Secretary to Clinton emerges as key figure Currie handles calls and correspondence, serves as gatekeeper

January 23, 1998|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- A little-known office secretary whose job places her within earshot of President Clinton has emerged as a central figure in the allegations surrounding Monica Lewinsky, a former White House intern.

As personal secretary to the president, Betty W. Currie handles his calls and correspondence from a desk in the West Wing just a few feet from Clinton, where she serves as a gatekeeper to the Oval Office.

Currie, 57, is described by several colleagues as a "motherly" figure around the White House, someone protective of the president as well as of the aides -- high-ranking or low -- who work there. An African-American who grew up in suburban Chicago, she once counted a brief meeting with South Africa's Nelson Mandela as among her greatest honors since working in the White House.

She was hired there after working in the 1992 Clinton presidential campaign, where she logged long hours as the office manager in the famed Little Rock "war room" that served as the campaign's nerve center. She began volunteering for Democratic presidential campaigns in 1984 after retiring as an executive secretary with the federal government.

By all accounts, she is personally close to both Clintons, whom she comforted when each lost a parent during the first term.

Clinton has helped her grieve through personal loss as well. Last summer, on his way to deliver the commencement address at Chelsea Clinton's school, the president attended memorial services for Currie's sister Iris.

In December, Clinton was at her side at the funeral of her brother, Theodore R. Williams Jr., who was killed in a car accident. They shared a hymnal and sang "Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross" during the services at Metropolitan Baptist Church.

"Whenever I've had a bad day, I can always go to Betty for an uplifting word or a pat on the back, or even a hug if I need one," said Lanny J. Davis, a White House counsel and the president's chief spokesman on ethics matters. "She is a decent, kind-hearted person."

Currie's soft touch extends to the first family's cat, Socks. Currie keeps a kitty bed in her office so the cat can sun himself in a window and look out on the Rose Garden.

But it was her role in the matter of Monica Lewinsky that has landed Currie in the midst of the latest allegations of sexual misconduct swirling around Clinton.

White House officials confirmed yesterday that Secret Service records show Lewinsky was cleared into the White House by Currie numerous times after Lewinsky left the White House for a Pentagon job.

Yesterday, Clinton's friend and confidant Vernon E. Jordan Jr. broke his silence to adamantly dispute allegations that Clinton and Jordan induced Lewinsky to lie in an affidavit in which she denied having sex with the president.

Jordan conceded, however, that he helped Lewinsky find a lawyer and had escorted her to the lawyer's office himself. He also said that he had tried to find a job for Lewinsky at American Express and at the Revlon Co., on whose board of directors Jordan serves.

"I was pleased to be helpful to Ms. Lewinsky, whose drive, ambition and personality were impressive," Jordan said. "Ms. Lewinsky was referred to me by Ms. Betty Currie, a secretary to the president."

Lewinsky was also given the kind of high-level attention rare for a low-level aide by Bill Richardson, whom Clinton appointed as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Richardson and Lewinsky met for a breakfast interview at the Watergate hotel to discuss a possible job for her at the U.N. mission in New York. She was referred to Richardson by John Podesta, a deputy White House chief of staff who said he had done so on a request from Currie, sources said.

One official said Podesta forgot Lewinsky's name while talking to dTC Richardson, but that Currie, helpful as always, forwarded the former intern's resume to the ambassador.

Pub Date: 1/23/98

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