October 20, 1998

The Clinton/Lewinsky Story

Vernon Jordan

Vernon Jordan

News organizations indicated almost immediately that Kenneth Starr was investigating Vernon Jordan for obstruction of justice. The reports said that Starr had tapes on which Monica Lewinsky said Jordan told her she should lie about her relationship with President Clinton. The initial Jan. 21 Washington Post story, for instance, reported that Lewinsky told Tripp on tape of "Clinton and Jordan directing her to testify falsely." ABC's Good Morning America reported the same day that sources said Lewinsky can be heard on a tape claiming the president told her to deny an affair and that Vernon Jordan "instructed her to lie."

The coverage in the following weeks included Jordan's denials, but tended to maintain that he might be in big trouble despite them. They sometimes characterized Jordan's statements as strategic or, as Time said in its Feb. 2 issue, he was "wrapping himself in a protective layer of syntax."

The allegations against Jordan also spawned profiles that often depicted him as an amoral character, included pejorative anecdotes, and emphasized stories about his attitude toward women. A Newsweek profile in its Feb. 2 issue describing Jordan's relationship with Clinton talked of how their "mutual fondness for the ladies is a frequent, if crude, topic of conversation," a point repeated in other media accounts as well.

By February, particularly in talk show venues, Jordan was generally a suspect in the media accounts. Meet the Press aired a rumor, which ABC later reacted to, that Jordan had been granted limited use immunity by Starr, which suggested that he needed shielding from a criminal charge.

When Starr finally made his report to Congress, however, the case against Jordan was missing. Lewinsky admitted that, in fact, no one had told her to lie, and that she had told Jordan she did not have an affair with Clinton. The widely reported allegation that Lewinsky had said on tape that Jordan told her to just lie about it was wrong. Apparently it was an advocate's interpretation of this snippet of the conversation taped by the FBI:

There is a prosecutors' memorandum, which says Tripp asserted to investigators that "Jordan encouraged Lewinsky to lie." This may or may not have been available to the press at the time of their reporting but it is not supported by the evidence. The closest Lewinsky comes on the tapes is the following:

Tripp: But did he address the perjury issue at all? Because this is perjury.

Lewinsky: OK he — Yeah. He said that — he said, "You are not gonna go to jail. You're not going to go to jail." (and later): "What he showed me is there's no way to get caught in perjury in a situation like this."

In her grand jury appearances, Lewinsky said she was lying when she said the above and that no one had told her to lie. Regardless, a careful reporter who heard this FBI tape would be reluctant to report that it makes a clear case for coaching the witness to lie. And a skeptical reporter might have decided the tape had an argumentative tone more than a conversational or narrative tone. If a reporter and an editor had heard this tape, one might have argued Tripp was pushing Lewinsky for answers and Lewinsky was obliging, but somewhat evasively. In the Starr Report and supporting documents, the Independent Counsel does not suggest this tape reflects obstruction or witness-tampering. The Starr report summarizes Vernon Jordan's testimony concerning his contacts with the President and his contacts with Monica Lewinsky, without any suggestion that he urged Lewinsky to lie or otherwise obstructed justice.

In the Jordan case, the media seemed eager to rush to judgement without having confirmation and to have used the allegations against Jordan to pry into his personal life on topics that would normally be off limits and prejudicial.

A Chronology of Stories on Jordan's Involvement:

  1. On Wednesday, 1/21 the Washington Post reported that according to sources Lewinsky told Tripp on tape of "Clinton and Jordan directing her to testify falsely."

