Ex-Intern Nixed Immunity Offer in Probe
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, January 24, 1998; Page A01
Federal investigators last week offered former White House aide Monica Lewinsky immunity from prosecution if she would cooperate in their investigation into whether President Clinton tried to persuade her to deny an affair under oath, but Lewinsky turned the offer down.
The offer was described yesterday by sources close to independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr after her lawyer, William H. Ginsburg, accused investigators of trying to "squeeze" Lewinsky into turning against the president during a 10-hour session at a Pentagon City hotel on Jan. 16.
Sources close to Starr, however, described a far different episode that dragged on mainly because Lewinsky insisted her mother be present. Although investigators did pressure her to cooperate, sources said, the onetime White House intern spent much of the time waiting for her mother to arrive on the train from New York, watching movies with them in a hotel room and shopping at Crate & Barrel with investigators.
In return for full immunity, investigators wanted Lewinsky to initiate conversations that they would secretly tape with people who might have witnessed events that would confirm whether she had a liaison with Clinton and whether he or his friend Vernon E. Jordan Jr. urged her to deny it. In a conversation monitored by the FBI without her knowledge three days earlier, Lewinsky had told a friend that Clinton and Jordan had wanted her to lie under oath in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case. But a source close to Starr denied that there was any intention to secretly tape record either Clinton or Jordan themselves.
While Lewinsky rejected that proposal, a source familiar with the discussions that ensued over the next few days said Ginsburg was willing to discuss the possibility of a plea agreement in which she would admit to having had sex with Clinton despite her previous denial under oath.
For all of yesterday's the public jousting between the lawyers, a source said Starr's investigators searched her Watergate apartment with her family's permission on Thursday and came away with a variety of personal items, including letters, that they hope might help establish a link between Clinton and the young woman. According to sources familiar with the investigation, Lewinsky has said the president gave her a pin and a book of poetry, Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass," in addition to a dress that previously has been reported.
Lewinsky's agreement to allow the search may presage resumed negotiations over some form of plea agreement even as Starr presses forward with his investigation with unusual intensity. FBI agents have delivered subpoenas to government offices, private witnesses and even Lewinsky's father, sources said. Investigators yesterday confiscated two more tapes made by Lewinsky's former colleague, Linda R. Tripp, that sources said contain more of her ruminations about a purported relationship with the president.
Investigators also subpoenaed records yesterday from a Washington courier service that sources said made eight or nine deliveries from Lewinsky to Clinton's White House office last fall.
Forced to deal for the third straight day with the most serious political crisis of the Clinton presidency, agitated White House advisers continued to debate how to contain the damage and refocus the nation's attention on Clinton's policy agenda before his State of the Union speech Tuesday.
The White House decided yesterday against having Clinton answer further questions about the investigation in a news conference or interviews before the address to Congress, as some had urged, and it is virtually certain he will not refer to it during the speech. Instead, officials have opted to treat the sex allegations much as they have other matters under Starr's scrutiny, allowing allies outside the White House to make Clinton's case publicly, in part by attacking the prosecutor's motives and tactics. First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton herself spent much of yesterday on the telephone rallying loyalists to come to her husband's defense.
The strategy seemed clear in the approach taken by the president's lawyer, Robert S. Bennett, whose public comments yesterday seemed to suggest some sort of conspiracy behind the investigation. "All of this stuff is weird and bizarre," he said in a telephone interview. "There is a kooky quality to all of this. You just have the feeling there's this big piece missing."
While silent publicly, Clinton yesterday assured his Cabinet during a meeting that the allegations were untrue and implored them to concentrate on their duties. Afterward, Cabinet secretaries emerged to speak on his behalf.
"The president is focused on what he has to do," Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright said in a feisty exchange with reporters. "I am focused on what I have to do, the other secretaries are. And I think the American public would be appalled if they thought that we weren't doing our jobs."
Albright and other Cabinet members who appeared outside the White House accepted Clinton's denials of wrongdoing. "I believe that the allegations are completely untrue," she said. "I'll second that, definitely," said Commerce Secretary William Daley, followed by Education Secretary Richard W. Riley and Health and Human Services Secretary Donna E. Shalala.
During interviews with at least four television networks yesterday, Ginsburg said Lewinsky was "devastated, concerned, upset and fearful, [and] does not know what the future holds," as he told ABC's "Good Morning America."
"Repeatedly during the course of discussions with the office of the prosecutor, we have been squeezed," he said, as he publicly solicited another deal that would save his client from prosecution. "Now she finds herself caught between the president of the United States, Vernon Jordan and Kenneth Starr, probably three of the most powerful people in the world."
After Ginsburg said Starr's conduct "should frighten anyone," the prosecutor's camp responded with its first detailed account of the meeting at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel at Pentagon City, depicting it as far less hostile.
Ginsburg's allegations that his client "was mistreated are wholly erroneous," Starr said in a statement last night. Lewinsky agreed to stay and was "repeatedly informed that she was free to leave," Starr added.
