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Kenneth Starr
Independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's investigation of the president continues to move forward.

Starr-Lewinsky Immunity Talks Slow

By John F. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 1, 1998; Page A20

Even though he has not reached an immunity agreement with Monica S. Lewinsky, Whitewater independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr said yesterday his investigators are "moving forward to try to gather the facts" about whether President Clinton had a sexual relationship with the former White House intern and encouraged her to lie about it.

Lewinsky's lawyer, meanwhile, said he and his client plan to leave Washington this week for California, another indication that there is no imminent agreement between Lewinsky and Starr for her testimony.

William H. Ginsburg, the Lewinsky family lawyer, said he was "not trying to send any messages" to Starr by leaving town, but said his client was eager to visit with her father in California.

"We're all tired," he said, in remarks quoted by Associated Press. "It's just a young lady who wants to see her father. Every 24-year-old girl needs to have a break." He did not say when they would leave, only that it would be before Friday.

It was the latest sign of how negotiations with Lewinsky have slowed to a crawl while the criminal investigation continues its breakneck pace. All last week, Lewinsky representatives and Starr's office were immersed in apparently futile talks on a deal under which Lewinsky would receive immunity from prosecution for lying under oath or suborning perjury in exchange for testimony that would corroborate claims she made in secretly recorded conversations about her relationship with Clinton. Those claims contradict an affidavit she gave in the Paula Jones sexual harassment suit against the president, in which she said she had never had a sexual relationship with the president.

Information allegedly contained in the tapes, recorded by Lewinsky's onetime friend, Linda R. Tripp, during their private conversations, continued to emerge in reports from sources close to the case. The final recording of their conversations was made Jan. 13 by the FBI, which had equipped Tripp with a body wire after she turned her own tapes over to Starr.

Following a report on MSNBC last night about details in an upcoming Newsweek article, one source said yesterday that on a tape made in January, Lewinsky offered Tripp half interest in an Australian condominium with the understanding she would deny knowing about any sexual relationship with Clinton that Lewinsky had discussed. The source said Lewinsky also offered to ensure Tripp's security in her Pentagon job if she maintained her silence.

The source also said that Lewinsky, who had left her own Pentagon job at the end of December, was recorded telling Tripp she would not file her affidavit in the Jones case until she had a private sector job offer firmly in hand.

Where this conversation fits into other events regarding Lewinsky in early January was unclear. Her affidavit denying sex with Clinton and asking to be excused from testimony -- drawn up in response to a Dec. 17 subpoena received from Jones's lawyers -- was signed Jan. 7. But it was not filed with the court overseeing the Jones case until Jan. 16.

In the meantime, on Jan. 12, Lewinsky's lawyer informed the Jones team of its contents. The next day, Jan. 13, Lewinsky received a job offer from Revlon, where an interview had been arranged for her by Clinton friend Vernon E. Jordan Jr.

Over the past several days, Tripp and Lewinsky, or those speaking for them, have publicly disagreed. On Friday, Tripp made a public statement saying she had been present in Lewinsky's apartment when Lewinsky had a telephone conversation with Clinton. Last night, Ginsburg denied Tripp had been present for any such conversation. Although he said Clinton and Lewinsky had occasionally talked on the telephone, he described their conversations as infrequent and lacking any intimate content.

Clinton himself yesterday was at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland with family and friends -- including his daughter, Chelsea, who took a weekend leave from Stanford University, his brother, Roger, and longtime friend Harry Thomasson, a Hollywood producer.

First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton was in Switzerland at a conference.

Before he leaves, Ginsburg is continuing with the strategy that has made him a ubiquitous figure on television news programs, scheduling five separate interviews to be broadcast today.

The Clinton team, by contrast, turned down invitations to send out White House officials or Clinton lawyers.

Clinton defenders face a problem on television because the president and his lawyers have given them no defense to articulate. While Clinton has denied categorically both that he had a sexual relationship with Lewinsky and that he urged her to lie, he has declined to explain what his relationship with her was, citing Starr's investigation. She reportedly received gifts from Clinton, although her lawyer has described them as impersonal and inconsequential, and the president met with her at the White House in late December, after she had been served with the Jones subpoena.

Speaking to a meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference in Arlington yesterday, Republican National Committee Chairman Jim Nicholson mentioned the controversy obliquely. He did not mention Lewinsky by name, but put her in the context of recently indicted Democratic fund-raiser Yah Lin "Charlie" Trie, former White House personnel security chief Craig Livingstone, and other Clinton associates who have been linked to controversy.

"I say to you, Mr. President, just four words: 'Tell us the truth. Tell us the truth about relationships,' " Nicholson said.

White House aides, who a week ago feared that the Lewinsky matter could quickly consume Clinton's presidency, have been buoyed by news media and Democratic National Committee polls showing support for the president and his agenda is strong.

Even so, the White House continues to be confronted daily by questions about Clinton's version of events.

Among the most frequently asked is why Clinton would become close enough to a young intern to have given her gifts, and, according to news reports, met privately with her at the White House.

In addition, there are conflicting public assessments of Lewinsky's abilities and character from the Clinton team. Evelyn S. Lieberman, a former deputy White House chief of staff, has said through a spokeswoman that she wanted Lewinsky gone from the White House because her work was unsatisfactory and she was spending too much time uninvited around the West Wing. But this does not explain why the White House would have recommended Lewinsky for a job at the Pentagon that required a security clearance, nor why Jordan, who described Lewinsky's abilities as "impressive," would arrange job interviews for her.

The White House also has sent contradictory messages about Starr's inquiry. When the story first broke, Clinton said the allegations were serious and questions about it were legitimate. In the days since, numerous Clinton aides have questioned the legitimacy of the probe and accused Starr of prosecutorial overreach.

Hillary Clinton, in a television interview last week, accused Starr of being in league with a "vast right-wing conspiracy" determined to bring down Clinton, but she provided no corroboration for that other than to imply that charges by the unnamed alleged conspirators were ridiculous on their face.

Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), who Hillary Clinton in her television interview identified as the person who sponsored the federal judge in charge of the judicial panel that appointed Starr -- said the first lady was wrong to intimate that he influenced Starr's appointment. "I happen to like personally the first lady, but she really blew it on that one," Helms said on CNN's "Evans and Novak."

Helms did say that if he faced accusations similar to those Clinton faces, his wife Dot would "throw the rolling pin at me."

Meanwhile, Democrats are joining the White House assault on Starr. Friday Rep. John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.), the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said he wants the panel to investigate "allegations of leaks, conflicts of interest and witness intimidation and prosecutorial misconduct" by Starr.

In Chicago yesterday, Jesse L. Jackson said Starr is like a "roving vacuum cleaner . . . sucking up particles."

Staff writer Susan Schmidt contributed to this report.


© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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