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CLINTON UNDER FIRE

Starr Builds Case Against Ex-Intern to Get Full Story

Crisis: Counsel's criminal charge would seek to force Lewinsky to give a complete account of her relationship with Clinton--or face prison. Immunity is being sought.

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 people 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, was 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 is contradicted, however, by 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:

* 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.

Vice President Al Gore had expressed faith in Clinton on Thursday in brief remarks before a speech.

* A source who has listened to portions of Tripp's tape-recordings said Lewinsky can be heard saying Clinton made frequent late-night telephone calls to her home, engaged in telephone sex with her and eventually left her emotionally devastated when he became 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.

"I think the attitude here is the president wants to, you know, speak to the American people on these questions and he wants to get it done. But we want to get it done right, and get it done correctly," he said later, at the regular White House afternoon briefing.

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.

Cooper said the mission liked hiring former White House workers because they had already gone through the necessary background checks and could begin work quickly. "The selection process was very typical for a political appointee, which this was," said Cooper, who along with Richardson interviewed Lewinsky in Washington.

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 on Dec. 26.

Based in part on the taped phone conversations between Lewinsky and Tripp, Starr's investigators believe the 24-year-old former resident of 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.

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