Closeup On Life in The Capital

Paper's Trail

The president compulsively rearranges books and appears to derive great pleasure from showing off his collection of ceramic frogs.

The Secret Service is an informal CIA that gathers intelligence about office politics and knows where the president is at every moment - and whom he's with.

The White House staff is full of young "hall surfers" who loiter in the West Wing in hope of seeing a celebrity. Their prize: a packet of presidential seal M&Ms.

Welcome to Pennsylvania Avenue 90210. It's the swirling, rumor-soaked world of working in the White House, as depicted in testimony to Kenneth Starr's grand jury.

It's a world where the switchboard operators know Barbra Streisand's calls get put through, and the stewards complain about all the lipstick-stained tissues.

But you've got to be on good behavior. "It's not a policy that we let people with temper tantrums come in," Clinton secretary Betty Currie told the independent counsel's grand jury.

Sure, possible impeachment of a president is important. But if nothing else, the thousands of pages of grand-jury testimony gathered by Mr. Starr's prosecutors provide an unprecedented glimpse at the day-to-day operations of the most powerful office in the world.

Historians will love this stuff. It's even better than the Haldeman diaries, the detailed look inside the Nixon White House compiled by chief of staff H.R. Haldeman. It revealed, among other things, that Nixon salted his office with dog bones to get his dog, Tim, to come near him.

The grand-jury transcripts cover everyone from White House stewards to personnel officers to Linda Tripp's superiors at the Department of Defense. Among other things, they reveal that the first job White House officials thought of getting for Monica Lewinsky was as a researcher for TV newswoman Connie Chung.

They contain asides about the difficulty of maintaining discipline in the government, now that the threat of the cold war has passed.

"One of the biggest problems I and the Pentagon face today is a fairly routine and brazen disclosure of secret and top-secret documents," sighed Defense Department spokesman Ken Bacon. "The internal restrictions that people felt about protecting classified information seem to have evaporated."

But arguably the document's most unusual disclosures involve the day-to-day routines of the White House West Wing.

The 'Eagle' is lunching

The impression one receives from the documents is that President Clinton (Secret Service code name "Eagle"), despite his enormous powers, is both a leader and a prisoner. The famous are at his beck and call - singer Judy Collins often sends gifts - but he eats lunch alone at his desk more than 90 percent of the time, according to Ms. Currie.

Every move he makes is tracked. The Secret Service maintains a First Family Locator, an electronic device that beeps and displays the location within a foot of Bill, Hillary, and Chelsea via an array of electric lights.

His staff pushes him relentlessly. Former personal aide Stephen Goodin testified that he would not chat about last night's sports with Mr. Clinton, since that would be a waste of time, "unless it was the [Arkansas] Razorbacks."

Clinton is "a hugging kind of guy" who is difficult to move from meeting to meeting, so Mr. Goodin tried to keep nudging him along. "If we spent two seconds saying hello to a staff person ... instead of looking at a briefing card, that's a waste of his time," testified the aide.

Ever wonder why the Oval Office always looks so neat in photos? That's because the staff moves all Clinton's papers to a nearby dining room if cameras are coming. Clinton is something of a "neat freak," according to Ms. Lewinsky. She told her former friend Linda Tripp that he spotted a ribbon bookmark hanging askew from one of his volumes, and walked across the room to straighten it.

"Isn't that weird?" Lewinsky said.

His staff knows that Clinton maintains a large collection of toy frogs purchased from The Nature Co. and other stores. He takes pride in showing them to children.

"If he has an extra one or two, then he gives them away," said Clinton scheduler Nancy Heinreich.

'Watch your back'

Meanwhile, Secret Service agents are watching Clinton as if they were tracking a piece on a chess board.

Their First Family Locator, plus entry logs for visitors and the sheer number of officers (two enter the Oval Office before Clinton, every time he comes in, to check it), meant they had a pretty good idea the president was engaging in an inappropriate relationship.

"It was pretty much common knowledge," testified officer Brent Chinery.

At one point in the spring of 1996, a friendly officer warned Lewinsky's White House co-worker, Jocelyn Jolley, to "watch your back. Someone saw the president and Monica smooching."

Both Ms. Jolley and Lewinsky lost their White House jobs later that week.

Surf's up

The Secret Service couldn't stop all the young interns and aides who "hall surfed," or hung out in the corridor between the Oval Office and the rest of the West Wing, in hope of catching a glimpse of someone important. Hillary and Chelsea were best, but they'd take a Bill sighting if it came to that.

Evelyn Lieberman, former deputy chief of staff, would often chase them away. "She was a hall clearer," Currie testified.

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