WASHINGTON SUN STAFF WRITER TOM BOWMAN CONTRIBUTED TO THIS ARTICLE. — WASHINGTON - Special prosecutor Kenneth W. Starr is reported to have rejected a written offer from Monica Lewinsky to testify against President Clinton in exchange for a grant of immunity from criminal prosecution.
The latest twist in the tortuous negotiations between the former White House intern who told a friend that she had sex with the president in the White House and the prosecutor who has been investigating Clinton for three years was reported last night by several news organizations.
It could not be learned whether this was Starr's final decision regarding immunity for Lewinsky, or a temporary stance intended to turn up pressure on her and other potential witnesses against Clinton.
News reports yesterday indicated that Starr's office has given Lewinsky's lawyers until the end of the week to make her available for questioning or have her face possible prosecution.
Starr's office decided that Lewinsky's written statement, which sought immunity in exchange for her co-
operation, was inconsistent, the Washington Post reported. In her statement, sources told the Post, Lewinsky said she had a sexual relationship with Clinton but did not make clear whether she had been encouraged to lie about it.
Meanwhile, Starr is pressing ahead with his grand jury investigation into the matter. Yesterday, his team of prosecutors rejected a White House request that they restrict their questioning of Clinton's senior aides, according to news reports.
That move sets up a potential confrontation over Clinton's right to shield certain conversations from scrutiny. The president's political and legal aides have discussed the possibility of claiming executive privilege to prevent Starr from forcing top advisers to testify about their discussions with the president on the Lewinsky matter.
Executive privilege is generally invoked under the rubric of protecting national security, but Mike McCurry, Clinton's spokesman, offered another reason yesterday: "the right of the president to get confidential advice from his advisers."
Among those whose potential testimony is under discussion are John Podesta, a deputy White House chief of staff who is scheduled to testify today, and Bruce Lindsey, a special counsel who is a longtime Clinton friend and confidant from Arkansas.
In recent days, Starr's investigation has focused on the physical layout of the White House and on Clinton's personal habits and activities. Yesterday, the independent prosecutor summoned before a federal grand jury two witnesses who see Clinton informally throughout his day.
One of them was a White House steward named Bayani Nelvis, a 50-year-old former master chief petty officer in the Navy who is attached to a West Wing kitchen pantry near the Oval Office. Another was Kris Engskov, an Arkansan in his mid-20s who came to the White House five years ago and is now Clinton's personal assistant, the person who typically spends more time with him during the day than anyone else.
Neither Engskov nor Nelvis could be reached for comment last night. In addition to Engskov and Nelvis, the Post reported that at least one other man identified as a White House valet also went before the grand jury yesterday.
White House officials found themselves fending off an unverified news report by the Wall Street Journal asserting that Nelvis told the grand jury that he had observed Clinton and Lewinsky alone together in a room next to the Oval Office.
This account was immediately and vociferously disputed by Nelvis' attorney.
Lewinsky, 24, is a former White House intern who, in secretly tape-recorded conversations, told her friend Linda R. Tripp that she had had a sexual affair with the president and that Clinton had encouraged her to keep quiet about it.
Those tapes were the basis upon which Starr's investigation
was expanded; the legal justification is his suspicion that the president may have committed perjury or encouraged others to do so in an effort to cover up the affair.
Clinton has strongly denied having sex with Lewinsky, and has insisted that he never asked anyone to lie for him. White House aides and Clinton loyalists have gone further, accusing Starr of conducting a partisan vendetta against the president by leaking inaccurate information to the media, unscrupulously squeezing witnesses like Lewinsky and embarking on an intrusive fishing ,, expedition to find out what White House staff members might know.
Yesterday, White House officials quietly but firmly warned reporters that the Wall Street Journal report on Nelvis, which appeared in the Journal's Internet edition, would not be the last word on the matter. And by early evening, Nelvis' attorney, Joseph T. Small Jr., had disputed the report in unusually blunt language.
"The Wall Street Journal report of Feb. 4, 1998, relating to the grand jury testimony of our client, Master Chief Bayani Nelvis, is absolutely false and irresponsible," Small said in a signed statement.