(This article ran in the December 1998 issue of The American Spectator.)
Of all the central characters in the Monica Lewinsky scandal, only Bill Richardson has emerged with his reputation virtually untouched. At the time U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Richardson offered Lewinsky a job just when President Clinton was struggling to find a place for his desperately unhappy former girlfriend. Richardson then kept the position open for an extraordinarily long period while Lewinsky made up her mind. But his actions attracted far less public scrutiny than those of Clinton friend Vernon Jordan, who arranged a job for Lewinsky in private business; a search of the Washington Post and New York Times reveals Jordan’s role has been mentioned five times more often than Richardson’s in the months since the story broke.
In some ways, the light treatment of Richardson is surprising; unlike Jordan’s job search, his actions represented an attempt by the Clinton administration to arrange a taxpayer-funded job to make Lewinsky happy and ensure that she remained silent about her affair with the president. But Richardson’s role in the scandal seemed less suspicious because — again unlike Jordan — he spoke openly to the press, insisting he did not offer Lewinsky any special treatment. For the most part, reporters have accepted Richardson’s word, and as the scandal dragged on, no evidence emerged to cast doubt on his account of events.
But in September, the House Judiciary Committee released thousands of pages of grand jury testimony, depositions, letters, phone records, and other evidence that sheds new light on Richardson’s actions. Taken as a whole, the material gathered by Kenneth Starr’s prosecutors shows Richardson was more deeply involved in the Lewinsky job effort than has been previously understood. And it raises questions about Richardson’s testimony in the case; on several key points, his account of events is contradicted by other evidence. The inconsistencies create doubts as to whether Richardson was telling the whole truth about his role in the Lewinsky matter; after nine months of investigation, the answer is still not clear.
“We Can Place Her in the U.N. Like That”
The United Nations made its first, brief, appearance in the Lewinsky saga in July 1997. At the time, Lewinsky was hoping to return to work at the White House; the president had promised she could come back after he was re-elected. But more than six months had passed with no White House job. Depressed, Lewinsky told presidential secretary Betty Currie that she might give up and move to New York. Of course, she would need a job there, and Lewinsky mentioned a friend who worked at the U.N.
Currie quickly passed Lewinsky’s comments on to the president — and then she passed his answer back to Lewinsky. “He said, ‘Oh, that’s no problem,'” Currie told Lewinsky. “‘We can place her in the U.N. like that.'”
But Lewinsky still clung to hope that she might be given a job at the White House. She remained hopeful until the morning of October 6, 1997, when she had a conversation with her friend Linda Tripp that in retrospect proved to be a turning point in the scandal. Tripp said she had spoken to a friend at the National Security Council, where Lewinsky had applied for a job. “She said she doesn’t care whether your connections are, you know, huge,” Tripp told Lewinsky, recounting her friend’s words (and recording the conversation). “She has heard that you will not be placed over there….And she said, ‘I promise you that if they wanted to have her placed, they would have done it by now. And the last thing on earth that they want is her in this White House.'”
Lewinsky was stunned. “This is just — I’m going to vomit,” she told Tripp. “You know what? I’m going to call Betty and I’m going to tell her to go f — k herself. That’s what I’m going to do. I don’t care. I don’t care anymore…. It’s like, wake up. This thing is over. It’s over.”
Lewinsky was so upset she left work for the day. Stewing at home, she made a decision: she was going to forget the White House, leave Washington, and get a job in New York. And she was going to make Bill Clinton find her one.
That night Lewinsky wrote a letter to the president. As she wrote, she talked each line over with Tripp. “I’d like to ask you to secure a position for me,” Lewinsky read aloud. “Or how about, ‘Help me secure?'” Tripp thought “help me obtain” might be better. “But you know,” Lewinsky answered, “maybe I’m being an idiot. I don’t want to have to work for this position. I want it to be given to me.”
“Right,” Tripp responded. “You don’t want to go through the whole interview process.”
“Right,” Lewinsky said.
Lewinsky sent her letter to Clinton by courier the next day. She didn’t hear back from the president that day or the next. But late Thursday night, October 9 — actually it was about 2:00 in the morning on Friday — her phone rang. Clinton was furious.
“He just yelled at me,” Lewinsky told Tripp the next day. “And I’m not kidding you….I mean, Linda, he got so mad at me, he must have been purple.” By her own account, Lewinsky was confrontational; she wanted a job and she wanted to make the president pay for “f–king up my life” (by which she meant his not taking her back into the White House). For his part, Clinton feared Lewinsky might one day reveal their sexual relationship; a few months earlier, at a time she was similarly angry about her job prospects, she had hinted she might tell others. Clinton, enraged, told her “it’s illegal to threaten the president of the United States.”
Lewinsky was so upset by the conversation that she called in sick on Friday, spending much of the day talking to Tripp. Early Saturday morning, October 11, Lewinsky’s phone rang. It was Currie, who said Clinton wanted Monica to come to the White House. (Currie was very busy that day. A family member was ill; she actually called Lewinsky from a Washington hospital. It was also the Clintons’ wedding anniversary, and the president had assigned Currie to buy a present for Mrs. Clinton.)
