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Change Partners And Dance

Monica Lewinsky's new lawyers are ready and willing to cut an immunity deal with Ken Starr. For Bill Clinton, that's not good news

By Richard Lacayo

TIME magazine

(TIME, June 15) -- If you happen to be a young woman trying to extricate yourself from a sex scandal, one in which you face the real possibility of indictment, vamping in a photo spread for the nation's glossiest magazine might seem like a funny idea of favorable pretrial publicity. If you try it at all, you might want to stick to a simple outfit and a pensive expression, the kind of thing that says Innocence Under Siege. Then again, you might be Monica Lewinsky. In the July issue of Vanity Fair, which goes on newsstands this week, the world's most famous former White House intern capers across six pages, enjoying the full luster treatment from celebrity photographer Herb Ritts.

So there's Monica on a grassy dune in Malibu, dressed in blue jeans and a red-and-white checked shirt that bring to mind a picture of Marilyn Monroe. There's Monica in a smoky black dress and Monica in a full-throated laugh. And there's Monica making eyes at the reader from behind a raft of pink feathers channeling the fan dancer Sally Rand--a young woman teasing the world with the prospect that one of these days, she's gonna let it all show.

Take a good look, because it's not likely that Lewinsky will be doing many more performances like this one soon. It's the closing act of the William Ginsburg phase of her case. Ginsburg, who is now her former attorney, loved the camera even more than Lewinsky does. For months he was easier to find on TV than the weather report, all the while alienating Kenneth Starr by his public denunciations of the independent counsel's tactics. Given that his client was trying to deny a sexual involvement with the President, he also had an unhelpful way of describing her. Not long after he told TIME that he had kissed the infant Lewinsky's inner thighs--"those little polkehs!"--he was explaining that he had agreed to the Vanity Fair shoot because Starr had imprisoned "her libido." It was a remark that on top of other faux pas so infuriated Lewinsky's father Bernard, an old friend, that for a while he stopped talking to Ginsburg, sources tell TIME.

Last week Ginsburg was abruptly replaced by Jacob Stein and Plato Cacheris, two specialists in Washington cunning and its rules of discretion. It was probably no accident that when the two men were introduced to the press, with Lewinsky beaming confidently behind them, Stein was wearing a necktie in place of his trademark bow. Ginsburg favored bow ties too. The new guys want to signal a new approach. Stein is bookish and quiet, an intellectual who files intricately thought-out but simply expressed motions. Cacheris is a backslapper who gets along well with prosecutors. Don't expect them to operate as Lewinsky's Libido Liberation Front. What both men are famous for, in their different ways, is getting high-profile Washington defendants out of very tight scrapes.

Stein, 73, is a former special prosecutor whose 1984 investigation of Ed Meese, then Ronald Reagan's Attorney General-designate, was wrapped up, in contrast to Starr's, with a minimum of time and expense. As for Cacheris, 68, during the Iran-contra scandal he got immunity for Oliver North's secretary, Fawn Hall. He also got CIA spy Aldrich Ames spared from the death penalty.

Around Washington, where both men are as familiar as the skybox in the stadium where the Redskins play, everybody understands that these guys are prepared to go to trial if they must but even more prepared to deal if they can. If they strike the deal that Ginsburg could not, one that gives Lewinsky immunity from prosecution in exchange for her testimony, it could mean trouble for the White House. On the whole, Ginsburg wasn't entirely bad for Bill Clinton. The lawyer's attacks on Starr did nothing to hasten the day when his client could enter an agreement to offer testimony that might put the President in a bind. By contrast, just minutes after they signed up to be Lewinsky's new team, Cacheris and Stein paid a courtesy call on Starr, with whom Stein had worked during the Senate's harassment investigation of Bob Packwood. In return, Starr's office said nice things about them. The prospect of a new round of negotiations was in the air.

Starr has been struggling to make a case out of circumstantial evidence. If Lewinsky tells his grand jury that she and the President did indeed have sex--or better still, that he attempted to get her to lie about it in her sworn statement to the lawyers for Paula Jones--it would be the automatic centerpiece of Starr's report to Congress, his best evidence not only of perjury but also of Clinton's obstructing justice. She could also make life very difficult for Vernon Jordan, whose job-hunting assistance for Lewinsky could be made to look like an attempt by him--and perhaps by Clinton--to buy her silence.

All the same, a deal is not a foregone conclusion. Earlier Whitewater targets have complained that Starr and his prosecutors demand very specific testimony in exchange for immunity. Just as Susan McDougal and Webb Hubbell have done, Lewinsky and her lawyers may decide he wants more than they can reasonably--or truthfully--give him. "Starr's record has been to try to persuade and pressure witnesses to tell them what he needs," says former presidential aide Lanny Davis. "These two [lawyers] will not put up with that."

But privately the President's aides and allies admit that if Lewinsky cooperates, and if what she has to say is bad enough, Clinton will have to reconsider whether to offer more than he has of his side of the story--either that or attack her credibility head on. In that event, even the Vanity Fair spread could be spun in public as evidence that she's a starstruck and self-dramatizing young woman prone to glamorous fantasies. But as Starr must also appreciate, going after Lewinsky is a tactic that could backfire in public opinion.

One thing that could be useful for the White House is that in sharp distinction to the Los Angeles-based Ginsburg, Cacheris and Stein are the very definition of well-connected Washington insiders--so well connected, in fact, that their friends and former partners are representing other figures in the case. For instance, John Hundley, a Cacheris legal partner who will help him with the Lewinsky case, is the son of Vernon Jordan's lawyer Bill Hundley--who also used to be partners with Cacheris. He's also good friends with Robert Bennett, Clinton's lawyer in the Jones case.

