WASHINGTON -- As the White House struggled yesterday to contain an escalating controversy, President Clinton's close friend Vernon E. Jordan Jr. insisted that former White House intern Monica Lewinsky had told him "in no uncertain terms" that she did not have a sexual relationship with Clinton.
Jordan, a high-powered Washington lawyer, also vehemently denied allegations that he and the president had instructed the young woman to lie under oath about any affair with the president.
"At no time did I ever say, suggest or intimate to her that she should lie," Jordan said in a statement he read at a session with reporters at which he took no questions.
Lewinsky, 24, had been scheduled to be deposed today in the sexual harassment case brought against Clinton by Paula Corbin Jones. But in a pivotal turn of events, a federal judge postponed Lewinsky's deposition indefinitely last night.
Earlier this month, Lewinsky provided the Jones team with a sworn statement in which she said she had never had a sexual relationship with Clinton.
But on 20 hours of audio tapes, made surreptitiously by a friend and administration colleague, Linda R. Tripp, Lewinsky detailed a 1 1/2 -year affair with the president and suggested that Clinton and Jordan had instructed her to deny the existence of the relationship if she was questioned about it under oath.
The postponement of her deposition gives Lewinsky more time to decide whether to stand by her earlier assertion in an affidavit that she did not have an affair, invoke her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination or seek immunity from prosecution for possible perjury if she changes her story.
If she decides to plead the Fifth, Kenneth W. Starr, the Whitewater independent counsel, could then seek immunity for Lewinsky. She would then be compelled to answer all of Starr's questions and provide his office with any relevant evidence against Clinton.
Just as he did Wednesday, the president yesterday denied both the affair and the allegation that he had urged Lewinsky to lie under oath about a sexual relationship.
"The allegations are false, and I would never ask anybody to do anything other than tell the truth," Clinton said during an Oval Office appearance with Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader. The president promised a fuller response to questions "at the appropriate time," after the White House turns materials over to Starr in response to a subpoena issued late Wednesday.
More details about the alleged episode, and the participants, emerged yesterday:
In his deposition last Saturday in the Jones case, Clinton admitted for the first time that he had had a sexual relationship with Gennifer Flowers, according to news reports.
In the past, Clinton has denied Flowers' assertion, made during the 1992 presidential campaign, that she had had a 12-year affair with Clinton. "That allegation is false," Clinton said about Flowers' claim in his famed "60 Minutes" appearance in 1992.
The president's response at the time was sufficiently narrow and evasive as to leave the impression of a blanket denial, while technically disputing only Flowers' specific assertion that they had engaged in a 12-year affair.
And, in fact, Clinton's spokesman, Mike McCurry, said yesterday that the president's statements to the American people in 1992 and his statements under oath last week were not inconsistent.
"The president knows that he told the truth in 1992 when he was asked about that relationship, and he knows that he testified truthfully on Saturday, and he knows his answers are not at odds," McCurry said at a White House briefing, where he was pressed about that seeming disparity.
Flowers, after hearing that Clinton had acknowledged the relationship, said yesterday: "I've been accused of a lot of things, but I knew I was telling the truth."
Also in his deposition Saturday, Clinton denied that he had had an affair with Lewinsky, but reportedly acknowledged giving her personal gifts, including a dress.
Asked yesterday whether Clinton made a habit of giving gifts to White House staffers, McCurry described the president as a "gift-giver," and said that he himself had received a parka and ties from Clinton in the past.
On one of 17 tapes that Tripp provided to the Starr, Lewinsky is heard telling Tripp that Clinton told her to deny the affair if asked about it by Jones' lawyers, according to CNN. On the tape, Lewinsky says Clinton told her, "There is no evidence, so you can deny, deny, deny," CNN reported.
The network also reported that the tapes contain a message left on Lewinsky's home answering machine from Clinton -- or, at least, someone who sounded like Clinton. The message said: "Oh shucks, I wish you were there. I want to talk."
Lewinsky recently gave Tripp a list of "talking points," Newsweek reported, about how Tripp should respond to questions by Jones' lawyers about another White House aide, Kathleen Willey. Willey testified in her own deposition about sexual advances made to her by Clinton in 1993.