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Kenneth Starr
Kenneth W. Starr (Post file photo)

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Three Secret Service Agents Testify (Washington Post, July 18)

Secret Service Officers' Stories Are Different

By Susan Schmidt and Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, August 12, 1998; Page A06

Two Secret Service officers have offered differing accounts of a purported visit to President Clinton's office by Monica S. Lewinsky, prompting independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr to ask for information from Justice Department lawyers who interviewed the two men, lawyers close to the case said.

Starr wants to question Justice lawyers about what they were told by uniformed officers Gary Byrne and John Muskett, in interviews over the months leading up to the officers' grand jury appearances this summer. The two have given somewhat different accounts of what Muskett said he witnessed when he was posted outside in the Oval Office in early 1996.

Muskett, the sources said, has said that he and then-deputy White House chief of staff Harold M. Ickes went to the private study adjacent to the Oval Office looking for Clinton after he failed to pick up a phone call. Muskett has said the president was in the study and that he observed Lewinsky leaving the room.

But Byrne has said Muskett gave him a different account of that incident, telling Byrne that he came upon Clinton and Lewinsky in an intimate situation, the sources said.

Ickes said in an interview that he had no recollection of anything approximating such an episode. Neither Byrne nor Muskett could be reached for comment. Michael Leibig, attorney for an association representing Secret Service officers, said to his knowledge no officers had witnessed any intimate encounters between Clinton and Lewinsky.

The Justice Department is discussing making the attorneys available, a department official said yesterday.

Byrne reportedly complained that spring to another deputy chief of staff, Evelyn S. Lieberman, that Lewinsky was hanging around the West Wing too much. Shortly after, Lieberman ordered Lewinsky transferred from her White House legislative affairs job to a post in the Pentagon.

Even as Starr tries to clarify the discrepancy between Byrne and Muskett, he continued to summon other Secret Service officers to testify at the federal courthouse. As many as five agency employees appeared at the grand jury yesterday to answer questions about what they saw or heard while on duty at the White House.

Others testifying yesterday were Harry Thomason, a Hollywood producer and Clinton's close friend; and Cheryl D. Mills, a deputy White House counsel. In another part of the courthouse, Clinton's attorney, David E. Kendall, privately viewed the videotape of the president's Jan. 17 deposition in the Paula Jones case when he denied under oath having a sexual relationship with Lewinsky.

Thomason was the celebrity witness of the day, having flown in from California to tell grand jurors what he and Clinton talked about in the early days of the Lewinsky investigation. Shortly after the story broke in January, Thomason rushed to Washington and moved into the White House to help coach the president through the crisis and said in a recent interview that he and Clinton stayed up "half the night talking."

After emerging shortly after noon, Thomason said he testified for about 90 minutes, answered all questions put to him and was told he has been excused from further testimony. Asked if he believed Clinton's denial of any sexual relationship with Lewinsky, Thomason hesitated briefly and answered, "I've always believed the president is telling the truth."

He added that he thought "the grand jurors were nice and the prosecutors were courteous. It was actually a good morning."

Thomason said later that he had little insight for the grand jury about Clinton's ties with Lewinsky. Prosecutors asked, " 'What did he tell you about his relationship?' The answer was, 'Nothing,' " Thomason told the Associated Press.

Mills went next, becoming the second White House lawyer to appear before the grand jury since an appeals court upheld Starr's right to question Clinton's legal advisers on the grounds that attorney-client privilege does not apply to government lawyers in a criminal investigation.

Much like special counsel Lanny A. Breuer, who testified last week after Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist declined an emergency White House request to intervene, Mills has played a key role in damage-control efforts during the Lewinsky investigation. She has turned up at the courthouse repeatedly over the past seven months, often visiting Johnson's chambers to represent the president on procedural matters related the investigation. Yesterday was her first visit as a witness.

As Mills left the building yesterday afternoon, her lawyer indicated she may be back for more testimony. Other White House lawyers may be brought back too, including deputy counsel Bruce R. Lindsey, who is "still recuperating" from back surgery, said Mills, and possibly White House counsel Charles F.C. Ruff.

Kendall's visit to the courthouse was part of his efforts to prepare for Clinton's own testimony scheduled for Monday. Kendall watched the videotape of Clinton's deposition in Johnson's chambers a day after winning permission from a federal judge in Little Rock who has sealed the tape from public view. Although Kendall has access to a transcript of the session, he apparently wanted to watch it to evaluate the things that do not translate onto paper, such as the president's demeanor, tone of voice and visual presentation.

After Clinton returns to Washington from a fund-raising trip early this morning, he will spend much of the next five days preparing for his encounter with Starr, which will take place at the White House with Kendall present and will be transmitted via closed-circuit television to the grand jury back at the courthouse.

Those tightly controlled preparation sessions apparently will involve Kendall, his partner Nicole K. Seligman and Mickey Kantor, Clinton's friend and former commerce secretary who signed on as an attorney of record after the Lewinsky probe began in January.

Staff researcher Nathan Abse contributed to this report.


© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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