By Peter Baker
Currie told a federal grand jury that she was not instructed by Clinton to retrieve the gifts but instead went to the former White House intern's Watergate apartment last winter at Lewinsky's request, according to the sources. Lewinsky has testified that Currie was the one who initiated the contact, other sources have said.
The discrepancy between their reported accounts could be important because independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr has focused on the return of the gifts as a key element of his investigation into possible obstruction of justice by the president. If Clinton was involved in the decision to remove the gifts from Lewinsky's custody in an effort to avoid a subpoena issued to her in the Paula Jones case, he could be accused of illegally impeding that lawsuit.
The gifts, including items such as a T-shirt and a book of poetry, were being sought by Jones's lawyers as evidence of a sexual relationship, which both Clinton and Lewinsky denied until recently.
Clinton and Lewinsky have testified that they discussed what to do with the gifts in response to a Jones subpoena, but their interpretations of what he told her differ. Clinton said he told Lewinsky she had to turn over what she had; she understood him to say she did not have to produce what she did not have in her possession, according to sources informed about their accounts.
Lewinsky also testified that after her conversation with the president, Currie contacted her, saying she understood the young woman had something for her, a sequence that seemed to suggest Clinton's involvement because there may have been no other way for his secretary to know to get in touch with Lewinsky.
Clinton testified that he did not order Currie to retrieve the gifts, a point on which she reportedly agreed. "She did not have a conversation with Clinton about the gifts . . . before she went to collect the gifts," said a source familiar with her testimony. "Betty's story and Lewinsky's story differ. Betty went to Lewinsky's at Lewinsky's request."
Currie, the gatekeeper outside the Oval Office, has been a key player in the investigation from the beginning, not only because of the gifts but because she often cleared Lewinsky into the White House and helped her find a job in New York. The first witness to appear before the grand jury in January, Currie returned four times and may be called back again.
The courthouse was quiet yesterday as the grand jury convened but heard no witnesses. Prosecutors may have been reviewing past testimony with the grand jurors as they approach the end of their seven-month probe.
The panel will convene today to hear again from Clinton's closest aide, deputy White House counsel Bruce R. Lindsey, who was heading back from Martha's Vineyard, Mass., where he has been accompanying the vacationing president.
Lindsey has appeared three times before but declined to answer some questions on the grounds of attorney-client privilege, leading to a protracted legal fight that the White House has lost in two courts. The White House appealed to the Supreme Court last week, but prosecutors may be planning to ask Lindsey about areas not involved in the dispute.
Staff researcher Nathan Abse contributed to this report.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company