Lewinsky Summoned to Testify Again;
Obstruction and Perjury Still at Issue
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, August 19, 1998; Page A01
Independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr yesterday summoned Monica S. Lewinsky back to the grand jury later this week to test the credibility of President Clinton's account of their 18-month affair against her version, according to legal sources close to the case.
Starr showed little sign of backing off his investigation into whether the president committed perjury or obstructed justice in the Paula Jones lawsuit, despite Clinton's admission under oath Monday and in a dramatic televised address to the nation that he engaged in an inappropriate sexual relationship with the 25-year-old former aide.
The day after his extraordinary confession that he "misled people, including even my wife," it became clear that the White House's hopes of putting an end to a seven-month ordeal that has badly wounded the Clinton presidency may have been too optimistic. By accompanying his statement of regret with a blistering jab at Starr for "prying into private lives," the president undercut his message in the view of some of his own advisers, generated only tepid support from congressional Democrats and provoked a bitter response from Republican leaders, some of whom called for his resignation.
Still, even as political Washington took stock of the president's speech in anticipation of Starr's forthcoming report to Congress, the White House took heart from poll numbers showing that outside the Beltway there is little appetite for prolonging the investigation or opening impeachment hearings.
Emotionally drained, Clinton escaped Washington yesterday for a two-week vacation at Martha's Vineyard, walking to the Marine One helicopter on the White House South Lawn with Hillary Rodham Clinton and their 18-year-old daughter, Chelsea, who stood between them holding both their hands. The first lady made no comment herself but said through an aide that she was "committed to her marriage" and "loves him very much."
On their arrival at the Massachusetts island that has hosted them on three previous summer getaways, the first family was greeted with hugs by longtime friend Vernon E. Jordan Jr., the Washington attorney caught up in the investigation because he helped Lewinsky find a job in New York and a lawyer to draft an affidavit in the Jones case denying an affair with the president. In a determined show of recreation-as-usual, Clinton and Jordan plan to play golf later this week, although Jordan's lawyer cautioned him not to discuss the case.
As Clinton left town, new details emerged about his testimony to a grand jury watching through a closed-circuit linkup at the federal courthouse on Monday, the first time any president has ever been questioned in a criminal investigation of his actions.
Soon after the session began in the White House Map Room, Clinton read a prepared statement that gave an account of his sexual encounters with Lewinsky, specifically acknowledging engaging in oral sex with her and detailing some times and places where they met, according to sources familiar with his testimony. Some of the times and dates cited by the president may not have matched other evidence or testimony, they said.
After reading his statement, "that's when he said, 'That's all I'm going to say, that's it,' " according to a lawyer close to the Clinton camp. Starr and four of his prosecutors called a break and huddled outside the room, then returned and posed questions that Clinton refused to answer, complaining they were graphic and intrusive.
The Starr lawyers told him they reserved the right to reissue a subpoena they withdrew when Clinton agreed to testify voluntarily, which could lead to the president's being held in contempt of court if he continued to refuse to testify.
The independent counsel's office had no comment on the president's testimony yesterday and there was no indication whether Starr was determined to press the issue. Starr could forgo further attempts to question the president and instead cite his refusal as an example of impeding his investigation in the report to Congress on possible grounds for impeachment, legal experts said.
"I cannot speak for the independent counsel, nor do I know what transpired, but it would seem to me there would be some risk in reissuing a subpoena," said John Bates, a former Starr deputy. The public, he said, might see such a move as overreaching by the prosecutor.
After the impasse over sex-related questions, Starr's team asked about evidence related to possible subornation of perjury and obstruction of justice in the Jones case. The president answered all questions touching on such issues, according to sources, including those about Jordan's job search for Lewinsky and her return of presidential gifts to Clinton's personal secretary, Betty Currie, despite a subpoena ordering her to turn them over to Jones's lawyers. Details about how the president responded were not revealed yesterday, although in his Monday night address he flatly denied asking anyone to lie or hide evidence.
