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Winding trail of Clinton sex scandal Initial frenzy ends, but investigation by Starr continues

Just two weeks ago today, America woke up to one doozy of a sex scandal.

But now look at Bill Clinton. Riding high in the polls, celebrating the first balanced budget in a generation, he seems to be flourishing.

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Hard to believe that only last week his presidency was on the verge of collapse -- and may yet fall.

All Washington scandals unfold on an arc. First come the headlines. Then the investigation settles down.

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The work of sorting out begins. What is certain? What can be proven? What is criminal? What is just bad behavior?

And so it is with revelations concerning Monica Lewinsky. She reportedly told a friend that she'd had a sexual relationship with Clinton and that he'd asked her to lie about it under oath.

The first seven days moved at a dizzying pace as gaudy allegations and unsubstantiated rumors fluttered and danced around the few plain facts.

A diverse cast of characters emerged in the unfolding drama from the intern's friend with the tape recorder to her adulterous former teacher in Portland, Ore.

Clinton has denied all allegations but hasn't offered details.

In what was quickly branded as the most serious crisis of the Clinton presidency, the specter appeared of a constitutional crisis, perhaps even impeachment.

Was this Watergate all over again? The toppling of another president suddenly seemed imaginable.

But Week Two took on a wholly different nature, as the First Couple launched a counter-offensive that may have turned on the State of the Union address and Hillary Rodham Clinton's appearances on two morning TV shows.

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More of the allegations were disputed; some of the media'ssloppy reporting was exposed.

As much as the first week brought daily revelations, the second revealed how many of the scandal's central questions remained unanswered.

Did the intern and the president actually have a sexual relationship? Did Clinton lie and ask others to do the same? Were others involved?

Independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr is bringing witnesses before a federal grand jury. Polls, meanwhile, show the president's approval ratings with the public soared.

After the first breathless days of reporting, the pace of the story slowed.

"The legal process isn't supposed to move fast," said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, dean of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication. "The process is going forward as it's supposed to. The appropriate thing for us to do is suspend judgment."

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For the average spectator to all this, negotiating through the complicated and constantly shifting informational terrain requires no small amount of detective work.

Even figuring out when events began is no easy task.

Finding the roots

The nation first heard the allegations about Clinton and Lewinsky 14 days ago. But the origin of Clinton's troubles goes back much further. Starting points could include:

1978, when Arkansas Attorney General Bill Clinton and his wife join with James B. and Susan McDougal to borrow $203,000 and form Whitewater Development Corp. to build vacation homes in the Ozark Mountains.

That transaction launched the Whitewater affair, which led to the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate Clinton's role in the unsuccessful development and McDougal's failed Madison Guaranty savings and loan.

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1990, when a 40-year-old Columbia resident named Linda R. Tripp was hired by the Bush White House for a low-level post. The woman who befriended and later betrayed Lewinsky played a pivotal role.

1991, when Paula Corbin Jones met Clinton in a Little Rock hotel room and he allegedly asked for oral sex. Three years later, Jones filed a sexual misconduct suit against the president.

1992, when Clinton ran for the Democratic nomination for president and a tabloid newspaper, the Star, ran a story claiming that he and Gennifer Flowers had carried on a 12-year affair and first made Clinton's sex life a national issue.

Focus on Lewinsky

But the key figure remains Lewinsky, who in June 1995 began her internship at the White House thanks to a boost from Walter Kaye, a retired New York insurance executive.

The daughter of an affluent Los Angeles oncologist and a socialite who divorced when Monica was 15, she was a so-so student at Lewis & Clark College in Oregon.

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Before leaving for Washington, she allegedly told Andrew Bleiler, a 32-year-old former high school teacher with whom she had a five-year affair, that she was intent on having sex with the president.

Among interns, the unpaid and star-struck youths who spend much of their time in clerical tasks, Lewinsky was notable for being pushy, upbeat, with a fondness for heavy makeup, short skirts and low-cut blouses.

She was assigned to a ground-floor office in the Old Executive Office Building, opening mail for then-chief of staff Leon E. Panetta. At summer's end, she landed a paying job delivering documents to White House officials.

Not everyone was happy with Lewinsky's work. In 1996, she was known to some as a "clutch," someone who makes an inordinate effort to get near the president, often by hanging around events to which they were not necessarily invited.

Evelyn Lieberman, then a deputy chief of staff and a friend of Mrs. Clinton, complained and urged Lewinsky's transfer to the Pentagon's press office, to a post that paid $32,736 a year. Lewinsky left her job in December in anticipation of a move to New York.

Drudge takes it public

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The first public hint that there might be more to Lewinsky's professional life and career rise than meets the eye appeared Jan. 18.

Matt Drudge, an Internet gossip columnist, reported that Newsweek had tape recordings in which Lewinsky described a sexual relationship with the president.

