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Lewinsky, Clinton Testimony in Conflict

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President Clinton's personal secretary Betty Currie on her way to testify in January. (AP)

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Full Coverage

Lewinsky Summoned to Testify Again (Washington Post, Aug. 19)

Lewinsky Testifies Before Grand Jury (Washington Post, Aug. 7)

Key Player: Betty Currie


By Susan Schmidt and Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, August 20, 1998; Page A01

Monica S. Lewinsky has contradicted President Clinton's grand jury testimony about the nature of their sexual relationship and her return of presidential gifts that had been subpoenaed in the Paula Jones lawsuit, sources familiar with their accounts said yesterday.

Lewinsky and Clinton provided different answers about how she came to return the gifts to the White House rather than turn them over to the Jones legal team as required by the Dec. 17 subpoena, the sources said. Lewinsky told a grand jury that presidential secretary Betty Currie approached her seeking to take back the gifts shortly after the president and the former White House intern discussed her subpoena, according to the sources.

Clinton's account, provided in response to questioning Monday by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's prosecutors, also varies in significant ways with Currie's story, sources said, although it was unclear precisely how. The conflicts between Clinton's testimony and that of both Lewinsky and Currie are viewed as among the most serious legal threats facing the president.

As Clinton celebrated his 52nd birthday quietly last night in Martha's Vineyard with his family and fellow investigation figure Vernon E. Jordan Jr., his problems in Washington deepened both legally and politically. With Lewinsky returning to the grand jury today, Starr appears to be filling in the final gaps before sending an impeachment report to Congress. And key Democrats increasingly came to the conclusion that the president had failed in his attempt to stanch the wounds with his admission Monday that he had a sexual affair with Lewinsky and "misled people, including even my wife."

Clinton made that extraordinary confession in his grand jury testimony and a televised address to the nation only after Starr requested the release of a DNA sample to compare with an apparent semen stain left on a blue dress Lewinsky turned over to prosecutors, a source close to the situation said yesterday.

The FBI laboratory tested the dress to determine if the stain contained semen and, while the results have not been released, Starr's request suggested they may have been positive. Starr asked Bethesda Naval Hospital, where the president receives medical care, for a sample of his DNA, which could have come from blood, saliva or other tissue, the source said. The request came before Monday's testimony and Clinton's attorney, David E. Kendall, did not oppose it, the source said. It could not be determined whether the sample already has been turned over.

Lewinsky, 25, will appear before the grand jury today for several hours of additional testimony, although it was unclear whether prosecutors would ask her to reconcile her version of events with Clinton's or cover additional ground instead.

Lewinsky was surprised and hurt by Clinton's televised address Monday, according to a person familiar with the situation, particularly because of his parsing of the definition of sex in the Jones case and his insistence that his answers denying sexual relations in the Jones deposition were accurate. She was disappointed that while he drew attention to his own family's pain, he never acknowledged the traumatic seven months she has undergone or apologized to her, her family or others caught up in the investigation against their wills.

His statement, she felt, appeared to disparage their relationship as a mere series of sexual trysts, with no recognition of the gifts and frequent telephone calls that indicated a deeper 18-month relationship, the person said, adding, "It makes her look like a bad person."

Clinton maintained during his four-minute address that he was "legally accurate," if not fully candid, when he denied during the deposition ever having sex with Lewinsky. During his grand jury testimony, he acknowledged receiving oral sex from her, but advisers said he did not believe that was covered in the definition of "sexual relations" used by the Jones lawyers. He refused to answer more specific questions about their activities, deeming them graphic and intrusive.

But Lewinsky reportedly has told the grand jury that Clinton was not merely a passive recipient of sexual favors. In addition to oral sex, she testified, they engaged in other sexual activities that would be covered by the Jones definition, including intimate touching of her private parts, and she is prepared to testify to that again today if asked, sources said.

Lewinsky is the first witness to be recalled since the president's testimony, but Starr could call back others who may rebut Clinton's account or change their own in the wake of his disclosures. Among those likely to return are Currie, who has already appeared five times, and some of the White House stewards who work in the pantry area of the Oval Office.