Lewinsky rushed over to the White House. Alone with the president, she said she wasn’t really interested in a government job. Instead, she and Clinton talked about having Vernon Jordan help her get a job (a topic she had also brought up the night they had their big fight on the phone). Then, as Lewinsky recounted the story to Tripp, the president kissed her on the head and said he had something else to tell her. “He said, ‘Oh, one more thing that I talked to [White House Chief of Staff] Erskine [Bowles] about was trying to get John Hilley to give you either a written recommendation or a verbal recommendation so that, you know, he’ll give you a good recommendation for your work here.'”
Although one might expect Lewinsky to be heartened by the president’s response, it in fact made her terribly nervous. “I’m going to tell him that I don’t think Erskine should have anything to do with this,” Lewinsky told Tripp that night. “I don’t think anybody who works there should.”
“I don’t see how that’s a problem,” Tripp said.
“Because look at what happened with Webb Hubbell,” Lewinsky answered. “I don’t know. I just think Vernon is a lot safer.…There’s a big difference I think somebody could construe, okay? Somebody could construe or say, ‘Well, they gave her a job to shut her up. They made her happy. And he works for the government and shouldn’t have done that.'”
Bill and John and Betty and Monica
On Sunday, October 12, the president flew to Venezuela, the start of a week-long visit to Latin America. Back home, Lewinsky was preparing to send Clinton a “wish list” of jobs she would be willing to accept in New York (she visited a local Barnes & Noble for a book of job-hunting suggestions). She wrote that she wanted to be an assistant producer at any of the networks, do news/political segments at MTV, work at one of several public relations firms, or do “anything at George magazine.” At the bottom of the list she added a final note:
“I do not have any interest in working [at the U.N.]. As a result of what happened in April ’96 [when she was removed from the White House], I have already spent a year and a half at an agency in which I have no interest. I want a job where I feel challenged, engaged and interested. I don’t think the U.N. is the right place for me.”
She sent the note to Clinton on October 16, when the president was still in Latin America. But by then it was too late; Clinton, apparently disregarding Lewinsky’s statement that she did not want to work in government, had already set the U.N. job machinery in motion.
Shortly before leaving for Latin America, the president told Currie to have a chat with John Podesta, at the time a top Clinton aide and now White House chief of staff. As Podesta later testified, Currie “reminded me who Miss Lewinsky was…that she wanted to move to New York.” According to Podesta, Currie asked “whether I could give her any referrals of any people she could talk to about getting a job in New York.”
As it turned out, Podesta was traveling with the president, as was Bill Richardson. During a long flight aboard Air Force One, Podesta brought up the topic of Lewinsky with the U.N. Ambassador. Podesta, as he later remembered the conversation, told Richardson that Currie had “a friend who was moving to New York, who was a low level, entry level public affairs person, and could he take a look at her?” Podesta said Richardson responded “that he might have something at the U.N., that they had some positions in their public affairs office. And I said to him, ‘Why don’t I have Betty get you a résumé of the young woman?'”
With that, Richardson began a series of rapid — almost rushed — moves to accommodate Lewinsky’s job wishes. He returned from Latin America on October 19, a Sunday. It was an extremely busy time; his schedule called for him to return to the office on Monday for three days and then fly to the Congo on Thursday the 23rd. In addition, the crisis over Saddam Hussein’s refusal to allow full freedom to United Nations weapons inspectors in Iraq was beginning to make significant demands on his time.
Nevertheless, when Richardson got to work on Monday, October 20, he told his long-time assistant, Isabelle Watkins, to “keep an eye out” for a résumé coming from Podesta’s office. Watkins told investigators that sometime later, perhaps the next day, Richardson asked if she had received the résumé. She told him she hadn’t, and he asked her to get in touch with Podesta’s office to see what was going on.
Starr’s prosecutors wanted to know why, since he was so busy, Richardson had the Lewinsky matter on his mind immediately after his return from Latin America. They questioned Richardson about the issue during a videotaped deposition in April. “Do you believe, sir,” prosecutor Tom Bienert asked, “that you might have told Ms. Watkins upon returning to your office after the South America trip, words to the effect of, to keep an eye out for a résumé coming from Podesta’s office on an applicant?”
“Yeah,” Richardson responded. “I think so. Yeah.”
“And do you believe it’s accurate,” sir, that after not hearing anything from Ms. Watkins about the matter, that perhaps a day or two later you would have asked her again about the matter?
“No, I think I just asked once,” Richardson said. “I think, you know, we were pretty busy then.”
Bienert — knowing what Watkins had told investigators — asked, “If Ms. Watkins told us that she recalls that you asked about it once, and then asked to keep an eye out for it roughly, and then a few days later asked her if she had gotten it and when she said no, asked her to call Podesta’s office about the matter, do you believe that that is inaccurate?”
“No, I think that may be possible,” Richardson said. “Yeah.”
“I guess that does lead me to the question that I would have, which is, it was a busy time for you, correct?” Bienert asked.
“Very busy,” Richardson said.
“And at the time when you were in the U.S. for this, it looks like, maybe a three-day period before you left for the Congo, you had a heck of a lot of things to deal with, correct?”
“If it is, in fact, true that you did ask Ms. Watkins a second time to check in on the résumé and to actually call Podesta’s office about it, why do you think you would have done that?”
“Okay,” Richardson said. “Let me, let me talk to my — can I take a break?” Richardson left the room for a brief conference with his lawyer. When he returned, he explained that the time period in question was “busy, but it was not the most intensive period.” The Iraqi crisis was building, he said, but “it wasn’t until I got back from the Congo that it really exploded.”
