World

Closer to the heart

IN WASHINGTON

ANDREW PHILLIPS March 16 1998
World

Closer to the heart

IN WASHINGTON

ANDREW PHILLIPS March 16 1998

Closer to the heart

World

IN WASHINGTON

ANDREW PHILLIPS

round Zero of the sex-and-lies scandal surrounding President Bill Clinton is an imposing stone building on Washington’s most imposing thoroughfare, Pennsyl-

vania Avenue. Known as the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse, it is where prosecutors working for independent counsel Kenneth Starr grill witnesses over what they know about Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky, the onetime White House intern at the centre of the uproar. Many emerge from the ordeal

shaken or angry. Not so the tall, dapper man who ended two full days before Starr’s grand jury last week with the collar of his Turnbull & Asser shirt unwilted, an amused smile on his lips, and a quote at the ready. He felt, he said, like the apostle Paul: “I have fought a good fight. I have finished my course. I have kept the faith.” Vernon Jordan is the kind of Washington insider whom other Washington insiders can’t hear enough about. He is, they say, Clinton’s best friend in Washington, the key link between the temporary occupant of the White House and the permanent establishment of lobbyists, lawyers and power brokers who believe they really run things—and often do. A 62-year-old lawyer and onetime civil-rights activist, Jordan has stood by Clinton through good times and bad. When the Arkansas governor was about to run for president in 1992 and faced a barrage of questions about his alleged womanizing, Jordan, according to an authoritative biography of Clinton, offered this blunt advice

on how to deal with inquisitive reporters: “Screw ’em. Don’t tell ’em anything.” Last week, the questions were similar, but the answers had to be different. Federal prosecutors cannot be so easily brushed off, and Jordan was forced to deal with hours of queries about his efforts to find Lewinsky a job in the weeks before the scandal became public.

After more than a month of picking away at the edges of the case, and engaging in an increasingly personal feud with the White House, Starr was finally getting to the heart of the matter.

Foremost among the questions that Jordan would have to answer: did he encourage Lewinsky to lie under oath and deny having a sexual relationship with Clinton? That is what she reportedly said in conversations secretly taped by her former confidante, Linda Tripp. According to those accounts, Jordan advised Lewinsky by saying: ‘They can’t prove anything. Your answer is, ‘It didn’t happen, it wasn’t me.’ ” Last week, Jordan was categorical when he stepped outside the courthouse, saying: “I did not in any way tell her, encourage her, to lie.” The other key allegation: that his efforts to find Lewinsky a job amounted to a payoff for denying in a sworn affidavit that she ever had sex with the President. The pattern was certainly suspicious. Why, wondered observers, would a million-dollar-a-year superlawyer like Jordan have four meetings and seven phone calls with an obscure 24-yearold woman and contact three companies on her behalf?

Prosecutors zero in on a key Clinton friend

The answer, Jordan said last week, was because Clinton’s secretary, Betty Currie, asked him to. Before his testimony, though, he had let it be known through carefully placed leaks to key news outlets that his hands were clean. Both Lewinsky and the President him-

self, according to those accounts, had assured him that their relationship was not sexual, and Jordan was unaware that Lewinsky had been called as a witness in Paula Jones’s sexual harassment suit against Clinton. The effect was to open up space between Jordan and his golfing buddy, the President, reinforced by the comment of an anonymous friend of Jordan who quoted him to The New York Times. “I know what loyalty is,” he reportedly said, “and I’m not a fool.” Jordan, in fact, is one of the few links between the Lewinsky affair and what Starr originally set out to investigate when he was appointed independent counsel four years ago— the Whitewater financial and land scandals in Arkansas. How Starr segued from a tangled skein of financial malfeasance that had drifted to the edge of public consciousness, to a juicy sex scandal that has engulfed Washington, is not immediately obvious. But Jordan figures prominently in both cases, helping out people burned by their ties to Clinton. Last year, Starr investigated $550,000 in income that friends and supporters of the President channelled to Webster Hubbell, an Arkansas associate

of Clinton and former associate attorney general, who served 18 months in jail on Whitewater charges. One of the friends who helped out Hubbell was Vernon Jordan—and Starr’s investigators suspected that it might have amounted to hush money aimed at persuading Hubbell not to co-operate with them.

