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Lewinsky Spotlight Cast Shadow

By Leslie Linthicum
Journal Staff Writer
    U.N. Ambassador Bill Richardson was on the hot seat because of what he described as a 45-minute encounter with a young lady whose sexual relationship with President Clinton would lead to his impeachment.
    It was April 30, 1998, and Richardson was seated across the table from lawyers from special prosecutor Kenneth Starr's office. They would question him for four hours in a videotaped deposition.
    In his testimony, Richardson laid out the interactions between his office and the White House and friends of Clinton. He repeatedly described the job interview with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky as nothing more than a routine favor to a friend, and a subsequent job offer to Lewinsky as uninfluenced by anyone in the White House.
    Richardson's testimony in the legal case that led to Clinton's impeachment laid out this scenario:
    Richardson was outside the Situation Room in the basement of the White House sometime in October 1997 when Deputy Chief of Staff John Podesta approached him and asked if he would consider a friend of Clinton secretary Betty Currie's for a job with the U.N. Mission in New York.
    "Well, what's her name?" Richardson asked.
    "I don't know," Podesta said, "but I'd appreciate it if you would just interview her."
    Richardson said he got a lot of requests to consider people for jobs— "from senators, other Cabinet members, members of the media, from friends, from my wife. You know, this is very common in my position."
    A couple of weeks later, Richardson and Podesta were on Air Force One with a large U.S. delegation (including Bill and Hillary Clinton) on a trip to South America when Podesta asked him if he had received a resume from the White House.
    Richardson hadn't, but when he returned to his office that week, Monica Lewinsky's resume had been faxed over.
    Just after 7 that same evening, phone records show that a call was made from the extension at Richardson's desk to Lewinsky at home.
    Lewinsky says it was Richardson on the line, asking her to come in for an interview. Richardson testified under oath that he didn't believe he made the call, speculating that his assistant must have made the call from his phone. That was a common practice in his office, he told prosecutors.
    Lewinsky came to the suite Richardson rented at the Watergate Hotel early on Halloween morning for an interview that lasted about 45 minutes.
    In his deposition, Richardson wanted to make clear to the prosecutor that press reports about his meeting with Lewinsky were wrong on many counts.
    "We met at my suite at the Watergate Hotel, which is not a permanent suite, where I frequently have other meetings," Richardson said. "I did not meet with her in her apartment. I had no idea she lived at the Watergate. And I want to stress that it was not a breakfast."
    Richardson made phone calls and packed during the interview, he said, moving in and out of the room and listening while aides Rebecca Cooper and Mona Sutphen conducted the interview.
    "She was impressive in the interview," he said. "She seemed poised, professional. And I must say after the interview, I was impressed with her."
    In the car ride to the Capitol after the interview, Cooper suggested to Richardson that they offer Lewinsky the job— a New York-based public relations position they intended to create by eliminating an open executive assistant-level job in Washington.
    Lewinsky had other ideas. On Nov. 2, she e-mailed Betty Currie about the meeting: "I am mailing my 'thank-you-for-meeting-with-me-letter' to Richardson today. I was pleased the U.N. interview went well, but I'm afraid it will be like being at the Pentagon in N.Y. ... Yuck!"
    But the next day, a second call to Lewinsky was made from the phone in Richardson's office.
    Lewinsky, in one of the audiotapes recorded by her co-worker and confidante Linda Tripp, said that again it was Richardson on the line. She said he said he was offering her a job and asked, "How do you want me to work this?" in terms of letting her Pentagon boss know she would be leaving.
    Richardson again said he and Lewinsky never had a phone conversation, that he never offered to talk to her boss about her leaving and that he believed an assistant called her to extend the job offer.
    "That is my extension. But I do not believe I talked by phone at all with Monica Lewinsky," Richardson told prosecutors. "I don't believe I talked to her before or after (the interview). That is not my, that is not my recollection whatsoever."
    He also testified he got no pressure from the White House or from Clinton confidant Vernon Jordan, who had been tasked with helping Lewinsky find a job in New York.
    At one point in his deposition, Richardson said he didn't recall any of the details of the Lewinsky job because he was busy with international crises— weapons inspections in Iraq and unrest in Congo.
    "You are asking me about something that was not on my radar screen," Richardson said. "I mean, this was a very intensive period. Monica Lewinsky was far from my mind ..."
    Prosecutors asked Richardson to explain telephone calls between his office and Jordan, especially one made to Richardson's office from Jordan's office on a day Lewinsky met with Jordan to talk about her job prospects and to meet with an attorney concerning her being subpoenaed in the Paula Jones case.
    Jordan's phone logs showed he made sequential calls that day to each of the New York employers Lewinsky was considering, including Richardson's office.
    Richardson said the call he received from Jordan wasn't about Lewinsky— that he and Jordan had been trying to set up a breakfast meeting to talk about other things.
    "And what was it that you needed to speak to Mr. Jordan about?" the prosecutor asked.
    "You know, it's just career advice," Richardson said. "I hadn't seen him in a while. Just staying in touch."
    (Later in the deposition Richardson— who was by then being considered by Clinton to be nominated as secretary of energy— made a point of clarifying his comment on career advice. "Let me just say, I was just in a figurative sense asking about career advice," he said. "I wasn't thinking of changing. I'm very happy where I am.")
    The prosecutor told Richardson that Lewinsky had been identified as a witness in the Jones case about that time and asked whether Jordan had made the connection to him between Lewinsky, Clinton and the Jones lawsuit.
    Richardson said he was "100 percent certain" that didn't happen.
    Lewinsky also placed two calls to Sutphen's extension on Dec. 22. Richardson said he had told Sutphen to tell Lewinsky the U.N. needed an answer about the job offer. She had delayed for nearly two months, and Richardson said he wanted to put someone in the job.
    "I said, 'Well, the hell with this; we've got to get moving. Tell her to fish or cut bait,' '' Richardson testified.
    On Jan. 5, Lewinsky declined the job.
    Richardson also told prosecutors he was entirely out of the loop about Lewinsky and her relationship with Clinton until Jan. 21, when he heard about it through the Drudge Report posting and subsequent media reports. Even after that, he testified, Clinton never confided in him about it.
    "The president and I have never discussed Monica Lewinsky or Paula Jones," he testified. "Never."
    Richardson's role in Monicagate was just beginning, however. His statement about the Lewinsky interview spurred news media stories, and his name became linked to the scandal.
    The original draft of his statement about the Lewinsky affair named Podesta and Currie as the White House people who had recommended Lewinsky. That was removed at Richardson's direction from the statement that went out.
    "Well, eventually I assumed this would get out, how, how she was referred to me," Richardson said. "But I wasn't going to put names out. I wasn't going to finger anybody."