For all the condemnation of Clinton's speech in the news media, the prosecution team didn't take any false optimism out of the events of August 17. In his grand jury testimony, the president had been more careful than in his deposition, seven months earlier.
Increasingly, the savvier members of the prosecution staff recognized that their entire case came down to the sex-whether the president had lied about it in his deposition and then in his grand jury testimony. In light of Clinton's refusal to answer certain questions, Bittman and Wisenberg had pinned him down as best they could. Before the grand jury, Clinton had repeated his position that as he understood the definition of sexual relations provided to him on January 18, he had not had such contacts with Lewinsky. Clinton had admitted to "inappropriate intimate contact," which he declined to spell out, but by a sort of process of elimination, he had said he had not "directly" touched Lewinsky's breasts or vagina with his hands or mouth "with intent to arouse" her.
It was a slender basis on which to make a case. Since Clinton had admitted intimate contact, what difference did it make whether he acknowledged precisely how and where he had placed his hands and mouth? A big difference, according to the clear consensus at the Office of Independent Counsel. If they could prove a falsehood-any falsehood-they were going to make a case, regardless of the subject matter. In a United States Attorney's Office, where judges and prosecutors were lied to with regularity, prosecutors would weigh the significance of the false statements and consider whether the government's resources might be better deployed in another way. But in an independent counsel's office, especially this one, this kind of thinking was anathema. As Starr said in one of his curbside news conferences, "Okay, you're taking an oath . . . under God, that you will-'so help me, God, that I will tell the truth.' That's awfully important. Now that means we attach a special importance to it. There's no room for white lies. There's no room for shading. There's only room for truth. . . . You cannot defile the temple of justice."
So Starr would pursue the perjury about sex, and that raised a different issue. In her testimony before the grand jury on August 6, Lewinsky had spoken in a general way about her sexual relationship with the president. Now, in light of how the Starr team wanted to parse Clinton's answers in the grand jury, there would be a need for a great deal more specificity about the mechanics of their encounters. How they chose to conduct that next examination of Lewinsky would itself turn out to be a landmark in the history of American law enforcement.
* * * * *
Women who met Starr for the first time often remarked on his courtliness-opening doors, pulling out chairs, and generally behaving as he was taught in San Antonio. He was a good listener, too, and his pet phrase "the deliberative process" almost became a joke around the OIC because things sometimes moved so slowly. But no matter how long it took, Starr believed in hearing everyone out. At the end of the process, though, one thing remained the same in any organization Starr had led: he followed the advice of men.
During the three decades of Starr's career, the legal profession integrated many women into positions of responsibility. This was especially true in criminal law. But in the Justice Department, at Kirkland & Ellis, and in the Office of Independent Counsel, Starr invariably chose deputies who looked and sounded like him. As someone who had benefited enormously from powerful mentors like Warren Burger and William French Smith, Starr, too, had a series of proteges in the law-all young white men. Starr's refusal to delegate power to women was especially striking at the OIC. All of his deputies were men. Twenty-nine prosecutors represented the OIC in the grand jury-twenty-five men and four women. There were 121 sessions with witnesses before the grand jury-and women prosecutors led the questioning six times. There were small slights, too. After the convictions in the Whitewater trial, Starr called all the members of the prosecution team to congratulate them except for the one woman, Amy St. Eve.
Starr's history with women made the OIC's solution to its Lewinsky problem all the more striking. Who would ask Monica Lewinsky about the gory details of the caresses in the presidential study? Mary Anne Wirth and Karin Immergut. Ironically, they were two of the more experienced federal prosecutors in the group, and they had compiled admirable records on opposite sides of the country, Wirth in New York and Immergut in Los Angeles. In light of their accomplishments, it was all the more poignant that they agreed to be used in this manner, because the session they conducted with Lewinsky on August 26 was a disgrace-to the prosecutors themselves, to Starr, to Lewinsky, and, indeed, to the criminal process. It was also a monument to the absurdity of the entire Starr investigation, that an inquiry about a land deal in the 1970s had come down to . . . this.
* * * * *
"We are on the record," Karin Immergut began. "Ms. Lewinsky, could you please state and spell your full name for the record?
It was 12:35 p.m. on August 26. Immergut, Wirth, and Lewinsky were gathered with a female court reporter in a conference room in the independent counsel offices on Pennsylvania Avenue. In light of the questions Lewinsky was going to be asked, the prosecutors thought she would find it easier if they conducted a private deposition rather than confront her in front of the grand jurors. For her earlier grand jury appearances, the prosecutors had prepared a chart listing each of Lewinsky's sexual encounters with the president. On this day, Immergut handed the chart to her and said, "What I would like to do is go through the events that are written in bold, which deal with the private encounters you had with the president."
