Didn't Tell All
By Peter Baker and Susan Schmidt
The lawyer, Francis D. Carter, was recruited by Clinton confidant Vernon E. Jordan Jr., who brought the former White House intern to Carter's office last December and kept in regular touch over the next few weeks as her affidavit in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case was being drafted. But Carter said Lewinsky never told him about gifts from Clinton that had been subpoenaed, and neither one mentioned that Jordan was simultaneously arranging job interviews for Lewinsky.
Carter's role in representing Lewinsky before her family hired William H. Ginsburg has been a central focus of independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's investigation into whether Clinton or Jordan obstructed justice by encouraging her to lie under oath about an affair. In his first public comments since the Lewinsky investigation began in January, Carter portrayed himself as an unwitting player in a momentous legal and political saga not of his own making.
After losing two court battles to preserve his attorney-client privilege with Lewinsky, Carter was forced to turn over various records to Starr and spent all day yesterday testifying before the grand jury. Lewinsky, he said he told the grand jurors, never gave any hint that she had an intimate relationship with the president.
"She never wavered," Carter said in an interview with The Washington Post after completing his testimony. "I never received any kind of information from her at any time that contradicted anything that's in that affidavit. Six months later, after a deluge of a lot of facts and interviews and documents, who can say? At the time, I had no reason to doubt what she was telling me."
During the interview, Carter offered no specific information contradicting previously known accounts, but he shed new light on the dramatic days leading up to when the Lewinsky story broke, including how he was brought into the case, what he was told and how he learned that he had been dismissed as Lewinsky's lawyer.
Perhaps most intriguing is what Carter said he was not told during the month he worked for Lewinsky. While the former White House aide informed him she was looking for a job in New York, Carter said she never let on that Jordan was the one setting up the interviews. "I had no idea of any connection between Vernon and her and any job search," he said. "She never mentioned it and neither did Vernon."
Had they raised it, Carter said, it would have provoked questions. "I might have asked her why he was doing it," he said. Yet knowing that Lewinsky was a friend of Walter Kaye -- like Jordan a prominent Democrat with White House connections -- Carter said it still might not have convinced him there was anything amiss. "I wouldn't have thought there was anything wrong with it, but I would have asked."
Starr is looking into whether the job help from Jordan was part of an illegal effort to keep Lewinsky quiet about an affair with Clinton during the Jones lawsuit, which since has been dismissed. Jordan has said he came to her aid at the request of Betty Currie, the president's personal secretary, and that he kept Clinton apprised of his progress.
Lewinsky, Carter said, also never told him about any gifts from Clinton, although the president reportedly gave her a pin, a brooch, a long T-shirt and a copy of Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass." The subpoena from the Jones team required her to turn over any presents from Clinton, including "dresses, accessories, and jewelry and/or hat pins." Asked how Lewinsky explained the Clinton gifts, Carter said: "Your question presupposes that she said she had gifts from Clinton. I think your question was incorrect." Sources have said Lewinsky turned the gifts over to Currie instead.
Carter said Lewinsky did not ask him to hold off filing the affidavit while she waited to secure a job, a scenario she reportedly mentioned in secretly tape-recorded conversations with onetime friend Linda R. Tripp. Lewinsky signed the affidavit Jan. 7 but it was not sent to U.S. District Court in Little Rock until nine days later, on Jan. 16, the day before Clinton's deposition in the Jones case. In the interim, Lewinsky received a job offer from Revlon at Jordan's recommendation.
"As far as I know, there's nothing nefarious about the delay," Carter said. "The timing of the affidavit and the job was never on my radar screen at all. That was an after-the-fact revelation to me."
Since Lewinsky was heading to New York for job interviews, Carter said he had her sign the affidavit so he could have it ready to file. He held back so that he could first try to persuade the Jones legal team to voluntarily withdraw their subpoena. Lewinsky never had possession of the affidavit and never suggested when it should be filed, he added, although he had informed her when he was likely to submit it.
During this period, Jordan showed an interest in keeping in touch, although Carter would not estimate how many telephone calls beyond acknowledging that there were "a number of different contacts."
Jordan would ask, "Any problems with Monica? Did she pay your retainer fee? Are you holding her hand?" Carter recalled yesterday. Jordan offered no specific advice or direction on the affidavit, he added. "I thought nothing of advising him of what I was going to do with Monica," Carter said. "I thought there was no great secret to it."
Jordan's lawyer, William G. Hundley, said last night that Jordan was not "tracking" Lewinsky's legal progress when he spoke with Carter. But Hundley said, "We're not disputing that in those calls he might have said, 'How're things going?' He left it all up to Frank."
As for Jordan's job help to Lewinsky and why Carter was not made aware of it, Hundley said, "Vernon was satisfied there wasn't any hanky-panky [between Lewinsky and the president]. He sent her to a guy who he thought was a very fine lawyer. Then he stepped back and let Frank handle it." Lewinsky spokeswoman Judy Smith had no comment last night.
Starr appears particularly interested in Jordan's contacts with Carter, having obtained telephone records documenting each call. After questioning Carter in their office earlier this month, Starr's prosecutors brought Jordan back to the grand jury and apparently went over the various contacts again.
Starr was able to negate attorney-client privilege and force Carter to testify by convincing a district judge and an appeals court that there was evidence Lewinsky intended to use him to help her commit a fraud. Carter, who is represented by Harvard law professor Charles J. Ogletree, does not appear to be in any legal jeopardy.
As Carter recalled it yesterday, his introduction to the case came with a cryptic phone call on Friday, Dec. 19. Jordan had left a message asking to meet with him the following Monday. Carter called back and left a message saying that would be fine. According to court records, Lewinsky was served with her subpoena from the Jones lawyers at 4 p.m. Dec. 19.
At 11 a.m. on Dec. 22, Jordan showed up at Carter's office with Lewinsky. During a side conversation, Carter said Jordan explained that she had been subpoenaed in the Jones case and needed someone to represent her. Jordan never suggested what should be done or how the case should be handled, according to Carter, but "took a piece of candy" and promptly left the two to get acquainted. The next day, Carter met with Clinton lawyer Robert S. Bennett, but said he received little information.
In a Jan. 5 meeting, Lewinsky turned over some items covered by the Jones subpoena. Carter would not say yesterday what those items were, but said they have been given to Starr's office. On Jan. 7, she came to his office to sign the affidavit. The Jones lawyers refused to drop the subpoena, so on Friday, Jan. 16, Carter sent it by Federal Express to the court in Arkansas.
Unbeknownst to him, that same afternoon, Lewinsky went to meet Tripp at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel at Pentagon City, only to be confronted by investigators working for Starr. She was questioned for the rest of the day without Carter's knowledge; her family instead decided to bring in an old friend, Ginsburg, a Los Angeles medical malpractice attorney.
Carter knew none of this, he said, until the following Monday, Jan. 19. He had scheduled a lunch with Jordan to ask for help getting legal work. Jordan readily agreed, Carter said, and then pulled out a copy of the Drudge Report, an Internet gossip column reporting that Newsweek had killed a story alleging a romantic link between Clinton and Lewinsky.
"It was cyber-trash, pure and simple," Carter said. While he said he did not believe it at first, he was "horrified" at the thought that his client's name was now available to the news media. He went back to his office and paged Lewinsky. The return call he got was from Nathaniel H. Speights, a fellow Washington lawyer, who then put Ginsburg on the line.
Ginsburg told him he had been replaced but did not explain why. Carter said he did not know anything about the Starr investigation until the next night, when he received a call from The Post asking for comment.
Staff researcher Nathan Abse contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company