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:
- 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."
"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."
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.
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: "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."
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?"
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?"
T: "O.K. So you knew — he knew that you were concerned."
L: "Yes. Oh, yes."