Starr turns to key witness Grand jury to hear Lewinsky's testimony on ties with Clinton

Courthouse security tight

President welcomed warmly by full caucus of House Democrats

August 06, 1998|By Susan Baer and Jonathan Weisman | Susan Baer and Jonathan Weisman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- In a day that independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr has been building toward for more than half a year, Monica Lewinsky is expected to make her long-anticipated appearance before a federal grand jury today to answer questions about her relationship with President Clinton.

Lewinsky, the former White House intern at the heart of the sex and cover-up scandal that has rocked the White House since January, is expected to say that she did have a sexual relationship with Clinton, contrary to the president's denial of such a relationship in a sworn deposition.

The president, meanwhile, paid a visit yesterday to Capitol Hill, where, for the first time since the scandal broke, he met behind closed doors with the full caucus of House Democrats, who welcomed him warmly. In a meeting to discuss political and legislative strategies, Clinton was greeted by raucous, sustained applause. There was no mention of the scandal.

Though they are quietly nervous about the matter, most Democrats have made the political calculation that it is more beneficial for them to stand by a popular president -- especially one who serves as a potent fund-raiser -- than to distance themselves from him three months before congressional elections.

In a deal worked out last week, Lewinsky was granted full immunity from prosecution in exchange for her cooperation with Starr. Starr is investigating whether Clinton lied in denying under oath a sexual relationship with Lewinsky, and whether he or anyone else encouraged Lewinsky to lie or tried to cover up the relationship.

While Starr often makes last-minute changes in his grand jury schedule that could result in Lewinsky's appearance's being delayed beyond today, preparations were made yesterday at the federal courthouse for heightened security in anticipation of the star witness.

Clinton himself is scheduled to testify before the grand jury -- by closed-circuit TV from the White House -- on Aug. 17, and is spending time nearly every day preparing for the session with his private lawyers David E. Kendall and Nicole K. Seligman.

There was much activity yesterday at the federal courthouse, where two grand juries -- and the judge in charge of the Lewinsky matter -- met with witnesses.

Lanny Breuer, a White House lawyer and damage control strategist, returned to a secret proceeding in the courtroom of Judge Norma Holloway Johnson to discuss his refusal to answer certain questions during grand jury questioning Tuesday. Breuer left after a short time, and did not return to the grand jury.

Breuer's resistance could spark a new attorney-client privilege battle between the White House and Starr.

With Johnson, a federal appeals court and Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist all refusing to block the testimony of the president's government lawyers, Starr is expected soon to call Bruce R. Lindsey, another White House lawyer and close Clinton confidant, back to the courthouse. The White House plans to pursue a further appeal to the Supreme Court in the fall.

Also yesterday, Harold Ickes, a former deputy chief of staff, testified before one grand jury, while five Secret Service agents went before a separate panel.

Barry Toiv, a Clinton spokesman, sought to play down the significance of Lewinsky's testimony, though it is expected to contradict Clinton's word. "We have no view on it," Toiv told reporters.

In January, Lewinsky signed a sworn affidavit in the now-dismissed Paula Corbin Jones sexual misconduct case in which she denied a sexual relationship with Clinton. But her former friend Linda R. Tripp secretly taped phone conversations in which Lewinsky described a sexual relationship with the president. Tripp turned the tapes over to Starr.

In exchange for immunity from prosecution, Lewinsky is expected to tell the grand jury that she and Clinton did, in fact, have a sexual relationship and that, though Clinton didn't tell her to lie, they discussed ways to conceal the relationship. She is also expected to testify that the two of them agreed that she would return gifts that Clinton had given her to his secretary, Betty Currie.

Also as part of her immunity deal, Lewinsky last week turned over to Starr a dress that she reportedly told prosecutors contained evidence of a sexual encounter with Clinton. The results of the FBI's initial tests on the dress are not yet known.

In the midst of the Lewinsky crisis, Clinton appreciated the warm reception he found on Capitol Hill, Toiv said.

While Democrats need the president for fund-raising and to rally the party faithful, Clinton, for his part, needs the support of Democrats in Congress in the event of impeachment hearings. What's more, if the Democrats should win control of the House in the fall, the prospects of impeachment hearings dim considerably and perhaps disappear.

Yesterday, Democrats preferred to steer clear of the scandal, saying it drowned out the issues they have sought to focus on, such as Social Security, a growing farm crisis, health care and education.

"Whether you're a Republican or a Democrat, no one wants to hear about it anymore," said Rep. Ron Klink of Pennsylvania. "If we don't let ourselves get distracted by it, we won't be distracted by it."

Rep. Elijah E. Cummings of Baltimore said he and many of his colleagues were in a "wait and see" mode.

"We're on hold," Cummings said. "We'll see what happens. I really think Aug. 17 will tell a lot."

On a related front, Maryland state prosecutor Stephen Montanarelli, who has begun an investigation into whether Tripp violated Maryland wiretap laws by secretly taping Lewinsky, is expected to bring his first witnesses before the Howard County grand jury today.

Pub Date: 8/06/98

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