January 27, 1998
President Clinton may wish the nation would focus on the State of the Union address, but most eyes will continue to follow the alleged scandal involving former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. The NewsHour speaks with Dan Balz from The Washington Post for an update on this story. Check The Post for additional coverage.
JIM LEHRER: Now, tracking these and other developments and to Margaret Warner.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
January 26, 1998:
Washington Post reporter, Dan Balz, discusses the White House crisis.
January 26, 1998:
Our presidential historians discuss the importance of President Clinton's State of the Union address.
January 26, 1998:
Experts debate the role of the independent counsel.
January 23, 1998:
Mark Shields and Paul Gigot discuss the the political issues surrounding President Clinton's alleged affair.
January 22, 1998:
Shields and Gigot discuss the legal implications of the crisis.
January 22, 1998:
The legal implications of President Clinton's alleged affair.
January 22, 1998:
Presidential historians and experts put the brewing crisis in perspective.
January 21, 1998:
President Clinton responds to charges that he may have had an affair with a former White House intern.
May 27, 1997:
A discussion on the ramifications of the Paula Jones case on the office of the Presidency.
January 13, 1997:
Paula Jones's case goes before the Supreme Court.
An exploration of presidential leadership: Character Above All
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of the White House and legal issues
The Shields and Gigot index page.
The Washingtonpost.com's coverage of the crisis.
MARGARET WARNER: Once again we return to the Washington Post newsroom, and joining us is Dan Balz, a correspondent on The Post's national staff.
Welcome back, Dan.
DAN BALZ, The Washington Post: Thank you, Margaret.
MARGARET WARNER: Update what happened today. First of all, Mrs. Clinton's comments. What was the thinking in the White House behind having her go out and do this extensive interview?
DAN BALZ: Margaret, I think there are two things involved here. One is to raise morale of people around the country and particularly in the White House who want to believe in President Clinton in this case, and second is to re-focus some of the discussion that's going on now and aim it back at Kenneth Starr.
An effort to raise morale in the White House and around the country.
MARGARET WARNER: So you're saying is this part of a deliberate strategy to actually introduce or reintroduce this issue in the public, whether this is part of a right-wing conspiracy?
DAN BALZ: Very much so. I think that one of the things that has happened over the last week is that the people who are around the president feel that last week was, as one person said to us today, a disaster; that there was nothing clear that came out of the White House in terms of a denial and that the president and the first lady were either out of sight, or when they were in public looked as if they were defensive, you know, worried, nervous, et cetera. The last two days what you've seen is a very vigorous denial on the part of the president and a very strong statement of support by the first lady today and an attack on Kenneth Starr, so for the first time since this happened, people around the Clintons feel much more up about whether they might be able to get through this. They know they've got a long way to go, but they feel better. And that was an important thing.
A change in strategy: focussing attention on the accusers.
But the second thing, and an important element of their strategy at this point is to raise doubts about Kenneth Starr's motivations. They've done this in the past, and they want to do it at this point. They feel that since this started, this has been a one-sided story; that essentially what's happened is that there has been a huge amount, just a cheer volume of accusations leveled at President Clinton, that he's not answered or he's been able to answer for a variety of reasons. What they want to do is change the nature of the debate. They don't feel--I believe, based on conversations we've had today--that Kenneth Starr can engage in a back and forth with them on this issue every day, and to some extent the Republicans, who have remained silent up to now, have to remain silent because it's the view of people around the Clintons at this point if the Republicans get in to defend Ken Starr, or to try to say this isn't a conspiracy of the right wing, that it will prove that it is, because they will be taking Ken Starr's position. So they feel that it is a way to focus public discussion on something other than the pure allegations. And they think that they may have some success with it.
MARGARET WARNER: All right, now, moving on to another front in this story, the negotiations between Kenneth Starr and the lawyer for Monica Lewinsky, just update what's happened since you and I talked last night.
DAN BALZ: Margaret, I think the simplest thing to say is that this is a day in which there are more questions than there are answers. There is not yet an agreement between the independent counsel and Monica Lewinsky's attorneys as to immunity. To some extent this was--this was a result of the fact that Starr's team was involved in grand jury proceedings today. They were, in essence, distracted by that, so they have not been able to do much on the negotiating front. As we understand it, there's another meeting that will go on tonight where they will examine further the proffer that Ms. Lewinsky's attorney made yesterday, but at this point we don't have an agreement. I would have to say that not a lot of progress has been made so far today on that front.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, we should explain that this proffer was made last night after our show. What can you tell us about, I think Mr. Ginsburg called it a complete proffer--what was he offering last night that he hadn't been offering in the days running up to this?
Is Monica Lewinsky prepared to testify?
