Lewinsky Is Questioned by Starr Team
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, July 28, 1998; Page A01
Independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's prosecutors questioned Monica S. Lewinsky in New York yesterday, sources familiar with the session said, ending a six-month impasse over her willingness to describe her relationship with President Clinton.
A source familiar with the nearly five-hour meeting, which took place at a residence in midtown Manhattan, said Lewinsky essentially repeated the information contained in her original written proposed testimony given to Starr -- that she had a sexual relationship with the president but not that he asked her to lie under oath about it in the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit.
Yesterday's surprise shift by Lewinsky -- she has refused to talk to Starr's prosecutors since they confronted her Jan. 16 at a Virginia hotel with a secretly made FBI tape recording -- came as a federal appeals court panel ruled that White House lawyers must testify in Starr's investigation and Clinton's private lawyer sought to negotiate terms for complying with a subpoena requiring his testimony.
With Starr rapidly moving to conclude his grand jury inquiry into whether Clinton and Lewinsky lied under oath about a sexual relationship, yesterday's developments suggested he may be close to securing testimony from the investigation's two central figures.
Starr's talks with Lewinsky, sources said, are a possible prelude to an agreement that would limit Lewinsky's legal exposure in exchange for her grand jury testimony. Lawyers for the president and Starr were also actively negotiating yesterday about how and when he would testify. Sources familiar with the discussions said Clinton's lawyers are seeking to put off his testimony, perhaps until September, while Starr is pushing to obtain it without delay.
The events have propelled Starr's investigation into high gear as time is growing short -- a matter of days or weeks -- for Congress to receive a report on potentially impeachable offenses from Starr and act on it this election year.
The most dramatic turn yesterday was Lewinsky's meeting with Starr's staff in a session, sources said, intended to give prosecutors a chance to gauge her credibility, something they have sought since the investigation began in January. The meeting was agreed upon over the weekend, said one source close to Lewinsky's lawyers, although discussions between the two camps were reported to be underway before word of Starr's subpoena of the president became public Friday.
Lewinsky spoke with his prosecutors under a promise that the information she conveyed would not be used against her, according to another source familiar with the discussions. Prosecutors want to resume questioning as early as Wednesday, but Lewinsky's lawyers first hope to work out details of an immunity arrangement in which she would be protected from prosecution for perjury or obstruction of justice in the Jones case.
However, the source said, prosecutors have dropped their initial demand that Lewinsky plead guilty to a criminal offense in exchange for immunity. Lewinsky faces possible prosecution because she signed an affidavit in January stating that she never had a sexual relationship with Clinton and reportedly urged onetime friend Linda R. Tripp to change her story to Jones's lawyers.
Three lawyers from Starr's office attended yesterday's session, as well as Lewinsky and her lawyers, Plato Cacheris and Jacob A. Stein.
The source was optimistic about the prospects for the two sides to reach agreement on securing Lewinsky's testimony before the grand jury. Asked if a deal was close, the source said, "I certainly hope so." Spokesmen for both Starr's office and Lewinsky yesterday refused to comment on the discussions.
Although she reportedly has not implicated Clinton in any obstruction of justice in her talks with Starr, Lewinsky's account could be dangerous for the president. By confirming a sexual relationship with Clinton, Lewinsky's story could expose him to a perjury allegation because he denied such an affair under oath in the Jones case.
Lewinsky's decision to meet with the independent counsel comes as Starr nears the end of his grand jury witness list and must decide whether to indict her if he cannot obtain her testimony voluntarily. Yesterday's meeting followed not only the subpoena to Clinton but also the unexpected testimony last week of Secret Service employees who guard him.
A new round of subpoenas has just been issued to six more current or former Secret Service employees, in addition to the nine subpoenaed to date, said Michael T. Leibig, who is the lawyer for several of the officers. At least two of those officers are scheduled to testify this week. The grand jury heard last week from Secret Service employees who have guarded the president, including Special Agent Larry L. Cockell, the head of Clinton's protective detail.
Also slated to resume her testimony today is Tripp, Lewinsky's Pentagon colleague who launched the probe when she brought secretly made tape recordings of Lewinsky to Starr. Tripp has already spent six days before the grand jury.
As those witnesses were scheduled to appear at the federal courthouse today, Clinton's private lawyer, David E. Kendall, was negotiating with Starr on how the president would be questioned.
Although the subpoena to the president required testimony this week, it appeared unlikely that would actually happen so quickly. Clinton returned late last night from a three-day trip in the West and has not spent any time preparing with his lawyers for questioning under oath. He also is scheduled to travel to North Carolina Thursday and to Long Island Friday for a long weekend of fund-raising.
Kendall, while still refusing to confirm even that the subpoena had been served, released a statement yesterday saying, "We are working with the Office of Independent Counsel, as we have in the past, to devise a way for the president to provide information for the OIC's investigation, consistent with his constitutional role and responsibilities."
Clinton advisers, both inside and outside the White House, said there is little practical way for the president to avoid testifying, even as they predicted further wrangling over the terms of how the president would answer questions.
Clinton, according to sources who were not directly in the negotiations but were knowledgeable of his lawyers' position, prefers that both Starr's questions and his answers are given in written form. This is a condition that would almost certainly be unacceptable to Starr, Starr allies said, and even some Clinton advisers expressed skepticism that their side would insist on this point.
Clinton is far less likely to yield on another point -- that his testimony be given at the White House, presumably videotaped for later viewing by grand jurors. Some political advisers, sources said, are adamant about avoiding the image of the president's striding into the federal courthouse as a potential criminal target.
Starr has questioned the president three times before at the White House, each time in connection with the Whitewater investigation. In addition, Clinton has twice provided videotaped testimony in trials of banking associates in Arkansas prosecuted by Starr. A federal judge presided over the taping of one of those sessions via closed-circuit television. In those instances Clinton's lawyers were present, a condition they are seeking again, though normally grand jury witnesses are not permitted to bring lawyers into the room with them.
Some Clinton advisers are worried about the political effect of another condition that Kendall and Ruff are trying to impose on Starr: that questions be limited in advance to certain subjects.
"How can you reasonably say, 'We'll take the easy ones [questions] but not the hard ones?' " asked one Clinton adviser.
Behind the scenes, there was considerable frustration among some Clinton political advisers about how tightly Ruff and Kendall were holding information about the subpoena and deliberations about how to respond to it.
This was the latest flare-up of a tension that has existed from the opening days of the Lewinsky controversy. While lawyers try to shut off the flow of information on the theory that this is the best way to minimize Clinton's legal exposure, other senior advisers believe that the attorneys are insufficiently attuned to the public relations consequences of their defense strategy decisions.
Numerous people, both inside and outside the White House, who regularly advise Clinton said they still have no confirmation from his attorneys that he has in fact been subpoenaed. They complained of not being told the subpoena was served on the president's lawyer and of then inadvertently providing misleading information to others.
"The level of frustration inside and outside is growing," said one ally who regularly gets briefed by the White House so he can promote Clinton's case with reporters. "I know nothing, zero, nada."
Staff writers Peter Baker, Bill Miller and Ruth Marcus contributed to this report.
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