Lewinsky's dress to get a DNA test FBI to check clothing for possible evidence of sex with Clinton

Democrats getting nervous

Fears arise that report by Starr could harm '98 election campaigns

July 31, 1998|By Jonathan Weisman and Paul West | Jonathan Weisman and Paul West,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The office of independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr has submitted a dress owned by Monica Lewinsky to the FBI for testing to see if it contains evidence that would back up her assertion that she had a sexual relationship with President Clinton.

"We have the dress in our possession," an FBI spokeswoman said last night. "That is all we have to say at this time."

The dress, which investigators had reportedly been seeking for months, was turned over to Starr's office this week as part of negotiations to grant Lewinsky and her mother immunity from prosecution. Lewinsky was reported to have shipped the dress to her mother for safekeeping.

The three major television networks, the New York Times and Knight Ridder/ Tribune reported last night that Lewinsky had told Starr's office that the dress might be stained with semen, which could be identified using DNA analysis.

Besides the dress, Lewinsky is also reported to have turned over several taped telephone messages left for her by the president on her answering machine.

The Times reported that the messages were innocuous, according to a lawyer who has heard them. In one, just before Christmas last year, the president told Lewinsky that the brother of his private secretary, Betty Currie, had died. In another, Clinton said, "Hey, it's me. Sorry I missed you."

Clinton has said all along -- and swore under oath in the Paula Corbin Jones sexual misconduct case -- that he had had no sexual relationship with the former White House intern. Lewinsky reportedly told prosecutors this week that she and the president had a sexual relationship.

Starr is investigating whether the president committed perjury in denying any sexual relationship.

Rumors of such a dress surfaced months ago but were denied by William Ginsburg, then Lewinsky's lawyer. In January, ABC News reported that Lewinsky saved the dress as a sort of souvenir.

Lucianne Goldberg, a confidant of Lewinsky's former friend Linda R. Tripp, said later that she had been the source of that report and that she had received the information from Tripp, the Howard County woman who secretly taped conversations with Lewinsky.

Lewinsky and her lawyers met with members of Starr's staff yesterday to prepare her grand jury testimony.

Meanwhile, congressional Democrats began to express signs of nervousness over the Lewinsky matter. They fear that damaging evidence against Clinton could emerge at the height of their election campaigns.

An NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found this week that 45 percent of Americans surveyed believe that if Starr concludes that Clinton committed perjury by denying he had sex with Lewinsky, that would justify impeachment hearings in Congress. The figure is up from 39 percent who agreed with the statement in a similar poll conducted in June. About 51 percent of those polled believe that lying about sex would not warrant impeachment hearings, down from 57 percent in June.

But other surveys suggested that the public is less inclined to judge Clinton harshly now than immediately after the scandal broke. An ABC News poll Wednesday night found that 39 percent of those surveyed said Clinton should be impeached if he lied under oath, down 16 percentage points from a similar poll conducted in late January.

As Starr moves closer to preparing a report to Congress, both parties understand that the political winds could shift quickly.

"Right now, this is a nonissue for me," said Rep. Ted Strickland, an Ohio Democrat who narrowly lost his seat in 1994, only to eke out victory in 1996. "But I know if Ken Starr presents his report, and if the report talks about impeachable offenses, there could be a real change. It could change dramatically between now and the election in a way that could be seriously harmful."

Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, a senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said Southern Democrats in socially conservative districts are beginning to worry that the Lewinsky matter is working against them.

Vulnerable candidates fear the issue is dominating press coverage and hampering their ability to show constituents the work they are doing in Washington.

The case "really takes away from the real work we're trying to do up here," said Rep. Jay Johnson, a first-term Democrat from a Republican-leaning district in Wisconsin that is reeling from low farm prices.

Democratic pollsters insisted yesterday that candidates are more concerned about Lewinsky than are voters. The pollsters say the public is weary of the matter and largely disconnected from Washington politics.

"Throughout this episode, the level of concern on Capitol Hill has outweighed any real damage by 100-to-1," said Mark Mellman, a pollster for several Democratic congressional candidates. "But politicians by constitution are nervous people. They abhor uncertainty."

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