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Lewinsky Faces 23rd Round of Questions

Deputy White House Counsel Cheryl Mills leaves the Mayflower Hotel, where former White House intern Monica Lewinsky is staying, Sunday. (Reuters)

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  • By Ruth Marcus
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Monday, February 1, 1999; Page A1

    With video cameras running and a tough eight-hour time limit, House prosecutors and White House lawyers will question Monica S. Lewinsky today in the opening day of their first, and likely last, chance to elicit new testimony in the impeachment trial of President Clinton.

    Starting at 9 this morning in the presidential suite of the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel, Lewinsky will be quizzed by Rep. Edward G. Bryant (R-Tenn.) and Clinton lawyers David E. Kendall, Cheryl D. Mills and Nicole K. Seligman about the president's alleged obstruction of justice as he sought to keep their affair from being revealed in the Paula Jones lawsuit.

    As the curtain goes up this week on what could be one of the final acts in the year-long drama of the president and the onetime intern, the Senate is poised to finally decide whether to hear from Lewinsky herself and two White House advisers, Clinton friend Vernon E. Jordan Jr. and aide Sidney Blumenthal, who will be deposed Tuesday and Wednesday. It could vote as early as Thursday on whether to play all or part of the video at the trial or even hear live from the witnesses in the well of the Senate.

    With all three witnesses essentially friendly to Clinton and the White House eager to further undermine a case it appears destined to win, the depositions aren't expected to produce any blockbuster moments worthy of Perry Mason. But they will give the House GOP both the chance to address unresolved factual disputes and put what Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.) called a human face on the allegations.

    "Only people who have been affected by this real-life drama, speaking from the heart, is going to affect anybody's judgment," said Hutchinson, who will interview Jordan on Tuesday.

    Jordan is the most daunting of the three and unlikely to be moved from his assertion that there was no connection between his assiduous efforts to get Lewinsky a job and her filing a false affidavit in the Jones case. But a review of grand jury testimony by Jordan and others shows that the deposition offers surprisingly fertile territory for questioning.

    The managers could present Jordan with assertions by Lewinsky that he was never questioned about, and hammer him on his shifting accounts of the job search and how much he knew about the true nature of the relationship between Lewinsky and the president.

    Even so, the lawyers this week are likely to revisit familiar ground. Lewinsky was questioned in interviews or before the grand jury 22 times, Jordan five and Blumenthal three, and transcripts of those sessions were released by the House for all sides to see and for witnesses to use to prepare for this latest round.

    The grand jurors' reactions to the trio could offer hints as to the Senate's response. By the time independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's prosecutors finished questioning them last year, the jurors wanted to mother Lewinsky, advising her to let go of her hatred for Linda S. Tripp and "move on" with her life. They were enraged by Blumenthal, dressing down the White House aide for misleading public comments.

    And they wanted to be Jordan, whose testimony was studded with tales of his travel by "private aircraft," his stays at the St. Regis in New York, his evenings at the Symphony Ball and his close relationships with presidents long before Clinton. At the end of Jordan's final appearance, one grand juror asked if she could enlist his job placement services. "Madam Forelady," Jordan assured her, "my door swings back on welcome hinges to anybody in this grand jury."

    Lewinsky is perhaps the most tantalizing witness, but her deposition today is unlikely to offer the prosecutors any major legal breakthroughs.

    Prurient interest aside, hearing directly from Lewinsky may do little to resolve the puzzles of the scandal. Her recollections are so detailed that the White House does not question significant parts of them.

    For example, Clinton's lawyers do not challenge the correctness of Lewinsky's account -- directly at odds with Clinton -- of the details of their sexual encounters, statements that go directly to whether the president lied to the grand jury when he denied having a sexual relationship with Lewinsky even under his restricted understanding of that term as used by the Jones lawyers.

    Indeed, that is likely to be just a glancing part of Monday's questioning. Bryant assured the Senate last week that he would have Lewinsky "simply affirm those provisions of her written testimony . . . generally referred to as salacious." Bryant envisioned going into other areas in far more detail. Among them: Lewinsky's discussions with Clinton about her plans to file an affidavit in the Jones case and their pre-agreed cover story, as well as whether there was any link between that affidavit and Jordan's job help.