Three days later, the news made headlines across the country. Ex-White House worker Tripp said she had secretly recorded 20 hours of talks with Lewinsky.

In those tapes, sources said, Lewinsky claimed she had oral sex with Clinton and that he and his friend Vernon Jordan had asked her to lie about it in her sworn affidavit to lawyers for Jones.

The details were lurid. Newsweek's Michael Isikoff had heard 90 minutes of the tape, in which Lewinsky bemoaned that Clinton, whom she called the "creep," wouldn't settle the Jones suit. Lewinsky and Tripp had been subpoenaed by Jones lawyers.

"My fear is that they have information that we don't know that they have and they can nail us " Tripp says at one point.

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"If I needed to, I would say this did not happen [the sexual relationship] God forbid somebody had a video camera of him and me, I would still say I never told you anything. First of all, for your sake, but also for my sake," Lewinsky replies.

Tripp, 48, who lives in Columbia and works at the Pentagon, used to work at the White House. Last August, she recalled for Newsweek magazine a juicy tidbit: In 1993, she said, she had seen Kathleen Willey, a White House volunteer, leave an appointment with Clinton with her face flushed, her clothing disheveled and her lipstick smeared.

Tripp said Willey told her Clinton had kissed and fondled her in a room off the Oval Office. Clinton's lawyer, Robert S. Bennett, dismissed Tripp's allegation. She was, he said, "not to be believed."

That comment, Tripp said in a statement she released last week, made her feel "especially at risk." The next time she would report a story about Clinton's behavior with a woman, Tripp would have it captured on tape.

Over 15 months, Tripp said, she and Lewinsky talked for hundreds of hours. "Monica described every detail of the relationship," Tripp said in her statement.

Tripp, who once had ideas about a book on the White House, described her conversations with Lewinsky to literary agent Lucianne Goldberg.

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Goldberg, a one-time Nixon spy on the 1972 McGovern campaign, urged her to buy a tape recorder. And so began Tripp's taping of her young friend's confidences.

Wired by the FBI

Armed with the tapes, Tripp called Starr's office on Jan. 12. He had the FBI wire Tripp with a hidden microphone so she could record a meeting with Lewinsky.

That tape gave the Whitewater prosecutor the evidence he needed to make an official request of Attorney General Janet Reno to expand his investigation to cover the Lewinsky matter. Reno agreed, and a three-judge federal panel consented the same day.

Starr's arguments were bolstered by some circumstantial evidence. The White House had taken an unusual interest in the career of a former intern. In October, she had gotten a face-to-face interview and a job offer from U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson, which she turned down.

In one of their final meetings, Lewinsky had reportedly given Tripp a document suggesting ways Tripp might word her story about Willey to the grand jury in a way that would help Clinton.

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Even before this, Jordan had stepped in to help Lewinsky find a job. His contacts include American Express, Young & Rubicam, Burson-Marsteller and ultimately in January, Revlon, on whose board of directors Jordan sits.

When news of the Lewinsky allegations broke, Clinton's initial response was tepid. During an interview with PBS' Jim Lehrer, Clinton stuck to the present tense: "There is no improper relationship." Later in the day his denial was more sweeping -- he said there had been no sexual relationship.

The next day, Jordan held a news conference to say that yes, he had gotten Lewinsky a job, but saw nothing unusual in that: "I was pleased to be helpful."

The Lewinsky family attorney, William H. Ginsburg, was summoned for help. Monica was left to hide out in her mother's Watergate apartment while her attorney tried to break the impasse with Starr over immunity for her from prosecution.

Five days after the scandal became public and at the urging of aides and Cabinet members, Clinton strengthened his denials. "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky," said a fist-pounding Clinton, his wife beside him at a White House event. "I never told anybody to lie. Not a single time. Never."

But that same day, the press also learned that Lewinsky had a private meeting with Clinton on Dec. 28. According to the New York Times, Lewinsky claimed that Clinton told her to explain that her meetings in the White House were with his secretary, Betty Currie.

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Nothing more to say

Publicly, Clinton had no more to say about Lewinsky. He was, his aides said, preoccupied with his State of the Union address, to be delivered last Tuesday.

The day was tense. Clinton wanted this State of the Union to showcase his agenda for the rest of his presidency. But now all this was to be played out against the sex scandal. No one knew how the president would be received.

Clinton stayed in the White House to work on his speech. The first lady went to war. On NBC's "Today" program, Mrs. Clinton blamed the allegations on a "vast, right-wing conspiracy."

She said she fully believed her husband's denial of the allegations and urged the public to be patient, ignore the "feeding frenzy" and wait for the truth to come out.

At the White House, the president rehearsed his speech. At federal court in Washington, Currie was testifying about the president's private life before Starr's grand jury.