Whatever happened, Watkins, at Richardson’s instruction, arranged for the résumé to be faxed — it was sent by Betty Currie herself — to the United Nations office. Records obtained by Starr show it was faxed a little after three o’clock in the afternoon on Tuesday, October 21. After it arrived, Richardson started moving even faster.
“Hold for Ambassador Richardson”
Richardson examined Lewinsky’s résumé the same afternoon it appeared on the fax machine. “I must say that the résumé impressed me,” he told prosecutors. “She worked in the Department of Defense.…She had worked in the White House in legislative affairs.…As a former congressman, I thought that was impressive.” He testified that he told Watkins to set up an interview with Lewinsky.
Phone records obtained by Starr’s investigators show that someone using Richardson’s office telephone extension called Lewinsky at home that very night, October 21, at seven o’clock. But there is conflicting testimony over who spoke to whom. Lewinsky testified that she spoke to Richardson himself; the ambassador denied it.
Lewinsky told Starr’s prosecutors that she specifically remembered the phone ringing and a secretary telling her, “Hold for Ambassador Richardson.” She was surprised that Richardson was calling. According to notes of a Lewinsky interview with prosecutors, she “was upset because [she] did not want to work at the United Nations, no one had called her to tell her Richardson would be calling, and she did not want to get stuck working there with no other opportunities.”
According to Lewinsky, Richardson told her he understood from John Podesta that she was interested in working at the U.N. In August, when prosecutors questioned Lewinsky under oath, they asked, “How do you know that you actually spoke with him?”
“Well,” Lewinsky answered, “I remember because I was shocked and I was, I was very nervous. And — ”
“Because the Ambassador was on the phone?”
In addition, transcripts of phone calls between Lewinsky and Tripp support the idea that Lewinsky talked directly to Richardson. In one conversation, Tripp commiserated with an obviously tearful Lewinsky. The president simply didn’t understand the suffering Lewinsky was enduring, both women said. He didn’t know what she was going through, Tripp told Lewinsky. For example, “He doesn’t know that you received a personal [censored] phone call from the ambassador to the U.N.,” Tripp said — while Lewinsky sobbed in agreement.
Phone records subpoenaed from Richardson’s office appear to support Lewinsky’s contention that she talked to Richardson. Richardson’s extension was 4404; Isabelle Watkins’ line was 4402. The call to Lewinsky’s apartment was made from the 4404 extension.
Richardson and Watkins both maintained that Watkins occasionally made calls from Richardson’s extension, which they said must have happened in this case. But Starr’s prosecutors were skeptical.
“Do you believe, sir,” Bienert asked Richardson, “that you would have called Ms. Lewinsky at some point in the time frame of, after receiving the résumé on the 21st …?”
“You mean me calling her?”
“No, I don’t think so. I mean, Isabelle would set up the meeting.”
“If Monica Lewinsky represented to other persons at the time that you personally called her on or about the 21st of October, do you believe that might be true, is absolutely not true, or that it is true?”
“I don’t think it’s the case, because Isabelle sets up my meetings.”
But why, Bienert wanted to know, would she have called on 4404 as opposed to her own line?
“She does that frequently,” Richardson answered. “I mean, this happens. My, my extension is used intermittently by all kinds of people.”
Bienert produced more phone records from Richardson’s office. They were lists of all the calls placed between Watkins’ extension and Lewinsky’s home and office.
“Just for purposes of the record,” Bienert said, “[the document] contains eleven different phone calls. Do you see that, sir?”
“Now if you notice, in terms of these eleven calls, all of them are from or to the 4402 extension, which is the one that comes back to Isabelle Watkins’ name. Do you see that, sir?
“And I will represent to you that we have looked over all the phone records we have, and we did not see any records during this time frame, namely between after the call on the 21st until the 30th, we did not see any other calls from the 4404 extension. Okay, sir?”
“Now do you know why…in your mind is there any rhyme or reason to when Ms. Watkins would choose to use your extension versus her own?”
“She frequently uses my extension, you know. That’s all I can tell you.”
A few weeks later, when Starr’s prosecutors questioned Watkins, she also testified that she used her own 4402 line and Richardson’s 4404 line interchangeably. She did not remember making the call to Lewinsky — but seemed absolutely certain it was not made by Richardson.
“Do you know if you made a call to Monica Lewinsky for five minutes and 42 seconds on that day?” Bienert asked.
“Well, it has to be me,” Watkins answered.
“Okay,” Bienert said. “Tell me about the first conversation you had with Ms. Lewinsky.”
“I really don’t remember exactly, other than I was trying to schedule a meeting for her with the ambassador.”
“How sure are you that you were the person who even would have made the call on that date?”
“Well, I mean, maybe someone else in the office made the call. It wasn’t the ambassador if it wasn’t me. I mean, it would have been me.”
“Okay. When you say it wasn’t the ambassador, how do you know?”
“Because he just doesn’t. He doesn’t place his own calls.”
Perhaps Watkins had placed the call and then patched it through to Richardson. Might that have been what happened?
“No,” Watkins said.
“Are you absolutely certain about that?”
“Why do — ”
“Because there was no reason for him to talk with her,” Watkins continued. “There was no, there was no interest on his part, and very few people — I mean, his time is just too tight for us to do that.”
