Testimony by Lewinsky complicates Clinton's task President considering addressing nation after grand jury appearance

August 15, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton has virtually cleared his calendar this weekend to prepare for his grand jury testimony in the Monica Lewinsky investigation on Monday afternoon. But he will not decide whether to give a public address to the country until he finishes answering prosecutors' questions on closed-circuit television, White House officials said yesterday.

Clinton's lead private attorney, David Kendall, has complained that Clinton has spent almost no time preparing for the grand jury session, a White House spokesman said.

As the president began to focus on his testimony, new details of Lewinsky's grand jury testimony emerged yesterday that could complicate Clinton's predicament. Lewinsky, a 25-year-old former White House intern, told jurors last week that she had performed sex orally and manually on the president on several occasions, said lawyers familiar with her testimony.

Clinton and his lawyers have been seeking to craft a response to questions about his relationship with Lewinsky that will not leave him vulnerable to a perjury charge stemming from his earlier denials, some of his advisers said. That strategy depends on a relatively narrow definition of sexual relations approved by the judge in the Paula Corbin Jones sexual misconduct lawsuit.

That definition said that a person engages in sexual relations when that person "knowingly engages in or causes contact with the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh or buttocks of any person with an intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person."

If Clinton were to argue that he believed whatever behavior occurred between him and Lewinsky did not fit that definition, senior advisers said it would likely be on the basis that he did not touch those parts of her body. The president's advisers believe the definition may not cover oral sex performed by one party.

Some of the president's advisers say they have also discussed an approach that would limit the potential damage of the testimony by having the president decline to answer some questions that may be put to him by prosecutors about the specifics of any intimate contact with Lewinsky, citing privacy concerns.

One adviser familiar with the deliberations said that Clinton and his advisers have considered the feasibility of "going only so far and then drawing a line" when asked to detail his relations with Lewinsky. That person, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said that in this scenario, Clinton would admit to the grand jury on Monday that he engaged in a sexual relationship with Lewinsky.

But Clinton might demur about some specifics while arguing that he believed the specific conduct did not fit the definition of sexual relations that he was given on Jan. 17 when he testified that he had not engaged in such conduct.

Even if Clinton can explain the nature of any physical relationship with Lewinsky, he still faces questions about possible obstruction of justice arising from the disposition of gifts he gave her and efforts to find her a job after she was subpoenaed to testify in the Jones lawsuit.

Clinton's testimony will be taken on Monday beginning at 1 p.m. in the Map Room on the ground floor of the White House, a room where he has given depositions in other Whitewater-related cases and that he used for dozens of fund-raising coffees in 1995 and 1996.

He will be questioned by prosecutors from the office of Kenneth W. Starr, the Whitewater independent counsel conducting the Lewinsky investigation. In a rare concession negotiated by Clinton's lawyers, the president will be allowed to have his lawyers by his side. Accompanying Clinton will be Kendall; Nicole Seligman, a partner of Kendall; and Charles Ruff, the White House counsel. Ordinarily, grand jury witnesses are not permitted to have their lawyers in the room with them.

Kendall and Starr negotiated the terms of the testimony, including its length. It was agreed that the president would complete his testimony on Monday afternoon, making himself available for about three to four hours of questioning. But Mike McCurry, the White House spokesman, said that such sessions often run long and there is "no way of predicting when it will end."

The session will be transmitted live to the grand jury room on the third floor of the federal courthouse 10 blocks from the White House, where 23 private citizens have heard seven months of testimony on the Lewinsky matter.

McCurry said that the testimony would be transmitted by a "one-way live feed," implying that grand jurors would not have the opportunity to question the president, as they have previous witnesses.

McCurry said that the session would also be videotaped and that he presumed the tape would be the property of the grand jury, not the White House. The White House Communications Agency, a military unit that handles the president's secure communication and audiovisual needs, will provide the cameras, cables and personnel for the testimony.

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