Clinton's Grand Jury Testimony
September 21, 1998
Extended excerpts from President Clinton's grand jury testimony, narrated by Kwame Holman.
JIM LEHRER: President Clinton's grand jury testimony was broadcast on national television today. The videotape was made public by the U.S. House of Representatives. Nearly 3200 pages of related documents were also released. They included a transcript of Monica Lewinsky's testimony and other evidence gathered by independent counsel Kenneth Starr. The tape of the president's August 17th testimony was carried live by commercial and cable networks, starting at 9:25 AM Eastern Time, ending at 1:40 PM. Our coverage begins with excerpts related to Starr's claim of substantial and credible evidence the president committed perjury and obstructed the independent counsel's inquiry. Kwame Holman narrates.
KWAME HOLMAN: The entire four hours of testimony consists of a single picture of the president, seated in the Map Room of the White House. His questioners from the Office of Independent Counsel can be heard slightly off microphone. The session began with the President asking to read an opening statement.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: When I was alone with Ms. Lewinsky on certain occasions in early 1996, and once in early 1997, I engaged in conduct that was wrong. These encounters did not consist of sexual intercourse. They did not constitute sexual relations, as I understood that term to be defined at my January 17th, 1998 deposition. But they did involve inappropriate, intimate contact. These inappropriate encounters ended at my insistence in early 1997. I also had occasional telephone conversations with Ms. Lewinsky that included inappropriate sexual banter. I regret that what began as a friendship came to include this conduct. And I take full responsibility for my actions. While I will provide the grand jury whatever other information I can, because of privacy considerations affecting my family, myself and others, and in an effort to preserve the dignity of the office I hold, this is all I will say about the specifics of these particular matters. I will try to answer to the best of my ability other questions, including questions about my relationship with Ms. Lewinsky, questions about my understanding of the term of sexual relations, as I understood it to be defined at my January 17th, 1998, deposition, and questions concerning alleged subordination of perjury, obstruction of justice and intimidation of witnesses.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: That, Mr. Bittman, is my statement.
KWAME HOLMAN: Independent counsel Kenneth Starr charges the president committed perjury here and in the Paula Jones case. Starr says the president lied both times about whether he had sex with Monica Lewinsky and much of the questioning concerned the legal definition of "sex" used in the Jones case.
INDEPENDENT COUNSEL LAWYER: What specific acts did the definition include, as you understood the definition on January 17th, 1998?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Any contact with the areas that are mentioned, sir. If you contacted those parts of the body with an intent to arouse or gratify, that is covered.
INDEPENDENT COUNSEL LAWYER: What did you understand...
PRESIDENT CLINTON: The person being deposed. If the person being deposed contacted those parts of another person's body with an intent to arouse or gratify, that was covered.
INDEPENDENT COUNSEL LAWYER: Do you remember that Ms. Lewinsky's affidavit said, that she had had no sexual relationship with you? Do you remember that?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I do.
INDEPENDENT COUNSEL LAWYER: And do you remember in the deposition that Mr. Bennett asked you about that? This is at the end of the -- of the -- toward the end of the deposition. And you indicated -- he asked you whether the statement that Ms. Lewinsky made in her affidavit was true. And you indicated that it was absolutely correct.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I did. And at the time that she made the statement --and indeed, to the present day, because as far as I know she was never deposed since the judge ruled she would not be permitted to testify in a case the judge ruled had no merit -- that is this case we're talking about -- I believe at the time that she filled out this affidavit, if she believed that the definition of sexual relationship was two people having intercourse, then this is accurate. And I believe that is the definition that most ordinary Americans would give it. If you said Jane and Harry had a sexual relationship -- and you're not talking about people being drawn into a lawsuit and being given a definition and then a great effort to trick them in some way -- but you're just talking about people in an ordinary conversation, I'll bet the grand jurors, if they were talking about two people they know and said they had a sexual relationship, they meant they were sleeping together. They meant they were having intercourse together. So I'm not at all sure that this affidavit is not true.
KWAME HOLMAN: And President Clinton said, using that definition, he was able to tell friends and associates he did not have a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky. The President was asked about a conversation he had with White House aide John Podesta.
INDEPENDENT COUNSEL LAWYER: You don't remember denying any kind of sex in any way, shape or form with him, including oral sex, correct?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I remember that I issued a number of denials to people that I thought needed to hear them, but I tried to be careful and to be accurate in them. And I do not remember what I said to John Podesta.
INDEPENDENT COUNSEL LAWYER: Surely, if you told him that, that would be a falsehood, correct?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Oh, I didn't say that, sir. I didn't say that at all. That is not covered by the definition, and I did not address it in my statement.
INDEPENDENT COUNSEL LAWYER: Well, let me ask you then. If you told him -- perhaps he thought it was covered. I don't know. But if you told him, if you denied to him sex in any way, shape or form -- kind of similar to what Mr. Bennett did at the deposition, including oral sex -- wouldn't that have been a falsehood?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Now, Mr. Wisenberg, I told you, in response to a grand jury's question -- you asked me did I believe that oral sex performed on the person who was being deposed was covered by that definition. And I said: No. I don't believe it's covered by the definition. I said you were free to conclude that I did not do things that I believe were covered by the definition. And you've asked me a number of questions, and I have acknowledged things that I believe are covered by the definition. Since that was not covered by the definition, I want to fall back on my statement. Look, I'm not trying to be evasive here. I'm trying to protect my privacy, my family's privacy, and I'm trying to stick to what the deposition was about. If the deposition wasn't about this and didn't cover it, then I don't believe that I should be required to go beyond my statement.
