Inquiry Now Looks to Former Intern

Independent counsel is negotiating with Monica Lewinsky's attorneys over her grand-jury testimony, planned for tomorrow.

In the span of a few days, Monica Lewinsky has gone from budding public-relations specialist with friends in powerful places to one of the most feared women in Washington.

On one level she is - as her attorney describes her - a frightened, embarrassed, emotionally devastated 24-year-old under pressure from competing forces.

But on another level, she represents the greatest threat to Bill Clinton and an administration already deep in crisis. At the same time, she may pose a threat to the credibility of independent counsel Kenneth Starr, if the public perceives she is being beat up by a vindictive, partisan prosecutor.

The stakes are high on both sides as Ms. Lewinsky prepares to appear tomorrow before the grand jury impaneled to investigate President Clinton.

It remains unclear whether she will assert her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and remain silent, as White House officials hope, or whether she will agree to cooperate with the independent counsel and testify against the president.

For the past week, Lewinsky's lawyers have been trying to secure a grant of blanket immunity from prosecution for their client. Mr. Starr has balked out of concern that Lewinsky might not follow through with complete cooperation.

Starr wants her to provide a detailed statement of every fact she is willing to testify to under oath, including alleged obstruction of justice. He is willing to grant her limited immunity for all items in her statement, but nothing more. That way, if she fails to testify in accord with her written agreement or investigators later uncover new evidence of Lewinsky's own wrongdoing, Starr can prosecute her, analysts say.

If she refuses to testify altogether, Starr has the power to recommend she be jailed in the same way that Susan McDougal was jailed for refusing to testify against Clinton. In addition, Starr is calling Lewinsky's parents to testify before the grand jury, presumably to ask them under penalty of perjury whether their daughter ever told them she was having a sexual relationship with the president. Clinton has reportedly conceded to close associates that he had a friendship with Lewinsky that began while she was a White House intern. But he says it was not sexual. Clinton's lawyer, Robert Bennett, is emphasizing Starr's pressure tactics, suggesting that determined prosecutors can make anyone testify but the end result may not necessarily be the truth.

"Prosecutors engage in a legalized form of extortion all the time while convincing people to cooperate," says Neal Sonnett, a defense attorney in Miami. Juries are instructed to weigh any resulting testimony with great care, he says.

Legal analysts say that Lewinsky's testimony would be essential to any case against the president.

Her testimony about alleged sexual relations with Clinton could support perjury charges against the president because of his reported sworn statement in the Paula Jones case on Jan. 17 denying any such contact with Lewinsky. Knowingly making a false statement under oath is a felony. Her testimony would need to be corroborated with White House security logs documenting any visits, telephone records showing any Clinton calls to Lewinsky at home, and evidence of gifts the two reportedly exchanged.

But Lewinsky's testimony wouldn't be without problems. She would need to explain why on Jan. 7 she signed her own sworn affidavit in the Paula Jones case stating in part: "I have never had a sexual relationship with the president."

Key document

But even more than her possible testimony about sex with Clinton or any of the secretly recorded tapes, potentially the most explosive aspect of Lewinsky's cooperation with Starr relates to a three-page, typewritten set of instructions that Lewinsky gave to her friend Linda Tripp on Jan. 14. These so-called "talking points" have been described as a how-to guide for Ms. Tripp to commit perjury under oath in the Jones sexual-harassment suit to help Clinton avoid losing the case. Tripp has yet to give her deposition in the Paula Jones case.

This document appears to be irrefutable evidence of an attempted crime. And presumably Lewinsky knows who gave it to her or who helped draft it.

It is this evidence, rather than questions about sex or tapes, that some analysts say offers prosecutors their most fruitful avenue for continued investigation. It also offers Starr his best leverage to persuade Lewinsky to testify against the president.

By handing the document to Tripp and urging her to lie under oath, Lewinsky could be prosecuted for attempting to obstruct justice.

The public may be titillated by 20 hours of taped gossip and chit-chat by Lewinsky boasting about her alleged sexual relationship with the president, but the tapes are mere hearsay evidence of an alleged crime. In contrast, the talking points are documentary evidence, admissible in a trial.

Legal analysts say Starr must be careful in his efforts to compel Lewinsky to cooperate. If he pushes too hard or dwells too long on the salacious details of the tapes, analysts say, the public may conclude that the independent counsel, a Republican, is more interested in embarrassing the president than investigating and prosecuting alleged corruption.

Motives in question

Legal analysts are divided over whether Starr's motives are proper. "There is clearly enough to trigger an investigation," says Evan Slavitt, a Boston-based attorney.

"If this was John Q. Citizen, it wouldn't get off the ground," counters Albert Krieger, the defense attorney who represented John Gotti in his federal racketeering trial. "I can't conceive of a prosecutor taking the statements of these two women and bringing a case in any jurisdiction ... unless there is a personal motivation on the part of the prosecutor," he says.

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