Whoever made the call, the evidence shows that Richardson tried to set up the interview as quickly as possible, perhaps even for the next day, which would have been the eve of his trip to the Congo. That didn’t work out, and on Thursday the 23rd, Richardson left the country, not to return until the next Wednesday, October 29. But he was still moving quickly on Lewinsky. Despite his earlier statement that the Iraqi situation “really exploded” when he returned from the Congo, Richardson made room for Monica on his second day back: the job interview was set for Friday morning, October 31.
Meet Me at the Watergate
Lewinsky was surprised and dismayed at how rapidly Richardson was moving. Since she had already decided she didn’t want to work at the U.N., she was placing her hopes on Vernon Jordan’s private sector job search. But Jordan was away from Washington for much of this time period, while Richardson was a sure thing. She didn’t want to turn him down flat, but she didn’t want to say yes, either.
She sent word through Currie that she needed to talk to the president. Two days after the phone call from Richardson, Clinton called her — a conversation she later recounted in great detail during a phone session with Tripp.
Lewinsky said she told Clinton about the U.N. situation. “I said, ‘Well, do you want to know what happened on Tuesday [the 21st]?'” Lewinsky said she told the president. “So I told [him] the story of Richardson.”
“Did he know that?” Tripp asked.
“I — Okay, no, but yeah,” Lewinsky said. “He didn’t know, but I’m not — I think — he had put — he kind of had put Podesta on it. Or maybe he put Betty. You know, you never know the real truth.”
“And he wants the U.N. to be my insurance policy….He wants me to have options. Vernon’s been out of town…”
“Did he understand about your not wanting to go to the U.N.?”
“Yes he did. But what he also said was, ‘Look, I want you to — I want you to think about it, I want you to spend some time and think about…what kinds of things you could — what you could do there.’ You know, [Richardson’s] a good guy, he’s flexible, he’s, you know, he’s willing to kind of create a position. You know, ‘Maybe he might be able to create a position, what you want to do.'”
The president’s words seemed to reassure Lewinsky. The interview was set for 7:30 a.m. at the Watergate Hotel in Washington. (Richardson explained that he is in Washington at least part of each week, and he always stays at the Watergate, which, he says, provides him a suite at a government rate. He also said he did not know that Lewinsky lived nearby in the Watergate apartments.) Lewinsky arrived right on time and was greeted by one of Richardson’s top aides, a woman named Mona Sutphen, who took her to meet the ambassador.
Richardson had made room for Lewinsky in a very tight schedule. Between 8:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. on that Friday, he was scheduled to meet separately, in quick succession, with ten members of Congress to discuss pending fast track trade legislation. He had a one o’clock p.m. speaking engagement at the National Press Club and was scheduled to fly back to New York on the two o’clock p.m. shuttle. At 3:30 p.m., he attended a meeting of the permanent five members of the United Nations Security Council on the Iraq issue; at four o’clock he was due at a meeting with the full Security Council. By 6:30, he was supposed to be at CNN’s New York studios for a live interview about Iraq. In sum, his schedule that day was a world crisis, ten members of Congress, and Monica Lewinsky.
Although she was apprehensive about moving forward on the U.N. job that she didn’t want, Lewinsky had reason to feel confident speaking to Richardson. The night before, she had arranged through Currie for Clinton to call her with some presidential pointers on what she should say during the interview. “I was really nervous about my interview and meeting with Ambassador Richardson,” Lewinsky told Starr’s prosecutors. “I just, I didn’t, I didn’t want to make anyone look bad. I didn’t want to sound like a fool, or — so, the president called me and we talked about some of the different issues at the U.N., and he gave me some suggestions of things I could say.”
It worked. Although Richardson said he spoke only briefly to Lewinsky and left most of the questioning to Sutphen and another top assistant, Rebecca Cooper, he clearly liked what he saw. “She was impressive in the interview,”
Richardson later testified. “She seemed poised, professional. And I must say after the interview, I was impressed with her.”
Richardson said he discussed Lewinsky with Sutphen and Cooper as they drove to Capitol Hill for the fast track meetings. “Mona said, ‘I’m impressed,'” Richardson recalled. “And Cooper said, ‘I’m impressed. I think we should hire her.’ And I said, ‘Well, let me think about it. Let’s put it off.'”
Richardson told Starr’s prosecutors that “I think that it took me about a week or ten days to decide” to hire Lewinsky. Sutphen, who handled several of the contacts with Lewinsky through the entire employment process, also testified she believed it took seven to ten days to make the decision.
But in fact Richardson acted much more quickly than that. “I became a bit nervous this weekend when I realized that Amb. Richardson said his staff would be in touch with me this week,” Lewinsky wrote in a letter to Currie on Sunday, just two days after the interview. “As you know, the U.N. is supposed to be my back-up, but because VJ [Vernon Jordan] has been out of town, this is my only option right now. What should I say to Richardson’s people this week when they call?…If you feel it’s appropriate, maybe you could ask ‘the big guy’ what he wants me to do. Ahhhhh…anxiety!!!!!”
Lewinsky was right to be nervous. At 11 o’clock Monday morning, the first business day after the Friday interview, the phone at her Pentagon desk rang. It was Richardson’s office. She got the job.