Did the assistance that Jordan gave Lewinsky fall into the same pattern? Currie asked Jordan to help out the former intern last Dec. 8, three days after Clinton’s lawyers learned that she was on a witness list compiled by Paula Jones’s lawyers. His contacts on her behalf included a call to Ronald Perelman, a major contributor to Clinton’s campaigns and the CEO of the holding company that controls Revlon —which is also the company that gave Hubbell work at Jordan’s request. Revlon’s is one of 11 corporate boards that Jordan sits on, earning him an extra $750,000 a year. On Jan. 7, Lewinsky signed an affidavit denying she had a sexual relationship with Clinton, and five days later got a job offer from Revlon. Coincidence—or coverup? Last week, Jordan was categorical about that, as well. “My efforts to find her a job were not a quid pro quo for the affidavit that she signed,” he said flatly.

What goes on before a grand jury is supposed to be secret, so much of the public relations war waged by Clinton, Jordan, Starr and others has been fought through selectively timed leaks. That was also how the deposition that Clinton gave in the Paula Jones case became public last week. For five hours on Jan. 17, the President was forced to answer questions from Jones’s lawyers about intimate details of his sex life. They were attempting to gather proof that he has a history of making unwanted sexual advances to women. That would bolster their arguments in favor of Jones, who alleges that Clinton summoned her to a hotel room in 1991 while he was governor of Arkansas, exposed himself and asked her to “kiss it.” The Washington Post published a lengthy account of what he told her lawyers—later confirmed by other news organizations—and it painted a demeaning picture of a president subjected to unprecedented scrutiny of his private life.

Clinton, by this account, was taken by surprise when the six

lawyers on Jones’s team homed in on his relationship with Lewinsky. Unknown to him at the time, they had gathered extensive information about Lewinsky from her sometime friend, Tripp, and peppered him with questions about her. He denied having sex with Lewinsky, but acknowledged that he had talked to Jordan about his efforts to find her a job. He said it was Currie, his secretary, who dealt with her most of the time. It was through Currie, he said, that Lewinsky sent him envelopes containing cards, notes or small gifts.

The lawyers asked him whether he had had sexual relations with five other women—even providing him with a written description of what they meant (any contact with someone’s groin, buttocks, breast or inner thigh). One by one, Clinton was asked about all of them—including a woman he appointed as a judge while he was governor and one whose husband he named an ambassador. Clinton denied having sex with all but one of them. The exception was Gennifer Flowers, the woman whose charge that she had a 12-year affair with him nearly torpedoed his first presidential campaign in 1992. Clinton acknowl-

edged having sex with Flowers once, in 1977. And he denied making a sexual advance on Kathleen Willey, a White House volunteer who came to see him in November, 1993, distraught because of marital and financial problems. She asked for a job—and then, she reportedly says in a sworn deposition in the Jones case, he fondled her, put her hand on his crotch, and said: “I wanted to do that for a long time.” Clinton told Jones’s lawyers that he simply embraced her and may have kissed her on the forehead as a gesture of comfort. Whatever the truth, Tripp has said that she saw Willey rush out of Clinton’s private office moments later, her lipstick smudged and her clothes askew.

The charges of womanizing have followed Clinton for so long and involved so many people that he acknowledged becoming “paranoid” about them. He told Jones’s lawyers that after a woman he had known since childhood informed him that she planned to write a novel describing an affair with a southern governor who becomes president— and to tell people that it described her relationship with him—he wrote out two pages of notes about the conversation and asked an aide who witnessed it to put her own recollections on paper. The purpose, clearly, was to protect him in case the woman ever came forward and claimed an affair with him. In fact, the woman, Dolly Kyle Browning—who sells her book Purposes of the Heart from a Web site—immediately told reporters last week that Clinton’s version of their conversation was wrong in key details. “He is lying and has committed perjury,” she said. The President, it seemed, was learning an old lesson: even paranoid people can have real enemies. □