Adviser Bruce Lindsay may have encouraged Linda Tripp to contact the President's lawyer as early as last summer.
Longtime Clinton confidant Bruce Lindsey testified before a grand jury in the Monica Lewinsky investigation Wednesday amid indications the adviser may have urged a key potential witness last summer to contact President Clinton's private lawyer.
Lindsey, who has been with Clinton since the early days of Clinton's political career in Arkansas, spoke at least twice last summer with former White House staffer Linda Tripp, according to individuals familiar with Tripp's account of the matter.It was Tripp who brought the allegations of a presidential affair and cover-up to light after secretly taping her conversations with Lewinsky.
In one conversation, these individuals said, Lindsey tried to persuade Tripp to go see Robert Bennett, the lawyer Clinton hired to represent him in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case.
These individuals, discussing the case only on grounds of anonymity, said Tripp's lawyer advised her not to do so, and she didn't.
The information surfaced as Lindsey appeared before the federal grand jury for questioning. The White House adviser's testimony was interrupted for about 45 minutes as he, his private attorney, William Murphy, and Deputy White House counsel Cheryl Mills appeared before U.S. District Judge Norma Holloway Johnson. The nature of the conference was not immediately known.
On Wednesday night, one White House official said Lindsey had not refused to answer any questions on the basis of executive privilege.
But the official declined to discuss why Lindsey was taken before the judge - a step that often signals a grand jury witness's refusal to answer questions.
``I'm not going to talk about my testimony,' Lindsey told reporters as he left the courthouse after a more than five-hour visit.
He indicated he would return today.
In the conversations the individuals said Lindsey had with Tripp, Clinton's adviser was speaking about an episode in which a woman named Kathleen Willey confided to Tripp that Clinton kissed and fondled her in the Oval Office. This happened well before Tripp turned over the audiotapes that prompted the Lewinsky investigation.
Tripp contacted Lindsey after learning that Newsweek magazine was planning a story about the alleged encounter between Willey and Clinton, the individuals said.
Tripp has said she saw Willey emerge from the Oval Office, her lipstick smeared and clothing askew.
Tripp has said Willey was ``happy and joyful' about the encounter with Clinton.
During the first conversation with Tripp, Lindsey questioned whether there was possibly an alternative explanation in which the encounter could be interpreted innocently, said the individuals. Tripp said she was certain of what she had seen and heard and that there was no innocent explanation, they said.
At the time of Lindsey's contact with Tripp, the Willey matter was becoming part of Jones' lawsuit against Clinton.
Lindsey's conversations with Tripp are important because of the emergence in the probe by independent counsel Kenneth Starr of a key document - a three-page list of ``talking points' that Lewinsky allegedly gave to Tripp last month.
The document urges Tripp to do the same thing Lindsey allegedly advised her to do last summer - to go see Bennett.
The ``talking points' document suggests that Tripp file an affidavit in the Jones case saying that it is ``plausible' that Willey made up her story of an encounter with the president.
Willey also is expected to be a grand jury witness in the investigation, but her lawyer, Daniel Gecker, declined to comment.
Lindsey first met Clinton when they worked on the 1968 re-election campaign of Sen. J. William Fulbright, D-Ark. He is the president's closest adviser.
He serves as a troubleshooter for Clinton, having worked in the past to deflect nettlesome questions about other women, such as Gennifer Flowers.
While Lindsey was questioned behind closed doors, the lawyer for Lewinsky's mother obtained a postponement of further testimony. Attorney Billy Martin said that nearly two days of grand jury testimony had left Marcia Lewis ``emotionally overwhelmed and distraught.'
``Her physical and emotional condition has not changed' since she left the grand jury last week, said Martin. ``Part of what distresses her is that she feels she's in this situation solely because she took a moment to listen to her daughter, who asked her to talk to her as a mother.'
``Marcia Lewis has done nothing more than be a mother to her daughter,' Martin said after a half-hour appearance before the judge who supervises the grand jury.
Martin said Lewis was excused from testifying Wednesday but remained under subpoena. He did not say when her testimony would resume.
In another development, Jones' lawyers said they have gathered a large amount of evidence to prove her sexual harassment claim against the president and assailed him for moving to have the case in Little Rock, Ark., dismissed.
Jones' lawyers have until March 3 to give U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright their response to Clinton's request that the lawsuit be dismissed before the scheduled May 27 trial date.
Her lawyers' statement contradicted claims made Tuesday by Clinton's lawyers, who said her lawsuit was ``veneer-thin.' They said she has ``amassed significant evidence to prove each allegation in her ... complaint.'