Lewinsky-Starr Talks Show Little Progress
By Peter Baker and Susan Schmidt
With an anxious White House and the rest of the nation's capital waiting on edge for any sign of movement, Lewinsky's chief attorney was locked in a table-stakes poker game with independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, who is demanding a full accounting of her actions to determine whether President Clinton and his friend, Vernon E. Jordan Jr., urged her to lie under oath about having an affair with the president.
William H. Ginsburg, the civil lawyer who flew in from Los Angeles to represent Lewinsky, talked by telephone throughout the day with lawyers in Starr's office just across town, but the two sides did not meet in person and no progress toward a deal was reported.
"The ball is still in the air," Ginsburg said. "Poor little Monica is scared out of her mind. So if they have the evidence to put the president and Vernon Jordan in jeopardy, then let's put them in jeopardy and let poor Monica go." If not, he added, then Starr should give Lewinsky what she wants because he needs her testimony.
Starr's main leverage on Lewinsky is her own voice on more than 23 hours of secret tape recordings of her conversations with a colleague, more details of which emerge with each passing day. According to sources, Lewinsky said on the tapes that she and Clinton only engaged in oral sex and "phone sex." In addition, the sources said, she claimed on the tapes to have kept an article of clothing with a semen stain on it.
Rarely have talks between lawyers been so consequential beyond the fate of a single potential defendant. Hanging in the balance, according to lawyers and politicians involved, is nothing less than the Clinton administration itself. If Lewinsky holds out and sticks to sworn testimony she has given that she never had a sexual relationship with the president, then his advisers believe he may be able to survive this latest crisis. But if she changes her story and provides evidence confirming the liaison she described in the tapes -- or, more seriously, attempts to obstruct justice -- then many believe Clinton would be in dire political and legal peril.
Already Clinton advisers are bracing for what they fear will be an eventual deal with Starr's office and are plotting legal strategy for how they might attack Lewinsky's credibility if that happens. Until now, they have been careful not to demean Lewinsky's character, lest they offend her and send her into Starr's arms. But sources said they are prepared to call her integrity into doubt if she contradicts Clinton's denials.
The sudden turn in the independent counsel's four-year investigation of Clinton occurred two weeks ago when a friend of Lewinsky gave investigators tapes containing her assertions. Only three days after its existence became public, the investigation is racing toward what could be a climactic moment when a grand jury convenes Tuesday to hear the first witnesses.
Lewinsky has been called to testify before the grand jury, but is prepared to refuse, citing her Fifth Amendment guarantee against self-incrimination, just as she said she would do last week when she was scheduled to give a deposition in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case. The deposition was postponed indefinitely.
Starr has increased the pressure on Lewinsky by issuing subpoenas to Lewinsky's divorced mother and father, both of whom have been forced to retain their own lawyers, Ginsburg said. Marcia Lewis, who shares an apartment with her daughter at the Watergate, was aware of the purported relationship with Clinton and urged her to lie about it, according to Lewinsky's account on the tapes.
Lewinsky, the central figure in the burgeoning scandal, remained in hiding yesterday, avoiding the ubiquitous TV camera crews blanketing the city. Mobs of reporters staked out virtually all of the principal players, so much so that Ginsburg said they were hindering his attempts to strike a bargain with Starr.
"We're frozen by the media," he said by telephone. "There's a thousand people outside my building. There's a thousand people outside his building."
Ginsburg denied reports that he suggested a possible immunity deal last weekend in which Lewinsky would admit having had a sexual relationship with Clinton without acknowledging any pressure from the president or Jordan to lie about it. With the help of a lawyer Jordan found for her, Lewinsky swore out an affidavit in the Jones case Jan. 7 denying a sexual relationship with Clinton.
He would not detail what Lewinsky would be willing to tell Starr's investigators, but insisted on full protection from perjury, subornation of perjury, obstruction of justice or any other charges.
"They're going to have to give her immunity from any prosecution," Ginsburg said. "We're offering him complete cooperation and the complete truth and we're promising him we will not go south on him as apparently Susan McDougal did" in the Whitewater case.
Starr's investigators offered Lewinsky full immunity when they first confronted her during an extraordinary 10-hour encounter in an Arlington hotel Jan. 16, but on Ginsburg's advice, she turned it down. Starr wanted her to let him monitor her telephone conversations with possible witnesses who could corroborate the tales she told on the tapes, although a source close to the prosecutor insisted he never intended to eavesdrop on Jordan or Clinton.
With word of the investigation leaking out, Starr's investigators took the deal off the table at the end of that night. Ginsburg said he could not recommend his client take it at the time because he had not heard the tapes made surreptitiously by Lewinsky's onetime friend, Linda R. Tripp, and later by the FBI. He said yesterday he still has not heard the tapes.
According to sources, Starr's office is unwilling to grant immunity without an explicit understanding of what she would testify. There is also some reluctance to letting Lewinsky off without her agreeing to plead at least to a minor charge, for fear that Clinton's lawyers would use that as evidence of a "sweetheart deal" that enticed her to change her story.
As it is, the Clinton camp is preparing to use any switch by Lewinsky against her if she becomes a witness against the president. The affidavit she gave in the Jones case and her attorney's daily statements that she stands by it "at this time" will be contrasted with her tape-recorded tales, some advisers said, casting doubt on which version is correct. That will be particularly true, they believe, if she admits to having sex with Clinton but not to getting pressure from Clinton and Jordan to lie -- in effect, they said, she would be saying she lied both in the affidavit and on the tapes.
"Her testimony's going to be worthless from a court perspective," said one Clinton adviser.
The Clinton team also is readying to dispute circumstantial evidence that may back up Lewinsky's claims of a relationship, most specifically gifts such as a dress, a book of poetry, a pin and souvenirs from Martha's Vineyard. The president's advisers maintain he readily gives gifts to all sorts of people, describing many of the items in Lewinsky's possession as mere "costume junk" that is routinely given to Clinton and that he then passes out to young assistants.
Aside from the main drama, the case has spawned several side skirmishes as well. For one, Starr has subpoenaed the Rutherford Institute, which is funding the Jones lawsuit, and is expected to subpoena her lawyers as well in an attempt to obtain a copy of Clinton's deposition last weekend in that case. The Rutherford Institute plans to resist giving what it considers privileged documents, an issue that may have to be settled by a federal judge in Little Rock.
Newsweek published excerpts from one of Tripp's tape recordings in today's edition. On it, Lewinsky and Tripp discussed what they will say about whether Lewinsky had a sexual relationship with the president when they are each questioned under oath by Jones's attorneys.
On a recording made the week before Christmas, Lewinsky told Tripp she is prepared to lie about her relationship with Clinton. "I have lied my entire life," she said. "Look, I will deny it so he will not get screwed in the case, but I'm going to get screwed personally."
Tripp said she has no intention of lying. "Look Monica, we already know you are going to lie under oath. We also know that I want out of this big time. . . . If I have to testify, it's going to be the opposite of what you say. . . . What am I supposed to say if they say, 'Has Monica Lewinsky ever said to you that she is in love with the president or is having a physical relationship with the president?' If I say no, that is [expletive] perjury. I will do everything I can not to be in that position."
The two discuss a plan for Tripp to have a "foot accident" that would land her in the hospital at the time she is supposed to be deposed.
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