By Susan Schmidt and Peter Baker
Independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr yesterday rejected a proposed cooperation agreement from Monica S. Lewinsky's lawyers and gave them until the end of the week to make the former White House intern available for questioning or let her face possible prosecution, according to sources with knowledge of the investigation.
Prosecutors decided the written statement from Lewinsky was not solid enough to form the basis of an agreement because it contained inconsistencies and contradictions. Lewinsky acknowledged having a sexual relationship with President Clinton in the statement, the sources said, but she gave a muddled account of whether she was urged to lie about that relationship to lawyers in the Paula Jones sexual harassment suit.
Lewinsky's lawyer, William H. Ginsburg, submitted the statement -- a "proffer" spelling out what she would testify to if given an immunity deal or plea bargain -- late Monday and left with his client for California the next morning because Lewinsky wanted to see her father. It was the first time in protracted talks between the two sides that any proposed statement has been put in writing.
Starr's office notified Ginsburg late yesterday that the statement alone was unacceptable. Prosecutors told him they would like to interview Lewinsky themselves to get her story. They have asked that she submit to questioning early next week, the sources said.
Despite the rejection of Lewinsky's proffer, communication between the two sides appears to be continuing. Ginsburg told reporters yesterday that he would not discuss the negotiations.
Ginsburg made a detailed oral presentation early last week to prosecutors in his effort to get immunity for his client in exchange for her testimony. That statement contained more information than Lewinsky's written recollections, according to sources familiar with the statement, and conflicted with it in some areas.
Starr is investigating whether Clinton and close friend Vernon E. Jordan Jr. urged the 24-year-old Lewinsky to conceal a sexual relationship with the president in a sworn affidavit last month, lining up a public relations job for her in New York as an inducement to keep quiet.
In her statement, sources said, Lewinsky asserted that she was not urged to lie to Jones's lawyers, for example, but said she was told to tell a certain version of events -- one that did not actually happen.
Lewinsky did not discuss the origins of one of the crucial pieces of evidence in the investigation -- the so-called talking points she gave to Linda R. Tripp, the onetime friend who secretly tape-recorded her conversations about Clinton and Jordan. Sources said that Ginsburg had told prosecutors that Lewinsky was prepared to provide a full version of events -- including the origins of the talking points -- if an agreement was concluded based on her statement.
Lewinsky gave the three-page talking points document to Tripp on Jan. 14 in anticipation of Tripp's own deposition in the Jones case. One page of the document that has surfaced publicly urged Tripp to change the story she had already told a reporter about seeing another White House aide outside the Oval Office, her makeup smeared and clothing askew and asserting that the president had just made a pass at her.
Individuals who have spoken to Tripp -- who went to prosecutors last month with her tape recordings -- have said the other pages of the talking points discuss how Tripp should deny any knowledge that Lewinsky had any sexual relationship with the president.
Even as Starr continued talks with Ginsburg, he was engaged in a dispute with the White House over the scope of questioning of two senior aides summoned to testify before a grand jury, deputy chief of staff John D. Podesta and deputy counsel Bruce R. Lindsey.
The White House unsuccessfully sought to restrict questioning so that it would not cover discussions between Clinton and his staff about how to respond to the political crisis generated by Starr's investigation. Without that assurance, White House lawyers were considering instructing aides to invoke executive privilege protecting confidential presidential communication, according to sources familiar with their strategy.
Podesta is scheduled to appear before the grand jury here at 1:30 p.m. today and is prepared to testify about his involvement in arranging a job offer for Lewinsky in the New York office of United Nations Ambassador Bill Richardson, according to sources close to Podesta. But if questioning veers into territory deemed off-limits by the White House, Podesta has three options, one source said: answer the question, invoke privilege or defer testimony pending further negotiation with Starr.
New details also emerged yesterday about Lewinsky's three dozen visits to the White House after she left her job there in April 1996 for a position in the Pentagon press office.
A source with knowledge of Secret Service entry and exit logs said she visited the White House 10 to 12 times in the latter half of last year. Six to eight of those visits were in late October, November and December, a period when she was worried about having to testify in the Jones suit and was seeking to find a job in New York.
During his own Jan. 17 deposition with Jones's lawyers, Clinton denied having a sexual relationship of any nature with Lewinsky, sources said. He also denied being alone with her during her visits to the White House or meeting with her any time after Christmas. Sources have told The Washington Post that Clinton and Lewinsky met on Dec. 28 at the White House.
