Her Testimony By Peter Baker and Susan Schmidt
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, July 29, 1998; Page A01
Monica S. Lewinsky struck a deal with independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr yesterday granting her blanket protection from prosecution, clearing the way, according to legal sources, for her to testify that she had a sexual relationship with President Clinton and that they discussed ways of keeping it secret.
By agreeing not to charge her, Starr finally secured the cooperation of his probe's most important witness. Lewinsky would not testify that Clinton directly asked her to lie under oath during the Paula Jones lawsuit, but she has told prosecutors that they came up with "cover stories" to conceal an affair and that the president suggested hypothetical ways for her to avoid cooperating with the Jones lawyers, the sources said.
According to a lawyer familiar with her account, Lewinsky said Clinton talked about how she could avoid turning over gifts from him that had been subpoenaed by the Jones legal team. Lewinsky eventually gave the presents to Betty Currie, Clinton's personal secretary. Lewinsky also told investigators that Clinton suggested the former White House intern and clerk could explain her many visits back to the Oval Office by saying she was there to see Currie, according to another lawyer close to the case.
But Lewinsky's testimony could help Clinton on one of the most troublesome aspects of the case, the controversial "talking points" she gave Linda R. Tripp describing how her then-friend could shift her own testimony in the Jones case. Sources said Lewinsky told prosecutors that she wrote the talking points herself based on ideas and suggestions Tripp made in their many conversations.
Tripp immediately disputed Lewinsky's version through an ally last night, but the White House rejoiced in the news because officials there believed it absolved Clinton and his advisers of the most tangible evidence of obstruction of justice in the case.
The sudden end to the long standoff brought new pressure on the president even as he is negotiating with the independent counsel over whether and how he will comply with Starr's subpoena demanding that he answer questions for the grand jury as well. Clinton has denied -- both in his Jones deposition and publicly -- any sexual relations with Lewinsky and he made no public comment yesterday on the immunity deal that had eluded Starr since he began his probe of the president in January.
Talks between Clinton's lawyers and Starr's office appeared to reach an impasse yesterday as the president insisted on delaying testimony until September and the two sides took their dispute to Chief U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson for a closed-door hearing, according to sources close to the situation.
The session came just hours after Lewinsky's lawyers announced their accord with Starr in a one-sentence news conference. Under the agreement, Lewinsky will not have to plead guilty to any criminal offense, as Starr once wanted. In addition, Lewinsky's mother, Marcia K. Lewis, who shared a Watergate apartment and many confidences with her daughter, received full immunity from prosecution.
"We as counsel for Monica Lewinsky have reached an agreement today that for her full and truthful testimony she will receive full transactional immunity in this case," attorney Plato Cacheris said to a large mob of journalists and tourists gathered outside his downtown law office.
"Her family is pleased the attorneys were able to reach an agreement with the Office of Independent Counsel," family spokeswoman Judy Smith said by telephone later in the day. "They are relieved their daughter is out of harm's way."
At the White House, the reaction was generally muted as officials tried to divine the ramifications of the news. Publicly, at least, the president's aides were careful not to say anything that could be seen as disparaging Lewinsky, even though she now has emerged as the chief witness for the prosecution.
"He's pleased that things are working out for her," White House press secretary Michael McCurry said of Clinton. The president, he added, had no reason for concern. "Her lawyer said that she's going to give complete and truthful testimony and if she does that should present no problem to the president, obviously," McCurry said.
Later in the day, though, White House officials seized on reports that Lewinsky acknowledged writing the talking points, saying that clears deputy counsel Bruce R. Lindsey, Clinton's close friend who was often mentioned as a possible author. Just this week, Lindsey was ordered by a federal appeals court to answer all of Starr's questions before the grand jury. Learning of Lewinsky's statement from reporters, two White House aides literally shouted with glee.
"Interesting that we had several months of speculation about several other culprits," White House counsel Charles F.C. Ruff said in a characteristically more understated reaction. "I'm glad to have that one thing cleared up. I suspect Bruce is too."
Still, the end of the Lewinsky-Starr stalemate complicates the president's defense strategy. Without a first-hand witness, Clinton and his allies for months have been able to dismiss allegations that he carried on an 18-month extramarital liaison with Lewinsky as mere gossip generated by political enemies. But Lewinsky's testimony coupled with corroborating evidence collected by Starr makes that more difficult for the president to rebut, legal analysts said.
"Assuming sex happened, he goes in there and perjures himself again, or confesses to prior perjury in the Jones deposition," said former prosecutor John Q. Barrett, who now teaches criminal law at St. John's University.
The president has little room to maneuver. In his Jan. 17 deposition in the Jones case, Clinton denied any sexual relations with Lewinsky, including any physical touching intended to arouse either one. And in a Jan. 26 appearance before television cameras, he wagged his finger and forcefully denied it again to the American public.
"I want you to listen to me. I'm going to say this again," he said with a clenched jaw and stern expression that day. "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky. I never told anybody to lie, not a single time, never. These allegations are false."
Advisers said yesterday that Clinton does not plan to back off that statement despite the Lewinsky deal and will take his chances with the public, which has said in opinion polls that it does not care if Clinton committed adultery and lied about it. If Lewinsky does not provide hard evidence of obstruction, they believe Clinton can survive allegations he committed perjury in the Jones case.
