By Peter Baker and Susan Schmidt
Lewinsky turned over the long-hidden dress as part of her agreement this week to cooperate with Starr's office in exchange for full immunity from prosecution. The scientific analysis of the garment could take only days, the officials said, possibly making results available before Clinton is scheduled to testify Aug. 17.
While White House aides fretted over the surprise discovery of a long-rumored dress, Clinton, who has denied publicly and in a sworn deposition that he had a sexual relationship with Lewinsky, maintained a business-as-usual schedule as he jetted down to North Carolina for an environmental event. Although he ignored questions shouted by reporters, he will open himself to unwelcome inquiries this morning when aides said he plans to venture into the Rose Garden at the White House to discuss new economic figures before leaving for a fund-raising weekend in the Hamptons.
A day after Clinton agreed to provide testimony and Starr withdrew his unprecedented subpoena of a sitting president, the White House was buoyed by new polls showing the president's ratings holding high. While 68 percent of those surveyed by ABC News believe Clinton and Lewinsky had an extramarital affair, 57 percent oppose impeaching him for either lying about it or discussing ways of concealing it with Lewinsky, as she reportedly has told prosecutors. Similarly, an NBC poll found that 68 percent approved of his job performance, up 5 percentage points from last month.
But Clinton strategists worried that support could quickly evaporate if the dress contains direct evidence that Clinton committed perjury in the Paula Jones case by denying a sexual relationship with the 25-year-old former White House aide.
Although the dress could prove to be a political and legal boon in undermining allegations against Clinton if it turns out not to have any DNA material, many in the president's camp were privately concerned yesterday. "I can't believe we're even having this conversation," said one adviser. "The whole dynamic of the story changes if there's something more than he-said-she-said. I don't want even to think about that."
Another adviser said people close to the president "are of two minds. People are saying if the president is telling the truth, he should stay the course. But people are growing increasingly concerned about the mound of evidence -- including the dress and [telephone message] tapes" purportedly bearing Clinton's voice. Lewinsky turned both over to Starr Wednesday, sources said.
This adviser said there are "a growing number of people" close to Clinton who think that the amount of evidence against the president is becoming "overwhelming" and that he should consider going before the country and offering "a full-blown mea culpa" to take the steam out of the investigation. "If anyone can make a connection with the American people in a positive way, it is Bill Clinton," he said.
Yet several other presidential advisers attempted to dampen speculation that Clinton would change his denial of any improper relationship with Lewinsky. "It is not under consideration," one adviser said. "I've never heard anything like that."
Clinton has two weeks to decide his strategy before facing questioning under oath by Starr at the White House on Aug. 17. The president's lawyer, David E. Kendall, said Wednesday that the testimony "will be videotaped," but the White House said yesterday it could not say whether that statement was true amid suggestions that the testimony actually might be transmitted live to the grand jury. Kendall did not return telephone calls seeking response.
The Clinton legal team thought it had dispensed with any problem from a dress months ago when early reports went uncorroborated. Lewinsky's previous attorney, William H. Ginsburg, denied the existence of such a dress on national television. The FBI turned up no identifying stains on any articles of clothing taken from Lewinsky's Watergate apartment during a January search.
But unbeknownst to many involved, Lewinsky secreted the dress away to her mother, Marcia K. Lewis, according to sources close to the case. Lewis received full immunity this week as part of a package deal negotiated by her daughter's lawyers.
Word that Lewinsky had a dress that she agreed to turn over to Starr emerged in The Washington Post and other media outlets after the agreement was signed Tuesday, but Lewinsky's lawyers issued a statement yesterday denying that they or Starr's office had leaked the information.
"Monica Lewinsky's lawyers, Jacob A. Stein and Plato Cacheris, and the Office of Independent Counsel met for the specific and mutually shared purpose of preventing the dissemination of speculative information concerning the OIC's investigation and its dealings with Ms. Lewinsky," said the statement, faxed to news organizations by Stein's office. "Suggestions in the media that Ms. Lewinsky's lawyers or the OIC are the sources of such information are untrue."
Any stains found on the dress will be subjected to chemical testing at the FBI lab to determine whether they contain bodily fluids, a fairly simple process that takes a day or two. The next step, a more complex process that could take several more days, would seek unique genetic markers in any biological material.
If the dress has been washed with detergent, it may have destroyed any genetic samples, but dry cleaning probably would not, according to Barry C. Scheck, an attorney who specializes in DNA cases.
Any finding of genetic material would then have to be compared with Clinton's unique DNA marker, leading to the possibility that Starr would seek a sample from the president. Experts said that could mean a simple swab inside his cheek or a small pin prick to take a drop of blood. White House officials declined yesterday to say whether Clinton would agree to cooperate in such a situation.
Scheck, who rose to national celebrity in the O.J. Simpson case, said Clinton would not be able to resist. "There's no lawful basis to do so," he said. But he added that Starr had an obligation to quickly disclose the results, positive or negative. "That would be important evidence that everybody ought to know about prior to" Clinton's testimony.
Staff writers Dan Balz and Roberto Suro and staff researcher Ben White contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company