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Grounds for Impeachment, No. IX

From independent counsel Kenneth Starr's report to the House on President Clinton. Some of the language in these documents is sexually explicit.

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IX. There is substantial and credible information that President Clinton endeavored to obstruct justice by attempting to influence the testimony of Betty Currie.

In a meeting with Betty Currie on the day after his deposition and in a separate conversation a few days later, President Clinton made statements to her that he knew were false. The contents of the statements and the context in which they were made indicate that President Clinton was attempting to influence the testimony that Ms. Currie might have been required to give in the Jones case or in a grand jury investigation.(385)

A. Evidence

1. Saturday, January 17, 1998, Deposition


President Clinton's deposition in Jones v. Clinton occurred on Saturday, January 17, 1998. In that deposition, the President testified that he could not recall being alone with Monica Lewinsky and that he had not had sexual relations, a sexual affair, or a sexual relationship with her. During his testimony, the President referred several times to Betty Currie and to her relationship with Ms. Lewinsky. He stated, for example, that the last time he had seen Ms. Lewinsky was when she had come to the White House to see Ms. Currie;(386) that Ms. Currie was present when the President had made a joking reference about the Jones case to Ms. Lewinsky;(387) that Ms. Currie was his source of information about Vernon Jordan's assistance to Ms. Lewinsky;(388) and that Ms. Currie had helped set up the meetings between Ms. Lewinsky and Mr. Jordan regarding her move to New York.(389)

At the deposition, Judge Wright imposed a protective order that prevented the parties from discussing their testimony with anyone else. "Before he leaves, I want to remind him, as the witness in this matter, . . . that this case is subject to a Protective Order regarding all discovery, . . . [A]ll parties present, including . . . the witness are not to say anything whatsoever about the questions they were asked, the substance of the deposition, . . ., any details . . . ."(390)

2. Sunday, January 18, 1998, Meeting with Ms. Currie

Because the President referred so often to Ms. Currie, it was foreseeable that she might become a witness in the Jones matter, particularly if specific allegations of the President's relationship with Ms. Lewinsky came to light.(391) Indeed, according to Ms. Currie, President Clinton at some point may have told her that she might be asked about Monica Lewinsky.(392)

Shortly after 7:00 p.m. on Saturday, January 17, 1998, two and a half hours after he returned from the deposition, President Clinton called Ms. Currie at home(393) and asked her to come to the White House the next day.(394) Ms. Currie testified that "[i]t's rare for [President Clinton] to ask me to come in on Sunday."(395)

At about 5:00 p.m. on Sunday, January 18, Ms. Currie went to meet with President Clinton at the White House. She told the grand jury:

He said that he had had his deposition yesterday, and they had asked several questions about Monica Lewinsky. And I was a little shocked by that or -- (shrugging). And he said -- I don't know if he said -- I think he may have said, "There are several things you may want to know," or "There are things -- " He asked me some questions.(396)

According to Ms. Currie, the President then said to her in succession:(397)

"You were always there when she was there, right? We were never really alone."(398)

"You could see and hear everything."(399)

"Monica came on to me, and I never touched her, right?"(400)

"She wanted to have sex with me, and I can't do that."(401)

Ms. Currie indicated that these remarks were "more like statements than questions."(402) Ms. Currie concluded that the President wanted her to agree with him.(403) She based that conclusion on the way he made most of the statements and on his demeanor.(404) Ms. Currie also said that she felt the President made these remarks to see her reaction.(405)

Ms. Currie said that she indicated her agreement with each of the President's statements,(406) although she knew that the President and Ms. Lewinsky had in fact been alone in the Oval Office and in the President's study.(407) Ms. Currie also knew that she could not or did not in fact hear or see the President and Ms. Lewinsky while they were alone.(408)

In the context of this conversation, President Clinton appeared to be "concerned," according to Ms. Currie.(409)

The President's concern over the questions asked at the civil deposition about Ms. Lewinsky also manifested itself in substantial efforts to contact Monica Lewinsky over the next two days. Shortly after her meeting with the President, Ms. Currie made several attempts to contact Ms. Lewinsky. Ms. Currie testified it was "possible" she did so at the President's suggestion, and said "he may have asked me to call [Ms. Lewinsky] to see what she knew or where she was or what was happening."(410) Later that same night, at 11:01 p.m., the President again called Ms. Currie at home.(411) Ms. Currie could not recall the substance but suggested that the President had called to ask whether she had spoken to Ms. Lewinsky.(412) The next day, January 19, 1998, which was a holiday, Ms. Currie made seven unsuccessful attempts to contact Monica Lewinsky, by pager, between 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m.(413) The President called Ms. Currie at home twice, and Ms. Currie called the President at the White House once that day.(414)