  2. On 1/21, ABC's Good Morning America, citing a source, said Lewinsky could be heard on a tape claiming the president told her to deny an affair and that Vernon Jordan "instructed her to lie." On the 7:30 segment ABC News reported "that two sources say tapes exist in which" Lewinsky "tells another colleague that" Clinton — and later his close associate Vernon Jordan — "instructed her to lie under oath about an alleged sexual relationship she had with Clinton." "According to a source with a witness familiar in the matter, Lewinsky is heard describing the sexual nature of her relationship with the President. The source says, in another tape Lewinsky claimed she called Mr. Clinton to tell him about the subpoena, and he told her to deny the relationship. On another occasion, Lewinsky allegedly says the President told her he would have Vernon Jordan talk to her. The source says Lewinsky is later heard saying Jordan instructed her to lie, and told her, even if she got caught, they don't prosecute people for lying in civil cases."
  3. On 1/21, the Los Angeles Times, in contrast, said simply that Starr was investigating "whether Clinton deployed his friend and trusted advisor, Vernon Jordan, to discuss with Lewinsky her testimony or to otherwise shape her account in the Jones case."
  4. On 1/22, the Los Angeles Times reported "If Clinton or friend Vernon Jordan urged her to falsely deny having had a sexual relationship with the president, they could be charged with soliciting perjury and obstruction of justice."
  5. On 1/22, USA Today reported "Presidents from Lyndon Johnson to Bill Clinton have relied on good judgment and sound advice from Vernon Jordan. But the latest furor depicts the powerful Georgetown lawyer in an unfamiliar role: contributing to problems instead of solving them." (Starr) "is investigating whether Jordan urged" Lewinsky "to deny the affair and helped her get a job." This is a case, it should be noted, of the press reporting what Starr was investigating or suspecting, not what he knew.
  6. On 1/22, Newsweek in its AOL piece noted "However, there was no clear evidence on the (Tripp) tape (which Newsweek heard) that would confirm or deny Tripp's allegation that Clinton or Vernon Jordan had coached Lewinsky to lie." The report also said the magazine had "obtained what may be an important new piece of evidence" (the talking points memo) "It's not clear who prepared these talking points, but Starr believes that Lewinsky did not write them herself. He is investigating whether the instructions came from Jordan or other friends of the President."
  7. On 1/22, ABC featured "A close look at the other man in this White House crisis — Vernon Jordan. He is accused of encouraging Monica Lewinsky to lie under oath about a sexual relationship she's alleged to have had with the president. This is much more the nub of the crisis than any sex which may have been involved."

    "According to sources who have heard the secret tapes, Monica Lewinsky says Jordan told her to lie about her relationship with the president."

    "Ken Starr would have to prove that Vernon Jordan intended that Monica Lewinsky lie in her deposition. It's very hard to get that kind of state of mind evidence and he doesn't yet."