While the vast majority of the questioning at a session described by sources as combative dealt with Lewinsky, Starr and his deputies also asked about Kathleen E. Willey, the former White House aide who accused Clinton of groping her in the Oval Office suite and has testified about alleged efforts to change her testimony. Clinton has publicly denied her account.
Starr himself asked two questions but left the bulk of interrogation to deputies Jackie M. Bennett, Solomon L. Wisenberg and Robert J. Bittman, and associate independent counsel Michael Emmick. Joining Clinton were private attorneys David E. Kendall and Nicole K. Seligman and White House counsel Charles F.C. Ruff. According to one account, the session began at 1:03 p.m. and broke up at 6:18 p.m., including several breaks.
The Clinton camp is confident the president does not face legal peril on a charge of perjury in the Jones case because his answers in his Jan. 17 deposition were so vague and were often hedged with qualifiers such as "I believe" or "I recall" or "perhaps."
For example, when he was asked by Jones's attorney James A. Fisher if he was ever alone with Lewinsky in the Oval Office, Clinton said, "I don't recall," but then said she sometimes brought him papers on weekends. The fuzzy wording may be defensible, Clinton advisers believe, because defendants can give responses that do not really answer the question without committing perjury.
Sources familiar with the president's legal strategy said Clinton in his testimony Monday cited what they called a loophole in the definition of "sexual relations" used during the Jones deposition, maintaining that it did not appear to include oral sex performed on him. It was not clear, however, how or if Clinton explained other sexual activity that Lewinsky reportedly testified about, including intimate touching that would be covered by the definition.
Lewinsky testified just once after securing a deal with Starr that provided her and her parents with full immunity from prosecution in exchange for her truthful testimony. Since that Aug. 6 appearance, she has left town for an undisclosed location, but Starr's office notified her yesterday that she must return tomorrow so the prosecutors can compare Clinton's testimony with her recollections.
Appearing at the courthouse yesterday was Dick Morris, the former political consultant forced out of the president's reelection campaign in the midst of his own sex scandal. Morris has been alienated from the White House in recent months, but he testified yesterday about five conversations he said he had with Clinton in the first three days after the Lewinsky investigation became public in late January.
"I kind of went through all that I remembered of what I said and what he said," Morris told reporters after about four hours with the grand jury. "I did stress to them that on several different occasions -- five or six in our conversations -- the president repeated to me that the charges against him were not true, that he did not do what they said he did."
Before leaving for Martha's Vineyard, Clinton spent the morning trying to repair the damage he has caused within his own camp now that he has admitted deceiving those closest to him.
He met one at a time with a handful of senior aides who had vigorously defended him publicly only to find out he had not leveled with them.
And he telephoned about a dozen key congressional Democrats and senior party leaders to take their pulse about his address. Clinton was "very encouraged by those calls," said White House press secretary Michael McCurry, and found that his allies "were sympathetic."
Vice President Gore later told reporters in a news conference during his Hawaiian vacation that "I felt he showed courage in acknowledging his mistakes before the American people and accepting full responsibility for his actions."
Yet many Democrats were less supportive, voicing a sense of disappointment or even betrayal. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), who was at his side in the White House when Clinton denied having sex with "that woman" on Jan. 26, said, "My trust in his credibility has been badly shattered." Calling Clinton's affair "morally repugnant," retiring Rep. Paul McHale (D-Pa.) said the president should resign, a demand made by some GOP leaders as well, including House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (Tex.), Sen. John D. Ashcroft (Mo.) and former vice president Dan Quayle.
One person who did not get a phone call or explanation was Paula Jones, the onetime Arkansas state clerk who accused Clinton of requesting oral sex when he was governor in 1991.
Jones, whose case was thrown out in April, yesterday characterized Clinton's admission Monday night as something of a vindication for her.
"The truth is Mr. Clinton did to me exactly what I have always said he did," Jones said in a statement. "If he had just admitted that and taken responsibility for what he did, my case would have been resolved long ago."
While Clinton insisted his statements in his deposition were "legally accurate," Jones's lawyers said yesterday they plan to use his admission to try to persuade a federal appeals court to reinstate her case.
Staff researcher Nathan Abse contributed to this report.
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