Clinton deposition is made public 146 of 215 pages reveal his words verbatim in response to allegations

March 14, 1998|By Carl M. Cannon | Carl M. Cannon,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Two months ago, in an extraordinary scene here, President Clinton submitted to a six-hour interview under oath in Paula Corbin Jones' sexual misconduct lawsuit.

Yesterday, 146 pages of the president's 215-page deposition were made public in a court filing by Jones' lawyers. Though the transcript is couched in the dry language of civil litigation, the tension and the high political stakes are palpable.

For the first time, the president is on the record responding to questions not just about Paula Jones, but about a host of women he is accused of having sexual contact with, including Gennifer Flowers, Kathleen Willey and, most of all, Monica Lewinsky.

Much of what it is in Clinton's deposition has been reported. But the transcript for the first time lays out Clinton's own words verbatim, words that will be scrutinized by voters, historians -- and by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, who is probing the issue of possible perjury by the president.

Yesterday's excerpts begin on Page 48 of the deposition, with a question from one of Jones' attorneys, James A. Fisher:

"Now, do you know a woman named Monica Lewinsky?"

"I do," Clinton reponds.

Fisher then asks the president 99 questions about Lewinsky. He tries to zero in on when they were alone together, whether they had sex, whether the president bought her gifts or paid her money -- and what steps Clinton might have taken, along with his friend Vernon Jordan, to get her a job.

Clinton never acknowledges any untoward behavior toward Lewinsky. He flatly swears they never had sex. As to the question he has repeatedly refused to answer in the past seven weeks -- if he and Lewinsky never had sex, what was the nature of the relationship between a 50-ish president and a 21-year-old intern -- Clinton was never asked.

It has been reported that Clinton and his lawyer, Robert S. Bennett, were perplexed by how much time Jones' lawyers spent asking Clinton about Lewinsky -- and this surprise comes across in the transcript. As far as the Clinton side knew, Lewinsky had simply provided an affidavit denying ever having had sex with the president.

Bennett makes this point to U.S. District Court Judge Susan Webber Wright, presiding over the deposition, and uses it to question the "good faith" of Fisher.

Wright rebukes Bennett, replying that she must assume that Fisher, as "an officer of the court," is acting in good faith. She allows the questioning to continue.

Unbeknown to Bennett and Clinton, Jones' lawyers had been briefed the night before by Linda R. Tripp, the woman who secretly tape-recorded Lewinsky's assertions that she had a sexual relationship with the president. And, on Page 75, Clinton seems to concede that Fisher knows something, and even tries to elicit what Jones' lawyers know.

"Have you ever given any gifts to Monica Lewinsky?" Fisher asks.

"I don't recall," replies the president. "Do you know what they were?"

Fisher then goes on to ask Clinton about a hat pin, a book of poetry by Walt Whitman, a gold broach and some items from The Black Dog, a novelty store on Martha's Vineyard. Clinton denies only the gold broach.

Regarding the other gifts, Clinton either says he might have given them to Lewinsky or he can't recall. Expressing uncertainty is a formulation Clinton employs repeatedly. In discussing Willey, the president says the words "I don't know" 11 times and "I don't remember" 10 times. He uses several other such phrases, such as "I'm not sure" or "Not to my knowledge" 21 more times.

But Clinton doesn't equivocate or grandstand when asked about the issue at the heart of the lawsuit: Did he make unwanted sexual advances?

Jones has said under oath that in May 1991, Clinton had her summoned by a state trooper to a hotel room, where he dropped his pants and asked her to perform a sex act.

Willey, a 51-year-old former White House volunteer, testified that when she went into the Oval Office to ask Clinton for a job in 1993, he suddenly kissed her on the lips, touched her breast and put her hand on his genitals.

The president denied both women's accounts emphatically, +V adding that he would never have done to any woman what they alleged.

Unwanted advances was the first line of questioning pursued by Jones' lawyers. The second was whether Clinton used state or federal jobs to reward women who had sex with him -- or those who helped him keep affairs quiet.

At least two women identified by Jones' lawyers have themselves denied any sexual affair with Clinton. But one woman suspected of being part of this pattern doesn't deny it. The exception is Gennifer Flowers, who in 1992 alleged a 12-year love affair with Clinton that he denied.

In an answer to a question from Fisher, Clinton says he did have sex with Flowers -- but only once, in 1977.

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