Lewinsky Outlines Possible Testimony to Starr Prosecutors
In a special legal session Monday, former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky sat down with a team of prosecutors and told them what she would say about her relationship with President Clinton if called before a federal grand jury.
The several-hour session, held in New York, was the first time in more than six months that investigators for independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr have met with the young woman they see as a key witness in their probe of Clinton.
Starr’s office has long sought such a session as a preliminary step toward a deal that would secure her testimony.
Legal sources told the Associated Press late Monday that Lewinsky told prosecutors she had sexual relations with the president. No other details of her account were immediately available.
Meanwhile, Starr made another significant stride in his investigation, with an appeals court ruling that Clinton’s longtime confidant, Bruce R. Lindsey, must answer the prosecutor’s questions.
Starr also is negotiating for the president’s own testimony in the case. A source familiar with the matter said the historic subpoena for Clinton carried a deadline of today, but it has been extended until “later this week.”
Monday’s rapid-fire developments showed that Starr’s lengthy investigation of the Lewinsky matter has reached a crucial point.
The series of setbacks for Clinton came as he was in Albuquerque, leading a town hall meeting about the future of Social Security. Several times during the day, he ignored shouted questions from reporters seeking his reaction to the latest developments in the long-running Starr inquiry.
“Sometimes the president answers questions and sometimes he doesn’t,” spokesman Barry Toiv explained.
Lewinsky’s meeting with Starr’s prosecutors is what is known among criminal defense lawyers and prosecutors as a “queen for a day” session, in which nothing she says to them can be used against her.
When negotiating to get full immunity for a client, defense attorneys work out during a proffer session what testimony the client would give to a grand jury if given immunity from prosecution. That gives prosecutors the ability to assess a witness’ credibility face-to-face and to evaluate the information in light of all the evidence they have gathered from other witnesses and documents.
Lewinsky’s attorneys are interested in an immunity deal because of the sworn affidavit she signed in January in which she denied having a sexual relationship with Clinton. If Lewinsky were to change her story, that could make her subject to perjury charges. Her affidavit was filed in connection with Paula Corbin Jones’ civil suit against Clinton alleging sexual harassment, which has since been dismissed.
Starr also could seek to indict Lewinsky on obstruction of justice charges related to the so-called “talking points” she allegedly presented to her colleague, Linda R. Tripp, suggesting that Tripp deny knowing about a separate sexual-contact allegation involving the president.
Monday’s meeting among Lewinsky, her defense attorneys and three or four of Starr’s prosecutors was held in New York, chosen for its “neutral” location far from Starr’s Washington office and Lewinsky’s Watergate and Los Angeles residences, which are heavily monitored by the media.
Until Monday, immunity discussions between Starr’s office and Lewinsky’s attorneys had been deadlocked for weeks. In fact, Starr could still subpoena--or even indict--Lewinsky, so long as statements she made in Monday’s session were not used against her.
News of the meeting came while Clinton’s lawyers continued to negotiate about whether and how he would provide testimony to Starr. But it could not be learned whether the White House knew in advance that Lewinsky was meeting with prosecutors.
In Monday’s other key development, the U.S. Court of Appeals here, on a 2-1 vote, rejected the claim that because Lindsey is a White House lawyer, he can refuse to answer Starr’s questions based on the attorney-client privilege. That traditional shield of privacy is reserved for private lawyers and their clients, not government officials, the court said.
“A government attorney, even one holding the title of deputy White House counsel, may not assert an attorney-client privilege before a federal grand jury [if he has] information pertinent to possible criminal violations,” the court said. “The public interest in honest government and in exposing wrong by government officials” outweighs the president’s claim of privacy, it said.
The ruling spoke for Judges A. Raymond Randolph, a President Bush appointee, and Judith Rogers, a Clinton appointee. Judge David S. Tatel, also a Clinton appointee, dissented, arguing that a White House lawyer’s “official legal advice” to the president should be shielded from the prosecutor.
“We are disappointed that the Court of Appeals has decided that, unlike every other attorney and client in this country, government attorneys and their clients do not enjoy the right to have confidential communications,” Charles F.C. Ruff, counsel to the president, said in a statement.
Ruff said the White House would decide whether to appeal after a thorough review of the opinion. An appeal could go first to the full appeals court and then to the Supreme Court.
But even an appeal may not bar Starr from quickly seeking Lindsey’s testimony. Unless presiding Judge Norma Holloway Johnson or a higher court grants a stay, the ruling of the appeals court stands as the law.
At the same time, Starr seemed to be getting closer to his goal of obtaining Clinton’s testimony under oath. His office had obtained a subpoena that had required the president to appear today. The deadline, although extended, could still be imminent; the Lewinsky grand jury is meeting Wednesday and Thursday, as well as today.
The subpoena’s appearance date was pushed back to allow further negotiations between Starr’s office and David E. Kendall, the president’s private lawyer. Legal sources say it is likely Clinton will agree to testify at the White House, but will refuse if Starr insists he come to the federal courthouse.
Other matters that remain to be resolved include whether Clinton could have an attorney present, a radical departure from normal grand jury practice; and whether grand jurors would be brought to the White House or would be limited to seeing him testify on videotape or via closed-circuit television.
“We are working with the office of independent counsel, as we have in the past, to devise a way for the president to provide information . . . consistent with his constitutional role and responsibilities,” Kendall said in a statement.
Despite the unfolding drama on the question of whether and how he would testify, the president seemed generally engaged in a public forum about Social Security. But while Sen. Pete V. Domenici (R-N.M.) was giving a short address describing his approach to reform, the president had a blank expression on his face, as though his thoughts were elsewhere.
Times staff writer Elizabeth Shogren contributed to this story from Albuquerque.
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