Witnesses are needed to get at 'heart' of case, managers say; List includes Lewinsky, Jordan and Blumenthal; Currie would not be called


WASHINGTON -- In seeking the testimony of Monica Lewinsky, Vernon Jordan and Sidney Blumenthal, the Republican House prosecutors said yesterday that they wanted the Senate to hear from witnesses who represented "the basic heart of the obstruction of justice case" against President Clinton.

The witnesses are necessary "for the Senate to be able to make the ultimate conclusion of what is the truth," said Rep. James E. Rogan of California.

Aside from the unexpected call from the House prosecutors for Clinton himself to give a deposition -- a request the White House was quick to reject -- the pared witness list submitted yesterday presented a major surprise: the absence of Betty Currie, Clinton's secretary, who is central to several obstruction of justice charges against the president.

Currie, for example, retrieved from Lewinsky gifts that Clinton had given the former White House intern. Prosecutors say Currie acted at Clinton's direction.

What's more, Currie testified before the grand jury that the president summoned her to the White House the day after his deposition in the Paula Corbin Jones sexual misconduct case and led her through leading questions about his activities with Lewinsky.

In defending the Republicans' witness list before the Senate yesterday, Rep. Bill McCollum of Florida, one of the House prosecutors, said Currie was not needed as a witness because her previous testimony on such points was "undisputed" by the White House.

"No more witnesses are needed," McCollum said. "The president committed those crimes."

Rogan said House prosecutors were also discouraged from calling Currie because their questioning of her would take too long, especially when combined with depositions from Lewinsky and Jordan.

"Some senators would look at that and say the sheer length of that goes beyond what we wanted," Rogan said. "Did we want to risk putting the three most controversial witnesses on the list and not get any of them?"

The House prosecutors, frustrated by the Senate's growing desire for a speedy trial, expressed dismay that their witness list had to be severely limited to have any chance of passing.

"This was a consensus, although not a happy consensus," Rogan said.

In remarks on the Senate floor yesterday, Rep. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas echoed those sentiments, saying: "The House managers have submitted to the rules of the Senate. We weren't particularly happy about all of them."

The motion for witnesses, to be voted on today, would require Lewinsky, Jordan and Blumenthal to appear at closed-door depositions. The House prosecutors said they hoped the Senate would eventually vote to hear live testimony from the three witnesses.

In further explaining the unexpected makeup of the list, Paul J. McNulty, a spokesman for the House prosecutors, said that, taken together, Jordan and Blumenthal could testify to Clinton's efforts to find Lewinsky a job, to spread the false story that he had not had a physical relationship with Lewinsky and to smear Lewinsky as a "stalker."

McNulty said Currie would be able simply to confirm her testimony that Clinton asked her leading questions about his contacts with Lewinsky, such as, "I was never alone with her, right?"

The White House has not disputed this account. But it says the president was merely trying to refresh his memory rather than to tamper with a potential witness.

On the issue of who initiated the gift retrieval, McNulty said Currie's testimony -- that the retrieval was Lewinsky's idea -- contradicts Lewinsky's testimony that Currie initiated the pickup. House prosecutors have chosen to believe Lewinsky on the matter.

He acknowledged that the quiet and deeply religious Currie might have generated much sympathy as a witness, as she did when she entered the federal courthouse last year, surrounded by a media throng, with a fearful, deer-in-the-headlights look.

On the other hand, Jordan, a powerful Washington insider and superlawyer, is less likely to provoke a protective reaction among senators -- and, perhaps, a television audience.

Similarly, Blumenthal, a White House communications official with a reputation for arrogance, is not as popular a figure on Capitol Hill as is John Podesta, Clinton's chief of staff, who had also been considered as a witness.

"Prosecutors always have to take into account how a witness will be viewed on the stand," McNulty said.

But McNulty denied speculation that Currie might have been struck from the witness list to avoid the specter of a black woman being grilled by white male prosecutors before an all-white, largely male Senate.

On the Senate floor yesterday, House prosecutors argued that Lewinsky was central to their case and was "probably the most important witness."

They said it was necessary to call Lewinsky to resolve discrepancies in a number of areas: the nature of her relationship with the president; the affidavit Lewinsky signed for the Jones lawyers in which she denied a sexual relationship with Clinton; the transfer of gifts to Currie; the effort to find Lewinsky a job in New York; and Lewinsky's conversations with Clinton about their "cover stories" should she be asked about her visits to the Oval Office.

"Wouldn't it be nice to hear Ms. Lewinsky's version of this?" Rep. Ed Bryant of Tennessee asked the Senate. "As triers of fact, wouldn't you want to observe the demeanor of Ms. Lewinsky and test her credibility?"

The prosecutors insisted that Lewinsky would not be asked about the "salacious details" of her relationship with Clinton -- even though those details support the charge that the president committed perjury in denying a sexual relationship with Lewinsky.

Rather, they said, Lewinsky would be asked whether she stood by her grand jury testimony in which she described the sexual activities she engaged in with the president.

Lewinsky, he said, could share with the Senate the "tone and tenor of her conversations with the president" about the affidavit and their "cover stories," for instance.

In making the case for Jordan, Hutchinson said testimony by the Clinton confidant would prove the connection between the job search for Lewinsky, her filing of a false affidavit in the Jones case and her relationship with Clinton.

Hutchinson said Republicans want to ask Jordan whether he knew the true nature of Clinton's relationship with Lewinsky, whether he helped her draft her affidavit denying a sexual relationship with Clinton and whether, as Lewinsky has asserted, Jordan instructed her to destroy notes she had written to Clinton.

Clinton's private lawyer, David E. Kendall, in his rebuttal case against witnesses yesterday, said the question of whether Jordan told Lewinsky to destroy notes was irrelevant to the impeachment charges and was merely a "gratuitous smear on Mr. Jordan."

The prosecutors said Blumenthal's testimony was vital to show that Clinton obstructed justice by lying to his aides about his relationship with Lewinsky even though he knew they were potential witnesses for the grand jury.

Rogan said Blumenthal's testimony also shows Clinton's effort to "destroy Monica Lewinsky," because the president told his communications aide, who had frequent conversations with the media, that Lewinsky was known among her peers as a "stalker."

In addition to the three witnesses, the House prosecutors have requested a sworn statement from Barry Ward, a law clerk to the judge in the Jones case. Ward's declaration, they said, would prove that Clinton, contrary to his statement to the grand jury, was paying close attention when his lawyer told the Jones judge there was "no sex of any kind, of any manner, shape or form" between the president and Lewinsky.

The House Republicans have also requested a sworn statement from T. Wesley Holmes, one of the Jones lawyers, to show that Clinton had every reason to believe Currie would be called as a witness after he gave his deposition.

And the prosecutors have requested records of a phone conversation between Clinton and Lewinsky that they believe will show that, once the president knew Lewinsky had been named as a witness in the Jones case, he stepped up the job search for her.

Pub Date: 1/27/99

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