Mona Sutphen testified that Richardson “called me into the office and said, ‘You know, I’ve decided to hire Monica Lewinsky. What do you think?’ And I said, ‘Oh, you know, that’s fine.’ I said, ‘Are you sure?’ And he said ‘Yeah, yeah, I’m sure. Why?’ And I said, ‘No, no, you know, there’s no issue. Are you sure, though, you don’t want to talk to anybody else, you don’t want to interview anybody else?’ And he said, ‘No, no, I think it’s fine. Why don’t you go ahead and give her an offer.'” Sutphen testified she then suggested bringing Lewinsky to New York to go into more detail about what she would actually be doing. Sutphen said Richardson agreed and suggested Rebecca Cooper should be flown up from Washington to be there, too.
Prosecutor Bienert brought up the conversation during Richardson’s testimony. “Is it accurate that Ms. Sutphen told you at that point words to the effect of, are you sure you don’t want to interview any other people?” he asked.
“I don’t remember that,” Richardson answered.
“If Ms. Sutphen told investigators…that that is what she said to you, do you believe that it was said? Do you adamantly believe it was not said? Or do you not know?”
“No, she might have said it,” Richardson said. “No.”
“In any event, is it accurate that at whatever time that conversation was had, you had concluded that you weren’t going to interview other people, but you were going to hire Ms. Lewinsky?”
“Yeah,” Richardson said. “I think I got a good sense of Lewinsky. I thought it was time to move on.”
Both Richardson and his aides testified they made no effort to check Lewinsky’s references. They didn’t contact anyone at the White House, anyone at the Pentagon, anyone at her college or anywhere else.
Also, like the call to Lewinsky on October 21, there is a dispute over who actually phoned Lewinsky to offer her the job. The call was made from Richardson’s personal extension, 4404 — there had not been a call to Lewinsky from that extension since the call Richardson denied making on October 21. Again, Lewinsky told prosecutors that Richardson himself called. And again Richardson denied it.
Lewinsky testified she remembered “that I did speak with the ambassador, that he was the one who, who extended the offer to me, because I remember being nervous and not knowing what to say to him, because I didn’t really want the job. And so I sort of just ‘yessed’ him along and thanked him profusely, and I told him I was excited about it.”
In addition, late on Tuesday night, the day after the job offer, Lewinsky sent an e-mail to her friend Catherine Allday Davis, who at the time was living in Japan. “Yesterday Richardson called me at work and told me they were going to offer me a position,” Lewinsky wrote Davis. “They didn’t know what yet, and they wanted to talk with me further.”
Prosecutor Bienert wanted an explanation. “Let’s go through the details of this,” he said to Richardson. “Once again, 4404, that is, in fact, the extension of the phone in your office, correct?”
“And 11/3/97, if we look at your calendar, that would be the Monday, the first working day back after you interviewed Ms. Lewinsky, correct?”
“That’s Monday, right.”
“And [the phone record] indicates that a phone call was made at eleven in the morning from your phone extension, from number 4404.”
“To Monica Lewinsky’s work number?”
“Sir, is it accurate that you did call her on that day and offered her a position?” Bienert asked.
“I — I need to talk to my counsel,” Richardson answered.
After a five minute break, Bienert asked the question again: “Sir, is it accurate that you called Ms. Lewinsky on Monday, November 3rd, and you told her you were going to offer her a position?”
“No,” Richardson answered. “That is a — the same situation. That is my extension. But I do not believe I talked by phone at all with Monica Lewinsky. I don’t believe I talked to her before or after. That is not my, that is not my recollection whatsoever.”
In her own deposition, Mona Sutphen supported Richardson’s account of events. She told prosecutors that she had placed the call to Lewinsky, although she could not explain how she came to use Richardson’s phone line. “[Monica] was effusive, thanked me, said to thank the ambassador,” Sutphen said of Lewinsky’s reaction. “She said it was very nice that we had offered her the job and she was very excited.”
Meet Me at “21”
At the end of her conversation with either Richardson or Sutphen, Lewinsky said she needed some time to consider the job offer. Richardson’s office said that was OK. Of course, Lewinsky had no intention of accepting the position, but she wanted to keep it on the table while she waited to see what Jordan could come up with. Fortunately for her, there was no time limit on Richardson’s offer. “There was an open-endedness to it because it was a new position,” Sutphen told prosecutors.
Lewinsky’s resolve to say no to the U.N. was strengthened by advice from her mother. After the interview with Richardson, Marcia Lewis and Lewinsky’s aunt Debra Finerman visited the United Nations building in New York. Monica later told Starr’s investigators that her mother didn’t like the place. Lewis told Monica there were a lot of Arabs there, and besides, the building was too far from the city’s main business district.
For nearly two weeks after the job offer, there was no contact between Lewinsky and Richardson. But they would meet again, this time by accident. On Saturday, November 15 — Richardson’s birthday — the ambassador and his wife went to dinner at “21” in New York. And there he ran into…Monica Lewinsky.
“Isn’t that weird?” Lewinsky said to Tripp as she recounted the story. “We were sitting right near the entrance, and so he kind of came in and so I said, ‘Ambassador Richardson, Monica Lewinsky.’ He said, ‘Oh, hi, how are you?’ And I introduced him to my mom and to Peter [Lewis’s boyfriend Peter Straus] and then he said something or another and said, ‘Well, we’re just waiting for you. The ball’s in your court. I want to hire you.'”
“Unreal,” Tripp said.
“It was so weird,” Lewinsky continued. “It was really weird. Like really weird.”
