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Vernon Jordan speaks to reporters at courthouse. (By Michael Williamson – The Washington Post)

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Jordan Reaffirms Clinton Friendship

By Peter Baker and Toni Locy
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, March 4, 1998; Page A01

Vernon E. Jordan Jr. emerged from a full day of secret testimony before a grand jury investigating the Monica S. Lewinsky matter yesterday and gave the signal the White House was anxiously awaiting -- a staunch reaffirmation of his fidelity to his longtime friend, President Clinton.

As he left the federal courthouse following nearly five hours of questions, Jordan stopped on his way down the front steps, scanned the assembled cameras with a purposeful stare and, after a pregnant pause, scorned speculation that he would turn on the president.

"As to those of you who cast doubt on my friendship with President Clinton, let me reassure you that ours is an enduring friendship, an enduring friendship based on mutual respect, trust and admiration," Jordan said, speaking slowly to emphasize his words as cameras clicked and whirred. "That was true yesterday. That is true today. And it will be true tomorrow."

How precisely that translated during the closed-door testimony remained unclear because of grand jury secrecy rules, and neither Jordan nor his attorney was willing to elaborate, except to say he answered fully and did not invoke his Fifth Amendment right to refuse to respond to questions.

But the pointed message on the courthouse steps was clear enough to calm nerves at the White House, where aides to the president emphasized that they had never really doubted Jordan's loyalty.

The questioning of Jordan dragged on long enough that he will have to return on Thursday, which will bump a scheduled reappearance by Clinton's personal secretary, Betty Currie, to next Tuesday. The grand jury will take today off while independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr tries to persuade a judge to let him have the notes from Lewinsky's first attorney, arranged for her by Jordan.

Currie is key to Starr's investigation into whether Clinton or Jordan urged Lewinsky to lie under oath in the Paula Jones case about having a sexual relationship with the president. Currie, who was the first witness when the grand jury began hearing testimony on the matter Jan. 27, asked Jordan to help Lewinsky find a job in New York and cleared her to return to the White House many times after she was transferred to a Pentagon job in April 1996.

Lewinsky, sources familiar with the situation have said, also sent Currie several gifts purportedly given her by the president, including a hat pin, brooch and dress, at a time when Jones's lawyers were asking for any such gifts in her possession when they subpoenaed her on Dec. 17.

Jordan's grand jury appearance yesterday had been expected since the early days of the investigation but was delayed for unexplained reasons even as the veteran Washington attorney appeared to be distancing himself somewhat from the president.

Associates said in recent days that Jordan was not told Lewinsky would be a witness in the Jones case when Currie first called him about career help -- although Clinton's lawyers had already been informed that Lewinsky was a potential witness. When Jordan later learned that Lewinsky was asked to give a deposition, they said, Jordan asked Clinton and Lewinsky separately about their involvement and was told by both that it was not sexual. This account left open the possibility that Jordan was unknowingly used as part of any coverup and caused some lawyers to wonder whether his testimony would end up hurting the president.

As the biggest star witness in five weeks of proceedings, Jordan was surrounded by the classic Washington media spectacle, dogged by cameras from the time he left his home and followed through the streets of Washington by television network "chase" vehicles -- including a motorcycle -- on his way to the courthouse, where he arrived a few minutes after 9 a.m.

When Jordan stepped out of the car, he immediately found himself swarmed but towered over the journalists as he slowly made his way to the building with an escort of more than a dozen federal police and court officers clearing a path for him -- a security presence that rivaled that provided first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton when she testified before a Whitewater grand jury in January 1996.

"If they hadn't come out and rescued us, we'd still be out there," his law partner and attorney, William G. Hundley, later joked.

Jordan even got a sizable security escort as he made his way through the line in the courthouse cafeteria. About a half-dozen beefy security officials formed a virtual wall around Jordan as he ate lunch -- a salad and "hearty vegetable turkey soup" -- at a table in a far corner of the cafeteria.

There was little of the standard jocular Jordan demeanor, in contrast to his media statement the day after the scandal broke in January when he had a slight smile on his face as he disavowed any impropriety. Instead, Jordan appeared somber and intense much of the day.

"I answered all of their questions truthfully and completely to the best of my ability," he said afterward.

As Jordan testified, Hundley told reporters, "He's fine. He's cool." Asked about Jordan's relationship with Clinton, Hundley said, "There is no rift. No rift."

Jordan's appearance also attracted a few bystanders to the courthouse. "Is Vernon Jordan here?" asked Betty Root, 67, a tourist from Mobile, Ala., who along with her son, John Root, 37, managed to find her way to the third floor where the grand jury meets even though court officials do not go out of their way to publicize the location. "I watch C-SPAN all the time, and I just love politics," Betty Root said. "This is just so fascinating. It's the whole Washington mystique."

Among those who have found limits to their fascination are the grand jurors themselves, who have asked for a lighter meeting schedule because they are tired, sources close to the situation said yesterday. The panel will meet just twice this week, instead of its normal three times. From now on, it will rotate three-day weeks with two-day weeks. Starr's prosecutors had actually asked for more meetings, including possibly Saturdays, but the grand jurors objected, the sources said.

Starr's office will take advantage of the break today to go before Chief U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson to resolve whether it can subpoena Francis D. Carter, Lewinsky's first attorney.

At Jordan's behest, Carter helped Lewinsky draft a Jan. 7 affidavit for the Jones case in which she denied any sexual relationship with the president -- an affidavit that was not submitted until Jan. 16, after Lewinsky had secured a Jordan-arranged job offer from Revlon. Starr has subpoenaed Carter's notes, but Carter has asked Johnson to quash the move because of attorney-client privilege.

During the 11 a.m. hearing, Starr's attorneys may cite two arguments that the privilege does not apply, according to a source familiar with the dispute: that Lewinsky effectively waived the privilege by telling onetime friend Linda R. Tripp about her confidential dealings with Carter and that it does not apply when a client intends to commit fraud even if her lawyer does not know it.

Separately, the independent counsel's office decided yesterday not to bring before a Little Rock grand jury two investigators who looked into Starr's private life for the National Enquirer.

The Arkansas investigators were hired by a Grand Rapids, Mich., company -- an intermediary used by the tabloid -- to check out rumors that Starr had an extramarital affair and one of them took photographs outside the home of the alleged mistress. The tabloid did not turn up anything and ran no story. Starr's deputies interviewed the investigators and concluded they did not need to testify, sources said.

Staff writer Susan Schmidt contributed to this report.


© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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