Clinton's friends tried to help president, keep themselves safe Documents reveal loyalty, memory lapses of Jordan and Currie

The Clinton Investigation

October 03, 1998|By Marcia Myers and Scott Shane | Marcia Myers and Scott Shane,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- One was the president's gatekeeper. The other was his pal.

Betty Currie, the oh-so-confidential secretary, and Vernon Jordan, the quintessential Washington fixer, were like nothing so much as a political bomb squad as they struggled fruitlessly to defuse the Monica Lewinsky disaster.

Hundreds of pages of transcripts of their grand jury testimony released yesterday show that as this pair moved to protect the president in managing Lewinsky, they often engaged in a delicate two-step that protected themselves as well.

They emerge as embarrassed allies of the president, trying to help without prying too far.

Currie, 58, facilitated the president's relationship with Lewinsky; Jordan, 63, was called in to help manage its disintegration.

Currie described her growing frustration with Lewinsky's barrage emotional phone calls and how she fended off the young woman's demands to see the president.

"Sometimes she would be so upset, I'd renege and then say, 'OK, fine,' or something," she testified. "I didn't think I was doing anything wrong, I guess."

Jordan told of his horror when a young woman he had referred to a few job interviews suddenly appears in his office crying, disheveled, brandishing her subpoena and asking whether the president might leave the first lady.

He found the question "frightening a crazy notion," Jordan said.

"It was that statement that certainly sent alarm bells off in my mind as to this kind of fixation, this kind of possessive, bobby-soxer attitude that I felt she had towards the president."

Key matters forgotten

Under hours of intense questioning by Kenneth W. Starr's prosecutors, Currie and Jordan generally remain composed, coherent witnesses.

But on critical issues both suffered memory lapses.

Currie said she could not recall many details of her retrieval of Clinton's gifts to Lewinsky and occasionally contradicted her previous testimony.

Jordan's confident, almost regal manner faltered in a return trip to the grand jury when prosecutors prove that his previous testimony as to the date of his first meeting with Lewinsky -- Dec. 11, 1997 -- is late by more than a month.

Dissecting phone records, White House logs and e-mail messages, the prosecutors established that Jordan first met with Lewinsky the morning of Nov. 5, then placed seven calls to the White House before visiting the White House that afternoon.

"It is entirely possible," Jordan admitted. "I have no recollection of it."

When the scandal detonated in January, testimony and documents show a flurry of calls and pages among Currie, Jordan, Clinton and top White House aides as Lewinsky slips out of reach.

In his testimony, however, Jordan insisted that the atmosphere at the White House was "calm."

Visiting Clinton for a 15-minute closed-door meeting in the Oval Office on Jan. 19, the day after the "Drudge Report" had revealed the Lewinsky affair on the Internet, Jordan said that though they mentioned Lewinsky, the conversation was largely about "family talk," golf, the weather.

'This was a big deal'

Referring to the scores of phone calls placed as the scandal broke, a prosecutor asked Currie: "This was a big deal, wasn't it?"

"I don't know if I thought so at the time, that it was a big deal," she replied.

Asked why the president was so interested in learning whether she'd reached Lewinsky during those early hours, she said, "I can't remember."

Jordan had first met Clinton in 1973, and the two had been close for many years. Clinton called on Jordan to co-chair his transition effort with former Secretary of State Warren Christopher.

Currie served as Christopher's secretary, and Jordan got to know her in Arkansas. Two African-Americans of the same generation, Currie and Jordan became trusted friends and key figures in the new administration.

Jordan at one point called Currie a "warm, charming, lovely" person."

Of Jordan, Currie testified, "He would tell me what to do, and I could trust his judgment."

In a series of visits before the grand jury, Currie detailed her role as a conduit for messages between Clinton and Lewinsky.

She shared her observations of an increasingly emotional young woman struggling to remain close to the president as the relationship waned.

Other staffers, she testified, referred to Lewinsky as "bad news" and the "stalker." But Currie helped her slip into the White House for visits via routes around those who would frown on her presence, she acknowledged.

As questions began to surface about the relationship, Currie described driving to the Watergate apartments one evening at Lewinsky's request.

At the front door, the young woman gave her a box that Currie knew contained some gifts from the president, she testified. She then drove home, put the box under her bed and didn't mention it even to her husband.

Yet asked what she thought was going on, Currie told prosecutors that she purposely chose to believe no "intimate" relationship existed between the two.

"I didn't want to know anything or be able to say I know anything," she testified.

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