Starr's decision to reject the proffer may reflect confidence in the rest of the case he is building. In recent days, his office has moved to find witnesses who may have seen Clinton and Lewinsky together, including White House valets and Secret Service agents.
Prosecutors brought one valet, Bayani Nelvis, back to the grand jury yesterday for the second time. Nelvis, a career Navy employee officially known as a mess management specialist, works in the tiny kitchen-pantry located just off the Oval Office and has a firsthand view of much of what goes on in the president's suite. Nelvis also apparently has been friends with Lewinsky; sources said the two have dined together and exchanged gifts. Lewinsky mentioned to Tripp that she kept in touch with an older Filipino steward back at the White House whom she did not name, according to one source familiar with Tripp's account.
The Wall Street Journal reported in a story posted on its Internet site yesterday afternoon that Nelvis testified in his first appearance that he saw Clinton and Lewinsky alone together in the study adjoining the Oval Office.
Nelvis, however, flatly denied the account in a statement issued by his attorney, Joseph T. Small Jr., who called the story "absolutely false and irresponsible." Other sources close to the investigation told The Post that the report was inaccurate as well.
A man believed to be Nelvis drove up to his home in Fort Washington in Prince George's County shortly after 8:30 last night. He said, "I don't have any comment" and went inside.
Two other men identified by a courthouse source as White House valets spent more than three hours combined before the grand jury. They were accompanied by attorney Gary Kohlman, who refused to identify his clients or to comment.
During his own appearance before the grand jury Tuesday, former Clinton adviser George Stephanopoulos was asked in general terms about Nelvis and other valets and employees who work close to the Oval Office, sources familiar with the questioning said yesterday. According to the sources, Stephanopoulos was asked to describe sight lines in that part of the White House and whether other people could observe activities in Clinton's private space.
During more than a week of testimony, Starr prosecutors have been taking the grand jury on what amounts to a guided tour of the West Wing, as current and former officials were asked about the layout of offices, the location of each door, who worked there, what access they had and what could be seen in the Oval Office and adjoining study. Starr's staff wants "to establish that it would be possible for the president to be alone with her and to show it also would be unusual for him to be alone with her," said one person who has talked to investigators.
The questioning also indicated that prosecutors want to demonstrate that Lewinsky received unusual attention and treatment for an intern and, later, low-level correspondence clerk. Witnesses were asked, for example, how often Clinton would call them after midnight, as Lewinsky reportedly told Tripp he did with her.
For the most part, Starr has stuck to people who worked in close proximity to the Oval Office. Yesterday, for example, prosecutors questioned Kris Engskov, a young Arkansas native who serves as Clinton's personal aide and is right by his side most of the day making sure he keeps to his schedule and has the papers he needs.
Starr is continuing to investigate whether any Secret Service agents may have seen Clinton alone with Lewinsky. Starr's office this week questioned a Justice Department lawyer, who had told colleagues that he was aware of an agent who reportedly had said he guarded the door of the White House movie theater last summer while Clinton was inside alone with a young woman.
Bill Sullivan, an assistant U.S. attorney on detached duty in a Justice administrative office, declined to comment yesterday. Starr has been negotiating with the Secret Service over obtaining testimony from agents, something the agency has resisted out of concern for its traditional policy of absolute confidentiality.
On another front, Clinton came under renewed attack from lawyers for Paula Jones, whose research for her sexual harassment lawsuit first identified Lewinsky and precipitated the current crisis.
Jones's lawyers filed a motion in federal court in Little Rock opposing Clinton's attempt to speed up the trial in the case, now scheduled to begin May 27. Clinton attorney Robert S. Bennett had asked to move the trial to March 23 because the torrent of media attention to the Lewinsky matter was distracting the president from conducting the nation's business.
But the Jones camp argued that such a request was unwarranted, because the judge in the case has ruled the Lewinsky evidence out of bounds to avoid interfering with Starr's investigation and because polls show that Clinton has not been hurt by the latest scandal.
The Jones lawyers also said they plan to ask the court to wait for pretrial motions until April 1 to see how the Starr matter turns out. If Clinton is charged or convicted of a crime, they said, they want to use that to bolster their case in court.
Staff writers Toni Locy, Roberto Suro, Bob Woodward, Leef Smith, Jessie Mangaliman, Ruben Castaneda and Pamela Constable contributed to this report.
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