Sources said Jones's attorneys yesterday sent a new subpoena to the White House seeking whatever documents are provided to Starr, including employment records, message slips, correspondence and the entry logs.

The logs, called "WAVES," show the names of White House visitors, their times of entry and departure and who has cleared them with the Secret Service. As a staff member, Lewinsky had a White House pass that granted her routine access to the building. After she transferred to a Pentagon job and lost that pass in April 1996, according to sources, Lewinsky showed up at the White House a number of times – perhaps a dozen or more, according to one estimate – but never after 10 or 11 p.m. as has been reported.

White House officials refused to release those records yesterday, saying they want to comply with Starr's request before deciding whether to make them publicly available.

In a prepared statement he read to the media yesterday, Jordan said he arranged job interviews for Lewinsky with Revlon, American Express and Young & Rubicam, a New York advertising agency. Sources have said Lewinsky decided last fall to quit her Pentagon job and did so at the end of December. Jordan did not mention it, but sources have said he also helped set up an interview for Lewinsky with the New York public relations firm of Burson-Marsteller, which interviewed her Dec. 30, just two weeks after she received her subpoena in the Jones case on Dec. 17.

After receiving the subpoena, Lewinsky asked for help finding a lawyer, Jordan said, and he personally took her over to the office of Washington attorney Francis D. Carter. Carter helped her draft her Jan. 7 affidavit that said she should not have to testify in the case because she had no sexual relationship with Clinton. Carter left the case last Friday, four days after Tripp turned her tapes over to Starr and it became clear Lewinsky was under investigation.

A source familiar with the Tripp tapes said that they show Lewinsky worried that she will have to either commit perjury in the Jones case testimony or betray Clinton by admitting the sexual affair. In one conversation with Tripp, the source said, she mulled the idea of telling the president she had disclosed their relationship to other people, a move that she thought might force him to settle with Jones and thereby keep her from having to testify.

But she concluded sadly that it was unlikely. "He'll never settle," a source said she told Tripp. "He's in denial."

Ultimately, Lewinsky provided the affidavit denying the affair and urged Tripp to tell the Jones lawyers the same story, according to sources familiar with the tapes.

In addition to the tapes, Tripp has provided Starr's office with a document she said Lewinsky gave her to prepare for questions in the Jones case. A source familiar with the document said that in it Tripp is told to give "Bennett's people" – meaning lawyers for Clinton – a copy of her affidavit before providing it to the Jones lawyers.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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