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At 9 p.m., when Clinton was introduced to a joint session of Congress, the applause was strong. He made no mention of his problems.

Clinton's approval ratings, riding high before the scandal, climbed higher.

Praise for the first lady

Mrs. Clinton's campaign to save her husband's presidency drew respectful notices.

"This may be remembered as the final proof of Hillary's leadership qualities of strength and firmness," said historian James MacGregor Burns, at the Academy of Leadership at the University of Maryland. "She rallied to her husband's defense. She did something very risky -- to charge the right with conspiracy. That combined with his State of the Union speech seemed to turn the whole thing around."

The sense of imminent doom for Clinton began to recede.

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By Sunday, Ginsburg was on network television predicting that the scandal would fade without forcing Clinton from office. "It'll // pass," Ginsburg said.

Clinton partisans, in an effort to shift attention away from the president, took every opportunity to go after Starr. Starr, they noted, spent 3 1/2 years and $34 million investigating the Whitewater land deal. Now, they said, he'd strayed far away from an Arkansas real estate project.

Solicitor general in the administration of President George Bush, Starr dismissed Hillary Clinton's accusations of a right-wing conspiracy as "nonsense."

Starr's ratings down

But the allegations hurt. In two weeks, polls showed Starr's favorable ratings dropped from 50 percent to 20 percent.

Meanwhile, reports of some of the most apparently damning evidence faded. "There's been a whole lot of breathless reporting by the press, who've been wrong," said the Annenberg School's Jamieson. "The public is saying, 'We don't trust you.' "

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Had the president given Lewinsky a dress, which later bore a semen stain? Various news outlets, citing "sources," said this was so in the first days. By week's end, the FBI reportedly had tested dresses taken from Lewinsky's apartment and found no such residue.

A Secret Service agent found Lewinsky and the president in a "compromising position?" Apparently not. The president had bought Lewinsky gifts? Only trinkets that anyone could have picked up in the White House gift shop, Ginsburg said.

The furious news coverage calmed. But the investigation continued.

Ginsburg, who had spent the week trying to negotiate immunity for Lewinsky, revealed that talks had broken down. He was now, he said, preparing her defense.

'Not essential' to Jones suit

Thursday brought a measure of good news for the president. A judge in Little Rock, Ark., ruled that the Lewinsky matter could not be used in the sexual misconduct case Jones had filed against the president. "Not essential to the core issues," the judge said.

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Ginsburg continued his efforts to paint his client sympathetically. She is an emotional, vulnerable girl swept into a maelstrom who can be given to exaggeration, he acknowledged.

"There are people who talk a lot and as part of the scenario, peccadilloes, they may tell fibs, lies, exaggerations, oversell," he said.

Time and Newsweek magazines reported that on the tapes Lewinsky had demanded a job in exchange for a written denial that she had had sex with the president. She had not filed her affidavit, the magazines said, until Jordan found her work.

Clinton's approval ratings hit an all-time high.

"I'm getting the impression that the American public is tired of hearing about the president's sex life," Ginsburg said.

Perhaps.

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Yesterday, the New York Times reported that Lewinsky had made at least 37 visits to the White House after she had left her job there for the Pentagon.

Later that day, Ginsburg and Monica Lewinsky flew to California so she could spend a few days with her father in upscale Brentwood. A mob of reporters and photographers was waiting.

Feb. 11, 1994. At a news conference sponsored by a conservative group, Paula Corbin Jones, a former Arkansas state employee, says she had to fend off sexual advances by then-Gov. Bill Clinton, who had summoned her to a Little Rock hotel room on May 8, 1991.

May 3, 1994. Robert S. Bennett, one of Washington's premier defense lawyers, is hired by Clinton.

May 6, 1994. Paula Jones files federal sexual misconduct suit against Clinton in Little Rock seeking $700,000 and an apology.

Aug. 5, 1994. Former Bush administration Solicitor General Kenneth W. Starr is appointed by a three-judge panel to head the Whitewater investigation, taking over from fellow Republican Robert B. Fiske Jr.

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May 7, 1995. Monica S. Lewinsky, the daughter of a Beverly Hills oncologist, graduates from Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore. Soon after, she begins a stint as an unpaid White House intern, working in the office of chief of staff Leon E. Panetta.

December, 1995. Lewinsky gets a paid job in the White House answering correspondence in the Office of Legislative Affairs.

April 17, 1996. Lewinsky moves from her job at the White House to one at the Pentagon as assistant to spokesman Kenneth Bacon.

May 27, 1997. Supreme Court unanimously rules that Clinton has no constitutional right to block the Paula Jones suit until after he leaves office.

Aug. 3, 1997. Linda R. Tripp, a former White House aide, alleges in Newsweek magazine that Kathleen E. Willey, a 51-year-old White House volunteer, emerged from a 1993 meeting with Clinton looking disheveled and later told Tripp that Clinton had kissed and fondled her in a hideaway near the Oval Office.

