By Peter Baker and Susan Schmidt
Independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr has summoned former White House aide Monica S. Lewinsky to appear before a Washington grand jury Thursday, forcing a climax to long and fruitless talks over whether she would voluntarily testify against President Clinton in exchange for immunity from prosecution.
A lawyer for Lewinsky, 24, yesterday confirmed the scheduled appearance but said he planned to file a motion in federal court as early as today seeking to quash the subpoena ordering her testimony. If that does not succeed, Lewinsky already has indicated that she would refuse to answer questions by invoking her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
At that point, Starr has the option of compelling her to testify anyway by asking a judge to grant her limited immunity that would bar prosecutors from using her statements to the grand jury against her but still leave her vulnerable to criminal charges based on other evidence. Lewinsky would face a contempt citation and jail if she still refused to testify about whether she had a sexual relationship with Clinton and whether he urged her to lie about it under oath.
The move to bring Lewinsky before the grand jury signaled that Starr apparently has lost patience with the young woman and her lawyers and seems less likely to ever bring her aboard as a cooperating witness. Three weeks of failed negotiations over a cooperation agreement that would give her full immunity have degenerated into angry recriminations between Starr's office and Lewinsky's lawyers.
"She is not going to jail," her attorney, William H. Ginsburg, vowed in a telephone interview yesterday. "Nobody's going to run over her constitutional rights. Nobody's going to abuse her. I'm not going to let that happen."
Even if against her will, Lewinsky could be a damaging witness against Clinton. In a proffer to prosecutors describing how she would testify if granted the full immunity she had sought, Lewinsky acknowledged a sexual relationship with the president, directly contradicting his denials both in public and under oath in the Paula Jones case, according to sources familiar with the document.
That alone could expose Clinton to a possible perjury charge. Less clear, though, is how useful Lewinsky's testimony would be for Starr in building a case of subornation of perjury or obstruction of justice against Clinton or his close friend, Washington attorney Vernon E. Jordan Jr., who helped Lewinsky find a job while she was considering how to respond to Jones's lawyers herself. Lewinsky swore out a Jan. 7 affidavit denying a liaison with Clinton just as she was offered a public relations job by Revlon facilitated by Jordan.
In the proffer, the sources have said, Lewinsky said no one urged her to lie about an affair; however, she also said she was encouraged to offer versions of events that were not true.
Ginsburg said he held out little hope for an amicable deal with Starr. "We've had no conversation since last Monday," he said yesterday. "I would think we're heading to court."
Along with his quash motion, Ginsburg said he plans to file a motion intended to enforce what he insisted is an immunity offer made by the prosecutor last week; Starr's office does not recognize that as a binding agreement. Ginsburg said he and Lewinsky would return to Washington between Wednesday and Friday.
If she is forced to appear before the grand jury and pleads the Fifth, Starr could go ahead and prosecute her, possibly for perjury or subornation of perjury. If instead he gives her limited immunity and she repudiates the Jan. 7 affidavit, several people knowledgeable about Clinton's legal strategy have said the president's attorneys are prepared to attack Lewinsky's credibility.
In addition to changing her story, they note that Ginsburg has suggested in television interviews that Lewinsky sometimes may embellish or oversell and they plan to find other witnesses who would question her veracity. They also intend to point out any contradictions between her grand jury testimony and the secretly recorded stories she told her onetime friend, Linda R. Tripp. On one of the tapes, sources have reported that Lewinsky said, "I have lied my entire life."
To avoid relying entirely on Lewinsky, Starr and his investigators have been seeking other witnesses and physical evidence to try to corroborate Lewinsky's taped discussions. In the weeks during which prosecutors have been seeking Lewinsky's cooperation, they have obtained the testimony of several important witnesses who might back up aspects of the story Lewinsky told on the Tripp tapes.
Clinton's personal secretary, Betty Currie, has told investigators that she sometimes left the president and Lewinsky alone while she was in the next room, an apparent contradiction of Clinton's recollections in his sworn deposition in Jones's case, according to sources familiar with their accounts.
Another White House aide, Ashley Raines, a close friend of Lewinsky's, told investigators Lewinsky confided in her details of her relationship with Clinton, Newsweek said this week, citing lawyers close to Clinton's defense team. The lawyers said Raines told investigators she had heard Clinton's voice on Lewinsky's answering machine tape, just as Tripp reportedly did.
A White House official has acknowledged Raines is talking to Starr's office; she testified before the grand jury last week. But lawyers at the White House refused to say what her lawyer has told them about her testimony. The attorney, Wendy White, a former member of the White House counsel's office, said yesterday she would have no comment on any aspect of the Starr investigation.
Starr also has sought depositions, videotapes and documents from Jones's lawyers regarding Kathleen E. Willey, another White House aide who reportedly alleged that Clinton groped and kissed her in 1993, and any other "Jane Doe" women who may have had sexual encounters with the president. The Jones lawyers have until today to turn over the material. However, a federal judge in Richmond must first partially lift a court seal on those items and a source familiar with the case said yesterday that an attorney for Willey is fighting the release.
One much-discussed piece of evidence has not materialized. The Wall Street Journal yesterday retracted a story from last week in which it reported that a White House valet, Bayani Nelvis, told the grand jury that he saw Clinton and Lewinsky alone in a private study adjoining the Oval Office.
That story was one that drew a furious response from the White House. Clinton's attorney, David E. Kendall, filed a petition yesterday in U.S. District Court here seeking to have Starr's office held in contempt for what he alleges are illegal leaks of information to the news media.
Kendall filed the motion under seal with Chief Judge Norma Holloway Johnson. He said he would have no comment on the filing, but a White House spokesman said Kendall's motion generally tracked a 15-page letter he released publicly Friday and urged the court to have the Justice Department independently investigate alleged leaks rather than Starr's office itself.
Starr announced Friday he had already initiated an investigation into whether there have been illegal disclosures of information after the White House seized on the issue and other officials said he has asked an FBI detail to conduct the inquiry.
Kendall and Clinton aides contended that Starr's office leaked news of Currie's discussions with Clinton about Lewinsky. Starr, in his Friday statement, said he was concerned about where information was coming from and noted that the Clinton legal team and other lawyers were also in a position to know what Currie has told his office.
Kendall's filing will likely be litigated behind closed doors in proceedings that may take months. Few leak investigations in Washington turn up conclusive evidence. In this case it is possible nothing at all will surface publicly unless the losing side appeals any decision by Johnson and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit issues an opinion.
In the meantime, absent proof, the White House will likely continue on the aggressive course aides adopted this weekend, bashing Starr and trying to keep him on the defensive for what they claim is a deluge of leaks and "lies" coming out of his office.
Staff writers Toni Locy and Amy Goldstein contributed to this report.
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