Marcia Lewis told prosecutors she remembered the “ball’s in your court” comment. But Richardson was vague on the matter when questioned by prosecutors. “Do you think that you might have said something to her,” Bienert asked, “in the presence of the other people there, like, hey, the ball’s in your court, or words to that effect?”
“I don’t think so,” Richardson answered. “But I might have….I mean, what happened was, I was walking away and she yelled at me. And I went over. And I really, when I first saw her, I didn’t know who she was. I remember that. And she said, these are my parents, or this is my mother. And I don’t know, maybe I said, well, you’ve got a very impressive daughter, or something like that…”
“I mean I don’t remember on the 15th saying to her, the offer, the ball’s in your court,” Richardson continued. “I think I said that I thought she was impressive and — you know, I, I can’t remember all this stuff. I mean, I’m dealing with a national crisis.”
The next Wednesday, November 19, Mona Sutphen called Lewinsky, but apparently did not reach her. “I probably was just following up,” Sutphen told prosecutors, saying she wanted to keep in touch with Lewinsky while Monica was considering the job offer. The two finally connected five days later, on Monday, November 24, when Lewinsky called Sutphen at her office. It had been more than three weeks since the interview.
“She asked me whether or not she could be honest with me,” Sutphen recalled. “I said yes, of course. And she said, ‘Well, you know, would the ambassador be upset if I wanted to take a little bit more time to think about it?’ And I said, ‘No, I don’t think so’….I said ‘I’m sure that would be okay, and if it’s not I’ll get back to you; but if not, then I’ll call you in another couple of weeks and we can set something up then.'”
Sutphen passed the news to Richardson. She also told him she had the impression that Lewinsky probably wasn’t going to take the job. “And he asked me, ‘Well, why?'” Sutphen recalled. “And I said, ‘Oh, because I think she’s looking for something in the private sector.’ And he said, ‘Hmmm.’ And I said, ‘But she asked for some more time, you know, is that okay?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, yeah, that’s fine.'”
Nothing much happened for the rest of November. The job remained open while Lewinsky stalled, waiting for help from Jordan. Then, on December 11, the two job efforts — Richardson on the government side and Jordan in private business — crossed paths.
Vernon and Bill
Lewinsky was looking forward to the 11th. She was going to have her second meeting with Jordan, and he was to give her the names of people she could contact at several New York companies — places where she was guaranteed to get a friendly reception after a recommendation from Vernon Jordan.
Lewinsky went to Jordan’s office around one in the afternoon. Jordan ordered sandwiches and the two had lunch together. Somehow, in the course of a conversation about jobs and companies and résumés, the talk turned to Lewinsky’s relationship with the president. “I don’t remember how we got to this point,” Lewinsky testified, “but Mr. Jordan said something to me, ‘Well, you’re a friend of the President of the United States.'”
“And I remarked that I didn’t — I didn’t really look at him as the president, that I saw him more as a man and reacted to him more as a man and got angry at him like a man and just a regular person.”
“And Mr. Jordan asked me what I got angry at the president about, so I told him when he doesn’t call me enough or see me enough. We were sort of bantering back and forth about that.… So Mr. Jordan said to me, ‘Well, you know what your problem is?’ And I said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘Don’t deny it.’ And he said, ‘You’re in love, that’s what your problem is.’ So I think I just — probably blushed or giggled, something like that.”
Phone records obtained from Jordan’s office told Starr’s prosecutors that Jordan met with Lewinsky after a morning on the phone with Monica’s potential employers. At 9:45 a.m., Jordan called Peter Georgescu, chairman and CEO of the Young & Rubicam advertising agency. At 10:39 he called an official at American Express. At 10:59 he called American Express again. At 11:12 he called Howard Gittis of Revlon. At 12:47 he called American Express again. At 12:49 he called Georgescu again. At 12:51 he called Gittis again. At 1:06 he called American Express again. At 1:07 he called Richard Halperin of MacAndrews & Forbes, the parent company of Revlon. And at 11:17, right in the middle of all those Lewinsky phone calls, Jordan dialed Bill Richardson.
“You’ll note that the phone records at least indicate that the calls from Mr. Jordan’s office went to, among others, persons at Young & Rubicam, American Express, and Revlon,” prosecutor Tom Bienert asked Richardson. “Do you see that listed?”
“Yeah,” Richardson said.
“And my question to you is, what did you and Mr. Jordan talk about that day?”
“Well, I don’t think I talked to him,” Richardson answered. “This — I think he called Isabelle.”
“Or his office called Isabelle. And I think it’s relating to the — I wanted to see him, and we were trying to schedule it.”
“And what was it that you needed to speak to Mr. Jordan about?”
“Just career advice,” Richardson said. “I hadn’t seen him in a while. Just staying in touch.”
Prosecutors posed the question to Isabelle Watkins. “Do you remember speaking with Vernon Jordan on December 11th of last year?”
“I don’t believe that I had a three minute conversation with Vernon Jordan,” Watkins answered (the phone records indicated the call lasted three minutes and 12 seconds). “I don’t remember that. I certainly don’t.”
“Do you know why, do you have any information or knowledge as to why Vernon Jordan and Ambassador Richardson would have been speaking around December 11th of last year?”
“No, I really don’t.”
In his own grand jury testimony, Jordan conceded that the two men spoke on December 11. But he denied it had anything to do with Lewinsky. “Now, you knew that Monica Lewinsky, among others, was speaking to Ambassador Richardson about a job, correct?” Bienert asked.