As described by the Starr camp, the encounter unfolded as follows:
The encounter began just after noon on Jan. 16, when FBI agents intercepted Tripp, the former White House aide who had recorded her private conversations with Lewinsky for months starting last summer, as she and Lewinsky arrived for luncheon at the hotel. Tripp, who already had secretly turned her tapes over to Starr, had set up the lunch at investigators' request.
The agents flashed their badges, told Lewinsky they wanted to talk to her privately and took her to a room upstairs. Tripp went to an adjoining room with other agents and attorneys.
Michael Emmick, one of the supervisors of the investigation, took the lead in laying out a cooperation proposal to Lewinsky. He told her Tripp had tape recorded their conversations and investigators had those recordings, which contradicted a Jan. 7 affidavit in the Jones cases in which she denied having a sexual relationship with Clinton. With Tripp's help, the FBI also had recorded and photographed the two women at the Ritz-Carlton bar three days earlier. Emmick showed Lewinsky the photos and tape transcripts.
Lewinsky was surprised at Tripp's betrayal. "My life is ruined," she said. Over the next two hours, as Emmick made his pitch for her cooperation, Lewinsky listened, cried and brooded about her dilemma.
Emmick told Lewinsky that she had done things that were wrong and had to think what she could to help herself. He explained that if she did not cooperate, she could be indicted for perjury, witness tampering and obstruction of justice. He told her there were various levels of cooperation, ranging from simply telling what she knew to agreeing to participate in telephone calls and meetings monitored by investigators.
Emmick said he wanted to talk to her about what was on the tapes, but never specified who investigators wanted her to record.
If she agreed to record discussions, she could have complete immunity, Emmick said, but she had to take the deal that night. Reporters had learned about elements of the probe and any sting by investigators would have to be finished before the news media started calling around, tipping off potential targets.
Lewinsky said she needed to talk to her closest confidante, her mother, Marcia Lewis. Investigators told her Lewis was implicated on the tapes as well, because Lewinsky is heard telling Tripp that her mother advised her to lie to Jones's lawyers to stay out of trouble. Lewinsky told Tripp she had sent her mother some of the gifts Clinton had given her for safekeeping.
Fearful that the hotel telephones were tapped, Lewinsky left the Ritz-Carlton to call her mother and when she returned she said Lewis was "completely freaked out" and would come down by train. Emmick agreed, and over the next five hours Lewinsky and investigators waited. They made small talk, watched part of the Ethel Merman movie, "There's No Business Like Show Business," then decided to take a walk in the Pentagon City Mall. Lewinsky, Emmick and an FBI agent browsed among the pots and pans at Crate & Barrel, then went to dinner at Mozzarella's Cafe.
Lewis finally arrived around 10 p.m. She and Lewinsky talked alone for a while. According to a source close to the prosecutors, Lewis was puzzled about why they were intent on making a criminal case at all, saying: "What's the big deal? So she lied and tried to convince someone else to lie."
Another source familiar with the Tripp tapes said they indicate Lewis was aware of her daughter's sexual relationship with the president.
Lewis called her ex-husband, Bernard Lewinsky in California, who called Ginsburg, a family attorney for about 25 years. About 11 p.m., Ginsburg listened to the proposed deal but said he could not advise Lewinsky to take it, having not seen the tape transcripts himself.
Ginsburg said he would fly to Washington the next day, but Emmick told him while they still wanted Lewinsky's cooperation, the immunity deal he had offered was off the table.
Ginsburg and prosecutors met Sunday and Monday, but were not able to come to an agreement. Starr's office and Ginsburg's co-counsel, Nathaniel Speights, have been in communication several times daily since then, but there is no deal immediately in the offing.
As part of his investigation, Starr has issued subpoenas to Francis D. Carter, Lewinsky's first lawyer who helped her draft her affidavit denying the relationship; Lucianne Goldberg, a New York literary agent and friend of Tripp's who said she was the person who suggested Tripp make the tapes and who had kept some of them herself; the office of U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson, who offered Lewinsky a job last October after she was referred by Betty Currie, the president's personal secretary, and John D. Podesta, the deputy White House chief of staff; and the Rutherford Institute, the tax-exempt group financially supporting Jones's lawsuit.
A subpoena also went out to Washington-based Speed Service Inc., which made deliveries from Lewinsky to Currie between early October of last year and Dec. 8, the sources said. The same records were subpoenaed by Jones's attorneys Jan. 8.
Goldberg had two more of Tripp's tapes containing about three hours of conversations with Lewinsky and turned them over to Starr's investigators yesterday. Goldberg has been besieged by tabloids and television shows offering money for the tapes, with the top bid hitting $2 million from the National Enquirer, said her son, Jonah Goldberg.
But Jonah Goldberg said yesterday they have no plans to disclose the contents of the tapes and will cooperate with authorities. "We are not in this for selling these things," he said. "We're in this because we're Linda's friends, not because we're auctioning anything."
Staff writer John Mintz contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company