3. Conversation Between the President and Ms. Currie on Tuesday, January 20, 1998, or Wednesday, January 21, 1998.

On either Tuesday, January 20 or Wednesday, January 21 of that week, the President again met with Ms. Currie and discussed the Monica Lewinsky matter. Ms. Currie testified as follows:

BC: It was Tuesday or Wednesday. I don't remember which one this was, either. But the best I remember, when he called me in the Oval Office, it was sort of a recap[it]ulation of what we had talked about on Sunday -- you know, "I was never alone with her" -- that sort of thing.

Q: Did he pretty much list the same --

BC: To my recollection, sir, yes.

Q: And did he say it in sort of the same tone and demeanor that he used the first time he told you on Sunday?

BC: The best I remember, sir, yes.

* * * *

Q: And the President called you into the Oval Office specifically to list these things?

BC: I don't know if that's specifically what he called me in for, but once I got inside, that's what he --

Q: That's what he told you?

BC: Uh-huh.(415)


B. The President's Grand Jury Testimony

The President was asked why he might have said to Ms. Currie in their meeting on Sunday, January 18, 1998, "we were never alone together, right?" and "you could see and hear everything." The President testified:

[W]hat I was trying to determine was whether my recollection was right and that she was always in the office complex when Monica was there, and whether she thought she could hear any conversations we had, or did she hear any.

* * * *

I was trying to -- I knew . . . to a reasonable certainty that I was going to be asked more questions about this. I didn't really expect you to be in the Jones case at the time. I thought what would happen is that it would break in the press, and I was trying to get the facts down. I was trying to understand what the facts were.(416)

Later, the President stated that he was referring to a larger area than simply the room where he and Ms. Lewinsky were located. He also testified that his statements to Ms. Currie were intended to cover a limited range of dates:

WJC: . . . . [W]hen I said, we were never alone, right, I think I also asked her a number of other questions, because there were several times, as I'm sure she would acknowledge, when I either asked her to be around. I remember once in particular when I was talking with Ms. Lewinsky when I asked Betty to be in the, actually, in the next room in the dining room, and, as I testified earlier, once in her own office.

But I meant that she was always in the Oval Office complex, in that complex, while Monica was there. And I believe that this was part of a series of questions I asked her to try to quickly refresh my memory. So, I wasn't trying to get her to say something that wasn't so. And, in fact, I think she would recall that I told her to just relax, go in the grand jury and tell the truth when she had been called as a witness.

Q: So, when you said to Mrs. Currie that, I was never alone with her, right, you just meant that you and Ms. Lewinsky would be somewhere perhaps in the Oval Office or many times in your back study, is that correct?

WJC: That's right. We were in the back study.

Q: And then --

WJC: Keep in mind, sir, I just want to make it -- I was talking about 1997. I was never, ever trying to get Betty Currie to claim that on the occasions when Monica Lewinsky was there when she wasn't anywhere around, that she was. I would never have done that to her, and I don't think she thought about that. I don't think she thought I was referring to that.

Q: Did you put a date restriction? Did you make it clear to Mrs. Currie that you were only asking her whether you were never alone with her after 1997?

WJC: Well, I don't recall whether I did or not, but I assumed -- if I didn't, I assumed she knew what I was talking about, because it was the point at which Ms. Lewinsky was out of the White House and had to have someone WAVE her in, in order to get in the White House. And I do not believe to this day that I was -- in 1997, that she was ever there and that I ever saw her unless Betty Currie was there. I don't believe she was.(417)

With respect to the word "alone," the President also stated that "it depends on how you define alone" and "there were a lot of times when we were alone, but I never really thought we were."(418)

The President was also asked about his specific statement to Betty Currie that "you could see and hear everything." He testified that he was uncertain what he intended by that comment:

Q: When you said to Mrs. Currie, you could see and hear everything, that wasn't true either, was it, as far as you knew. You've already -- . . .

