By Peter Baker and Susan Schmidt
White House deputy counsel Bruce R. Lindsey has discussed the Lewinsky investigation with at least three witnesses or their attorneys. Chief U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson questioned in her ruling "the propriety" of a government-paid lawyer acting as President Clinton's "personal agent," but officials said Lindsey's actions were commonplace and legal.
Lindsey discussed the investigation with Clinton friend Vernon E. Jordan Jr., presidential aide Stephen Goodin and the lawyer representing retired White House chief steward Michael J. McGrath, according to a report in yesterday's Los Angeles Times that was later confirmed by sources close to the investigation.
"It's certainly proper for attorneys in the public or private sector to speak with witnesses or their counsels both before and after their testimony in any investigative matter," said White House spokesman James E. Kennedy. "The practice is . . . recognized to be a necessary part of any attorney's effective representation of a client and has been followed by White House counsels to Republican and Democratic presidents."
Kennedy added that, "Pressure has not been put to bear on anyone regarding their testimony."
The Times quoted Johnson raising serious concerns about Lindsey's actions in still-sealed portions of her May 4 decision ordering Lindsey to answer questions before independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's grand jury. "The court questions the propriety of the president utilizing a government attorney as his personal agent in a personal attorney-client relationship," Johnson wrote.
The White House has until Monday to file a sealed brief appealing that ruling. In a related development, the Justice Department yesterday filed a separate sealed brief appealing a Johnson decision ordering Secret Service officers to testify.
The three witnesses consulted by Lindsey all had unique access to Clinton and could shed light on whether the president committed perjury by denying any sexual relationship with Lewinsky.
Starr is investigating whether Jordan tried to suborn perjury by helping Lewinsky find a job at the same time she was signing an affidavit in the now-dismissed Paula Jones case in which she denied having sex with Clinton. Until December, Goodin was the aide who spent the most time at Clinton's side managing his minute-by-minute schedule. And McGrath was among the stewards who ran the Oval Office pantry, from which they could see the president's comings and goings.
However, a source familiar with the situation said yesterday that McGrath's lawyer contacted Lindsey, rather than the other way around.
Lindsey's activities were first mentioned in a redacted version of Johnson's ruling released last month, in which she did not name the witnesses but raised the possibility that those conversations may have been part of an illicit campaign to influence the investigation.
"If the White House interviewed grand jury witnesses in order to determine how and whether the president or his aides could avoid compliance with grand jury subpoenas or otherwise obstruct the investigation, then the witnesses' identities and the substance of those interviews would shed light on this," she wrote.
The White House maintains it has a right to interview willing grand jury witnesses or their lawyers to determine what is happening in the investigation. Clinton advisers complain that Starr is trying to make a criminal case out of lawyers simply representing their clients aggressively.
While Lindsey is cited in court papers, he is not the only White House lawyer who has talked with witnesses, according to sources. Deputy counsel Lanny A. Breuer has handled more such consultations than Lindsey, the sources said. Breuer has been subpoenaed to testify, but his appearance has been put on hold pending resolution of the attorney-client privilege dispute.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company