Advertisement

CLINTON UNDER FIRE

For Lewinsky's First Lawyer, a Straightforward Deposition Goes Wrong

Inquiry: Attorney who accepted referral from Clinton advisor is himself a sudden target of probe.

January 25, 1998|ROBIN WRIGHT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — When the call from Vernon E. Jordan Jr. came through on the Friday before Christmas, attorney Frank Carter said he had no idea what one of Washington's best known politicos might want.

Jordan's office had made referrals in the past to Carter, a former public defender who handled a series of tough cases after opening his own practice in 1985. But the two lawyers had never worked or even socialized together.

Jordan was brief--and vague. Would Carter take a referral?

Carter was plenty busy fulfilling his court-appointed role as the lawyer for Hani Abdel Rahim Hussein Sayegh, the Saudi dissident linked to the 1996 bombing in Saudi Arabia that killed 19 American troops. But he agreed to hear Jordan out.

So three days later, the man who is among President Clinton's closest confidants showed up at Carter's G Street office, accompanied by Monica S. Lewinsky.

Carter said Saturday that he originally saw the case as relatively straightforward, involving taking and filing an affidavit for Lewinsky denying that she had a sexual relationship with Clinton. But Carter now finds himself enmeshed in both political and legal history as he faces his own subpoena from Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr for all documents, including his own musings, related to the Lewinsky affidavit.

The implicit challenge to Carter is whether he was doing dirty work for Jordan, who has been accused of urging Lewinsky to lie about her relationship with Clinton.

Carter is no longer representing Lewinsky because he was replaced as her counsel on Monday by Los Angeles lawyer William Ginsburg, whom her father has known for decades. But the five weeks as her counsel have already changed Carter's life.

He has been forced to hire his own lawyer, renowned Harvard law professor Charles J. Ogletree. And Carter, who has always avoided the kind of limelight that shines on other lawyers in high-profile cases, now has his office staked out by the media.

So far, he has remained unflappable--or largely so. "I hope Jordan came to me because of my reputation and the good work I do," he said with a chuckle Saturday. Then he added, seriously: "I have no reason to believe otherwise."

Perhaps the critical question involving Carter is this: Was he the mystery author of the "talking points," which at the moment are among the most explosive elements of the legal case? Linda Tripp, the woman who secretly tape recorded her conversations with Lewinsky about Lewinsky's alleged affair with Clinton, claims Lewinsky handed her "talking points" describing how Tripp could lie if questioned under oath about Clinton and Lewinsky.

"I won't confirm or deny that," Carter said, "but whoever did has significant difficulties, and I don't have any difficulties."

Carter is still consulting with Ogletree about how much he could hand over in response to the subpoena without endangering lawyer-client privilege.

Other attorneys and people familiar with his work say they seriously doubt Carter would be involved in illegal activity.

*

"I've worked with a lot of attorneys in this city, and he's always been my role model," said Robert S. Douglas, president of Douglas Investigations, a private agency. "He has incredible integrity.

"Knowing Carter as I have for over a decade, if any client were to approach him and seek his advice on how to help another person obstruct justice, he would terminate the relationship and withdraw his counsel," Douglas said. "If he smelled a rat, he wouldn't stay in the case."

Carter, the son of a high school principal and a teacher in the Washington school system, has been suggested to previous presidents for nomination to a federal judgeship. In a town with thousands of lawyers, Carter was named by Washingtonian magazine last year as one of the top 40 attorneys in the capital.

In stark contrast to many Washington lawyers, including Jordan and Clinton lawyer Robert S. Bennett, Carter does not work in a big law firm or with high-priced teams. He is often the sole attorney in big cases, working long hours single-handedly preparing cases.

His clients have included Reagan administration Interior Secretary James G. Watt, whom Carter defended against a 15-count felony indictment charging he perjured himself before Congress and a grand jury.

"When Carter was done mesmerizing the federal jury, prosecutors were willing to let Watt plead guilty to a single misdemeanor, for which he got probation," the Washingtonian article noted.

Carter was also the court-appointed lawyer for Fawaz Younis, a Lebanese hijacker who was the first terrorist abducted abroad by the FBI and brought back to stand trial in the United States.

Unfamiliar with the Mideast or militant Islam, Carter read the Koran and several books on the region.

Despite Younis' admission to hijacking a Jordanian airliner, Carter won an acquittal on half of the charges by explaining the context of his action, which had not resulted in any deaths or injuries.

Speaking of Carter's performance in the Younis trial, the legal affairs publication Legal Times said: "Like a sleek, agile cat, he prowled the courtroom, gesturing passionately and pausing dramatically as he painted a word picture of the war-torn environment in which his client lived."

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|