How are Americans to know what to believe in the new White House scandal?
Former White House intern Monica Lewinsky allegedly has said on tape recordings that she had an 18-month affair with President Clinton, then was pressured to lie about it under oath. The president, for his part, denies any sexual relationship with Lewinsky and says he always advised his staff to tell the truth.
Over the weeks ahead, a clearer picture of the sexual aspects of the case might emerge: From what she said on the tapes and how she said it. From information about Lewinsky’s reputation for telling the truth. From evidence indicating when and where, if at all, she could have been alone with the president. From records of any phone calls and memos and gifts.
But that might be the easier part of the investigation.
Former federal prosecutors cautioned Thursday that investigators might find it far harder to prove that Clinton or his confidante, Vernon Jordan, committed a federal offense by urging Lewinsky to lie in a sworn statement in Paula Jones’ sexual misconduct suit against Clinton.
“That’s the real tough one,” said John Mendez, a former U.S. attorney in San Francisco. “This is a ‘he-said-she-said’ situation in a lot of respects and it comes down to her credibility. Does she have anything which would support her statements? Any diaries? Statements she made to others really help.”
Mendez said if Clinton merely referred Lewinsky to Jordan for advice on how to respond to her subpoena in the Paula Jones case, “he’s clean.”
Jordan said Thursday that he never told Lewinsky to lie and that Lewinsky told him there was no affair between her and Clinton. Clayton Undercofler, a former federal prosecutor in Philadelphia said: “Even if she agrees to testify and says, ‘I met him on x-y-z date in such-and-such a place,’ and he says he didn’t and no one else was there, you’re kind of stuck.”
If Lewinsky is confronted with the tapes but refuses to testify before a grand jury or claims a Fifth Amendment protection against incriminating herself, several exprosecutors said they would grant her immunity from prosecution. Then, she would have to answer a prosecutor’s questions.
Still, Lewinsky’s credibility would be vulnerable to attack for two reasons, they said. First, the reliability of a witness under immunity always is questioned. Second, she allegedly said on the tapes she had a sexual relationship with Clinton - but in an affidavit, she denied it ever happened. One of those statements must be a lie, the exprosecutors said.
If other witnesses contradict her, “Would you believe her over someone” who hadn’t lied under oath before? Undercofler asked.
Indeed, a former independent counsel, who asked not to be identified, said he first would want to find out whether Lewinsky, 24, and her former colleague, Linda Tripp, who taped her conversations with Lewinsky, are believable.
“Was she drunk, sober or just bragging? You’d want to get as much as you can about both of them,” he said, “because you don’t want to be booby-trapped. You have to make sure you’re not going out on limb with someone who is not reliable.”
Michael Isikoff, a Newsweek reporter who heard some of the tapes, reported that he heard Lewinsky say, “I have lied my entire life.”
That statement, meant to indicate she would have no trouble concealing her sexual relationship with Clinton, “raises the possibility that the affair itself was a lie, an exaggeration of a flirtatious moment, perhaps, that grew into a big lie,” Isikoff wrote.
Starr’s investigators want to examine employment records, telephone logs, message slips, correspondence, videotapes and lists of people who entered and left the White House.
The purpose is to look for records of when and where Clinton and Lewinsky could have been together, and for people who had conversations with either her or Tripp, the former independent counsel said. “The employment records open up lines of inquiry with people she would confide in, people close to her. What did she tell them?
“I would look for the frequency of phone calls between the two (Clinton and Lewinsky). It it’s exceptional, that would corroborate her. If she says they did something on a particular day, I would search the records for that particular day. I would question the secretary who received her calls.”