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Starr Examines Clinton Link to Female Intern

January 21, 1998|DAVID WILLMAN and RONALD J. OSTROW | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — A panel of federal judges has authorized the Whitewater independent counsel to examine whether President Clinton encouraged a woman to testify falsely regarding the nature of their relationship, people familiar with the matter said Tuesday.

An attorney representing the woman, who served as a White House intern until spring 1996, said he and his client conferred over the last several days in Washington with the staff of independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, who was appointed in August 1994 to probe the Whitewater case.

The significant broadening of Starr's mandate vaults the independent counsel's inquiry beyond allegations of financial irregularities in Arkansas. It brings the power of a criminal investigation to allegations related to Clinton's sexual behavior.

The woman apparently at the center of Starr's new area of inquiry, Monica S. Lewinsky, 23, is a former White House intern. She has recently signed a sworn declaration in the Paula Corbin Jones suit, stating in part that she has not had a sexual relationship with the president.

According to people familiar with the matter, among the allegations Starr is now investigating is whether Clinton deployed his friend and trusted advisor, Vernon Jordan, to discuss with Lewinsky her testimony or to otherwise shape her account in the Jones case. Jordan did not return messages left for him Tuesday night.

On the basis of a tip from an associate of Lewinsky's who was familiar with her tenure at the White House, Starr's office began investigating and sought the broadened mandate, sources said.

Sources told the Washington Post that the associate provided Starr with audiotapes of more than 10 conversations she had with Lewinsky over recent months in which Lewinsky graphically recounted details of a 1 1/2-year affair she said she had with Clinton.

Lewinsky's attorney, William H. Ginsburg of Los Angeles, said he does not know whether his client has had an intimate relationship with Clinton.

In an interview, Ginsburg said the declaration was signed before he began representing Lewinsky. Her original attorney, Francis Carter, ceased representing her as of Monday and declined to explain why when reached for comment.

"I can't tell you what's true and what's not true," Ginsburg said. "She signed the declaration and stands on it at this time. . . . But I'm smart enough after 30 years as a trial lawyer to know that there's always a surprise around the corner. If he [Clinton] did have a sexual relationship with a 23-year-old intern, I question his judgment. If he didn't, then I think Ken Starr and his crew have ravaged the life of a youngster."

White House Special Counsel Lanny J. Davis referred questions regarding the new allegations to a private lawyer, Robert S. Bennett, who is representing Clinton in the sexual-harassment case brought by Jones. Bennett could not be reached for comment Tuesday night.

On Saturday, the president was questioned under oath for several hours at Bennett's office by lawyers representing Jones.

Her suit is scheduled to go to trial in May, in Little Rock, Ark. The federal judge presiding over the case has ordered parties in the matter not to comment publicly; it was not known Tuesday whether Clinton was asked about Lewinsky on Saturday.

Ginsburg and an official at the Pentagon, where Lewinsky worked as a public-affairs assistant from April 1996 until about three weeks ago, described her as diligent and hard-working. They said Lewinsky has remained in Washington since leaving the Pentagon job and was expected to assume a new position, in corporate public affairs in New York, next month.

"I've known her since she was a little girl," Ginsburg said. "She always has been a very well-behaved, bright kid, now a young lady."

Lewinsky grew up in Beverly Hills and attended Lewis and Clark College in Oregon before joining the White House as an intern, Ginsburg said.

A spokeswoman for Starr, Deborah Gershman, could not be reached for comment Tuesday night. But, according to people familiar with the independent counsel's investigation, prosecutors have focused heavily on the allegations related to Lewinsky for at least a week. One lawyer aware of the matter said Starr "is not investigating the president's sex life. [They] are investigating people being encouraged to lie."

To win the expanded investigative authority, Starr first submitted his request, last week, to the Justice Department. Officials said the department then forwarded Starr's request to a special three-judge panel in Washington appointed by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist to oversee the independent counsel.

This is not the first time that Starr's staff has delved into allegations of Clinton's infidelity. In June 1997, reports surfaced that prosecutors had questioned present and former Arkansas state troopers regarding Clinton's personal practices as governor.

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