President 'confident' on testimony Clinton likely to admit to sexual liaison, deny perjury or obstruction

'The truth is the truth'

Lewinsky grand jury to hear testimony via closed circuit today

August 17, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- The president's senior advisers secured late yesterday his agreement to acknowledge to a federal grand jury today that he engaged in an inappropriate physical relationship with Monica Lewinsky, but he will deny that he counseled her or anyone else to lie about their relationship, said an adviser familiar with the preparations for Clinton's testimony.

The president will assert that he did not commit perjury in a sworn deposition in the Paula Corbin Jones sexual misconduct lawsuit when he denied having "sexual relations" or an "affair" with Lewinsky, the adviser said.

The adviser cautioned that Clinton could change his strategy at the last minute.

But prosecutors are seeking more than a presidential admission of extramarital sexual activity, said lawyers in the case. Prosecutors from the office of the Whitewater independent counsel, Kenneth W. Starr, have spent the past seven months investigating whether Clinton engaged in obstruction of justice, subornation of perjury or witness tampering.

The president is expected to face detailed questions on those allegations based on testimony from dozens of grand jury witnesses, said the lawyers. Nothing could be learned yesterday about how Clinton intends to answer those questions, but he has denied any effort to silence witnesses or otherwise impede the investigation.

Clinton is considering a brief address to the nation after his grand jury testimony, said a senior White House official. Such a statement likely would come at 9 p.m. or later and be broadcast from the White House residence rather than the Oval Office, the official said. The official said Clinton will not decide whether to speak publicly until after his testimony.

The president's approach to his grand jury appearance emerged at the end of a weekend of painstaking preparations for his testimony today, which could determine his political destiny.

He took a late-morning break from consultations with his lawyers to attend church with his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton. Their daughter, Chelsea, did not accompany them. Clinton, clutching a Bible in one hand and Mrs. Clinton's hand in the other, waved to onlookers as he entered Foundry United Methodist Church near the White House. Neither of the Clintons spoke to reporters.

The only official word from the group cloistered with the president was a four-sentence statement from Clinton's lead private attorney, David Kendall, who attempted to hold back a flood of what he called "groundless speculation" about today's testimony.

"The truth is the truth, period," Kendall said. "And that's how the president will testify."

A White House official said the president was "confident" and fully prepared for today's appearance. "He knows exactly what he is going to say, which is the truth," the official said.

Clinton and his lawyers have spent seven months throwing up barriers in the form of privilege claims and rebuffing requests from Starr that Clinton appear voluntarily for questioning.

But beginning at 1 p.m. in the White House Map Room, the president will be confronted by a team of experienced prosecutors armed with testimony and documents from scores of witnesses, from the lead agent of Clinton's Secret Service detail to the steward who brings Clinton his Diet Cokes.

He will become the first sitting president to appear before a criminal grand jury investigating his actions. He agreed to testify only after Starr issued a subpoena on July 17 compelling his appearance, although the subpoena was withdrawn 10 days later when Clinton agreed to "voluntarily" appear on a closed-circuit television link to the grand jury room in the federal courthouse here.

Speculation about how Clinton will deal with questions about an alleged sexual affair with Lewinsky has consumed Washington for days. But Starr's prosecutors are expected to pursue other lines of inquiry today that go beyond Clinton's sexual behavior and into areas that they believe point to allegations of more serious offenses.

Lewinsky became the center of Starr's inquiry not because the independent counsel was embarked on an examination of the president's sex life, lawyers involved in the inquiry said, but because her story appeared to fit a pattern of denial and obstruction that Starr had seen in four years of investigating the Whitewater case.

Over the past several weeks, prosecutors have been preparing detailed questions about the president's numerous White House meetings with Lewinsky, his advice to her on how to testify in the Jones lawsuit and whether the two of them discussed ways to conceal evidence of their relationship from Jones' attorneys.

Prosecutors say they were particularly struck by efforts made by Clinton, his secretary, Betty Currie, and Vernon Jordan, a prominent Washington lawyer and close confidant of the president's, to find employment for Lewinsky after she had been subpoenaed to appear in the Jones lawsuit.

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