Videotaped deposition shows Lewinsky as savvy witness

She was more `L.A. Law' than `Beverly Hills 90210'

February 06, 1999|By Ellen Gamerman | Ellen Gamerman,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- She was a guarded witness who let it be known that her "mixed feelings" for the president had no business in a Senate impeachment trial. She was an indignant young woman who asked her questioner not to describe her encounters with President Clinton as "salacious." She was a flip observer who teased a room full of suits about how she wouldn't mind quitting early for the day and how she would never object to lunch.

But for everything Monica Lewinsky was in her videotaped deposition to House prosecutors, what was most striking is what she was not. Instead of the giggly musings about world leaders and dress sizes that Linda Tripp recorded, Lewinsky yielded cautious observations almost lawyerly in tone.

The transcript of Lewinsky's deposition with House prosecutors released yesterday shows a 25-year-old who, if nothing else during her year in near-total seclusion, is savvy on the record. In her 23rd round of questioning, which took place Monday at the Renaissance Mayflower hotel, Lewinsky was far more "L.A. Law" than "Beverly Hills 90210."

There were a few moments where the young woman played to the breathless intern persona by which she is perhaps best known.

But more often than not, she seemed like the star of her own legal drama.

Lewinsky stopped House prosecutor Ed Bryant repeatedly, asking him to make questions more specific, requesting dates of various incidents before talking about them, correcting even small errors in Bryant's inquiries. Bryant, the Tennessee Republican in charge of questioning Lewinsky in the four-hour deposition, could not break much new ground.

For Lewinsky, this was key: Independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr could prosecute her if she deviated from her testimony before the grand jury, nullifying her immunity agreement.

At times, however, Lewinsky's caution seemed more about preserving her privacy than protecting herself from Starr. When asked about her feelings for Clinton, she was mostly mum.

"I have mixed feelings," Lewinsky admitted. But she stopped Bryant with a legal argument when he pressed for details: "I think what you need to know is that my grand jury testimony is truthful irrespective of whatever those mixed feelings are in my testimony today," she said.

In her careful testimony, she repeatedly refused to characterize how Clinton felt and what he thought about their relationship -- yielding little to House prosecutors pressing her for damaging testimony.

Lewinsky, dressed in a no-nonsense coat-dress and seated at one end of a long oval table in the presidential suite, was at times the world-weary scandal survivor.

"I assume you think he's a very intelligent man?" Bryant asked her about Clinton.

"I think he's an intelligent president," Lewinsky responded, to laughter.

Lewinsky's recounting of the unfolding scandal at times took a bitter edge. She made plain her disdain for Paula Jones -- whose lawyers brought Lewinsky's name to the fore by subpoenaing her as a witness in Jones' sexual harassment suit against Clinton. When Lewinsky first met then-lawyer Frank Carter after receiving her subpoena, she asked if she could sue Jones.

When the Jones lawyers offered her a check with her subpoena as a "witness fee," she testified that she told them, "I don't want their stinking money."

She did not seem to save any of that hostility for her questioners, however. Instead, at moments in the ponderous proceedings, she gently teased, provoked and charmed.

When Bryant noted that he was starting to object to some of his own statements, Lewinsky retorted to laughter, "Um, we sustain those." Earlier, Bryant complained that if major points in Lewinsky's previous depositions were off-limits to his questioning, there would be nothing left to talk about and everyone could go home. "Sounds good to me," Lewinsky said.

Stirring memories of the countless conversations that Lewinsky had with Linda Tripp about cabbage soup diets and what was for lunch, Lewinsky had a quick answer when Republican Sen. Mike DeWine of Ohio asked if anyone would object to a lunch break.

"I never object to food," Lewinsky offered.

The testimony featured a few flashbacks to the impressionable young woman the country met early in the scandal. In recounting her discussions with presidential confidant Vernon Jordan about being subpoenaed in the Jones case, Lewinsky recalled in detail an emotional scene in a phone booth.

"Well, I remember that -- that he [Jordan] couldn't understand me because I was crying," Lewinsky said. "So he kept saying: `I don't understand what you're saying. I don't understand what you're saying.' And I just was crying and crying and crying."

In his testimony to House prosecutors Tuesday, Jordan remembered Lewinsky as overwrought and something of a pest. He said Lewinsky was "quite verbose" in asking him about her affidavit. He added that in one conversation about it "she kept talking and I kept doodling and listening as she went on in sort of a, for lack of a better word, babble about this -- about this thing."

But in her testimony last week, Lewinsky was more defiant young woman than scared kid.

When Bryant repeatedly referred to her sexual liaisons with Clinton as "salacious encounters," Lewinsky objected. "Can -- can we -- can you call it something else?" she asked.

When Bryant countered, "Well, that's kind of been the word that's been picked up all around," Lewinsky said perhaps he could just call it an "encounter." Bryant agreed.

It is perhaps not surprising that Lewinsky found the steel to hold her own with a roomful of about 40 Washington power players. After all, this woman spent part of her testimony describing a "fight" she had with the president and a confrontational note she sent him.

When questioned about that letter, which she wrote to Clinton during her failed attempt to return to a job at the White House, Lewinsky flashed a bit of her now-famous nerve.

"I felt the letter was going to him as a man," she said, "and not as President of the United States."

Pub Date: 2/06/99

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