WJC: . . . My memory of that was that, that she had the ability to hear what was going on if she came in the Oval Office from her office. And a lot of times, you know, when I was in the Oval Office, she just had the door open to her office. Then there was -- the door was never completely closed to the hall. So I think there was -- I'm not entirely sure what I meant by that, but I could have meant that she generally would be able to hear conversations, even if she couldn't see them. And I think that's what I meant.(419)

The President then testified that when he made the comment to Ms. Currie about her being able to hear everything, he again was referring to only a limited period of time:

Q: . . . .you would not have engaged in those physically intimate acts if you knew that Mrs. Currie could see or hear that, is that correct?

WJC: That's correct. But keep in mind, sir, I was talking about 1997. That occurred, to the -- and I believe that occurred only once in February of 1997. I stopped it. I never should have started it, and I certainly shouldn't have started it back after I resolved not to in 1996. And I was referring to 1997.

And I -- what -- as I say, I do not know -- her memory and mine may be somewhat different. I do not know whether I was asking her about a particular time when Monica was upset and I asked her to stand, stay back in the dining area. Or whether I was, had reference to the fact that if she kept the door open to the Oval Office, because it was always -- the door to the hallway was always somewhat open, that she would always be able to hear something if anything went on that was, you know, too loud, or whatever.

I do not know what I meant. I'm just trying to reconcile the two statements as best I can, without being sure.(420)

The President was also asked about his comment to Ms. Currie that Ms. Lewinsky had "come on" to him, but that he had "never touched her":

Q: . . . . [I]f [Ms. Currie] testified that you told her, Monica came on to me and I never touched her, you did, in fact, of course, touch Ms. Lewinsky, isn't that right, in a physically intimate way?

WJC: Now, I've testified about that. And that's one of those questions that I believe is answered by the statement that I made.(421)

Q: What was your purpose in making these statements to Mrs. Currie, if it weren't for the purpose to try to suggest to her what she should say if ever asked?

WJC: Now, Mr. Bittman, I told you, the only thing I remember is when all this stuff blew up, I was trying to figure out what the facts were. I was trying to remember. I was trying to remember every time I had seen Ms. Lewinsky.

. . . I knew this was all going to come out. . . . I did not know [at the time] that the Office of Independent Counsel was involved. And I was trying to get the facts and try to think of the best defense we could construct in the face of what I thought was going to be a media onslaught.(422)

Finally, the President was asked why he would have called Ms. Currie into his office a few days after the Sunday meeting and repeated the statements about Ms. Lewinsky to her. The President testified that although he would not dispute Ms. Currie's testimony to the contrary, he did not remember having a second conversation with her along these lines.(423)

C. Summary

The President referred to Ms. Currie on multiple occasions in his civil deposition when describing his relationship with Ms. Lewinsky. As he himself recognized, a large number of questions about Ms. Lewinsky were likely to be asked in the very near future. The President thus could foresee that Ms. Currie either might be deposed or questioned or might need to prepare an affidavit.

The President called her shortly after the deposition and met with Ms. Currie the next day. The President appeared "concerned," according to Ms. Currie. He then informed Ms. Currie that questions about Ms. Lewinsky had been asked at the deposition.

The statements the President made to her on January 18 and again on January 20 or 21 -- that he was never alone with Ms. Lewinsky, that Ms. Currie could always hear or see them, and that he never touched Ms. Lewinsky -- were false, but consistent with the testimony that the President provided under oath at his deposition. The President knew that the statements were false at the time he made them to Ms. Currie. The President's suggestion that he was simply trying to refresh his memory when talking to Ms. Currie conflicts with common sense: Ms. Currie's confirmation of false statements could not in any way remind the President of the facts. Thus, it is not plausible that he was trying to refresh his recollection.

The President's grand jury testimony reinforces that conclusion. He testified that in asking questions of Ms. Currie such as "We were never alone, right" and "Monica came on to me, and I never touched her, right," he intended a date restriction on the questions. But he did not articulate a date restriction in his conversations with Ms. Currie. Moreover, with respect to some aspects of this incident, the President was unable to devise any innocent explanation, testifying that he did not know why he had asked Ms. Currie some questions and admitting that he was "just trying to reconcile the two statements as best [he could]." On the other hand, if the most reasonable inference from the President's conduct is drawn -- that he was attempting to enlist a witness to back up his false testimony from the day before -- his behavior with Ms. Currie makes complete sense.

The content of the President's statements and the context in which those statements were made provide substantial and credible information that President Clinton sought improperly to influence Ms. Currie's testimony. Such actions constitute an obstruction of justice and improper influence on a witness.

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