  8. On 1/23, most news organizations prominently featured Vernon Jordan's public denial in which he said "At no time did I ever say, suggest or intimate to her (Lewinsky) that she should lie," and Jordan's statement that both the President and Lewinsky had denied to him any sexual affair.
  9. On 1/24, Stuart Taylor of the National Journal reported Lewinsky "was allegedly pressed to deny the relationship both by Clinton and his friend Vernon Jordan. According to a source familiar with Tripp's account, Lewinsky told Tripp that Clinton (and Jordan) had said repeatedly that if only two people were in a room and both deny that anything happened, 'they can never prove it.' And Starr's office is laying the groundwork for a climactic cross-examination of Clinton about whether he orchestrated a cover-up of his alleged affair with Lewinsky…"
  10. On the 1/26 Good Morning America, Newsweek's Evan Thomas: "We understand from very reliable sources that when Monica Lewinsky was talking to Tripp, her friend, and Tripp was on–being wired Lewinsky by the FBI, Lewinsky did say some very damaging stuff about Jordan; that Jordan said 'Deny it, say it never happened' that he had basically told her to lie. Now that doesn't mean that Jordan did do that. I have to be careful about that. But the FBI–with the FBI listening, Lewinsky said that's what Jordan said to her"
  11. On 1/28, USA Today reports that Jordan, "has another connection to Monica Lewinsky besides his old friend, President Clinton. Jordan is a long-time friend of R. Peter Straus, a wealthy New York media executive who is engaged to Lewinsky's mother, Marcia Lewis."
  12. On 1/30, USA Today followed up on its report in a short item called "The dog that didn't bite:" saying, "Vernon Jordan had a ready-made explanation for his seemingly suspicious efforts to find Lewinsky a private-sector job. Marcia Lewis, Lewinsky's mother, is engaged to marry Peter R. Straus, a long-time friend and business associate of Jordan's. These ties give rise to a perplexing question: Why did Jordan fail to mention last week that Lewinsky will soon be the step-daughter of a close friend?"
  13. In its 2/2 issue, Newsweek carried a profile of Vernon Jordan, which said he and Clinton are, "Southerners who love to work a room, both men love to eat, golf, tell stories — and flirt with women. Their mutual fondness for the ladies is a frequent, if crude, topic of conversation. Is Vernon Jordan's star finally fading? That depends on whether the man who fixes other people's messes can find a way to fix his own."
  14. Time, in its 2/2 issue, carried a profile of Vernon Jordan which reported, "Lewinsky reportedly told Tripp that Jordan said to her, 'They can't prove anything. Your answer is, It didn't happen, it wasn't me.' If that turns out to be true, Jordan could be on the hook for suborning perjury and obstruction of justice." The profile quoted Jordan's categorical denial but said that in his statement he was "wrapping himself in a protective layer of syntax." Time added, "If Jordan's performance seemed stagy and even sanctimonious, it may have been because 'drive, ambition and personality' are not the only attributes he and Clinton are known to find impressive in young women. 'Large men of large appetites' is one of the euphemisms that have been used when broaching the subject of their legendary womanizing."
  15. On the 2/15 Sixty Minutes, Mike Wallace profiled Vernon Jordan emphasizing the theme of President Clinton and Jordan crudely discussing women together.
  16. On 2/21, the New York Times, Newsweek and NBC were reporting on Jordan's version of events — that he did not know of the sexual relationship, which was denied to him by both parties, and he was unaware Lewinsky was the target of an investigation.
  17. On the 3/1 This Week, ABC reported Jordan's version and "that he was acting in total innocence when he went to what some would say were extraordinary lengths to find this young woman a lawyer and a job. Now the tapes suggest a different scenario, that Mr. Jordan was aware that there was something of a sexual nature between the President and Lewinsky, and that he did tell her, or instruct her, or encourage her, to deny there was a relationship when she went under oath in the Paula Jones case. And that's what the prosecutors will be asking him about."
  18. On the 3/1 Meet the Press, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) said, "There is a rumor now that he (Starr) has given limited use immunity to Vernon Jordan.
  19. On 3/1, reacting to Hatch's comment, ABC reported: "Vernon Jordan today refused to discuss reports he may be given limited immunity when he appears before the grand jury on Tuesday. Which raises a question–why would Jordan need immunity when he so adamantly denied the most serious accusation concerning Monica Lewinsky's relationship with the President?"
  20. On 3/3, the Washington Post reported on Jordan's scheduled appearance before the grand jury that day. The defense Jordan "appears to be establishing for himself hinges on the idea that even if there was a sexual relationship he was an unwitting participant in any cover-up"
  21. On 3/3, the NewsHour interviewed Dan Balz of the Washington Post who reported, "the tapes that involve Monica Lewinsky and Linda Tripp indicated that Vernon Jordan had asked Monica Lewinsky to lie in the Paula Jones deposition that she was about to give. That's according to people who were familiar with those tapes. They believe that's what she was saying."
  22. On 3/3, Stuart Taylor appeared on MSNBC's The News: "I think the speculation that he's going to hurt (Clinton) might be very wrong. I think it would be very hard for Vernon Jordan to be put in any jeopardy here. I expect Starr may be trying to make a case that Vernon Jordan was, perhaps, an unwitting tool of a cover up."

Starr Report and Supporting Documents

The Starr report does not point to any attempted obstruction by Jordan or taped allegations of his urging Lewinsky to lie, saying only that "OIC investigators and prosecutors recognized parallels between Mr. Jordan's relationship with Ms. Lewinsky and his earlier relationship with pivotal Whitewater-Madison figure Webster, L. Hubbell."

