Renewed trust, D.C. diplomacy led to Lewinsky's deal Ex-intern's new lawyers worked to build alliance with Clinton investigator

August 02, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- Disguised by a blond wig and sunglasses, Monica Lewinsky boarded a flight last Sunday in Los Angeles, beginning a 48-hour odyssey that transformed the legal and political dynamics of independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's four-year investigation of President Clinton.

The next day in New York, Lewinsky met secretly with the independent counsel's team at an East Side apartment belonging to Starr's mother-in-law. After a five-hour debriefing and a late-night drive to Washington, the former White House intern signed an immunity deal Tuesday that freed her from legal peril. It also led Clinton to agree to testify at the White House on Aug. 17.

Lewinsky, who turned 25 on July 23, has moved a step closer to a cherished goal. "For my birthday," Lewinsky had told her family, "I want my life back."

In fact, that morning, Lewinsky was told by her new lawyers, Jacob Stein and Plato Cacheris, that Starr had called, breaking weeks of silence and offering to reopen immunity discussions.

The story of Lewinsky's six-month journey from target to cooperating witness was culled from more than a dozen interviews last week with lawyers involved in the investigation and associates and friends of the former White House intern.

Bond with female lawyer

The Starr-Lewinsky alliance was put together by a cast of lawyers. Lewinsky found a trusted mentor in Sydney Hoffman, a 46-year-old lawyer in Cacheris' firm, who was able to establish a bond with her and then lead a critical round of questioning that bolstered Lewinsky's credibility with Starr's team. Sam Dash, the former Senate Watergate counsel who has advised Starr on ethics issues, also played a pivotal role.

Two of the most important players were the seasoned criminal defense lawyers, Stein, 73, and Cacheris, 69, who have represented Lewinsky since June 2. The two Washington insiders broke a six-month deadlock produced by bad blood and broken promises between Starr's prosecutors and Lewinsky's first lawyer, William Ginsburg.

The negotiations opened with an offer from Starr that Lewinsky would be "queen for a day," the legal profession's term for an opportunity for the former White House intern to tell her story to prosecutors, but with a promise that nothing she said could be used against her if Starr remained unsatisfied with the level of her cooperation and declined to grant immunity.

The standoff began developing in January, when Lewinsky was questioned for hours by FBI agents and lawyers working for Starr. They threatened to prosecute her for perjury by using her taped conversation with a colleague, Linda R. Tripp, about having an affair with Clinton -- a relationship that she had denied in sworn testimony in the Paula Jones sexual misconduct suit.

The lawyers and agents told Lewinsky that she could avoid prosecution if she secretly tape-recorded her conversations with Betty Currie, the president's personal secretary, and with Clinton himself. Lewinsky declined.

Starr wanted to hear of lies

To defend his client, Ginsburg submitted a proffer -- a statement of expected testimony -- for Lewinsky that confirmed a sexual relationship with the president, according to lawyers familiar with her account. But the proffer did not say that Clinton or his allies had encouraged Lewinsky to lie under oath in the Jones case. That account did not satisfy Starr.

Starr then turned to other matters, spending months in protracted court battles with the White House. Meanwhile, Ginsburg publicly characterized Starr as someone who may have "ravaged the life of a youngster." And the distrust between Ginsburg and Starr's office grew so deep that all communication ceased.

Lewinsky herself was instrumental in the decision to dismiss Ginsburg, said lawyers familiar with the decision.

She was also relying on advice from spokeswoman Judy Smith, hired with the help of her mother's lawyer, Billy Martin. Martin and Smith, who is also a lawyer, helped guide Lewinsky in the choice of Stein and Cacheris.

In late June, Smith asked Cacheris whether his firm had any female lawyers. It did: Hoffman, a former assistant U.S. attorney and the lawyer who became a mentor to Lewinsky.

Stein and Cacheris decided that it was time for diplomacy. They paid a courtesy visit to Starr, whom both men knew through Washington legal circles.

Stein talked in tough but measured terms with Starr. "I have one good trial left in me," Stein told him, "and I'm going to put it at Monica's disposal."

Those words sent a clear message to Starr's prosecutors: Lewinsky was prepared to fight an indictment.

Stein's remark also increased the pressure for Starr to work out a deal with Lewinsky. Starr knew that if Lewinsky was indicted, trial would likely delay his final report for a year or longer. On July 21, Starr called Stein and suggested a meeting. The next day, Stein and Cacheris met at the independent counsel's office with Starr and Dash. Afterward, Stein and Cacheris sent a proffer letter that outlined what Lewinsky was prepared to say under oath.

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