That buddy system is important because it's perfectly legal for attorneys to keep one another informed about what their clients have told Starr's grand jury. Lewinsky's lawyers will want to stay up to date on what Starr has learned from other witnesses before his grand jury. "The fact that we can talk to each other if we need to is good," Cacheris told TIME. That makes it harder for Starr to intimidate Lewinsky with false threats or claims that he knows more than he does about what she and Clinton may have done. Last week Cacheris would not close the door on the idea of signing on to the "joint defense agreement" entered into by lawyers for White House secretary Betty Currie and Vernon Jordan, among others, under which they coordinate their responses to Starr. "I don't see that happening right now," he said.

One further reason why Starr will try hard to get Lewinsky's cooperation is that last week the Supreme Court made her even more crucial to his case. The Justices rejected his request for a highly unusual fast-track ruling on his fights with the Administration over whether Secret Service employees and White House attorneys can be forced to testify. Though U.S. District Court Judge Norma Hollaway Johnson has ruled that they can be, the Administration is appealing her decision. A three-judge appeals panel that includes two Clinton appointees has said it will hear oral arguments in the matter starting June 26. Starr, who is seeking testimony from White House adviser Bruce Lindsey and three Secret Service employees, wanted the Supreme Court to skip over the appeals court and decide the matter before its summer recess. The court's refusal to hurry the process ensures that even if Starr wins the case, he will not be able to get testimony before the November election. Though he could still send Congress an interim report on his investigation before then, even House Republicans are hoping he won't. That would make it too easy for Democrats to nail his inquiry as a partisan attempt to discredit a popular Democratic President. Says a House G.O.P. source: "Nobody here is shouting, 'Get it to us, get it to us!'"

Ginsburg insists it was his idea that Lewinsky seek new lawyers. He says he suggested it to her more than a week before Cacheris and Stein came on board. "My aggressive and outgoing style and strategy had lost effectiveness," he explains. "We had hit a wall." Sources close to the family have told TIME a different story. They say that Ginsburg had to be pried off the team, did not know a search for new lawyers was under way and was told about the change just minutes before Wednesday's announcement.

In early April, Ginsburg, Lewinsky and some friends were treated to a free meal by a Washington restaurant, Legal Seafoods, that was hoping to score some publicity. But all was not well that night with lawyer and client. When Ginsburg joked to his tablemates that someday he would probably have his own show on CNN, Lewinsky snapped back, "Yeah, you'll have plenty of time when I fire you."

The beginning of the end came in early May, when the Lewinsky family decided to bring in Judy Smith, who had worked in George Bush's press office, to deal with the media. Sources said Smith, a media adviser for Marcia Lewis' lawyer, Billy Martin, since the scandal broke, was brought in over the objections of Ginsburg, who thought he was handling Monica's public relations just fine. But the Lewinskys were exasperated by his TV appearances and his public feuding with Starr. Sources also said Ginsburg had angered Lewinsky's father by submitting hefty, unitemized bills. Ginsburg denies he objected to Smith and says his bills were not exorbitant. "I am terribly sorry the Lewinsky family in their emotional confusion feel the need to justify their daughter's problems by attacking me," he told TIME.

By Memorial Day, Monica's parents had concluded that Ginsburg had to go. And just a few days later, they had reason to want to kick him out immediately: they were blindsided by his "open letter" to Ken Starr in California Lawyer, in which Ginsburg said Starr "may have succeeded in unmasking a sexual relationship between two consenting adults." Inasmuch as those words seem to acknowledge the possibility that there was sex between Clinton and Lewinsky, it would contradict her denials in the affidavit she presented in the Paula Jones case. If dropping hints that his client may have perjured herself was part of Ginsburg's strategy, Lewinsky and her family were ready for a new one.

As part of Starr's inquiry, and with Ginsburg's agreement, Monica was summoned two weeks ago to a Los Angeles federal building to provide fingerprints and handwriting samples. Sources tell TIME that by then she was so alienated from Ginsburg that she didn't want him to accompany her to the court. He did anyway. When Starr's lawyers asked her to copy specific handwriting passages--a routine practice in such sessions--she didn't turn to Ginsburg for advice, the sources say. They say she insisted first on contacting her other lawyer, Nathaniel Speights, who remains on her team. After that conversation, she refused to comply, and the Starr team went home without a full selection of her handwriting.

Soon after, the family asked Martin, a prominent Washington defense lawyer and former top prosecutor, to help find a replacement for Ginsburg. Lewinsky quietly left Los Angeles and arrived in Washington to interview several candidates. One of them was Tom Green, a steely litigator who was impressed at the trenchant questions Monica directed at him a source close to Green said. But the Lewinsky family had in mind a team concept, which Green resisted. Stein won over the Lewinskys partly because they liked the idea of bringing on board someone who had been an independent counsel. Just before noon on Tuesday, she signed off on Stein and Cacheris. Borrowing a line from the movie Bulworth, Ginsburg insists that he's not out of the game altogether. "I will be a spirit, not a ghost, in these matters," he says. "I intend to speak out. Bill Ginsburg still represents fairness, justice, freedom and democracy." But from now on, he doesn't represent Monica Lewinsky. A whole new game is about to begin.

--Reported by Viveca Novak, Karen Tumulty and Michael Weisskopf/Washington
In TIME This Week

Cover Date: June 15, 1998

Change Partners And Dance
Plato Cacheris
Jacob Stein...and the Laconic Washingtonian
Apocalypse Not
Why The Government's Machines Won't Make It
Tell The Kids To Fib
Revolt Of The Gentry
Calvin Trillin: Just the Owner, Not the Boss
The Notebook: The Wise Words of Ginsburg...Not Anymore


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