By Peter Baker and Susan Schmidt
Shortly after the Monica S. Lewinsky investigation began in January, presidential friend Harry Thomason headed to Washington to help script the damage control effort. With a possible denouement now at hand as President Clinton prepares to testify, Thomason was expected back for the critical scene.
As it turns out, he will be -- not just as an adviser, but as a witness.
The Hollywood producer from Arkansas is scheduled to appear at the federal courthouse here today to answer questions before the grand jury investigating whether Clinton tried to illegally cover up a sexual relationship with Lewinsky during the Paula Jones lawsuit.
What may have prompted the subpoena from independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr was an interview published in the New Yorker magazine last month in which Thomason recounted rushing from California to Washington the day after the Lewinsky story broke in January, taking a walk in the rain with Clinton and his dog Buddy and then staying up "half the night talking." Thomason remained at the White House for most of the next five weeks helping to keep the president's spirits up and choreograph the political counterattack against Starr.
How much Clinton may have confided in Thomason during that rainy stroll remains unclear. At one point in the magazine interview, Thomason seemed to hint that the president opened up, if only to proclaim his innocence, but at another point the producer suggested they respected careful legal boundaries.
"After that conversation, I'm positive that nothing happened between him and Monica," Thomason said. Asked about what Clinton said about Starr at the time, Thomason said, "I would never reveal anything the president told me and I hope I'm smart enough not to ask him questions that would get me subpoenaed."
Thomason and his wife, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, producers of "Designing Women" and other television shows, have been among the Clintons' closest friends and fiercest defenders since their Arkansas days. Troubled by the president's weak-sounding denial the day the Lewinsky story broke, Harry Thomason flew to Washington at Hillary Rodham Clinton's request. He helped orchestrate the more forceful, finger-wagging statement in which the president denied having "sexual relations with that woman," words that have remained his definitive comment on the matter ever since.
Thomason's grand jury date comes as the president's legal team is preparing for Clinton's testimony next Monday. Yesterday, David E. Kendall, Clinton's private attorney, won permission from a federal judge in Little Rock to view the videotape of the president's Jan. 17 deposition in the Jones case in which he denied having sexual relations with Lewinsky.
U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright, who has kept tight control over the videotape, agreed in a three-page order yesterday to ship a copy to Washington, where Kendall would be allowed to watch it alone under the supervision of Chief U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson. Kendall wanted to view it by today, according to court papers, presumably because Clinton will be out of town through then and much of the rest of the week will be spent preparing him for his testimony.
Jones's attorneys unsuccessfully opposed allowing Kendall to view the videotape, noting he was not an attorney of record in the case. Wright rejected the Jones team's request to have one of its lawyers in the room as Kendall watches the tape, but wrote that Kendall would be subject to the same gag order as other lawyers involved.
Separately, two associates of Linda R. Tripp said she kept notes about some of Lewinsky's alleged contacts with Clinton. Tripp, whose secret tapes of conversations with Lewinsky sparked the investigation, turned her notebook over to Starr early in the investigation, according to New York literary agent Lucianne Goldberg and another associate who did not want to be named.
Goldberg described the notebook as a "retroactive diary" of sorts that Tripp began at Lewinsky's request. The notes, some 80 pages in shorthand, contain Lewinsky's purported recollections of visits with Clinton and dates when Clinton called or said he would. The other associate said Tripp began making the notes last summer at Lewinsky's request as the one-time White House aide sought emotional support when she was upset at being kept away from the president.
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