Did Agents See 'Intimate Acts'?
By Peter Baker and Susan Schmidt
With negotiations to win Lewinsky's cooperation in the investigation stalled, the independent counsel's office intensified pressure on her by seeking out other witnesses who might have direct knowledge of liaisons between her and the president. Such testimony would expose Lewinsky to a perjury charge for denying the existence of a sexual relationship in a sworn statement filed in the Paula Jones case.
Among others, Starr's office is seeking to interview Secret Service agents assigned to the president to ask if they personally observed Clinton and Lewinsky engaging in any "intimate acts" in the White House in the spring of 1996, according to sources familiar with the probe. Sources said investigators particularly are seeking confirmation of reports they had received that encounters occurred in the president's private study just off the Oval Office and in the White House movie theater in the East Wing.
If such witnesses are found, it would weaken the bargaining position of Lewinsky's chief lawyer, William H. Ginsburg, as he acknowledged in an interview on ABC's "This Week." Ginsburg has demanded total immunity from prosecution for Lewinsky in exchange for any information she may provide.
"If it's true" that there are witnesses, Ginsburg said, "I may have to renew my negotiating in a different way."
The White House said it had no knowledge of anyone claiming to have seen any sexual activity between Clinton and Lewinsky. "I have not been able to find anyone at the White House aware of such a report and obviously the president's denial stands," said White House press secretary Michael McCurry.
Starr's interest in the Secret Service agents, who have the most up-close exposure to the president and historically are tight-lipped about what they know, tracks with efforts by Jones's attorneys in the same direction. As part of its effort to prove Jones's charge of sexual harassment in the face of the president's categorical denial in that ongoing civil case, her legal team is trying to demonstrate that it was part of a pattern of behavior by Clinton. Her team already has subpoenaed the Secret Service and a federal judge is considering whether agents should be compelled to testify, according to one source knowledgeable about the case.
The latest development demonstrated how closely the Starr and Jones probes are intertwined these days, although representatives of both have said they are not working in tandem. Starr has subpoenaed the Rutherford Institute, which is funding Jones's case, seeking the sworn deposition Clinton gave her lawyers on Jan. 17. Sources have said that Clinton was asked about Lewinsky and that he denied having a sexual relationship with her.
Starr directed that the deposition be turned over to a federal grand jury based in Washington by 9:30 a.m. Tuesday. Jones's lawyers, who are under a broad confidentiality order from U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright, who is directing that case, are set to ask her today whether they can comply with the Starr subpoena.
The deposition is critical to Starr, because if he can prove that Clinton's testimony is false and he did have a sexual relationship with Lewinsky, the president could face a charge of perjury. Clinton has not yet reviewed and signed the transcript from the six-hour deposition, which was supposed to be delivered yesterday or today. Under court rules, he has 30 days to amend his answers but would have to explain any changes.
During the deposition, Clinton was questioned about five to seven women who were identified as possibly having had a sexual encounter or having received an unsolicited sexual advance from the president since he was first elected in 1992, sources familiar with his testimony said yesterday. Clinton denied sexual relations or advances with regard to each of them, according to the sources, including Lewinsky and Kathleen Willey, another former White House aide, who reportedly has said the president kissed and groped her.
Those women were in addition to an undetermined number he was asked about from his days as governor of Arkansas. Among those brought up at the deposition was Gennifer Flowers, and sources have said Clinton acknowledged an affair with her in the 1970s.
With a few exceptions, sources said, Judge Wright limited Jones's lawyers during the deposition to asking about women who stood to benefit or suffer from Clinton's governmental power. Jones charges that her career as a low-level state clerk was stymied because she rebuffed a Clinton proposition; Flowers won a state job with what she said was help from Clinton.
The president's legal team was long aware that Flowers's name would come up in the Jones case and became certain Lewinsky's would as well when it appeared on a witness list provided by Jones's lawyers late last year. One source said yesterday that Lewinsky first came to the attention of Jones's lawyers through three anonymous telephone calls from someone with a woman's voice placed to the Rutherford Institute in early fall.
Around this same time, Lewinsky's friend and colleague at the Pentagon, Linda R. Tripp, was talking privately with her about what Lewinsky said was her affair with Clinton, and Tripp secretly recorded those conversations. On some of the tapes, Lewinsky reportedly is heard saying that Clinton and his friend, Washington lawyer Vernon E. Jordan Jr., wanted her to deny the relationship to Jones's lawyers. Tripp ultimately turned the tapes over to Starr, prompting him to launch his investigation into possible obstruction of justice by Clinton and Jordan.
