Lewinsky vs. Clinton

Article excerpt

From a cocktail dress to phone tapes, Starr, with Monica's help, charts an alleged relationship. Behind the deal.

Late last fall, monica lewin-sky had something she wanted to show her friend Linda Tripp. She opened up the closet in her Watergate apartment and pointed to a blue cocktail dress. It bore the stain of President Clinton's semen, Lewinsky told Tripp. The former White House intern claimed that she would never wear the dress again--or have it cleaned. A few nights later, Tripp told her pal, literary agent Lucianne Goldberg, about what she had seen at Monica's apartment. Goldberg had encouraged Tripp to tape her phone conversations with Lewinsky, as self-protection against White House attack and as proof of Clinton's scandalous behavior. Now, according to Goldberg, the two women discussed purloining Lewinsky's dress to obtain irrefutable evidence.

But how? Perhaps, on a return visit to Lewinsky's apartment, Tripp could lift the dress, throw her overcoat over it and walk out. Goldberg wondered if there was a way to test the garment to see if the stain was really the president's semen. So she called her client and close friend, former Los Angeles homicide detective Mark Fuhrman, of O. J. Simpson fame. Is there any way to get a DNA sample from such a garment? she asked. Sure, said Fuhrman. Get a Q-Tip, some sterile water and a plastic baggie. Run the Q-Tip over the stain, throw it into the baggie and take it to a private lab.

Tripp and Goldberg may have cooked up an even more elaborate ruse to get at the dress. According to a source familiar with the investigation, Lewinsky remembered getting a call from Tripp in November or December. Tripp told Lewinsky that she was so broke that she was selling her own clothes. Would it be possible, Tripp asked, to borrow some of Monica's? When? asked Monica, who was not at home at the time. Right away, said Tripp. She suggested that Lewinsky tell the doorman to let her in the apartment. When Lewinsky hesitated, Tripp asked, "What, you don't trust me?"

Nothing came of these plots. "We were just two girls having a Nancy Drew fantasy," says Goldberg. But the dress acquired a life of its own when the Lewinsky story broke in late January. At first, tabloids screamed about the "Love Dress." When the garment failed to materialize, press critics began to write about the "phantom semen stained dress." Now that the dress sits in an FBI lab, undergoing tests to determine whether the stain is semen and, if so, whether it matches the president's DNA, it looms as a threat to the Clinton presidency.

The case against Bill Clinton may finally be coming together. It is in many ways the same case that Americans first learned about when the scandal became public last January. What's changed is that Monica Lewinsky is now willing to tell her story to the grand jury under oath, and Bill Clinton has volunteered, however reluctantly, to submit to the prosecutor's questioning. The president is undoubtedly in a tight spot, caught in his still-unexplained relationship with Monica Lewinsky and enmeshed in a web spun by Tripp and Goldberg.

Lewinsky, who has been spending several hours a day talking to prosecutors, may begin testifying as early as this week. Informed sources say her account of a sexual relationship with the president is essentially the same one she first offered to tell Kenneth Starr--in exchange for a promise of immunity from prosecution--last January. Why did it take Starr so long to strike a deal?

Part of the problem was trust. Starr's team thought that Lewinsky's first lawyer, William Ginsburg, was unreliable and a little flaky. By contrast, Starr has known and liked one of Lewinsky's new lawyers--Jake Stein, a respected Washington lawyer and himself a onetime special prosecutor--for many years. Talks between the two sides had come to a halt two weeks ago when Starr called Stein directly. In order to remove any bad blood between the prosecution and Lewinsky's defenders, Starr cut his more hawkish deputies out of the negotiations. …