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Friday February 6, 1998

Best News Story of The Week:

Aide Said to Give Evidence
to Starr in Clinton Inquiry

Jeff Gerth, Stephen Labaton and Don Van Natta Jr. New York Times

WASHINGTON - President Clinton's personal secretary has told investigators that Clinton called her into his office last month and led her through an account of his relationship with Monica S. Lewinsky that differs in one critical aspect from her own recollections, according to lawyers familiar with her account.

The secretary, Betty Currie, has also retrieved and turned over to investigators several gifts -- a dress, a brooch, and a hat pin -- that the president had given to Lewinsky, the lawyers said.

Currie, who sits outside the president's office, said the meeting with the president last month occurred the day after he gave a deposition in the Paula Corbin Jones case. In that deposition, Clinton denied that he had had a sexual relationship with Lewinsky.

Currie, has told investigators the president asserted in that January meeting with her that he had never been alone with Lewinsky and that he had resisted her sexual advances, the lawyers said.

The lawyers also said Currie had recalled that the president characterized his relationship with Lewinsky by asking a series of leading questions, such as: We were never alone, right?

Currie has told investigators that the president and Lewinsky were sometimes alone, the lawyers said.

The gifts Currie retrieved from Lewinsky are among several pieces of new evidence that Currie has provided to investigators, who are trying to determine whether the president tried to hide aspects of his relationship with Lewinsky.

The gifts became an issue in December, when lawyers for Jones issued a subpoena demanding that Lewinsky surrender any gifts she had received from the president.

According to Lewinsky's account, given by her lawyers to the independent counsel, she discussed the subpoena with Clinton and he told her if she did not have the gifts, she would not have to turn them over, according to lawyers familiar with the account provided by Lewinsky to the Whitewater independent counsel.

Soon after that conversation, Currie collected the items from Lewinsky. It is not clear who, if anyone, instructed Currie to retrieve the gifts from Lewinsky or whether Currie knew they had been subpoenaed by Jones"s lawyers.

Two weeks ago, Currie turned over a box of gifts to investigators working for the independent counsel, Kenneth W. Starr.

Currie has been extensively interviewed by agents and prosecutors from Starr"s office.

Starr has been investigating whether Clinton lied about his relationship with Lewinsky, a 24-year-old former White House intern, or encouraged her or others to lie, too.

Currie, who authorized many of the 37 White House visits for which Lewinsky received clearance after she left to work at the Pentagon, has told investigators that she does not know whether Lewinsky and president Clinton had a sexual relationship, the lawyers said.

Clinton has repeatedly denied, and did so again today, that he had 'sexual relations' with Lewinsky and has said he never encouraged anyone to lie.

A White house spokesman said tonight: 'For the past few weeks we've been subjected to false leaks designed to mislead both reporters and the American public. We're not going to dignify the latest false leak with a response.'

On Jan. 17, a Saturday, Clinton testified under oath in the Jones lawsuit for six hours. According to a lawyer who has reviewed the president"s testimony, Clinton said that he could not specifically recall being alone with Lewinsky but that if they had been alone, the encounters involved only brief contacts involving official business. After the testimony, Clinton returned to The White House. He canceled plans to go out to dinner with his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton.

According to the account provided by Currie, the lawyers said, the president called her Saturday night and summoned her to work at the White House the next day. It was there, Currie told the investigators, that she had a private meeting with Clinton in which she listened as he posed and then answered a series of questions about his relationship with Lewinsky.

Currie's lawyer, Lawrence Wechsler, released a one sentence statement tonight: 'Without commenting on the allegations raised in this article, to the extent that there is any implication or suggestion that Currie was aware of any legal or ethical impropriety by anyone, that implication or suggestion is entirely inaccurate.'

Reached by telephone at her home in Arlington, Va., Currie declined to comment tonight, saying, 'You've already talked to my lawyer.'

Currie has already emerged as a central figure in the inquiry. Vernon E. Jordan Jr., the presidential confidant who helped Lewinsky get a lawyer and find a job, has said that Lewinsky was "referred" to him by Currie.

The possibility that Currie, 58, might be helping investigators has been a subject of anxiety for the White House for weeks, Administration officials said.

Currie was absent from work in the days after the story erupted last month, and in that time she was secretly meeting with Starr"s investigators, lawyers familiar with the inquiry said. She has since returned to work and was at her desk outside Clinton's office today, a White House spokesman said.

Lawyers say Currie's meetings two weeks ago with investigators were a moment of deep anguish for the longtime Democratic loyalist, who worked in the 1992 Clinton presidential campaign. Colleagues describe her as a deeply religious woman. Lawyers familiar with the inquiry say Currie appeared to be a reluctant but truthful witness who felt torn between her devotion to her boss and an obligation to tell what she knew to Starr, whom the White House has characterized as a right-wing zealot intent on destroying the Clintons.

On Jan. 27, Currie appeared before the Washington grand jury investigating the case. What she said remains a secret. Federal rules generally bar anyone except the witness from disclosing grand jury testimony until it is released in court.