DAN BALZ: I think we would all like to know what's in that proffer, and we're all trying to find out. At this point we don't know a lot. What we do believe is that over the--over the course of the days in which there have been discussions between Ken Starr's office and Mr. Ginsburg that more and more information has been forthcoming from Ginsburg about what Monica Lewinsky might be prepared to testify. Most of this has been verbal information. It has been accumulated by the independent counsel's office. They feel they now have more information than they had before, but we think there are probably still a number of loose ends that have to be tied up before they can reach any agreement.
MARGARET WARNER: And from your reporting, do you know how much Monica Lewinsky is ready to confirm about what's on the tapes of her conversations with her friend, Linda Tripp?
DAN BALZ: We, like everyone else, are trying to find out exactly what she's prepared to testify.
MARGARET WARNER: There was also a curious thing that Mr. Ginsburg said this morning in an interview with NPR, that seemed curious to me, that he was perfectly willing to have her take a polygraph. Can you explain that.
DAN BALZ: I think, frankly, that that is something that many lawyers do in a situation like this. Part of what he needs to do is to reassure people that Monica Lewinsky will be telling the truth when she comes forward; that what she has to say is factual. Saying that she's prepared to take a polygraph test suggests that she is not defensive about what's about to unfold and that she--she is telling the full truth.
Who is Betty Currie?
MARGARET WARNER: And then finally moving on now to the grand jury that met today in Washington, Betty Currie, the president's secretary, was seen going in and coming out. First of all, explain to us who is Betty Currie, why is she important?
DAN BALZ: Betty Currie is the president's secretary. She sits right outside the Oval Office. She's a person who would have access to know who's going in and out of the Oval Office, certainly most of the day. Secondly, she's important because it is alleged that Monica Lewinsky sent some packages from her office at the Pentagon to the White House and that they were sent to Betty Currie, or through Betty Currie to the president. So she is the person who would have received those packages, if they existed.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you know anything about her testimony today--of course, grand jury testimony is secret--but how long she was in there, whether she really testified, anything about what she said?
DAN BALZ: She was there for about three hours. She had nothing to say to reporters, nor did her attorney when she left the building. At this point we don't know what she had to say.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, the other--one other question on that--there have been reports today, this morning, that Kenneth Starr was not going to call any significant witnesses today to the grand jury. Yet, she was called. Can you explain that.
DAN BALZ: Well, there were intimations yesterday coming out of the independent counsel's team that they might not call significant witnesses today in deference to the president's State of the Union address tonight, that they did not necessarily want to cause a major distraction from that. It's not clear whether this was a change of heart at the last minute, or whether they always intended to have Betty Currie go, but not a significant witness, such as Vernon Jordan, who would--who would have probably caused an even greater media scene down in front of federal district court.
MARGARET WARNER: If such a thing is possible.
DAN BALZ: If such a thing is possible, that's right.
The Rutherford Institute and its connection to the current White House scandal.
MARGARET WARNER: Then also called today was John Whitehead, who's president of the Rutherford Institute. First, again, explain who he is and what the Rutherford Institute's role is in all this.
DAN BALZ: Well, the Rutherford Institute is funding Paula Jones's legal defense. And so he is there as part of that in the sense that the Paula Jones case and this have become intertwined.
MARGARET WARNER: And so he brought some documents. Do you know anything about those documents?
DAN BALZ: I don't know a lot about what those documents are at this point. We think that perhaps it has to do with some of the records that they might have accumulated over time as they learned about the existence of Monica Lewinsky, or whatever they knew about it at the time, but not much is known right now about the kinds of documents he may have produced.
MARGARET WARNER: But now isn't there a gag order in that Paula Jones case? How was he able to bring documents in--
DAN BALZ: Well, some of these things--
MARGARET WARNER: --this case?
DAN BALZ: Well, some of these things would not necessarily be covered by the gag order. I mean, much of it is, but apparently what he was able to bring in today probably would not have been.
MARGARET WARNER: So that would mean that the president's own deposition in the Paula Jones case or the affidavit by Monica Lewinsky, if this is correct, would not have been among those documents?
DAN BALZ: That is our understanding, yes.
MARGARET WARNER: And do you--do you know when Vernon Jordan and, for that matter, Monica Lewinsky, but Vernon Jordan will be asked to come to the grand jury?
DAN BALZ: We don't know at this point. The grand jury is scheduled to reconvene tomorrow and Thursday, as we understand it, but they have not put out a witness list, and we'll just have to wait and see as that unfolds.
MARGARET WARNER: All right, Dan, thanks again.
DAN BALZ: You're welcome. Thank you.
JIM LEHRER: We will be going to the Washington Post newsroom each evening for an update on this story. The Post coverage is available in full after 10:30 Eastern time on the Internet at its Web site www.washingtonpost.com or ours www.pbs.org/newshour