July 29, 1998
It has been two hectic days in Washington. President Clinton has agreed to testify before Ken Starr's grand jury and Monica Lewinsky signed a far-reaching immunity deal with the special prosecutor. Three White House correspondents discuss the week and its possible ramifications with Jim Lehrer.
JIM LEHRER: That agreement for President Clinton to testify by videotape before the grand jury investigating the Monica Lewinsky matter. We get the details now from three veteran White House reporters: Karen Breslau of Newsweek; Susan Page of USA Today; and Karen Tumulty of Time.
A RealAudio version of this segment is available.
July 28, 1998:
Ken Starr makes an immunity deal with Monica Lewinsky
July 28, 1998:
Law professor Paul Campos discusses the Lewinsky immunity deal.
July 27, 1998:
Ken Starr subpoenas the president to testify in front of his grand jury
July 21, 1998:
A roundtable discussion on Chief Justice Rehnquist's decision not to interfere with the subpoenas of secret service agents.
July 16, 1998:
The Clinton administration appeals to Chief Justice Rehnquist to keep secret service agents from testifying before the Starr grand jury.
July 15, 1998:
Can the Justice Dept. force secret service agents to testify?
July 4, 1998:
The Supreme Court refuses to hear from Kenneth Starr.
July 1, 1998:
A report on the question of executive privilege and the Starr investigation.
June 29, 1998:
The Supreme Court upholds attorney-client privilege in the Vincent Foster case.
June 8, 1998:
The Supreme Court hears arguments in the Vincent Foster attorney-client privilege case.
June 4, 1998:
The Supreme Court refuses to expedite matters in the Ken Starr investigation.
May 1, 1998:
Dan Balz discusses the new charges against former Justice Department official Webster Hubbell.
Browse the NewsHour's coverage of the Starr Investigation.
The Washingtonpost.com's library of legal documents in the Starr investigation.
Aug. 17: "I think it could be a very long day."
Susan, let's go through what is known about the agreement. August 17th, that's a Monday.
SUSAN PAGE, USA Today: That's when President Clinton had expected to be on vacation in Martha's Vineyard. His vacation has been delayed two days. The agreement announced today shows that President Clinton got several things that were very important to him. He doesn't have to go to the courthouse to testify. He gets to testify on videotape. His lawyers can be in the room, and that the—we don't think that questioning, itself, is limited, but we think they've agreed to one day of questioning, so that's some limitation. He's not going to be dragged back day after day. So he go several things he wanted, and Starr got what he wanted to, which is face to face questioning of the President on this Monica Lewinsky controversy.
JIM LEHRER: Now, how does the videotape work, Karen? The President sits at a table, like in a courtroom, and that is videotaped, or does the President talk right to the camera as if he were testifying before the—speaking to the members of the grand jury?
KAREN BRESLAU, Newsweek: No, he talks. It's a conversation very much like this one. This has been done at least three times before in other Whitewater-related testimony. The lawyers--his lawyers—Ken Starr and his team will troop into the White House map room probably. That's where they've done it in the past. The President will sit in a chair. He'll be sworn in and will be asked a series of questions by Starr and that exchange will be videotaped and sent to the courthouse.
JIM LEHRER: But it would be videotaped not with one single camera, with just the President's answers, the whole event—
KAREN BRESLAU: The whole proceedings.
JIM LEHRER: Like a television—
KAREN BRESLAU: Absolutely. And it will all be on the record, everything from the swearing in to the conclusion of the testimony.
JIM LEHRER: And a judge will be there to swear in the President?
KAREN TUMULTY, Time: There will be someone there to swear in the President and, again, the President's lawyers and all the legal teams on both sides will be there. Another major victory in this for the White House is the fact that it now appears that the President will testify after Monica Lewinsky, and given the fact that one of the things the White House was most concerned about was a perjury trap, this gives them some possibility, depending on how much they know about her testimony, to sort of know what her story is before he goes in.
JIM LEHRER: Yes. Go ahead.
KAREN BRESLAU: I think the key word in David Kendall's statement was voluntarily. The White House—Mike McCurry had a disastrous briefing today, and sort of dangling—
JIM LEHRER: This was before this was announced.
KAREN BRESLAU: This was a few hours before Kendall's announcement. The subpoena—the much-discussed subpoena, which the White House could never confirm--has been withdrawn. Kendall never had to acknowledge its existence. He never has to acknowledge that the President was compelled to testify. This can be presented as standard operating procedure. Of course, the President wants to cooperate. We were just working on the details. Now he's pleased to voluntarily provide this testimony.