    Lewinsky's testimony could help clear up confusion about the significance of a cellular telephone call from presidential secretary Betty Currie to Lewinsky at 3:32 p.m. on Dec. 28, 1997, the day Currie came to Lewinsky's apartment to retrieve gifts under subpoena in the Jones case. The managers point to the cell phone record as confirming Lewinsky's recollection, while the White House has argued that it undercuts Lewinsky because it came after the time she said she thought Currie picked up the gifts.

    But Lewinsky has been consistent in her recollection of the gift transfer, and hearing from her directly could help resolve the gap between the two accounts. Currie, who has said Lewinsky called her to pick up the gifts, has been hazy in her recollection of the moment, unsure even about the day it happened. Since Currie will not be a witness in the trial, Lewinsky's videotaped testimony will be the only direct account senators will hear.

    Lewinsky has also never been asked directly about Clinton's statement during his grand jury appearance that, when Lewinsky raised her concerns about how to deal with gifts from Clinton and the Jones lawsuit, "I told her that if they asked her for gifts, she'd have to give them whatever she had, that that's what the law was."

    However, in numerous accounts of her conversation with the president regarding gifts, Lewinsky has not recalled anything like that; rather, she has testified that when asked about the gifts, Clinton variously said things like "I don't know," "let me think about it" or didn't respond.

    But on other subjects, asking Lewinsky to clarify her testimony could present a danger to the managers.

    Lewinsky's famous concluding statement in her final grand jury appearance last Aug. 20 -- "I would just like to say that no one ever asked me to lie and I was never promised a job for my silence" -- does not answer many of the less dramatic but still troubling possibilities. Did she understand that she was not to tell the truth if questioned under oath? Did she think there was an implicit link between Jordan's job assistance and her signing an affidavit? Those would be logical areas of questioning for the managers, but they might be wary of how Lewinsky would answer.

    Jordan presents perhaps an even bigger challenge. As Hutchinson put it, "He's an icon in Washington politics; he's not just a powerful person in terms of position and influence but he manifests that power and influence at every step, he takes his persona and demonstrates it. He clearly is an extraordinary person and a very difficult witness to question."

    Jordan is not apt to be shaken from his essential account of events: that there was no link between his effort to get Lewinsky a job and her filing of an affidavit in the Jones case.

    But there are ways for Hutchinson to attack the credibility of Jordan and perhaps thereby to raise doubts about his assertion that the two efforts proceeded on completely separate tracks. Jordan has asserted that his assiduous work to keep Clinton posted on the Lewinsky job search was not unusual. And he has testified that he had no reason to believe there was a sexual relationship between Clinton and Lewinsky and therefore no reason to think that he had been enlisted in the job search in any improper effort to secure Lewinsky's cooperation on the legal front.

    An examination of Jordan's grand jury testimony, however, shows that it evolved during the course of his appearances on those key subjects. For example, Jordan said during his first appearance last March that when he initially met with Lewinsky, following a request from Currie, he had no clue that Clinton even knew the young ex-intern and that, when he mentioned his job help to Clinton, "I didn't know whether he'd recognize the name or not." But Lewinsky testified that Jordan "mentioned that in the course of the conversation" he had spoken to the president about her.

    In later grand jury appearances, Jordan's account shifted. He said on May 5 that he thought Clinton had told Currie, "Call Vernon and ask Vernon to help her. I believe that, sure, and that's enough for me." On May 28, Jordan said Currie "was the person who called me at the behest of the president, I believe, to ask me to look into Monica Lewinsky getting a job."

    He also started out saying that, although he knew about a Jan. 18 Drudge Report item linking Clinton and Lewinsky, his flurry of White House meetings the next day and his series of pages to Lewinsky had nothing to do with it.