"He's got a story and he's going to stick with it," said one adviser who did not want to be named. "It's going to be embarrassing. But the significance becomes even less if they don't have suborning of perjury."
From the first day his prosecutors confronted Lewinsky on Jan. 16, Starr has tried to win her testimony. Negotiations with her previous lawyer, family friend and medical malpractice specialist William H. Ginsburg, collapsed and generated an acrimonious court fight that ended when Judge Johnson rejected Ginsburg's claim that he had a binding immunity agreement from Starr.
By June 2, Lewinsky and her family concluded that Ginsburg had poisoned relations with Starr and dumped him in favor of Cacheris and Jacob A. Stein, two longtime, well-connected Washington criminal attorneys.
Even so, the new lawyers brought much the same proposed deal to Starr -- at first, to no avail. According to one source close to the investigation, the two sides had not talked in more than a month until Starr abruptly telephoned Stein last week to crack through the logjam. Stein has a close relationship with Starr and was able to empathize with his position, having served as an independent counsel himself once.
The two sides then exchanged "proffer letters" in which Lewinsky's lawyers agreed to let Starr's prosecutors interview her as long as their conversation would not be used against her. They did so in a secret, five-hour session in New York Monday, and Starr was satisfied with her account.
Starr reached out to Stein even as he was separately and secretly issuing a subpoena for Clinton's testimony, creating a potential perjury situation for Clinton at the grand jury, said a legal source involved in the investigation.
Clinton had indicated that he was willing to testify as long as his conditions could be met -- most important, avoiding having to go to the federal courthouse in person. But progress stalled yesterday when, sources familiar with the talks said, Clinton lawyer David E. Kendall insisted on delaying the president's testimony until September and Starr demanded it be provided without delay.
A White House official said Kendall is seeking to put off Clinton's testimony to force Starr to delay any report on potentially impeachable offenses until after the fall elections and a new Congress convenes in January, and so Clinton will get a chance to learn what Lewinsky says in her testimony. Lawyers for many of the witnesses in Starr's six-month grand jury investigation have participated in a White House joint defense agreement under which they share information. While Lewinsky is not part of the joint defense agreement, information at times has flowed easily in back channels from her lawyers to the Clinton team.
Sources close to the Lewinsky team said Starr's lawyers on Monday questioned her extensively about her sexual relationship with Clinton to test her story against other evidence. She told prosecutors about phone calls and gifts from Clinton, both corroborating evidence to establish that she had a close relationship with the president.
It could not be determined how extensively Starr's lawyers have questioned Lewinsky about some of the issues that are certain to be front and center when she appears before the grand jury -- among them, whether Clinton or his friend Vernon E. Jordan Jr. tried to help her get a job in New York to encourage her to cover up an affair.
"They really zeroed in on the sex," said one lawyer. "They were trying to assess her credibility."
Lewinsky's story has remained consistent throughout the past six months, according to another source close to the investigation.
On the talking points, sources said Lewinsky maintains she merely put to paper Tripp's own thoughts about tailoring her testimony regarding fellow White House aide Kathleen E. Willey's encounter with Clinton in the Oval Office in November 1993. Willey has claimed that Clinton groped her against her will, which he has denied. Tripp has said she ran into a flustered Willey shortly afterward but that she seemed pleased by the president's attention.
In January, Lewinsky gave Tripp a three-page outline of how she could write out an affidavit emphasizing that Tripp could not know what actually happened in the Oval Office. "You now find it completely plausible that she herself smeared her lipstick, untucked her blouse, etc.," the talking points advised.
A source close to Tripp flatly denied that she was the inspiration for the talking points. "That is not only patently untrue but in fact quite absurd," the source said. "Linda Tripp had nothing to do with the so-called talking points and, as has previously been reported, Lewinsky presented them to Tripp. That was the first time Linda Tripp had ever seen or heard anything regarding the talking points."
Little information emerged yesterday about Lewinsky's explanation of the job search conducted on her behalf by Jordan, who was asked to help by Currie. Starr might have deliberately avoided detailed questioning about evidence relating to some of the most serious potential charges, criminal law experts said.
Prosecutors could prefer to wait to ask her about those allegations until she has worked with them for days or weeks and "her comfort level is much higher," said Barrett. Starr's office, he said, would not want her to "dig in on a story" now that she may later deny. On some issues, he said, prosecutors may "think they need to work with her and establish trust in them."
Even as he finalized the immunity agreement, Starr continued to operate swiftly at the federal courthouse, using two grand juries to hear testimony, one from Secret Service officers and the other from Tripp.
Tripp, who spent her seventh full day testifying, said through her spokesman, Philip Coughter, that she was "encouraged" by word of Lewinsky's agreement. "It now appears that Monica Lewinsky is prepared to tell at least a portion of the truth," she said in the prepared statement. "I encourage her and all other witnesses not only to tell the truth but to tell the whole truth." Coughter said Tripp's lawyers view the deal as "corroboration of Linda's testimony."
In the meantime, Special Agent Larry L. Cockell, the head of Clinton's security detail, returned to the job last night, accompanying the president to an evening speech. Cockell and other Secret Service officials decided that he could perform his duties again now that his testimony is complete.
Staff researcher Ben White contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company