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Testimony Bolsters, Blurs Allegations Against Clinton

Inquiry: Friend of Lewinsky tells grand jury she was privy to talk of sexual encounter. Tabloid says it was approached by Willey lawyer.

March 20, 1998|DAVID WILLMAN and ALAN C. MILLER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — Evidence challenging the truthfulness of President Clinton's testimony about his personal dealings with two former White House aides appeared Thursday to become stronger in one instance and more muddled in the other.

A Beverly Hills friend of former intern Monica S. Lewinsky testified before a federal grand jury after telling investigators that she was among those Lewinsky told of having a sexual relationship with Clinton. Both Lewinsky and the friend, 24-year-old Natalie R. Ungvari, attended Beverly Hills High School. Ungvari declined to comment after she testified.

The president has denied under oath having sexual contact with Lewinsky.

In a related development, House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) said Thursday that, when independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's investigation is complete, he wants a bipartisan panel of lawmakers to evaluate whether impeachment proceedings are warranted.

Meanwhile, new questions were raised about Kathleen E. Willey, the former White House aide who has told the grand jury and a national television audience that on Nov. 29, 1993, Clinton groped her near the Oval Office.

The editor of the supermarket tabloid, Star, said that his publication had tried without success to buy Willey's account since last July, when her encounter with Clinton was first reported by CBS News.

Phil Bunton, the tabloid editor, said it was not until early last month that a lawyer representing Willey "suddenly seemed to bite."

Bunton said that the lawyer, Daniel J. Gecker, told a reporter for the tabloid on Feb. 6 that his client "might be prepared to talk for at least $300,000." No deal was struck.

"He [Gecker] told us that she had heavy debts and she needed to clear them and she needed at least $300,000 to set herself straight," Bunton said.

Gecker issued a statement Thursday emphatically denying that he at any point negotiated with the tabloid or that he ever sought $300,000 on Willey's behalf. The attorney did not return phone calls seeking further comment.

Willey, 51, was paid no money for granting the prime-time interview that was broadcast Sunday night on CBS' "60 Minutes," according to a network spokesman, Kevin Tedesco.

The contretemps involving the tabloid, however, served to focus more attention on the motives of Willey, who until this week was a low-profile figure in the controversy.

Last week, lawyers for Paula Corbin Jones, the former Arkansas government worker who is suing Clinton for sexual harassment, made public sections of Willey's deposition testimony in that case. Willey testified that, when she met with Clinton near the Oval Office in November 1993, the president hugged her, fondled her breasts and placed her hand on his groin area.

Clinton said under oath on Jan. 17 that he recalled clearly the November 1993 meeting with Willey and that he did nothing more than embrace her and kiss her on the forehead. The president testified that he sought only to comfort Willey, whom he said told him that she was facing financial difficulty and wanted a paying job.

Willey said the president's behavior was unwelcome. However, she remained in friendly contact with Clinton.

This week the White House has made public 15 letters or notes--including nine sent after the November 1993 incident--in which Willey appears to be comfortable with the president and voices admiration for him.

Willey's sustained contacts with Clinton may bear on whether the disputed encounter with the president was unrequited. Still, the question remains unresolved whether Clinton testified truthfully in denying that the encounter occurred under any circumstance.

Willey had been a supporter of Clinton's since the 1992 presidential campaign, when she embraced the then-Arkansas governor during a campaign rally on an airport tarmac in Richmond, Va. At the airport, an intermediary acting on Clinton's behalf sought and obtained Willey's phone number.

Also Thursday, a White House aide with decades-long ties to Clinton appeared before the grand jury. Marsha Scott, who attended high school in Little Rock and met Clinton when both worked for Sen. J. William Fulbright (D-Ark.), testified for about three hours.

Scott and her lawyer declined to characterize what she told the grand jury. Asked as she left the courthouse whether she was done testifying, Scott said: "No. I am not."

Meanwhile Robert S. Bennett, Clinton's lawyer in the Jones case, said he would submit to the court today "sensitive information of a sexual nature" about Jones. Bennett made the assertion in a letter to the judge in the case, which was made public by Jones' attorneys.

Times staff writers Tom Schultz and Marc Lacey contributed to this story.

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