Clinton testified he wanted to hire back Lewinsky He thought her transfer from White House unfair, aides say he told jury

September 03, 1998|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- President Clinton told the grand jury investigating his relationship with Monica Lewinsky that he was troubled by her transfer out of the White House and discussed bringing her back last summer, according to people familiar with his testimony.

Clinton testified Aug. 17 that he spoke about his worries over Lewinsky's situation with Marsha Scott, a senior aide in the White House personnel office and a friend of his since high school, they said.

That discussion, in July 1997, is the first indication that Clinton took an interest in returning Lewinsky, a former intern, to the White House from the public affairs job at the Pentagon, where she was transferred against her wishes in April 1996. Clinton's apparent sympathy for Lewinsky is starkly at odds with the views of some White House staff members, who have said she had been shadowing or even stalking the president.

The president did not order Lewinsky's return and did not ask aides to give her favorable treatment, one adviser knowledgeable about his testimony said. And despite her own pleas to White House officials, Lewinsky did not receive a position there. Scott met with Lewinsky twice last summer to talk about her career, even though she was not responsible at the time for administration jobs outside the White House.

Lewinsky has told grand jurors that, as early as spring 1996, at the time she was transferred, Clinton assured her that he would bring her back to the White House after the election that November, an associate of Lewinsky said.

Clinton's allies and Kenneth W. Starr, the Whitewater independent counsel, have seized on Clinton's conversation with Scott for opposing purposes.

To the president's team, the talk is evidence that Clinton was concerned for the well-being of a woman he had been intimate with. They argue that if he was intent on buying her silence, he would have insisted that his aides rehire her.

But allies of Starr say that prosecutors view Clinton's interest in Lewinsky's return to the White House as a possible abuse of his office, a likely accusation in a report that Starr is preparing for Congress. They may also cite the conversation as an attempt by the president to obstruct justice by keeping Lewinsky mollified and silent about their relationship, the allies said.

To the prosecutors, the timing of the conversation is significant. Weeks before, on May 27, 1997, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Paula Corbin Jones' sexual misconduct suit could proceed against Clinton while he was in office. Days later, Jones' lawyers said that they planned to seek testimony from other women linked to Clinton. That effort eventually led them to Lewinsky.

Clinton has admitted an inappropriate physical relationship with Lewinsky, but he has denied obstructing justice or breaking any other laws. Lewinsky also denied an affair under oath during the Jones lawsuit, but later acknowledged an 18-month sexual relationship with the president to the grand jury.

By the time Clinton expressed an interest in bringing Lewinsky back to the White House, he had ended their affair, according to his advisers. They said the president broke off their physical relationship in early 1997.

Evelyn Lieberman, a former deputy chief of staff, has said she removed Lewinsky from her White House job in April 1996 because of "immature and inappropriate behavior."

Yet allies of the president said he felt Lewinsky had been treated unfairly, and that her transfer might be a blot on her resume. One adviser to Clinton said that the president had a further worry about Lewinsky. "He was concerned about her talking with people," the adviser said.

"He didn't order anyone to bring her back," the adviser said.

But last summer, the Jones lawyers were not the only people inquiring into Clinton's relationships with women.

In July 1997, according to those familiar with her testimony, Lewinsky said she told Clinton that a Newsweek reporter had contacted her friend, Linda R. Tripp, who also worked at the Pentagon. The reporter was pursuing claims by Kathleen Willey, then a White House volunteer, that Clinton had made a sexual advance toward her in the private hallway outside the Oval Office.

Lewinsky said that she pressed Clinton to have his senior aide and confidant, Bruce Lindsey, call Tripp to advise her on how to respond to the reporter, an associate of Lewinsky said. A day later, Lindsey called Tripp, according to lawyers familiar with the testimony of both women.

It is not clear if Lewinsky testified that she had that conversation with Clinton before or after he expressed an interest in bringing her back to the White House.

Scott has testified on at least two occasions to the grand jury inquiring into Clinton's relationship with Lewinsky. She described meeting twice last summer with Lewinsky, who implored her for a White House job, according to lawyers familiar with her testimony. Scott testified that she met with Lewinsky at the request of Betty Currie, the president's personal secretary.

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