JIM LEHRER: Now, when you said a minute ago, Susan, that it would just be for one day, I mean, is that-- one day can be a long time, depending on when you start the day and when you end it--what does that mean?
SUSAN PAGE: I think it could be a very long day, no matter how long it takes. There's a lot about this we don't know.
JIM LEHRER: Sure.
SUSAN PAGE: But the indication from Mr. Kendall's statement was that there's one day of testimony set up, and there are plans for the President to then head off on vacation. So we don't have the sense that we're going to have what we saw with Linda Tripp, for instance, where for eight days she trotted up and testified—testified before those prosecutors.
JIM LEHRER: Anything you can—either one of you all can add to that in terms of how long this might go on.
KAREN TUMULTY: Well, again, it could be a very long day, but the whole idea limiting also limits them on the degree to which they can sort of go beyond. While the topics apparently are not limited, the degree to which they can sort of go beyond on every little detail of this is also limited by the time limit.
"I think they want to make clear that the President of the United States is no ordinary witness."
JIM LEHRER: Now, just for those of us—for those viewers who just—who just tuned into this story on this given day--what makes this special, of course, one of the many things that makes this special, is that the President will have his lawyers right there with him. Now this means that if he is asked a question, he can consult with his lawyers before giving an answer, which normally in a grand jury a witness does not have a lawyer present, correct?
KAREN TUMULTY: Right. And that lawyer then would be able to signal to him, for instance, whether he shouldn't answer that question, or whether, you know, they, again, should consult, so this gives the lawyers a lot of leverage that an average person testifying in front of a grand jury would never get.
SUSAN PAGE: Although it's consistent with the way presidents have been treated in the past when they've talked to special counsels or to prosecutors. It's consistent with the way President Carter was treated by the special counsel during the peanut warehouse investigation, and it's consistent with the treatment of Vice President Bush when he gave videotaped testimony in the Iran-Contra Affair. So there are some deference shown traditionally by prosecutors to the President—not the full deference that President Clinton may have hoped for, which is perhaps not to testify at all, but some consideration because he is president.
JIM LEHRER: Yes.
KAREN BRESLAU: And I think they want to make clear that the President of the United States is no ordinary witness and that he cannot—there is no precedent whatsoever for being able to compel the chief executive to testify. And that's what the White House counsel, Charles Ruff, had been arguing so vociferously for the past few weeks while these negotiations were going on, and that's where they worked out these details, so they could demonstrate this is voluntary testimony. I mean, the political pressure had become crushing, and the White House was really dealing with a lot of—with some very embarrassing questions today, but the actual way this is going to take place and what the grand jury will see is going to indicate this is a very special witness.
One valuable piece of tape.
JIM LEHRER: Now, the videotape—now that's probably going to become the most valuable piece of videotape, at least for 24 hours, or whatever, or maybe longer. What happens to that videotape? That becomes part of the official record of this investigation, but it's as secret as any other testimony before a grand jury, correct?
KAREN BRESLAU: Right. It becomes the property of the court, but the question is will Bill Clinton's political advisers decide they need to put out their side of the story? You don't want to have Ken Starr being the executive producer of the Bill Clinton story, and so the question is: it's the witness's prerogative, do I say something to the public, how does he politically explain, speaking to some American people, namely the members of the grand jury, not to all of the American people. They can put out their side of the story if they want to.
KAREN TUMULTY: And also, presumably the contents of that videotape would become part of whatever report Ken Starr would subsequently submit to Congress in determining whether or not to recommend impeachment proceedings. So, you know, presumably the contents of the videotape would get out eventually.
SUSAN PAGE: I think we can expect this to be part of a two-part enterprise here. One is President Clinton's testimony to the grand jurors. Secondly, I think we're going to see in some form an explanation to the American people of the questions that we've had since January 21st about what exactly is going on here.
JIM LEHRER: In what form, do you think?
SUSAN PAGE: Well, I don't know. It could be a news conference. I think it's more likely to be some kind of speech, because that would be more under President Clinton's control to give an address to the nation in some way, that tells people what's happened, what his side of the story is and what he hopes happens next.
A victory for the lawyers?
JIM LEHRER: Much has been made in you all's publications, as well as all other publications about this conflict at the White House between the political side and the lawyering side. Is this decision, this deal, is this a lawyer decision, or a political decision?
