Investigators for independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr have asked the FBI to test a navy blue dress that belongs to Monica S. Lewinsky for DNA evidence that might match President Clinton, legal sources said Thursday.
Investigators want to determine whether that evidence from the dress and from several telephone answering machine tapes might corroborate the expected testimony of Lewinsky, a former White House intern, that she and the president had a sexual relationship. Both denied under oath in the Paula Corbin Jones sexual harassment lawsuit that they had sex.
One legal source familiar with the dress said it is doubtful that it would produce any DNA markings that could be traced to another person. “The importance of the dress is probably exaggerated,” the source said. “There are no noticeable stains on it.”
Lewinsky told Linda Tripp, her onetime friend, in a phone call taped by Tripp last year that she had kept the dress as a souvenir because it contained Clinton’s semen stains, according to previously published excerpts of the tapes.
An official familiar with FBI techniques, told the dress had no recognizable stains, said that “with techniques today you can determine trace evidence in truly minute amounts.”
The tests are to be conducted on an expedited basis, which could take “no more than a few days,” the official said.
The dress and tapes were among key elements of physical evidence that Starr’s office obtained this week in conjunction with Starr’s grant Tuesday of full immunity to Lewinsky. The immunity protects Lewinsky from any charges in the case, including a potential charge of obstruction of justice because she concealed the dress when FBI agents searched her apartment earlier this year.
Persons familiar with the matter said that Lewinsky had sent the dress to her mother, Marcia Lewis, in New York for safekeeping. Prosecutors originally threatened Lewis with felony charges for her role in concealing the dress and she insisted on a grant of the same full immunity as her daughter, legal sources said.
The independent counsel is trying to determine whether Clinton and Lewinsky had a sexual relationship and whether the president then urged the former White House intern to lie about it.
The existence of an allegedly semen-stained dress was first reported last January soon after Starr began his Clinton-Lewinsky investigation. But the story died out after Lewinsky’s previous lawyer, William H. Ginsburg, denied its existence on national television and FBI agents failed to locate such a garment in their search of her apartment.
Investigators also are examining several taped messages from Lewinsky’s home answering machine that are said to contain the president’s voice. Although the messages are not romantic or sexually suggestive, the fact that Clinton would personally telephone a low-level employee at home could suggest an unusual personal relationship, legal sources said.
FBI laboratory officials announced last November for the first time that DNA profiles can prove with reasonable scientific certainty whether DNA evidence in a stain comes from a specific person.
The lab’s announcement of this “major breakthrough” noted that DNA molecules in cells contain the genetic “blueprint” of an individual. Unless the person has an identical twin, the DNA blueprint is considered unique.
It could not be determined if Starr’s investigators had yet asked for a DNA sample--such as skin, blood or hair--from the president, who has agreed to testify Aug. 17 in a videotaped session at the White House that will be presented to the grand jury. Targets of criminal investigations are legally compelled to provide physical evidence. Clinton is expected to provide such a sample voluntarily.
Lewinsky was questioned privately by Starr’s lawyers Thursday for a second consecutive day. She is expected to be called before the grand jury next week before Clinton’s own testimony.
Asked about the dress late Thursday, White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry told The Times: “We’re not going to comment on evidence or rumors of evidence.”
Asked if Starr had requested a sample of blood, tissue or hair from the president, McCurry said: “I don’t know.” But he added that he would “not necessarily” be informed of this.
At the U.S. Courthouse here, meanwhile, several Secret Service witnesses continued their testimony in the case.
Mike Leibig, an attorney representing some of the men, said that Starr again was using two grand juries simultaneously in an effort to speed up his six-month-long inquiry.
Times staff writers Elizabeth Shogren and Erin Trodden contributed to this story.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
The FBI will test a dress provided by Monica S. Lewinsky for traces of genetic material, sources familiar with the case said Thursday.
How the Testing Works
* DNA is recovered from small amounts of hair, skin, tissue, blood or other bodily fluids.
* Restriction enzymes are used to cut the DNA at specific places. The DNA pieces are placed in a gel, then sorted according to size.
* DNA pieces adhere to a nylon sheet placed on the gel.
* Radioactive colored probes are added to the nylon sheet.
* Each probe will bind to matching DNA sequences at different places on the nylon sheet, creating a “fingerprint” that looks like a bar code.