October, 1997. U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson and his chief of staff have breakfast with Lewinsky at the Watergate hotel and discuss job prospects. She is subsequently offered a low-level job at the U.N. mission in New York.

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Dec. 10 or 11, 1997. Vernon Jordan, a Washington lawyer and close friend of Clinton, calls American Express in New York in an effort to find Lewinsky a job.

Dec. 17, 1987. Lewinsky is subpoenaed by Paula Jones' lawyers, presumably to testify about whether she had a sexual relationship with Clinton.

Dec. 26, 1997. Lewinsky leaves her job at the Defense Department.

Dec. 28, 1997. Lewinsky meets with Clinton in the White House.

Dec. 30, 1997. With Jordan's help, Lewinsky interviews in New York with Revlon, of which Jordan is a director, and Burson-Marsteller, a public relations firm.

Jan. 7. Lewinsky signs an affidavit in the Jones case declaring that she never had a sexual relationship with the president. Her lawyer, Francis Carter, does not file it immediately.

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Jan. 12. Tripp, who had become friends with Lewinsky, gives Starr tapes she has secretly recorded from a series of conversations with Lewinsky. On the tapes, Lewinsky claims she has had a sexual relationship with Clinton and that he and Jordan have asked her to deny it.

* Carter, Lewinsky's lawyer, informs Paula Jones' lawyers that Lewinsky's affidavit denies any sexual relationship with Clinton.

Jan. 13. Starr has Tripp wired with a hidden microphone and tapes a meeting between Tripp and Lewinsky.

* Lewinsky is formally offered a job by Revlon.

Jan. 14. At this meeting, Lewinsky hands Tripp a list of "talking points" of unknown origin suggesting how Tripp might revise her account of the Willey incident should she have to testify about it.

Jan. 16. After receiving a briefing from Starr's staff, Attorney General Janet Reno asks the Court of Appeals to authorize Starr to investigate the Lewinsky matter. The court grants the request the same day.

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* Carter files Lewinsky's affidavit in the Jones case.

Jan. 17. Clinton answers questions under oath from Paula Jones' lawyers in a six-hour recollection of intimate details of his personal life. Los Angeles attorney William H. Ginsburg becomes Lewinsky's new attorney, replacing Carter.

Jan. 18. The Drudge Report, an Internet gossip column, carries the first public hint of the alleged Clinton-Lewinsky affair.

Jan. 21. The allegations of sexual relations with Lewinsky appear in the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times.

* Clinton goes on national television to dispute the allegations. He denies having had a sexual relationship with Lewinsky and insists: "I did not ask anyone to tell anything other than the truth."

* Revlon rescinds its job offer to Lewinsky.

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Jan. 22. Jordan reads a statement to the press saying he never asked Lewinsky to lie, but says he did try to find jobs for her at the New York offices of American Express and Revlon Co., on whose corporate boards he serves. Jordan takes no questions.

Jan. 23. Lewinsky's lawyer, Ginsburg, accuses Starr of bullying his 24-year-old client and expresses concern that the prosecution has rescinded its offer of immunity if she cooperates with investigation of Clinton. Lucianne Goldberg, a New York literary agent who had befriended Tripp, says she suggested to Tripp that she tape Lewinsky.

Jan. 24. Ginsburg says Starr is continuing negotiations over immunity.

Jan. 26. Pounding a lectern and pointing his finger at reporters, Clinton strengthens his denial: "I want to say one thing to the American people. I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky. I never told anybody to lie. Not a single time. Never. These allegations are false, and I need to go back to work for the American people."

Jan. 27. Hillary Rodham Clinton appears on NBC's "Today" program to defend her husband and suggests he is a victim of a "vast right-wing conspiracy."

Clinton delivers a State of the Union address that makes no reference to the scandal and that, polls show, is well-received by the public.

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Jan. 28. In a second televised interview, this one on "Good Morning America," Mrs. Clinton asserts the White House position of no public disclosure.

* Fresh from his State of the Union speech, the president goes on the road. He is met by cheering throngs in Wisconsin and Illinois.

Jan. 30. Tripp releases a statement through her attorneys saying she was present when Lewinsky received a late-night phone call from Clinton.

* A federal judge in Arkansas rules that no Clinton-Lewinsky evidence may be used in the Paula Jones lawsuit.

Feb. 1. Ginsburg, in a blitz of five TV interview shows, predicts the scandal will pass without forcing Clinton from office. "It'll go away," he said. "It'll pass."

Feb. 3. The New York Times reports that Lewinsky had visited the White House 37 times after she had moved to a job at the Pentagon in April 1996. Ginsburg says the number "doesn't seem high to me."

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Pub Date: 2/04/98


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