Lawyers for Lewinsky, in their latest proposed testimony to Starr, have provided her account of how the gifts wound up in the possession of Currie. This proposed testimony is consistent with Currie's version on several points, according to lawyers familiar with the inquiry.

Lewinsky became a White House intern in the summer of 1995. An associate of Lewinsky and others familiar with her account say she has acknowledged in her proffers that she had a sexual relationship with the president from 1995 to 1997.

At the end of 1995, she took a job in the White House legislative affairs office. In April of 1996, Lewinsky was transferred to the Pentagon after White House aides became concerned about her habit of turning up at presidential events and ceremonies to which she was not invited.

In the summer of 1997, Lewinsky began confiding to a friend, Linda R. Tripp, about what she described as an affair with the president. Tripp taped some of these conversations without Lewinsky's knowledge.

By the fall, Lewinsky had begun looking for a job in New York with the assistance of Currie. In October, Currie asked a deputy White House chief of staff, John D. Podesta, to help Lewinsky find a job in New York, where Lewinsky's mother lives, said an associate of Currie"s.

On an official trip to South America, Podesta asked the chief United States delegate to the United Nations, Bill Richardson, whether he could find work for 'a friend' of Currie. By the end of October, Richardson and two aides met with Lewinsky at the Watergate apartment complex, where they offered her a job. She turned it down.

DEC. 5.
Lawyers for Jones notified Clinton's lawyer that Lewinsky was a possible witness in the case. A few days later, Jordan, a Washington insider who serves on the corporate boards of Revlon and American Express, began looking for a job for Lewinsky. In his only statement on the matter, Jordan has said the former intern was "referred" to him by Currie. He did not elaborate and declined to answer any questions.

DEC 17.
Lawyers for Jones issued a subpoena to Lewinsky that demanded her testimony and any gifts she might have received from Clinton. It is not clear what the lawyers for Jones knew about the relationship.

After the subpoena was issued, Lewinsky and Clinton had several conversations and at least one private meeting in the White House, said an associate of Lewinsky.

At that session, according to Lewinsky"s version of events, Clinton told her that if she were in New York, she might be able to avoid testifying in the Jones lawsuit. Clinton also reportedly told her she could explain her visits to the White House as trips to see Currie.

In a conversation with Clinton in December, Lewinsky warned the president that the lawyers for Jones were aggressively pursuing details of their relationship, including any gifts that they had exchanged. It was at this time, according to Lewinsky"s account, that Clinton noted that she could avoid turning over the gifts if she no longer had them.

There have been numerous reports about Clinton's gifts to Lewinsky.

After the story erupted three weeks ago, Lewinsky was quoted as having told Tripp on tape that Clinton gave her a dress.

When Federal agents searched Lewinsky's Watergate apartment for any gifts or other evidence, her lawyer, William H. Ginsburg, said that no such dress had been found. Ginsburg said other inconsequential items, like a book of poetry signed by the president, had been seized by the agents.

JAN. 7.
Lewinsky signs an affidavit denying that she had a sexual relationship with Clinton. Efforts to land her a job by Jordan reach fruition over the next several days with employment offered to her by Revlon in New York.

JAN. 17.
After years of legal skirmishing, the lawyers for Jones finally had their chance to question Clinton. In a six-hour, secret session, Clinton's lawyers tried to block questioning about Lewinsky, citing her affidavit, according to people involved in the deposition.

The effort failed. A Federal judge allowed some questions to be asked about Lewinsky. He denied that he had had sex with her. Asked if he had given her gifts, he replied that perhaps he had done so, but only ordinary White House souvenirs, said a lawyer who has read the president"s deposition. Clinton also said he could not recall being alone with Lewinsky, though he might have done so in conducting official business.

That evening, a report on the internet said Newsweek had declined to publish a story it was preparing on an affair between the president and a former White House intern.

It is not known whether Clinton was aware of the report. That evening, he canceled a dinner outside the White House with the First Lady. Currie has told investigators, lawyers said, that the president called her and asked her to meet him at the office the following day.

JAN. 18.
Currie met Clinton at the White House, according to lawyers familiar with her account. They said Currie recalled that president had asked a series of questions to which he supplied the answers.

The lawyers paraphrased the president's remarks about Lewinsky as being along these lines: We were never alone together, right? Clinton also asserted to Currie that he resisted the former intern"s advances, Currie has told investigators.

JAN. 21.
News organizations report that Starr is investigating whether Jordan and the president took improper steps to hinder the lawsuit brought by Jones. The focus is on Lewinsky's affidavit denying the sexual relationship and her job offer from Revlon, which is retracted shortly after the story breaks.

For the next several days, Currie was not at her desk in the White House, prompting concerns about whether she had been contacted by Starr"s investigators, an Administration official said.

In fact, Currie was talking.

She provided investigators with the box of gifts and recounted some of Clinton's remarks about Lewinsky.

After missing several days of work, she returned to her desk at the White House, where she was warmly embraced by colleagues.

Copyright 1998 The New York Times Company


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