“Right,” Jordan said.
“You knew that one of the things that she had kicking around out there was a possible chance to work at the United Nations, correct?”
“How did you know that?”
“Somebody told me,” Jordan answered. “Somebody — I don’t know who or whom, somebody told me that John Podesta and Bill Richardson were trying to get her a job.” Later, under pointed questioning, Jordan admitted that the president himself had told Jordan that Podesta and Richardson were on the Monica case. But Jordan continued to deny talking about it with Richardson. “This conversation on this day between Ambassador Richardson and myself had nothing to do with Monica Lewinsky,” he told Bienert.
“What did it have to do with?”
“The politics of the administration, his relationship with the Secretary of State. It was a check-in call. We had not sort of done our business and we were doing our business. It was not about Monica Lewinsky.”
“How often did you and Ambassador Richardson speak?”
“Since he had been in the United Nations, we had not had a chance to catch up,” Jordan said — which suggests that the two had not spoken in nearly a year. “This was a catch up call. This was about when are we going to get together.…This was not about Monica Lewinsky.”
“And at the time you had this what’s-been-going-on call with Ambassador Richardson, you were specifically dealing that day with things related to Monica Lewinsky, correct?”
“We did not talk about Monica Lewinsky, counsel.”
According to phone records subpoenaed by Starr, there was another call between Jordan and Richardson’s office a week and a half later, on December 22. By that time, Lewinsky had been subpoenaed as a witness in the Paula Jones case; on the 22nd, Lewinsky again met with Jordan, who took her to meet an attorney, Francis Carter, who had been retained by Jordan to represent Lewinsky.
The records show that at 4:59 in the afternoon, Jordan’s office called the White House operator, a call that lasted a little more than two minutes. At 5:03, the office dialed Monica Lewinsky’s office at the Pentagon, a call that lasted just 18 seconds. And then at 5:04, Jordan’s secretary called Richardson’s office. Both Richardson and Jordan testified the call was just to arrange an upcoming meeting — another “catch up” session between Jordan and Richardson. Both men denied that the call had anything to do with Lewinsky.
Richardson went even further when Bienert asked, “Are you absolutely one hundred percent sure in your testimony that at no time did Vernon Jordan ever, whether it was a call, a written communication, or anything in person, communicate anything to you that related to Monica Lewinsky or the Paula Jones case?”
“I am a hundred percent, absolutely sure,” Richardson answered.
“The Ambassador Is Adamant”
During all this time, Richardson was keeping the U.N. job open for Lewinsky — despite Sutphen’s telling him in late November that Monica likely was not going to accept the offer. Nearly two months had passed since the interview, but, according to an internal U.N. e-mail obtained by Starr’s prosecutors, Lewinsky remained a specific priority for Richardson.
The e-mail was dated Tuesday, December 23. It was from Wayne Logsdon, head of administration at the United States mission to the U.N., to Lynn Martindale, the office’s personal manager. The subject was the job slot that had been held open for Lewinsky. It was officially known as a Schedule C secretarial position, meaning it was reserved for political appointees and not career staffers. Rebecca Cooper, Richardson’s chief of staff, apparently believing that Lewinsky was no longer interested, had told Logsdon to start the paperwork to change it to a career Foreign Service position. Logsdon complied. But on the 23rd, he emphatically reversed course:
“I have just been instructed by Ambassador Richardson personally not/not to change the secretarial position to Foreign Service. I know that the paperwork has gone through already and that we are scouring the landscape for someone in the Foreign Service to fill the slot. I explained that Ms. Cooper asked us to do this and do it quickly. However, he is adamant about keeping it a Schedule C-type position.”
Just to make sure the personnel department knew exactly what he was talking about, Logsdon sent another e-mail just 15 minutes later. It was titled “Re: Monica Lewinsky.”
“If this name pops up on your screen, it is the one the Ambassador has in mind of bringing on board as a secretary, I believe. More to come as I know it.”
Starr’s prosecutors wanted to know why Richardson had such a strong opinion about a single Schedule C secretarial position. “It is possible,” Bienert asked, “that this e-mail was prompted by some comment from you to Mr. Logsdon on the 22nd or 23rd of December?”
“Yeah, it could be,” Richardson answered. “I mean, I talk to him a lot about personnel. I mean, it could be that I said, yeah, Wayne, you know, what’s going on here; I want to shift this from here to there. It could be that I mentioned it to Wayne, too.”
At the same time he took decisive steps to keep the position open for Lewinsky, Richardson made inquiries about what she intended to do. He told prosecutors that at some point in late December he told Sutphen to get in touch with Lewinsky, that it was time for Monica to “fish or cut bait.” Sutphen testified that Richardson “called me and said, you know, what’s the story with Monica Lewinsky. He said he had been having a conversation with Rebecca Cooper about what we were going to do in terms of restructuring the office with her public affairs component. And he said, ‘Well, you know, we have to find out what the story is, because you know, it’s been a long time and she has to make her decision….Call her and find out, you know, she can’t have any more time, she has to let us know what she’s going to do.'”