KWAME HOLMAN: The president also was questioned about a conversation with Monica Lewinsky last December, after she was subpoenaed as a witness in the Paula Jones case.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I don't remember exactly what I told her that night.
INDEPENDENT COUNSEL LAWYER: Did you --
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I don't remember that. I remember talking about the nature of our relationship, how she got in. But I also will tell you that I felt quite comfortable that she could have executed a truthful affidavit, which would not have disclosed the embarrassing details of the relationship that we had had, which had been over for many, many months by the time this incident occurred.
INDEPENDENT COUNSEL LAWYER: Did you tell her anytime in December something to that effect: You know, you can always say that you were coming to see Betty or you were bringing me letters? Did you say that, or anything like it, in December '97 or January '98, to Monica Lewinsky?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, that's a very broad question. I do not recall saying anything like that in connection with her testimony. I could tell you what I do remember saying, if you want to know. But I don't -- we might have talked about what to say in a non legal context at some time in the past, but I have no specific memory of that conversation. I do remember what I said to her about the possible testimony.
INDEPENDENT COUNSEL LAWYER: You would agree with me, if you did say something like that to her, to urge her to say that to the Jones people, that would be part of an effort to mislead the Jones people, no matter how evil they are and corrupt?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I didn't say they were evil. I said what they were doing here was wrong, and it was.
INDEPENDENT COUNSEL LAWYER: Wouldn't that be misleading?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, again, you are trying to get me to characterize something that I'm -- that I don't know if I said or not, without knowing whether the whole, whether the context is complete or not. So, I would have to know, what was the context, what were all the surrounding facts. I can tell you this: I never asked Ms. Lewinsky to lie. The first time that she raised with me the possibility that she might be a witness or I told her -- you suggested the possibility in this December 17th timeframe -- I told her she had to get a lawyer. And I never asked her to lie.
INDEPENDENT COUNSEL LAWYER: Did you ever say anything like that, you can always say that you were coming to see Betty or bringing me letters? Was that part of any kind of a, anything you said to her or a cover story, before you had any idea she was going to be part of Paula Jones?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I might well have said that.
INDEPENDENT COUNSEL LAWYER: Okay.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Because I certainly didn't want this to come out, if I could help it. And I was concerned about that. I was embarrassed about it. I knew it was wrong. And, you know, of course, I didn't want it to come out.
INDEPENDENT COUNSEL LAWYER: If Monica Lewinsky has stated that her affidavit that she didn't have a sexual relationship with you is, in fact, a lie, I take it you disagree with that?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: No. I told you before what I thought the issue was there. I think the issue is how do you define sexual relationship. And there was no definition imposed on her at the time she executed the affidavit. Therefore, she was free to give it any reasonable meaning.
INDEPENDENT COUNSEL LAWYER: And if she says she was lying --
PRESIDENT CLINTON: And I believe --
INDEPENDENT COUNSEL LAWYER: -- under your common sense ordinary meaning that you talked about earlier, Mr. President, that most Americans would have, if she says sexual relationship, saying I didn't have one was a lie because I had oral sex with the President, I take it, you would disagree with that?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Now, we're back to where we started and I have to invoke my statement.
KWAME HOLMAN: The President then brought up another sex-related scandal that once dominated the national political scene.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: This reminds me, to some extent, of the hearings when Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill were both testifying under oath. Now, in some rational way, they could not have both been telling the truth, since they had directly different accounts of a shared set of facts. Fortunately, or maybe you think unfortunately, there was no special prosecutor to try to go after one or the other of them, to take sides and try to prove one was a liar. And so, Judge Thomas was able to go on and serve on the Supreme Court. What I learned from that, I can tell you that I was a citizen out there just listening. And when I heard both of them testify, what I believed after it was over, I believed that they both thought they were telling the truth. This is -- you're dealing with, in some ways, the most mysterious area of human life. I'm doing the best I can to give you honest answers.
INDEPENDENT COUNSEL LAWYER: Mr. President --
PRESIDENT CLINTON: And that's all I can tell you. And, you know, those people both testified under oath. So, if there'd been a special prosecutor, they could, one of them could have gone after Anita Hill, another could have gone after Clarence Thomas. I thank God there was no such thing then, because I don't believe that it was a proper thing.
INDEPENDENT COUNSEL LAWYER: One of --
PRESIDENT CLINTON: And I think they both thought they were telling the truth. So, maybe Ms. Lewinsky believes she's telling the truth, and I'm glad she got her mother and herself out of trouble. I'm glad you gave her that sweeping immunity. I'm glad for the whole thing. I, I, I -- it breaks my heart that she was ever involved in this.
KWAME HOLMAN: After four hours, prosecutors said members of the grand jury still had more question for the President and requested he remain beyond the agreed-upon time. The President deferred to his personal lawyer, David Kendall, who was off to the side. Kendall politely declined the invitation.