By Peter Baker
President Clinton testified this week that he gave Monica S. Lewinsky several gifts during a weekend meeting at the White House shortly after Christmas, the last time they were together before their secret affair triggered a criminal investigation, sources familiar with his account said yesterday.
Clinton and Lewinsky met on Dec. 28, nine days after she had been served with a subpoena demanding her testimony about their sexual relationship and just before she was offered a job in New York arranged by presidential friend Vernon E. Jordan Jr. Clinton testified that he gave her a throw rug, a pin and an Alaskan stone carving as farewell presents, the sources said.
The meeting has become a central focus of independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's investigation into whether Clinton committed perjury or obstruction of justice in the Paula Jones civil lawsuit. The president's lawyers believe that his presents to Lewinsky that day demonstrate that he did not instruct her to return other gifts to his secretary rather than comply with the Jones subpoena for them, the sources said.
Further details about Clinton's testimony emerged on the same day that the president's legal defense fund announced it has raised $2.2 million in the last six months, more than was collected during the previous four years of his presidency combined. The newly reconstituted defense fund, operating with looser rules about who can give and how much they can offer, tapped into resentment against Starr as more than 17,000 Clinton supporters sent money.
Hollywood was quick to come to the president's aid. Among the 62 donors giving the maximum $10,000 were performers and directors such as Tom Hanks, Barbra Streisand, Michael Douglas, Ron Howard, Norman Lear, Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw-Spielberg as well as studio executives Jeffrey Katzenberg, David Geffen, Harvey Weinstein and Bud Yorkin.
"We believe that no first family should face such a horrendous financial burden while trying to carry out the work which the American people elected him to do," said David Pryor, the former Democratic senator and Clinton friend from Arkansas who founded the legal fund.
On another front of the multi-faceted legal fight, the White House filed a petition yesterday asking the Supreme Court to prevent Starr from questioning the president's closest aide, deputy counsel Bruce Lindsey.
Two lower courts have ruled that Clinton cannot invoke attorney-client privilege to prevent White House lawyers from testifying in Starr's criminal investigation, but the White House said in its petition yesterday that those decisions already have had "a dramatic effect on his ability to seek the candid and forthright advice he needs," including about how to defend himself against possible impeachment.
The issue of gifts and how they were handled has developed into one of the most critical in the Starr investigation, and testimony from Clinton and Lewinsky conflicts on that point, sources familiar with the situation said. Lewinsky was summoned back to the grand jury Thursday three days after the president testified via closed-circuit television from the White House.
The Jones subpoena served on Lewinsky on Dec. 19 ordered her to hand over "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." Tipped off by onetime Lewinsky friend Linda R. Tripp, the Jones lawyers knew the president had given her a T-shirt or dress and a book of poetry.
Clinton testified Monday that they discussed what to do about the gifts and that he told her she had to turn over what she had in her possession, sources have said. Lewinsky reportedly heard it differently, understanding him to say that she did not have to turn over any gifts that were no longer in her possession.
Shortly after their meeting, the president's personal secretary, Betty Currie, contacted Lewinsky saying she understood the former White House intern had something to give her. According to one account, Currie went over to Lewinsky's Watergate apartment personally to collect the gifts, which she kept until Starr's investigation began and she turned them over to prosecutors.
Because Lewinsky said she did not initiate her contact with Currie about the gifts, prosecutors are examining whether Clinton directed Currie to retrieve them. Clinton denied doing so during his testimony, sources have said. Currie's version remains undisclosed, although sources close to the case have said it conflicts with Clinton's on certain points.
Lewinsky went to see Clinton on Dec. 28 just as she was considering how to answer questions about their affair under oath in the Jones case. They had long ago agreed to keep their relationship secret and, although Lewinsky has testified that Clinton did not directly ask her to lie in the lawsuit, on Jan. 7 she signed an affidavit denying the affair.
By giving her the throw rug, pin and carving in their holiday meeting, Clinton showed that he was unaware of the return of any other gifts, allies argued yesterday. The president testified he did not know Currie had collected gifts from Lewinsky until the early days of the Starr investigation.
"The moral of the story is, if he was orchestrating an obstruction campaign, why was he giving her gifts on the 28th?" asked a Clinton ally informed about the situation. "It doesn't make any sense and it bolsters the idea that he learned of the handling of the gifts when the story became public."
But it could also undermine Clinton's own testimony in the Jones case. During his Jan. 17 deposition, just three weeks after his meeting with Lewinsky, Clinton was asked,"Have you ever given any gifts to Monica Lewinsky?" He answered, "I don't recall. Do you know what they were?"
Clinton later conceded that he "could have given her a gift, but I don't remember a specific gift." Under questioning, he said he bought souvenir items from the Black Dog store in Martha's Vineyard that were given to Lewinsky by Currie.
He was also asked if he was ever alone in the Oval Office with Lewinsky and said "I don't recall," although he allowed that she may have come to drop off papers for him while she still worked there. Her White House employment, however, ended in April 1996.
Sources have said the Dec. 28 meeting occurred in the Oval Office and they were alone for a time. Clinton offered a different version during the Jones deposition, testifying that Lewinsky dropped by the White House "to see Betty before Christmas" and he "stuck my head out [and] said hello to her."
As he tries to defend himself in Starr's investigation, Clinton has less to worry about in terms of his finances. With the creation of a new legal defense fund by Pryor in February, he is collecting a considerable share of his expenses, which totaled $6.5 million by the end of April, not including more than $1 million of costs related to the Jones case that were paid by insurance companies.
Trustees for the new fund reported that they have paid $1.25 million to Williams & Connolly, the firm handling Clinton's defense in the Whitewater, Lewinsky and other investigations, and expect to make another payment next month.
The new trust fund was established in February less than two months after the Clintons closed down their old legal defense organization because it had become too mired in its own legal problems and too constrained by restrictions on fund-raising.
Because technically it was set up independent of the Clintons, the new fund can accept donations as large as $10,000 instead of just $1,000 and it can directly solicit money. Contributions are prohibited from noncitizens, executive branch employees, registered lobbyists, labor unions, corporations and political action committees.
Run by attorney Anthony F. Essaye, the new fund has also been helped by the active involvement of fund-raisers Terence McAuliffe, Beth Dozoretz and Cynthia Yorkin; McAuliffe masterminded Clinton's reelection finances in 1996. A direct-mail solicitation signed by Pryor was sent to 170,000 people culled from Clinton-Gore and other Democratic fund-raising lists and drew nearly a 10 percent response rate.
Thomasina Canty, a retired schoolteacher from Lansing, Mich., said she gave $100 because she was convinced that Clinton has been targeted by his political enemies. "He was a marked man ever since he got there," she said. His Monday admission that he had an affair with Lewinsky left her unfazed; she sent another $100 after the speech.
Thomas B. Schueck, a steel company chief executive from Little Rock, said his $1,000 contribution was "very much an anti-Starr" message and he too was undaunted by Clinton's turnabout this week. "It's not the kind of thing any man is proud of," Schueck said, "but we're all human."
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company