Monica Says No
Richardson went on vacation for the holidays. And Sutphen did not immediately get in touch with Lewinsky. Rather, on Monday January 5, at about 11:30 in the morning, phone records show that Lewinsky called Sutphen. Monica said she wouldn’t be taking the job. In a memo to Richardson, Sutphen wrote that Lewinsky “has declined the position in the hopes of going private sector (e.g., Burson-Marsteller or the like). She thanked you again for giving her the option to come to USUN. She’d like to call sometime this week to thank you in person. Do you want her to call or should I tell her to send you a note?”
Richardson scrawled his response: “Have her send note.”
Meanwhile, back at the personnel department, confusion reigned. Rebecca Cooper still wanted the Monica slot changed to a Foreign Service position — even though Richardson had nixed that in favor of keeping the job open for Lewinsky. “We look bad waffling on these issues,” Wayne Logsdon wrote in an e-mail on Monday morning. “So now, who’s on first?” personnel chief Lynn Martindale replied. “You know what I know,” Logsdon responded. After Lewinsky’s call, the change was finally made, and the Monica job was reclassified.
The next day, Richardson started off the morning with a breakfast with Vernon Jordan at Richardson’s home in the Waldorf Astoria Towers. “It was mainly to talk about, you know, career moves,” Richardson told prosecutors. “I remember I was starting to hit 50 and I wanted to ask him some advice about what he thought I might do in the future. And, and that was the purpose of the meeting.”
“Was there any aspect of this meeting at any point that had anything to do with Monica Lewinsky,” Bienert asked, “or anything even remotely attendant to Monica Lewinsky, Paula Jones, or the president?”
“No, not at all,” Richardson said. Richardson testified that he never knew Jordan was helping Lewinsky find work. He said he only learned that in late January, when the story appeared in the press.
Richardson easily weathered the initial period of public interest in his role in the Lewinsky affair. After press attention turned to other aspects of the scandal, he was able to go about his U.N. work free from continuing questions about the job offer. And now he has moved on; in June the president nominated him to become Secretary of Energy. At Senate confirmation hearings in July, Richardson again faced inquiries about his actions on behalf of Lewinsky, but Republican senators, with no knowledge of the evidence Starr was gathering, asked mostly general and unenlightening questions. Richardson was unanimously confirmed.
In response to written questions from TAS, a spokesman for Richardson said the secretary testified “truthfully and responded to all questions” from both Starr and the Senate. The spokesman reiterated Richardson’s position that he did not speak to Lewinsky on the phone on either October 21 or the day Lewinsky was offered a job. The spokesman also said Richardson never discussed Lewinsky with Vernon Jordan and “is not aware of what else Mr. Jordan was doing on the days Mr. Jordan supposedly called his office in December.” Finally, the spokesman characterized the Wayne Logsdon e-mails as “routine communication among [Richardson’s] staff.”
Now the investigation is over. But it illustrates the frustrations prosecutors encountered as they tried to determine the facts of the president’s effort to find Lewinsky a job. Each time Richardson’s memory failed him, each time it was contradicted by other evidence, made it more difficult for Starr’s investigators to learn precisely what was going on. And whatever his intentions may have been, the fuzzy parts of Richardson’s story all had the practical effect of distancing himself from Monica Lewinsky.
Indeed, a close look at Richardson’s story leads to an unavoidable question: If Starr’s prosecutors couldn’t find out what happened in a single episode of the Lewinsky scandal, how could they ever learn the whole story of what Bill Clinton and his top aides did in their effort to keep Monica happy and quiet? The simple answer is, they couldn’t.
Take, for one last example, the testimony of Betty Currie when prosecutors wanted to know what she had done to help Lewinsky get the interview with Richardson.
“Didn’t the president ask you to help Monica get a job?” prosecutor Robert Bittman asked.
“Yes,” Currie said.
“In New York?”
“I don’t remember. I don’t remember.”
“Didn’t the president suggest that you go to Mr. Podesta?”
“I don’t remember that,” Currie answered. “John’s an old friend of mine.”
“Didn’t the president also suggest Ambassador Richardson, too?” Bittman continued. “That you should contact Ambassador Richardson?”
“I don’t remember him saying that, either,” Currie said.
But what about the résumé? Bittman wanted to know. Currie herself sent it to the U.N. “We can show you a fax cover sheet that you faxed Monica’s résumé to Ambassador Richardson,” he told Currie. “Do you remember doing that?”
“I remember getting something to him,” Currie said. “If you say I faxed a résumé, then I did that. I don’t remember.”
“Okay,” Bittman said. “Do you remember how you got Monica’s résumé?”
“I don’t remember,” Currie said. “I don’t.”
“What did the president tell you after he got this package?” Bittman asked.
“I don’t remember him saying anything,” Currie responded. “I just don’t know. If he — if he got the package and then he gave me the résumé from the package, that could have happened. I don’t know. If Monica sent me the résumé herself, me directly, because I’m working on her behalf, I don’t know that either. I just don’t know how I got it.”
As frustrating as such exchanges were to prosecutors, the news isn’t all bad. Even though Starr ran into brick walls during the investigation, journalists now have an unprecedented opportunity to peer inside the most explosive political corruption case in a generation. The Starr papers released by Congress — more than 8,000 pages made public so far — contain innumerable examples of the administration’s misrepresentations, half-truths, clever evasions, and outright lies. They are, in short, a veritable encyclopedia of Clinton scandal management. There’s a lot to be learned — for those curious enough to look.
This article by Byron York was published in the December 1998 issue of The American Spectator, where Mr. York was then an investigative reporter.