The White House was cheered Saturday by a concession from the lawyer for former White House intern Monica Lewinsky that his client sometimes embellishes the truth.
Lewinsky’s lawyer, William Ginsburg, also disputed some of the sensational secondhand accounts of Lewinsky’s relationship with the president.
Ginsburg denied a number of widely reported details of the young woman’s association with the president, including reports that Clinton made late-night telephone calls to her apartment and gave her numerous presents, including a dress.
There was no dress, Ginsburg said in an interview broadcast on the ABC News show “20/20” on Friday night, “unless you consider a long T-shirt a dress.” The other gifts were inexpensive tokens that could be purchased by anyone in a White House souvenir shop, he said.
A White House official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said Saturday that Ginsburg’s remarks were “a great show” from the president’s perspective.
The official said that anything that tended to undercut the credibility of Lewinsky or other accusers was obviously helpful to Clinton’s defense.
Ginsburg’s remarks further cooled the overheated atmosphere that has gripped Washington over the past 10 days since accusations came to light that Clinton had engaged in an 18-month sexual affair with Lewinsky and then counseled her to lie about it under oath.
The president has denied the accusations.
The Democratic National Committee is setting up a full-time operation to respond to the scandal. It will be directed by Karen Hancox, a former assistant in the White House political office. The White House has, in effect, subcontracted a major part of its scandal-containment operation because officials want to portray a president too preoccupied with official duties to devote time to answering questions about his conduct.
The committee will also be able to mount a sharply partisan defense of the president as Republicans begin to emerge from an early strategy of silence and publicly question the president’s morals.
On Friday, Sen. John Ashcroft, R-Mo., unleashed a blistering attack on the president, saying that if the accusations about his relationship with Lewinsky proved true he should resign.
Ginsburg’s televised comments presented complications for the continuing discussions between Ginsburg and Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel investigating potential perjury and obstruction of justice in the matter.
Lewinsky’s testimony is critical to Starr if he is to establish a case against the president. She reportedly stated to a friend, Linda Tripp, that Clinton and his close friend, Vernon Jordan, coached her to deny the relationship in court testimony. Tripp recorded telephone conversations with Lewinsky.
With no deal for Lewinsky’s cooperation in sight, Ginsburg said Saturday they would head back to California in the coming week.
The White House took comfort Saturday from Ginsburg’s remarks, as he continued a public campaign to win sympathy - and legal immunity - for the 24-year-old Lewinsky.
Ginsburg denied an account provided by Tripp that she had been present at Lewinsky’s Watergate apartment when the president called.
There were a number of brief telephone conversations between the two, Ginsburg said, but they were “of the ‘Hi, hello, how are you, fine’ variety.”
Ginsburg added, “They were few and far between, and as far as I know, they were in no way fraught with sexual innuendo.”
Ginsburg insisted that his client is “totally reliable,” but also suggested that she is a talkative and emotional young woman caught up in events that are more than she can handle.
“There are people who talk a lot and as part of the scenario, peccadilloes, they may tell fibs, lies, exaggerations, oversell,” Ginsburg said.
Starr said Saturday morning that his investigators were “moving forward trying to gather the facts” but provided no details.
“The grand jury has been sitting actively,” he told CNN. “It’s very attentive. But beyond that, I can’t comment.”
The president was spending the weekend at Camp David with his daughter, Chelsea, and his brother, Roger, while Hillary Rodham Clinton was in Switzerland for an annual economic conference.
In Lucerne Saturday, Hillary Clinton followed her official schedule but spoke briefly on the strains of the constant scrutiny of the lives of her and her husband.
“It is difficult to live in the spotlight of public life,” she said in response to a question from a child. “I miss many things about my private life.”
She made no direct reference to the sex scandal, but referred to the Clintons’ tenure at the White House as “very exciting times.”