That twist left Clinton's lawyers flat-footed. After they saw Lewinsky on the witness list late last year, sources said, chief attorney Robert S. Bennett questioned the president about her and he denied having a sexual relationship, just as he now has publicly. Other people in the White House were interviewed but "no one saw anything, there was no problem," said one source close to the case. Another said no one mentioned to Bennett or his partners that Jordan had been arranging job interviews for Lewinsky at the same time she was deciding how to answer the subpoena she finally received in the Jones case Dec. 17. Bennett later told colleagues he was upset about being left uninformed.
Another item that Clinton lawyers were unaware of was a document that sources said Lewinsky on Jan. 14 gave Tripp, who also had received a subpoena in the Jones case. That document, which Tripp turned over to Starr, suggested that Tripp change her story about the Willey matter when asked by Jones's lawyers. Tripp had been an original source of the Willey reports last summer, when she told a reporter that she saw Willey come out of the Oval Office one evening disheveled and describing a physical encounter with Clinton.
The talking points document, the contents of which have been reported by several news organizations and a copy of which was obtained by The Washington Post yesterday, suggested "points to make in affidavit" and went on to give Tripp explicit instructions.
"You spoke with her [Willey] that evening, etc. and she relayed to you a sequence of events that was very dissimilar from what you remembered happening," the document told Tripp. "As a result of your conversation with her and subsequent reports that showed she had tried to enlist the help of someone else in her lie that the President sexually harassed her, you now do not believe that what she claimed happened really happened. You now find it completely plausible that she herself smeared her lipstick, untucked her blouse, etc. You never saw her go into the oval office, or come out of the oval office. You have never observed the President behaving inappropriately with anybody."
The document could be used against Lewinsky as evidence of subornation of perjury. Ginsburg said yesterday that investigators have shown him the talking points, but he does not know where they came from.
Appearing on nearly all of the major Sunday television talk shows as he continued an unusually frenzied media blitz, Ginsburg also minimized the significance of other evidence that Starr's office has collected in its efforts to establish a circumstantial or forensic link between his client and the president.
Ginsburg confirmed that investigators are looking for a dress with a semen stain that might be tied to Clinton through DNA testing. Yet Ginsburg cast doubt on whether it actually exists, saying he assumed Lewinsky would clean any sullied clothing and adding, "I know of no such dress."
But he confirmed that investigators searching Lewinsky's Watergate apartment last Thursday took with them some of her clothing -- specifically mentioning black and blue pants suits and dresses -- as well as her computer, hats, pins, T-shirts and other items. A copy of Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass" that Clinton gave Lewinsky also was taken. But Ginsburg said it included only an innocent inscription that said something like "best wishes" and was signed, "President Bill Clinton."
The stalemate between Ginsburg and Starr's office continued as they could not reach a mutually acceptable deal for Lewinsky's cooperation. Ginsburg wants full immunity from prosecution in exchange for her testimony, while Starr has insisted on being given a detailed accounting of what she would say before committing to any immunity agreement.
"We are dying to tell the story, but we cannot; we are frozen in place," Ginsburg said on NBC's "Meet the Press." The Los Angeles medical malpractice attorney added, "I will remain in Washington as long as it takes to see that the truth in every detail, wherever it may fall, comes out."
Lewinsky's subpoena in the Jones case was indefinitely postponed last week after it appeared she would invoke her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, and it still is unclear -- at least from what Ginsburg has said publicly -- how Lewinsky would resolve the conflict between her allegations on the Tripp tapes of a sexual relationship with Clinton and her sworn affidavit submitted to Jones's lawyers that no such relationship ever existed.
Word that Starr is looking for witnesses to alleged White House sexual activities in spring 1996 was first reported on ABC News yesterday and later confirmed by The Washington Post. But details of what, exactly, is alleged to have been seen by whom were sketchy and sometimes conflicting. Sources told The Post that Starr's investigators were trying to determine whether at least one Secret Service agent who came upon such a scene later talked to a senior White House official and was told not to discuss the incident further.
After the initial report was broadcast by ABC, two former top presidential aides issued a statement saying they were uninvolved in any such episode. "Allegations about this report to either of us are completely false," said the statement by former White House chief of staff Leon E. Panetta and former deputy chief of staff Evelyn S. Lieberman.
Lewinsky interned for Panetta in the summer of 1995 and late that year was given a paid position in the Office of Legislative Affairs. Sources have said that Lieberman became concerned that Lewinsky appeared to be infatuated with the president and arranged for her to be shifted to a job at the Pentagon in April 1996.
A spokeswoman for Lieberman, now director of the Voice of America, said yesterday that "Ms. Lewinsky was not transferred because of an alleged physical incident."
While the White House traditionally orders Secret Service agents not to divulge what they learn about the first family's private lives, a White House official said that Starr probably has the power to compel agents to testify in a criminal investigation.
Staff writers Jeff Leen and Bob Woodward contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company