Contrary to various press accounts detailed here, there is nothing in the Starr report substantiating allegations that Lewinsky said to Tripp that Jordan coached her to lie. After noting Jordan's testimony that "Ms. Lewinsky said she had not had a sexual relationship with the President, the report states the following: "Ms. Lewinsky testified, however, that at this time she assumed Mr. Jordan knew 'with a wink and a nod that [she] was having a relationship with the President. She therefore interpreted Mr. Jordan's question as 'What are you going to say,' rather than 'What are the accurate answers.' "

Further the report says, "In January 1998, Linda Tripp, a witness in three ongoing OIC investigations, came forward with allegations that (i) Monica Lewinsky was planning to commit perjury in Jones v. Clinton, and (ii) she had asked Ms. Tripp to do the same. Ms. Tripp also stated that (i) Vernon Jordan had counseled Ms Lewinsky and helped her obtain legal representation in the Jones case, and (ii) at the same time, Mr. Jordan was helping Ms. Lewinsky obtain employment in the private sector.

"OIC investigators and prosecutors recognized parallels between Mr. Jordan's relationship with Ms. Lewinsky and his earlier relationship with a pivotal Whitewater-Madison figure, Webster L. Hubbell. Prior to January 1998, the OIC possessed evidence that Vernon Jordan — along with high-level associates of the President and First Lady — helped Mr. Hubbell obtain lucrative consulting contracts while he was a potential witness and/or subject in the OIC's ongoing investigation.

"Against this background, the OIC considered the January 1998 allegations that: (i) Ms. Lewinsky was prepared to lie in order to benefit the President, and (ii) Vernon Jordan was assisting Ms. Lewinsky in the Jones litigation, while simultaneously helping her apply for a private-sector job with, among others, Revlon, Inc.

"Based in part on these similarities, the OIC undertook a preliminary investigation. On January 15, 1998 the Office informed the Justice Department of the results of our inquiry. The Attorney general immediately applied to the Special Division of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit for an expansion of the OIC's jurisdiction. The Special Division granted this request and authorized the OIC to determine whether Monica Lewinsky or others had violated federal law in connection with the Jones v. Clinton case."

According to the transcript of the FBI sting tape released by the House Judiciary Committee, this is what Lewinsky told Tripp about Vernon Jordan's advice on her sworn affidavit:

Tripp(T): "Did he say anything about — and, now this is — this is touchy and you don't have to answer it.

Lewinsky(L): "Right."

T: "But did he address the perjury issue at all? Because that is perjury."

L: "OK, he — Yeah. He said that — he said, "You're not gonna go to jail. You're not going to go to jail."

T: "You're not going to go to jail, but did he — did he — did he assess what could happen? I mean assuming — let's say worst case, they come up to me or to you and say 'you on this date and this date and this date said something completely wrong to us. It's obviously a falsehood.' And let's just say it's perjury or can be construed as perjury. Did he —

L: "I would say it's not. What I said is true. It did not happen. She is — I did not say that. She must have misunderstood. Maybe —

T: "I mean, you're not hearing what I'm saying. I understand all that.

L: "O.K."

L: "I — I — I've gotten that."

L: "See, no. No. I understand what you're saying. What I'm trying to show you is that what he has showed me is there's no way to get caught in perjury in a situation like this."

T: "Really?"

L: "In a situation like this — "

T: "He's sure?"

L: "That's — look that's what he's told me."

T: When he presented it to you, did he seem sure?"

L: "Yes."

T: "Like — but you don't seem to be concerned about that anyway."

L: "I'm not because — because of all those reasons."

T: "I know. But did you express concern at all?"

L: "Yes, I did. Of course I did."

T: "You said — "

L: "I was crying."

T: "You were?"

L: "Yeah."

T: "O.K. So you knew — he knew that you were concerned."

L: "Yes. Oh, yes."