Panetta Says No Knowledge Of Improper Relationship
Clinton lawyer agrees to turn over president's deposition in Jones case to Starr
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Jan. 28) -- As independent counsel Ken Starr steps up his perjury investigation of President Bill Clinton, ex-White House Chief of Staff Leon Panetta spent over eight hours testifying before the grand jury Wednesday. (320K wav sound)
Emerging from the Washington courthouse, Panetta said he spent the day answering in detail questions about his knowledge of Clinton's relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. "I am personally not aware of any improper relationship, sexual or otherwise, by this president with any of the White House interns or anyone else for that matter," Panetta said. (544K wav sound)
Starr has been working to collect possible ammunition in his investigation into whether the president lied under oath when he denied having a sexual relationship with Lewinsky, and if he, or close friend Vernon Jordan, attempted to get Lewinsky to lie about the alleged affair.
Lawyers for Clinton have agreed to turn over the president's deposition in the Paula Jones case, while Starr's office met with representatives of the Secret Service Tuesday to discuss possible subpoenas for the agents who guard the president.
Starr will also get Lewinsky's affidavit in the Jones matter. He subpoenaed Jones' lawyers to obtain the two documents. To comply, parties to the Jones case received the consent of U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright, who is hearing that case in Little Rock, Ark.
Clinton's legal team has agreed to turn over the sealed deposition to Starr next week, Clinton attorney Bob Bennett told CNN. Sources say Clinton denied a sexual liaison with Lewinsky in his Jan. 17 deposition. By consenting to its release, Clinton, in effect, gives Starr evidence that might be needed if the independent counsel proceeds with a perjury investigation of the president.
Panetta was in charge of the White House staff while Lewinsky was an intern. "I've spent the last several hours in an appearance before the grand jury largely detailing the operations of the White House and the physical setting of the White House during the time in which I was chief of staff. I believe I've answered all of the questions that were asked of me. And I will not comment any further on my testimony," Panetta said.
A grand jury looking into possible perjury and obstruction of justice in this case heard from Panetta Wednesday morning in a second day of witnesses. The president's personal secretary, Betty Currie, testified Tuesday.
Panetta, who is now living in California, arrived at the courthouse without lawyers. The ex-chief of staff has said he did not see nor was made aware of any compromising encounters between the president and Lewinsky.
Over the weekend, Panetta angered the White House when he told the San Jose Mercury News: "If there's something there, and it leads to him having to step out office, it may be time to do some repair work."
Wednesday Panetta said he had respect for Clinton and hoped he would be able to get back to business. "My fervent prayer is that for the sake of the president, and the sake of this nation, that this matter is resolved soon so that he and all of us can continue to focus on the issues that affect our families, our nation, and our future," he said.
In related news, while in the Washington courthouse Panetta was served with a subpoena to give a deposition in the Jones lawsuit against Clinton. Shortly before 2:30 p.m. ET, Mel Shapiro, who said he worked for the firm Capital Process, told reporters he had served Panetta with the subpoena.
In her affidavit, sources say, Lewinsky, 24, denies having an intimate relationship with the president -- a claim contradicted in secretly recorded tapes made before Lewinsky gave the Jan. 7 affidavit.
In the tapes, Lewinsky also reportedly alleges that Clinton and Jordan, a Washington lobbyist, tried to get her to lie about the Lewinsky-Clinton relationship. Both men have denied the accusations.
Seeking to hear the tapes for themselves, Clinton lawyers have subpoenaed Starr's office to obtain them.
White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry said Wednesday that the president has no plans to offer additional details of his relationship with Lewinsky. "I think the president has said what he wants to say for now," said McCurry. "There are too many people willing to twist the facts."
CNN has learned that Secret Service Director Lewis Merletti met with Starr's staff Tuesday to discuss possible subpoenas for the agents who guard the president, according to an official familiar with the deliberations.
Starr's investigators want to know anything the Secret Service knows about the president's relationship with Lewinsky. Starr also wants to know if agents have other information, including how often they may have witnessed the former intern visit the president or how long she was alone with him, if ever.
But Secret Service officials are worried that having agents testify before a grand jury about non-criminal activity they have witnessed could put a strain on the relationship between agents and those they are sworn to protect. This, they say, could jeopardize the safety of the commander-in-chief and, as a result, jeopardize national security.
Because of the service's unique mission and responsibilities, the agents' relationship with the president may be protected by executive privilege, some senior law enforcement officials argue.
The talks were described as cordial and are expected to continue. The Secret Service and Starr's office declined to comment.
Also on Wednesday, an attorney representing Andy and Kathy Bleiler, a Portland, Ore., couple, said he would turn over to Starr's office documents and photographs that Lewinsky gave to the Bleilers.
Andy Bleiler, 32, claims he had a five-year affair with Lewinsky, beginning in 1992, when she was a college student, and ending when his wife found out about it. He had been a drama instructor at Lewinsky's high school and says he met her the summer after she graduated.
According to Bleiler, Lewinsky told him she had a sexual relationship with a "high-ranking White House official."
Bleiler's attorney, Terry Giles, said that documents in the possession of the Bleilers would be turned over to Starr. He told CNN, "There are a couple of items that I can easily see having some importance." These items, he intimated, might include sensitive documents from White House files.
Ginsburg dismissed the Bleilers as not credible. He said when he saw Bleiler's attorney speaking for him at a news conference just 15 minutes before Clinton's State of the Union address Tuesday night, he asked himself, "What is this? Who is behind it?"
Lewinsky's lawyer acknowledged that Bleiler had a "sporadic" relationship with her after she graduated from high school "off an on, over a two- to three-year period."
"Mr. Bleiler is a man who was Ms. Lewinsky's high school teacher," said Ginsburg. "After she graduated from high school when she was 19, he started an affair with her. This is a teacher having sex with a teenager."
Adding more fuel to the firestorm is an inflammatory public statement made Tuesday by former political advisor Dick Morris. Press Secretary Mike McCurry reacted angrily to comments by Morris, who said he spoke to the president in recent days and was quoted in a radio interview discussing his views of the first family's sex lives.
"It is disgusting" that journalists would report on the remarks, said McCurry. He said Clinton was aware of the remarks and would likely never speak again to Morris.
AllPolitics' Kathleen Hayden and CNN's Wolf Blitzer, Bob Franken and Pierre Thomas contributed to this report.