THE SECRET SERVICE
Clinton Threat Against Officers Refuted
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 3, 1998; Page A23
Independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr called more than 30 Secret Service personnel to testify during his investigation of President Clinton after winning a series of legal arguments over Service claims that interaction with the president was privileged and thus protected from interrogation.
Among those who testified was Sgt. Keith Williams, who said he had embellished and to some extent invented a threat by Clinton to fire officers who had enraged Monica L. Lewinsky by keeping her waiting on Dec. 6 outside the White House gate. She could not visit the president, the officers told her, because he was busy meeting another woman television journalist and Clinton friend Eleanor Mondale in the Oval Office.
Lewinsky went to a pay phone and called Clinton's secretary, Betty Currie, to accuse her of lying about Clinton's activities, and Clinton of two-timing her. Currie then called Williams on the carpet and demanded an explanation from the officers at the gate. Although Williams said he had told the officers Clinton wanted to fire whoever was responsible for revealing his activities against Secret Service policies he testified he had not actually spoken to Clinton. He invoked the president's wrath, he said, to frighten the officers into telling him the truth about what happened.
Williams also said that he and another supervisor had concocted a story to placate Currie, telling her that Lewinsky had known about Mondale because she had seen her enter the White House.
In other Secret Service testimony released yesterday, two officers said that Bayani Nelvis, a White House steward, told them of his unhappiness at having to "clean up" after Clinton's trysts with Lewinsky, picking up tissues and towels soiled with lipstick and other substances. The Wall Street Journal, in a story that was widely discredited by the White House and quickly withdrawn by the newspaper, reported early this year Nelvis himself had testified about the clean-up.
The testimony also showed that rumors of presidential affairs with Lewinsky and other women were widespread in the White House for several years, and that the relationship with Lewinsky even became part of Secret Service lore.
"I basically said that 'This is probably the president's mistress, so treat her, you know, decent, but again, don't break the rules for her,'‚" officer Steven Pape, who worked at the White House gate, said he told a new officer.
Much of the Secret Service testimony revolved around the mechanics of guarding the president and the routines inside the White House. But many agents seemed very familiar with Lewinsky and were asked in great detail about her movements inside the mansion on particular dates.
All personnel involved in the Dec. 6 incident at the Northwest Gate of the White House were questioned extensively about it. It occurred on a Saturday, the day after Lewinsky was named as a potential witness in the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit.
At about 10 a.m., Lewinsky appeared unannounced at the gate with the intention of visiting Clinton to give him a letter and some gifts. Secret Service uniformed officers at the gate contacted Currie, who told them that Clinton was busy meeting with lawyers and that Lewinsky should wait for 40 minutes.
While Lewinsky was waiting, she learned from the officers at the gate that Clinton was meeting with Mondale. Lewinsky, who suspected that Clinton was romantically involved with Mondale, became enraged, left the White House and called Currie.
According to Williams, Currie demanded he provide an explanation of "why someone would tell where the president was and whom he had in his office." Williams recalled Currie "was very upset, and she told me that if I didn't find out what was going on, someone could be fired."
Rushing to the Northwest Gate, Williams demanded an explanation from Officer Bryan Hall, who had dealt with Lewinsky, he said. "Look, you need to come clean with me and tell me what's going on because the President wants wants something done behind this. He wants somebody fired," Williams said he told Hall.
Williams admitted to the grand jury that he had not seen or spoken to the president. "But I did that at that moment to get these guys to start talking because the first time I called out there, no one seemed to know what was going on."
After inventing the story about Lewinsky seeing Mondale, Williams and Capt. Geoffrey Purdie checked computer records showing when Mondale entered the gate to make sure the story was plausible. "It wasn't strictly the truth," Williams testified, and the purpose of the tale was to "protect Officer Hall."
Currie seemed mollified by the story and told the supervisors, "if we would keep it quiet and not tell a lot of people what had happened, then nothing else would happen," a message that Williams said he then gladly relayed to the officers at the gate.
Later, when Purdie returned to Currie's office, Clinton emerged from the Oval Office and said, "I hope you use your discretion." Purdie said he decided not to write up a report because Curry seemed satisfied with the explanation that he and Williams had offered her.
During an appearance before the grand jury July 30, Williams was questioned by associate independent counsel Mary Anne Wirth:
Q: When you said to Officer Hall, when you were trying to impress upon him that this was important and he had to tell you the truth, did you tell Officer Hall that the President had said to you that someone could be fired over this?
Williams: I did tell him that, I told him that, again, to get him to talk because he got real closed-mouth with me, wouldn't say anything.
Q: And did you tell Officer Hall that after your first visit to Betty Currie?
A: Yes, yes, ma'am.
Q: And have you ever heard anybody in the Secret Service or in the White House repeating a story that the President told you directly that someone was going to be fired?
A: After that, the rumor just spread and I heard a lot of people talking about it.
Q: Okay. But that wasn't true, according to your testimony?
A: That wasn't true. And I told that you know, some people that, but the rumors are out. It was a wrong choice of words, but I tried to get Officer Hall to tell me what was going on and I was pretty upset, too, at the time.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company