WASHINGTON — President Clinton's closest aide testified on Wednesday before a federal grand jury for four hours--but the aide left open the possibility that he may seek to avoid having to answer certain questions about the president's dealings with a former intern.
White House lawyer Bruce R. Lindsey, who has known Clinton for 30 years and has often been at his side from the outset of his first campaign for the presidency, indicated as he left a federal courthouse here that he would return for more questioning today.
When asked if he would return to the grand jury, Lindsey suggested that he would, responding with a smile: "You might show up tomorrow."
Lindsey has played a central role in seeking to contain virtually every episode of controversial personal conduct that has threatened Clinton as a candidate and as president. And Lindsey's efforts in the past have entailed conversations with prospective witnesses or accusers.
Neither Lindsey nor his lawyers would say Wednesday whether he will seek to assert the attorney-client privilege or executive privilege to circumscribe, if temporarily, what questions he will answer under oath.
But in a sign that Lindsey is considering invoking one of the legal privileges, he and two lawyers assisting him huddled Wednesday afternoon for 45 minutes in private with the chief U.S. District Court judge overseeing aspects of the case.
Judge Nancy Holloway Johnson would consider the merit of any assertion of executive privilege or attorney-client privilege made on Lindsey's behalf. Lindsey was accompanied during the meeting with Johnson by his private lawyer, William J. Murphy of Baltimore, and by another deputy White House counsel, Cheryl D. Mills.
After the hearing, Lindsey declined to describe what was discussed.
"I'm not going to talk about the hearing or my testimony," Lindsey said. "There is nothing for me to say."
When asked if he felt uncomfortable having to testify before the grand jury, Lindsey responded with an emphatic "No."
Also Wednesday, Billy Martin, an attorney representing Monica S. Lewinsky's mother who wants to prohibit further questioning of his client before the grand jury, met with Judge Johnson for 35 minutes. The mother, Marcia Lewis, appeared distraught last Wednesday after a second day of testimony.
Martin told reporters that Lewis is "not doing well."
"She still feels she's in this situation solely because she took a moment to listen to her daughter, who asked her to talk to her as a mother," Martin said. "And Marcia Lewis has done nothing more than be a mother to her daughter."
Charles Duncan, the former White House liaison officer to the Defense Department, also testified before the grand jury Wednesday, appearing for nearly two hours.
Joseph M. Sellers, Duncan's lawyer, later said his client, who now works at the State Department, was acquainted with Lewinsky. "He was the White House liaison to the Pentagon for several years and he had contact with Monica Lewinsky but did not know her well," Sellers said.
Officials at the White House said the decision on whether to invoke one of the legal privileges for Lindsey was being held tightly by lawyers advising both Lindsey and Clinton.
The invoking of either executive or attorney-client privilege would no doubt be challenged vigorously by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr.
Lindsey, 49, is often described as the president's consigliere, the one aide with whom Clinton is most apt to share his most intimate secrets--as well as marathon games of hearts aboard Air Force One.
The two men met in 1968 while working for Sen. J. William Fulbright, the late Arkansas Democrat. Clinton also worked at Lindsey's law firm in Little Rock after he lost a reelection bid as governor in 1980.
Prosecutors under Starr are seeking to determine whether Lindsey helped encourage Lewinsky or other women to lie under oath about the nature of their dealings with the president.
Several women have provided sworn statements in connection with a sexual-harassment lawsuit filed against the president by Paula Corbin Jones, a former Arkansas state employee. The case is scheduled to go to trial in Little Rock in May.
Starr widened his 3 1/2-year-long investigation of the Whitewater controversy five weeks ago, when a friend and former co-worker of Lewinsky's informed prosecutors of an alleged plot involving Clinton to encourage false testimony in the Jones case.
The tipster, Pentagon employee Linda Tripp, provided secretly recorded tapes in which Lewinsky discussed engaging in sexual activity with Clinton and suggested that the president encouraged her to lie about the relationship.
Lewinsky visited the White House about 36 times from April 1996, when she took a public affairs job at the Pentagon, until the night of Dec. 28, when she conferred with Clinton at the executive mansion, according to records and interviews.