SUSAN PAGE: Well, the lawyers have definitely been in charge for some months, and this is a sign that the politicians are starting to have their stay, starting with the nation's No. 1 politician, Bill Clinton. It was no longer politically feasible for the President to stonewall on this. It was necessary for him to testify in some way or another. There were questions which have been subtle today about what form that would take. Now the only question is what it is he's going to tell.
KAREN TUMULTY: The sign that there's, the political side has a little more leverage is also evident in the fact that there were things that the president's lawyer, David Kendall, could have done to put off this day of reckoning a little bit longer. He could have tried to quash the subpoena. He could have, in fact, blown this up into a full-blown constitutional crisis over whether a President can be subpoenaed. So this does suggest that the forces who are arguing for accommodation have got at least a little bit more of a leg up.
JIM LEHRER: In fact, there was speculation even earlier in the day that there was an attempt going to be made, yes, the President would, in fact, do something like this, but they were going to try to delay it past Labor Day even.
KAREN TUMULTY: That's right. The report this morning was sometime into September.
JIM LEHRER: Okay.
KAREN BRESLAU: We were supposed to get today's news on a piece of paper. And Mike McCurry—after what he went through this afternoon—said—I don't know exactly what he said –but the fact that David Kendall appeared before a battery of microphones in the White House driveway suggests to me that he was invited very firmly to come and say what he had to say on camera.
JIM LEHRER: Do you believe that part of this deal is definitely that the President will testify, that by August the 17th Monica Lewinsky will have testified already before the grand jury?
KAREN BRESLAU: It certainly suggests that. We don't know.
JIM LEHRER: For a fact?
KAREN BRESLAU: I don't know for a fact.
JIM LEHRER: Do either of you know that, that was part of the deal?
KAREN BRESLAU: I don't know.
JIM LEHRER: Is it likely that he could have extracted that, Kendall could have extracted that from Starr?
SUSAN PAGE: I think that Mr. Starr had a lot of cards to play on this, in this arrangement. And I think it—I mean, I don't know—I guess it's silly to speculate, but it seems to me I don't see how the President was going to be able to demand that. There are—there have been suggestions that Monica Lewinsky will testify next week, which would be before the President. But Kenneth Starr can do what he wants.
Linda Tripp speaks.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Now, the Linda Tripp—we ran her statement, most of her statement in our News Summary. Fit the Linda Tripp story today into the President's testimony and Lewinsky's testimony. How important is it to what she says?
KAREN TUMULTY: Well, I think the most important part of her statement was where she denied publicly rather than through her lawyers that she had had anything to do with the infamous talking point because what has been reported--
JIM LEHRER: Explain again what the talking point--
KAREN TUMULTY: The talking points were a document that Linda Tripp had received from Monica Lewinsky coaching her as to what she was to say in her own deposition. And this to date had been--
JIM LEHRER: That was in the old Paula Jones civil case.
KAREN TUMULTY: Right. And this to date had been the most tangible possible evidence of obstruction of justice that could have been made in any case against the White House--now we have Monica Lewinsky saying nobody at the White House helped me write them. And we have her saying and I based it on what Linda Tripp said, and Linda Tripp is now saying I didn't have anything to do it, so it's now she said, she said.
JIM LEHRER: And she also—Linda Tripp also said that—suggested in no uncertain terms that Monica Lewinsky asked her to violate the law, to lie.
KAREN BRESLAU: Absolutely. This has been her rationale all along, as communiqué and through various lawyers, and anonymous sources close to Linda Tripp, and I think this appearance today before the courthouse with her voice quivering and finally a voice—most of America doesn't know what Linda Tripp sounds like—I think is an attempt to rehabilitate an image that has been absolutely savaged in public.
JIM LEHRER: She commented—we didn't run the piece—she talked about these late night comedians who have made fun of her appearance and all of that.
KAREN BRESLAU: Those of us who've reported this story have gotten from various people—I mean, there is, you know, a pro-Linda Tripp camp, which is pretty limited, and an enormous anti-Linda Tripp camp, and this woman has become a caricature, and this is the first time—to the best of my knowledge—that she's spoken publicly about this matter. The last time we ever saw her on TV was, I think, during the Vince Foster hearings years ago.
JIM LEHRER: But I think it's safe to say it won't be the last time.
KAREN BRESLAU: Something tells me not.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Thank you all three very much.