The retrieval of the gifts and the president's testimony about it are potentially among the most serious legal problems Clinton faces in Starr's investigation of whether the president perjured himself or obstructed justice in Jones's sexual harassment lawsuit or encouraged others to do so. If Clinton directed Lewinsky or Currie to circumvent the subpoena by removing gifts from Lewinsky's custody, that could be considered obstruction of justice.

Jones's lawyers, tipped off last year to Lewinsky's liaison with Clinton, demanded her testimony in a Dec. 17 subpoena she was served with two days later. In addition, the subpoena ordered her to turn over to the Jones legal team "each and every gift including, but not limited to, any and all dresses, accessories, and jewelry, and/or hat pins given to you by, or on behalf of, Defendant Clinton."

Clinton and Lewinsky met alone in the Oval Office on Dec. 28, according to White House records and other sources, and reportedly discussed the Jones case. Prosecutors showed special interest when they questioned the president Monday in what he talked about with Lewinsky during that meeting, according to a source close to the president's camp.

When asked whether he had requested Currie to retrieve the gifts, Clinton did not respond directly, a source familiar with his testimony said, although he acknowledged discussing the gifts with Lewinsky. Clinton testified that in that discussion he specifically told Lewinsky that she would have to turn over to the Jones lawyers any gifts that remained in her possession, the source said.

Another source said the president and Lewinsky's testimony on gifts amounted to a he-said-she-said contradiction, while a third suggested the difference was a matter of semantics.

Lewinsky testified that Currie approached her, saying she understood the young woman had something to give her, according to the sources. One source said Currie showed up at Lewinsky's Watergate apartment unannounced to collect the items.

The Clinton camp is resting its defense on the fact that the gifts were not destroyed, according to another source familiar with its argument. Under this theory, transferring the gifts to Currie rather than handing them over to the Jones team does not constitute obstruction of justice; it would be obstruction only if the gifts were destroyed or if a witness lied about the whereabouts of the gifts when asked under oath.

In his televised address following the grand jury session, Clinton said he did not "ask anyone to lie, to hide or destroy evidence or to take any other unlawful action."

Another detail about the president's testimony emerged yesterday involving his response to questions about former White House volunteer Kathleen E. Willey, who has alleged he kissed and groped her when she visited the Oval Office suite seeking a paying job in November 1993. Clinton denied doing so in his grand jury testimony, a legal source said, just as he did in his Jones deposition.

Willey said in a March interview with "60 Minutes" that Clinton was lying in denying he made a crude advance toward her, prompting White House aides to challenge her story and attack her credibility by producing cordial letters she wrote to Clinton after the alleged incident.

Starr is investigating whether there were efforts to intimidate Willey or obstruct her testimony in the Jones suit. He is looking into Willey's claim that, while out jogging one day, she was approached menacingly by a man who noted that her cat had been killed mysteriously and her car tires punctured.

When asked by the Jones lawyers whether anyone had encouraged her not to talk about the incident, she named Nathan Landow, a longtime Democratic fund-raiser from Montgomery County. Landow disclosed yesterday that he asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in refusing to testify about Willey before Starr's grand jury in June. But he said he and his lawyers do not believe Starr is interested in pursuing him for any reason.

In another line of questioning in Clinton's testimony, sources said yesterday that he was also asked about a tie Lewinsky reported giving him and that he has worn recently. Clinton sported the gold-and-blue patterned tie on Aug. 6, the first time Lewinsky testified before the grand jury, as well as June 24, the day he left for his trip to China, and July 9, during a visit to Georgia and Florida.

Starr's office apparently saw possible significance in the tie. Prosecutors asked him whether, on the day that Lewinsky testified, he was wearing a tie that she gave him and whether he was trying to send her a subtle signal, sources said, confirming a report in yesterday's New York Times. Clinton chuckled and said he did not remember and asked if prosecutors had a picture of the tie, which they produced.

The president said he did not think that was a tie from her, but was not sure because he received a lot of ties, the sources said. But they said he flatly denied he was trying to send a signal to Lewinsky.

Lewinsky did not see the tie before beginning her testimony that day because she entered the federal courthouse downtown at 8:30 a.m. and Clinton did not appear in public for a Rose Garden ceremony until more than two hours later. Lewinsky, while watching television news after her grand jury appearance, did notice he wore the tie but was not sure how to interpret it, according to a legal source.

Staff writer Ruth Marcus contributed to this report.


© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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