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CLINTON UNDER FIRE

Starr Pressuring Ex-Intern to Give Details on Clinton

Inquiry: Independent counsel pursues criminal charge to force Lewinsky to offer a complete account of the relationship--or face prison. Immunity issue is unresolved.

January 24, 1998|DAVID WILLMAN and RICHARD T. COOPER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — Independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr has begun to build a full-scale criminal case against former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky in a move aimed at forcing her to reveal in detail the nature of her relationship with President Clinton or risk going to prison, according to sources familiar with the investigation.

Focusing on written "talking points" Lewinsky gave her friend and confidant Linda Tripp, Starr's team is preparing to charge Lewinsky with encouraging Tripp--who, like her, had been subpoenaed as a witness in the Paula Corbin Jones sexual-harassment case against Clinton--to lie under oath.

Lewinsky gave a sworn statement in the same lawsuit, denying she had a sexual relationship with the president. She allegedly sought to have Tripp support that account. Lewinsky's denial appears to be at odds with about 20 hours of conversations secretly recorded by Tripp, in which Lewinsky reportedly lays out intimate details of a purported affair with Clinton.

There were also these developments in what is becoming the most dangerous controversy to beset Clinton's presidency:

* After two days of conspicuous silence on the part of senior officials, members of the Cabinet spoke out publicly Friday in defense of the beleaguered chief executive. The statements of support followed a White House meeting in which Press Secretary Mike McCurry said Clinton urged his department heads to "stay focused on the work that you are doing. . . . and let's all hang in there."

"I believe the allegations are completely untrue," Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told reporters. "I'll second that. Definitely," Commerce Secretary Bill Daley said. "Third it," added Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala.

* A source who has listened to portions of Tripp's tape-recordings said Lewinsky can be heard saying Clinton made frequent telephone calls to her home late at night and engaged in explicit sex talk, and that she was devastated emotionally when she concluded he was becoming involved with several other women.

* The White House searched for a viable damage-control strategy as media demands rose for a full accounting from Clinton. Faced with wide-ranging subpoenas for documents and other records and continuing uncertainty about exactly what the facts might prove to be, aides sought to project a positive, cooperative image without going beyond Clinton's carefully worded denial of a "sexual relationship."

"He did no wrong, he says, but there are numerous allegations that require a thoroughly sophisticated and complete review," McCurry said Friday in a breakfast meeting with reporters.

Public Statement Apparently Rejected

Aides considered but apparently rejected having Clinton hold a press conference or make a public statement, possibly before his State of the Union address to Congress on Tuesday.

* U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson joined the ranks of administration officials subpoenaed by Starr's investigators for records relating to Lewinsky. The subpoenas covered both the U.N. mission in New York and Richardson's office in Washington, a spokesman said.

Richardson offered Lewinsky a junior-level job at the mission in New York after she left the White House and a subsequent job at the Pentagon. Rebecca Cooper, Richardson's chief of staff in Washington, said neither Clinton nor his close friend Vernon E. Jordan Jr., who helped Lewinsky seek other jobs, played a role in the U.N. offer, which Lewinsky eventually declined.

Lewinsky was an intern at the White House from the summer of 1995 until that December, when she moved into a paid staff position in the White House Office of Legislative Affairs. In April 1996, she was shifted to a public-affairs position in the Pentagon at the behest of First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's top aide. She left the Pentagon position last December.

Based in part on the taped phone conversations between Lewinsky and Tripp, Starr's investigators believe the 24-year-old from Beverly Hills had a sexual relationship with Clinton and that he had a role in encouraging Lewinsky to lie about their liaisons when she gave a sworn statement in the Jones case.

Jones Case Set Off Intern Controversy

The Jones case became the triggering device for the present controversy when Jones' lawyers began compelling other women to give sworn statements about their encounters with Clinton. Jones' lawyers hope to show a pattern of conduct that would lend credibility to the former Arkansas state employee's claim that Clinton propositioned her while he was governor.

Since both Clinton and Lewinsky have denied having a sexual affair in sworn statements, both could face charges of perjury or obstruction of justice if their assertions prove false.

The possibility of being charged with such clear-cut crimes is considered much more threatening to Clinton and his presidency than the murky real estate dealings known as Whitewater or the ethical and technical issues raised by the campaign-finance scandal.

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