Immergut started with the first one, the thong-induced intimacies of November 15, 1995. Lewinsky recounted that in the president's study, "I know that we were talking a bit and kissing. I remember-I know that he-I believe I unbuttoned my jacket and he touched my, my breasts with my bra on, and then either-I don't remember if I unhooked my bra or he lifted my bra up, but he-this is embarrassing."
"Then he touched your breasts with his hands?" Immergut offered.
"Yes, he did."
"Did he touch your breast with his mouth?"
"Yes, he did."
"Did he touch your genital area at all that day?"
"Yes," Lewinsky said. "We moved-I believe he took a phone call in his office, and so we moved from the hallway into the back office, and the lights were off. And at that point, he, he put his hand down my pants and stimulated me manually in the genital area."
"And did he bring you to orgasm?"
"Yes, he did."
Immergut was just getting started. She asked, "Was there any discussion during the November seventeenth encounter about sex during the encounter?"
"I don't know exactly what you mean. . . ."
"Well, either about what he wanted or what you wanted, or anything like that, in terms of sex?" Immergut asked.
"No," said Lewinsky. "I mean, I think that there were always things being said, but not necessarily in a conversational form. Does that make sense?"
Both Lewinsky and Immergut were kind of struggling at this point. "Okay," the prosecutor resumed. "And when you say there were always things being said, do you mean kind of chatting while you were having sex, or things that felt good? I don't mean that. I mean-"
"Okay," Lewinsky said, trying to rescue the floundering prosecutor.
"-trying either implicitly giving you direction about what he wanted, or why he wouldn't ejaculate, anything like that?"
"I believe why he wouldn't ejaculate was discussed again," Lewinsky said.
As the prosecutor and witness continued their desultory march through the "encounters," certain themes emerged. Lewinsky was defensive about the brevity of the trysts. (She generally removed her underwear before going to the Oval Office, which moved things along.) About the third one, Immergut asked, "Do you know how long that sexual encounter . . . lasted . . . ?"
"Maybe ten minutes. Not, not very long. We would always spend quite a bit of time kissing. So."
"And kissing and talking and just . . . being affectionate?" Immergut interjected helpfully.
Lewinsky was also baffled by the president's insistence on not ejaculating. "The two excuses he always used were, one, that he didn't know me well enough or he didn't trust me yet," she said. "So that it sort of seemed to be some bizarre issue for him."
As this surreal proceeding continued, Immergut at times sounded more like a sex therapist than a prosecutor. "On that occasion," she said at one point, "you mentioned that he did not touch your genitals at all. Was there any discussion about that?"
"No," said Lewinsky.
"At that point, sex was sort of the more dominant part of the relationship?"
"Rather than as it became-" Immergut continued.
"There was always a lot of joking going on between us," Lewinsky said. "And so we, you know, I mean, it was fun. . . . We were very compatible sexually. And I've always felt that he was sort of my sexual soul mate, and that I just felt very connected to him when it came to those kinds of things."
Always, though, Immergut returned to the sweaty minutiae. "And again, just with respect with bringing you to an orgasm, did he touch you directly on your skin on your genitals, or was it through underwear?"
"First it was through underwear, and then it was directly touching my genitals," said Lewinsky, who did display remarkable recall.
Immergut kept after Lewinsky for nearly two hours, and like any drama, this inquisition built, as it were, to a climax. On February 28, 1997, Clinton and Lewinsky had not been alone together in nearly eleven months, but after attending his Saturday radio address, she wangled an invitation to his study. There, she testified, "I was pestering him to kiss me." One thing led to another, and then, "I continued to perform oral sex and then he pushed me away, kind of as he always did before he came, and then I stood up and I said, you know, I really, I care about you so much; I really, I don't understand why you won't let me, you know, make you come; it's important to me; I mean, it just doesn't feel complete, it doesn't seem right.
"And so he-we hugged. And, you know, he said he didn't want to get addicted to me, and he didn't want me to get addicted to him. And we were just sort of looking at each other and then, you know, he sort of, he looked at me, he said, okay. And so then I finished."
"How did the meeting then end, or the encounter?" Immergut asked.
"We, well, we kissed after-"
"The ejaculation?" asked the prosecutor.
"Yes. . . ."
There was really only one more important question.
"The dress that you were wearing on this occasion, is that the blue dress from the Gap?"
Monica Lewinsky's sigh was almost audible on the transcript. "Unfortunately, yes," she said.
Kenneth Starr's case for impeachment of the president was ready to go to Congress.
Excerpted from A Vast Conspiracy by Jeffrey Toobin. Copyright © 2000 by Jeffrey Toobin. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.