By Peter Baker and Susan Schmidt
Lewinsky's lawyers have told Starr she would not testify that she was encouraged by Clinton or his friend Vernon E. Jordan Jr. to lie under oath in the Paula Jones lawsuit, a key focus of Starr's investigation, the legal sources said. However, they added, while contradictory statements by her former lawyer may have damaged the value of Lewinsky's testimony, her new attorneys have argued that Starr should take what he can get because she is still the most important witness.
Starr, too, is playing hardball during this new round of discussions, offering as he has in the past only to consider a plea agreement and not the complete immunity that Lewinsky is seeking from possible perjury or obstruction of justice charges, the lawyers said.
The positions staked out by both sides may be simply opening bids in high-stakes negotiations, but they have defined the parameters of talks whose outcome is crucial to the Starr investigation. Despite the seeming gulf in their bargaining positions, both camps have signaled that they are optimistic they can strike a bargain in the next few weeks.
"Each side is working hard to reach some conclusion," said one attorney familiar with the talks.
Whether Starr would be satisfied with an admission of sex but no testimony about obstruction of justice is unclear. He rejected such a proposal offered by Lewinsky's last attorney, William H. Ginsburg, who according to defense lawyers submitted five separate -- and in some ways inconsistent -- proffers detailing how she would testify if given immunity.
But the new lawyers hired by Lewinsky's family June 2, Jacob A. Stein and Plato Cacheris, hope to use their credibility as longtime respected Washington attorneys to persuade Starr. And if Lewinsky does testify that she had sex with Clinton, that statement alone could be problematic for the president -- politically if not legally -- because it would contradict both his sworn testimony in the Jones lawsuit and his nationally televised statement that "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky."
Facing the prospect of a deal, the president's defenders are bracing to counter a possibly damaging witness. To prepare for this eventuality, Clinton's defense team months ago commissioned a private detective agency to conduct a thorough investigation of Lewinsky's past, sources involved in the endeavor said last week.
The firm, Investigative Group International, completed the work for David E. Kendall, Clinton's chief lawyer in the Lewinsky matter, according to sources close to IGI. Terry F. Lenzner, the founder and president of IGI, reportedly supervised the work, but declined to comment last week.
The extent and findings of the investigation could not be learned, but such an investigation is common in high-profile cases and even lawyers sympathetic to Lewinsky said it would not be objectionable unless it delved into areas such as her sex life, private bank accounts, medical records and the like.
Clinton is not the only one preparing for different contingencies. Starr appears almost through bringing dozens of witnesses before a Washington grand jury as part of an effort to prove that Lewinsky lied in the Jan. 7 affidavit she signed in the Jones case in which she denied having a sexual relationship with Clinton. Prosecutors plan to bring White House deputy chief of staff John D. Podesta back to the grand jury Tuesday and are preparing to call one of their last major witnesses, Linda R. Tripp, the one-time Lewinsky friend who secretly tape recorded their conversations about Clinton.
Moreover, Starr has records contradicting other elements of Lewinsky's affidavit beyond her denial of an affair. In that statement, Lewinsky attested that "the occasions that I saw the president after I left my employment at the White House in April 1996, were official receptions, formal functions or events related to the U.S. Department of Defense, where I was working at the time. There were other people present on those occasions."
However, Starr has White House entry logs showing three dozen visits by Lewinsky after April 1996, including once when she dropped by near Christmas last year, but not for any official function. Sources familiar with the president's schedule have said she met alone with Clinton at that time. During his deposition in the Jones case, Clinton recalled talking with Lewinsky on that occasion with presidential secretary Betty Currie nearby.
If no deal can be reached with Starr, Lewinsky's lawyers are preparing for the possibility of going to trial. The lawyers, according to people who have spoken with them, have expressed confidence they can win an acquittal, if for no other reason than a jury may not want to convict a young woman accused of lying about sex.
Another argument the Lewinsky team could use, according to some lawyers who have studied the case, is that even if her affidavit was untrue, it was not "material" to the Jones lawsuit and therefore did not constitute perjury as defined by federal law. They may be helped by the fact that the federal judge overseeing the Jones lawsuit ruled that Lewinsky was not central to the case -- and later dismissed the suit altogether. Still, that interpretation is open to dispute among lawyers, some of whom think Lewinsky's statement was in fact material.
The defense camp took heart in last week's testimony by Francis D. Carter, Lewinsky's first lawyer who helped her draft the Jan. 7 affidavit. In particular, allies of Clinton and Lewinsky pointed to Carter's statement to The Washington Post that he was the one who decided when to file her affidavit, not his client, thereby disputing the theory that Lewinsky asked Carter to hold off submitting it until Jan. 16 after she received a job offer arranged by presidential confidant Jordan.
As they settle into the case, Stein and Cacheris are trying to get up to speed quickly. They have been seen meeting repeatedly and at length with Lewinsky to debrief her and have consulted with the remaining member of her previous legal team, Nathaniel H. Speights. Cacheris also spoke at least once early on with Kendall, according to a source familiar with the conversation, though it is not clear whether they have been in touch since.
Lewinsky's lawyers would like to hear the Tripp tapes before reaching any deal, something that prosecutors have been reluctant to allow. Ginsburg never heard the more than 20 hours of secretly recorded tapes, sources said, although he was shown transcripts of a couple.
Starr has insisted that he be allowed to interview Lewinsky, an option her new lawyers have signaled they are open to considering, according to lawyers familiar with the talks. Lewinsky met Starr once several months ago in a brief visit, but she has not been participating directly in the current negotiations.
During those talks, lawyers said, Lewinsky's side has insisted on full protection from prosecution, while Starr has been suggesting a deal that would involve her pleading guilty to some lesser offense. Starr also has required that Lewinsky explain the still-mysterious origin of the "talking points" she gave Tripp in January suggesting her friend change her own testimony in the Jones case.
While interested in what Lewinsky knows, Starr also is interested in what Clinton knows about Lewinsky. The independent counsel subpoenaed any records held by IGI relating to Lewinsky, according to sources.
"Some documents were provided to Starr and some that were requested were not because the attorney-client and work-product privileges were asserted," said Lenzner's attorney, former FBI general counsel Howard Shapiro.
Kendall and Robert S. Bennett, the president's lawyer in the Jones case, have previously acknowledged employing IGI but have never specified what work the firm did for them other than to deny uncorroborated allegations that it was directed to dig into the personal backgrounds of prosecutors, reporters or Clinton critics.
Among the other records requested by Starr in his subpoena were any pertaining to his deputies. No information pertaining to Starr's deputies was found in IGI's files, said Mark Cowan, a public relations consultant for the firm.
Bennett used IGI to help find witnesses and do background research in his defense against Jones's charges that Clinton, then governor of Arkansas, once crudely propositioned her in a Little Rock hotel room. During the course of his defense, Bennett collected evidence about Jones's sex life and threatened to use it against her if necessary, only to back down in the face of political criticism.
Sources close to the Clinton camp have said it did not need investigators to hunt down such salacious testimony because it usually was volunteered by former Jones friends who contacted the president's lawyers.
Staff writer Lorraine Adams contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company