Clinton’s Lawyer in Negotiations With Starr
President Clinton’s personal lawyer is discussing with independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr how the president might provide information to the federal grand jury investigating allegations that he had a sexual relationship with Monica S. Lewinsky and lied under oath about it.
White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry surprised reporters Friday by disclosing that Clinton attorney David E. Kendall has for some time “been trying to work out with Mr. Starr something that would help ensure that the information is provided that is needed, consistent with the president’s view that we should cooperate.”
McCurry added that Kendall will “try to ensure that the grand jury gets the information that it needs.”
One government source suggested that Starr’s office had obtained a grand jury subpoena for the president, but that could not be confirmed.
The discussions between Kendall and the prosecutor’s office are aimed at satisfying two separate goals: The independent counsel wants to question the president under oath about his relationship with the former White House intern, while the White House is trying to avoid giving the public impression that Clinton is stonewalling Starr and could have something to hide.
McCurry’s disclosure of the talks, after his six months of near silence on the Lewinsky investigation, indicated that the White House--which has tried to stall or block other aspects of Starr’s probe--wanted to appear to be cooperating with the investigation.
Starr previously has “invited” Clinton several times to furnish testimony, without publicly announcing the invitations, but the White House has declined.
Kendall declined to elaborate on McCurry’s statements.
McCurry’s remarks, at his daily briefing, came at the end of a week in which Starr accelerated his six-month-long Lewinsky investigation by employing two federal grand juries simultaneously to hear from at least five Secret Service witnesses, including Larry Cockell, who was chief of Clinton’s protective detail, to learn what, if anything, they had observed about the president’s conduct with Lewinsky.
Betty Currie, Clinton’s personal secretary, wrapped up her grand jury testimony Wednesday, while former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Harold M. Ickes was told he would have to return to give further testimony. Pentagon employee Linda Tripp, who set off the investigation with tapes of her phone conversations with Lewinsky, is expected to return to the grand jury next week for her seventh appearance.
McCurry flatly refused to say if the White House already has received a subpoena for the president’s grand jury testimony.
However, the fact that discussions have progressed with Starr’s office to the point of McCurry’s announcement indicated that the president’s advisors have abandoned any thought that the chief executive might be able to “tough it out,” as one source said, without responding further to questions about Lewinsky.
“The independent counsel is moving rapidly toward completing his fact-finding, and the president is one he would like to hear from,” said a lawyer supportive of Starr who is familiar with the case.
Some lawyers reached for comment said a subpoena for the president’s testimony could raise a serious constitutional challenge if Starr tried to enforce it.
A sitting president cannot be indicted and thus it is doubtful that the courts could enforce a subpoena through contempt proceedings against Clinton if he refused to honor it.
John Quinn, a former Clinton White House counsel, has said he does not think a sitting president can be compelled to testify. “The constitutional separation of powers wouldn’t permit the judicial branch to impose the sanction it has available against a sitting president, namely imprisonment,” he said.
Charles G. Bakaly III, an attorney who is Starr’s spokesman, said he could not comment on whether a subpoena had been issued. Bakaly has previously said, however, that Clinton could probably be compelled to testify if a subpoena were issued. He acknowledged that “there are very difficult constitutional issues here.”
Legal experts said it was unlikely Starr would ever insist on Clinton’s personal appearance before grand jurors. The most likely alternative, they said, would be for the president to answer questions under oath in the White House in a face-to-face meeting with Starr and top staff members, or to respond in writing to written questions, known as interrogatories, supplied by Starr.
Another legal expert said securing testimony from the president “could hasten the day [Starr] calls Monica.” Several criminal defense lawyers have said that Starr has reached a stage in his investigation when he is likely to subpoena Lewinsky or, failing her full cooperation, indict her for perjury or obstruction of justice based on evidence he has previously gathered.
Starr is trying to determine if Clinton and Lewinsky lied in their sworn statements in a civil suit when they denied having had sexual relations, and whether either of them sought to persuade anyone else to give a false statement.
Peppered with questions about details of Kendall’s talks with Starr, an exasperated McCurry said at one point, “You know how rarely I comment on this matter . . . and I’m not going to interpret it further.”
Although Clinton promised last January when the Lewinsky investigation was first disclosed that eventually he would furnish a full public statement, he has failed to do that as public opinion polls showed most Americans did not hold the allegations against him.
His most complete statements became available two months later when some of his answers were made public from his Jan. 17 deposition in the Paula Corbin Jones sexual harassment lawsuit, which a judge dismissed on April 1.
Most were brief answers to questions from Jones’ lawyers.
For example, he simply replied “No” when asked if he had had “an extramarital sexual affair with Lewinsky.”
Asked if he had given gifts to the young woman, the president answered, “I don’t remember. But I certainly, I could have.” As to whether Lewinsky had ever given him any gifts, Clinton said, “Once or twice. I think she’s given me a book or two.” He later added, “She has given me a tie.”
The president and First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton have already been questioned in the White House by investigators, or have replied to interrogatories, several times in the last three years on financial aspects of the Whitewater case. In addition, Mrs. Clinton personally appeared before grand jurors in January 1996 to answer questions about the discovery in the White House residence of her long-ago-subpoenaed law firm billing records.
The president, in addition, has twice provided videotaped testimony that was played for jurors in two Whitewater-related trials in Little Rock in 1996.