    "I was not making a trip to the White House to talk about Monica Lewinsky," he said in March. As to his two pages to Lewinsky within an hour, he said it might have been to thank her for a tie. "I do follow-through, see how people are, see if she was happy . . . " he said. "I'm certain that I was not calling Monica Lewinsky to ask her about the Drudge Report."

    But in his June grand jury appearance, Jordan acknowledged that he was paging Lewinsky because "I wanted to ask her what she knew about the Drudge Report."

    Jordan had other reasons to suspect there was more going on than the normal intern-president relationship.

    Jordan testified that when a distraught Lewinsky arrived at his office on Dec. 19 bearing a subpoena from the Jones lawyers, she told him there had been gifts exchanged. Jordan said he became convinced the ex-intern was infatuated with Clinton.

    "I thought quite honestly that I was listening to a bobby-soxer who was mesmerized by Frank Sinatra," Jordan said.

    Indeed, Jordan was so rattled by Lewinsky's statements that he was moved to ask both her -- and later that same night, in a last-minute White House drop-by, the president -- whether they had a sexual relationship. He testified that he had only sexual intercourse in mind and that their denials sufficed to satisfy his concerns.

    "You didn't have to be Einstein to know that was a question that had to be asked by me at that particular time because heretofore this discussion was about a job. This subpoena changed the circumstances."

    But Lewinsky testified that she made it increasingly clear to Jordan that she had had some kind of sexual encounter with the president. On Dec. 22, 1997, for example, Lewinsky said, she returned to talk to Jordan about the subpoena and told him that she had had phone sex with the president. (In Jordan's account of that meeting, "We did not talk about the subpoena. She wanted to know about her job. That was the purpose of her coming.")

    And after a breakfast on Dec. 31, when Lewinsky broached the possibility of Hillary Clinton leaving her husband eventually, she said Jordan said, "Well, maybe you two will have an affair when he's out of office."

    Said Lewinsky, "I was shocked because I thought Mr. Jordan had known that we already had this affair . . . and I said, well, we already had an affair. We just -- you know, we didn't have sex or did everything but sex," or something like that. And he just kind of went . . . mmph."

    Jordan's level of knowledge -- and he has never been questioned about Lewinsky's testimony -- is potentially significant both because of the job search and because of conflicting accounts between Jordan and Lewinsky about the degree to which he reviewed the contents of her false affidavit. Jordan said he did not discuss it with Lewinsky beforehand and only skimmed it afterward, but Lewinsky testified she showed him a draft and discussed changing a sentence to avoid any suggestion she had been alone with Clinton.

    Hutchinson told the Senate he also wanted to question Jordan about Lewinsky's description of how she expressed concern about Tripp at the Dec. 31 breakfast and mentioned the possibility that Tripp had seen some notes from Lewinsky to the president. Lewinsky quoted Jordan as saying, "Go home and make sure they're not there." Jordan's previous testimony mentioned no such discussion, and, Hutchinson said, "It would be significant if Mr. Jordan is asked a question if that is a true statement and he says yes. It is significant to the case."

    If Jordan's testimony so far has been protective of the president, Blumenthal's testimony unintentionally but indisputably puts Clinton in a bad light. He told the grand jury that Clinton described Lewinsky as a "stalker" who "came on to him and that he told her he couldn't have sexual relations with her and that she threatened him."

    White House allies believe that one appeal of Blumenthal for the managers -- he will be questioned by Rep. James E. Rogan (R-Calif.) -- is that it could remind Lewinsky about Clinton's caddishness and make her less inclined to be supportive of the president. As a legal matter, however, it seems tangential at best. To cast Clinton's actions as witness tampering is something of a stretch, given that the president at the same time he made the statements to Blumenthal was denying the relationship to the entire country.

    And at the same time Clinton was allegedly trying to obstruct the grand jury by relating false stories to his aides, he was vigorously litigating to make sure they did not testify. If Clinton was engaged in witness-tampering, asked Columbia University professor Gerard Lynch, then why was he also "fighting to the death to keep Blumenthal out of the grand jury? It's a nonsensical thing."

    Staff writer David Von Drehle contributed to this report.

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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