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President Acknowledged Early Effort to Keep Lewinsky Affair Secret

Monica Lewinsky
Monica Lewinsky arrives at courthouse Thursday. (Reuters)

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By Peter Baker and Susan Schmidt
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, August 21, 1998; Page A01

Monica S. Lewinsky returned to the grand jury for the final time yesterday to amplify her account of an extramarital affair with President Clinton as new details emerged about his testimony earlier this week and their conflicting versions of the relationship.

Clinton testified that they agreed to keep their affair secret from the start, long before the former White House intern was subpoenaed in the Paula Jones lawsuit, and that he did not intend to encourage perjury, sources familiar with the situation said yesterday. He also testified that he misled his friend, Vernon E. Jordan Jr., who was enlisted to find Lewinsky a job and a lawyer in the Jones case, the sources said.

As independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr prepares to send a report of possible impeachable offenses to Congress, the president's description of these events will be critical to his defense against allegations of obstruction of justice in the Jones case. Clinton denied conspiring with Lewinsky to illegally impede the Jones legal team, even though both now have admitted they made misleading statements in the case and discussed how Lewinsky should deal with presidential gifts she later returned to the White House rather than turn them over to Jones's lawyers in response to a subpoena.

Lewinsky was brought back to the courthouse yesterday in part because the grand jurors themselves wanted to ask her questions in the aftermath of Clinton's closed-circuit testimony to them from the White House Monday. Lewinsky's account, sources said, contradicts Clinton's in significant respects concerning the nature of their sexual activities and their discussions about the gifts.

Clinton insisted that their sexual encounters would not qualify as "sexual relations" as defined in the Jones case, while Lewinsky testified that they would. Clinton also testified that he did not instruct his personal secretary, Betty Currie, to retrieve the subpoenaed gifts, including a T-shirt and book of poetry, but Lewinsky told the grand jury that Currie approached her seeking the gifts presumably at the president's direction, according to sources.

After more than four hours with the grand jury yesterday, Lewinsky, 25, was told she would not have to return. "Ms. Lewinsky is really looking forward to beginning the process of rebuilding her life," said spokeswoman Judy Smith.

Unlike her first grand jury appearance Aug. 6, Lewinsky's brief foray back into public view was overshadowed by Clinton's airstrikes against terrorists in Afghanistan and Sudan. The extraordinary timing immediately reminded some passersby of the movie featuring a president who fakes a war to distract the public from a sex scandal.

"It's 'Wag the Dog' all over again," said Lisa Raterman, 31, who was visiting from Cincinnati.

Others saw the contrast of the day's two big events as a sign of skewed national priorities. "Night and day," said Chris Vallier, of Fort Worth, Tex. "Something that really, really matters, and something that doesn't. In the immediate hour, Afghanistan is what's important."

During his testimony, Clinton said his affair with Lewinsky began in late 1995 or early 1996 and he recalled about a half dozen sexual encounters, a source familiar with the situation said yesterday. Most of their liaisons occurred in the first four months of 1996, although they also got together again once in 1997, he reportedly testified. Lewinsky recalled more encounters during a relationship she said began during the government shutdown in November 1995 and ended in the summer of 1997.

Although she said the president never directly asked her to lie in the Jones case, Lewinsky has testified that they developed "cover stories" to shield their assignations. For example, Clinton suggested she could explain her frequent visits to the Oval Office as stops to see Currie, according to sources familiar with her account.

Asked about that during his testimony, a source said, Clinton told prosecutors that he did not recall that scenario specifically but agreed they talked about ways to hide their relationship in its early days, long before Lewinsky was subpoenaed in the Jones case last December.

Legal sources said a significant portion of Clinton's four-hour session before the grand jury centered on the definition of "sexual relations" used during his Jan. 17 deposition in the Jones suit. Seeking to avoid a perjury charge, Clinton testified that he had an inappropriate physical relationship with Lewinsky but said his sworn denial in the Jones case of having had a sexual relationship with her was "legally accurate."

One by one, Clinton was asked whether he believed certain sex acts were covered by the definition employed by the Jones lawyers, sources said. Intercourse was, he replied; oral sex was not. Asked if he engaged in oral sex with Lewinsky, he refused to answer, according to sources. Several sources previously told The Washington Post that he acknowledged receiving oral sex, but those sources and others clarified yesterday that his admission was implicit rather than explicit.

Regardless, Clinton's position was contradicted by Lewinsky, who according to a legal source testified that in addition to oral sex he fondled her breasts and private parts, activities that are covered by the Jones definition.

Clinton testified that he "misled" his friend, Jordan, about the nature of his relationship with Lewinsky, sources said. Jordan aided Lewinsky in her search for a job in New York and then found her a lawyer when she was subpoenaed in the Jones case, keeping Clinton apprised of his efforts on both fronts.

Jordan has said Currie called Dec. 8 and asked him to help Lewinsky in her job search. Jordan has said he assumed the call was made at the president's behest, and he kept Clinton informed of his efforts on Lewinsky's behalf. After the subpoena arrived Dec. 19, Jordan has said he asked both Clinton and Lewinsky whether they had a sexual relationship and both strongly denied it. Clinton endorsed that account in his testimony Monday, sources said.

One legal source said yesterday that Currie testified that Lewinsky came to her and said that she was trying to land a job in the private sector in New York and that Currie immediately thought of her friend Jordan. But this source said Currie also testified that she believed Jordan had talked with Clinton about the job search.

Currie was also critical in the return of the gifts. In his testimony, Clinton recalled discussing the subpoenaed items with Lewinsky after she showed up on a Dec. 5 witness list in the Jones case and testified that he told her she had to give the Jones lawyers what she had in her possession, the sources said.

Lewinsky may have interpreted that statement to mean she would not have to turn over gifts that she no longer had, but she testified that she was then contacted by Currie, who said she understood the young woman had something to give her, sources have said.

According to one person close to the situation, Currie showed up unannounced at Lewinsky's Watergate apartment to collect the gifts, a circumstance suggesting she must have discussed the matter with Clinton. Another legal source said Currie got in touch within two hours of Lewinsky's conversation with the president about gifts. It could not be learned what Currie herself has testified about whether she discussed collecting the gifts with the president.

Clinton's description of the conversation about gifts with Lewinsky was sometimes vague, according to sources familiar with it. He said he did not recall when they talked or whether it was in person or by telephone, one source said, and added that he did not know Currie had the gifts until after the investigation began and she gave them to Starr.

The Clinton camp is most worried about the conflicts between his testimony and that of Lewinsky and Currie, particularly about the gifts, according to sources familiar with the White House view. The president's defense on the gifts may turn on the argument that they were not destroyed and therefore the fact that they were not provided to Jones's lawyers would not necessarily constitute obstruction of justice, said one person versed on the Clinton team's thinking.

While prosecutors in Washington were sorting out the evidence, Starr flew down to Little Rock for a Whitewater-related court proceeding and rebuffed questions about whether he felt vindicated by Clinton's televised speech admitting that he had "misled people, including even my wife."

"The process is one of law, gathering facts and assessing them and making professional judgments, as it should be," Starr said. "A legal process should above all be aimed at achieving and vindicating the rule of law."

In Washington, Attorney General Janet Reno said she still has confidence in the president's ability to lead the country. "In all my dealings with the president, he has been to me a person dedicated to the issues of government, trying to figure out what the proper course is for the American people," Reno said.

But another onetime Clinton aide said he had "lost me." Writing in Time magazine, former press secretary Dee Dee Myers said Clinton's affair "was so reckless as to seem pathological. He knew the consequences of getting caught, but he went ahead for 18 months. . . . Monday night he had the chance to rise above the anger and the evasiveness that have done so much damage to his presidency. He didn't. And I worry it is too late."

In Maryland, meanwhile, witnesses testified yesterday for the second time before a state grand jury in Howard County probing allegations that former Lewinsky friend Linda R. Tripp broke wiretapping laws by secretly taping their telephone conversations. At least five people, described by courthouse sources as investigators, witnesses and their lawyers, met with State Prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli.

Montanarelli told reporters that the county grand jury, whose regular six-month term ends early next month, will be extended indefinitely to hear the Tripp case.

Staff writer Paul W. Valentine and staff researcher Nathan Abse contributed to this report.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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