What Is Clinton's Perjury Defense?

What Is Clinton's Perjury Defense?

What Is Clinton's Perjury Defense?

Answers to your questions about the news.
Dec. 18 1998 3:12 PM

What Is Clinton's Perjury Defense?

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Perjury #2: Alone with Monica.


Paula Jones' attorneys asked Clinton whether he was ever alone in a room with Lewinsky. Clinton answered "I don't recall." Later Jones' attorneys asked whether it was possible that they were alone, even though Clinton had no specific memory of such an event, and Clinton answered yes.

Clinton's lawyers say that "the president did not testify that he was never alone with Ms. Lewinsky." The lawyers say the second comment--that they might have been alone together even though he doesn't remember it--makes this clear. He was just saying he doesn't recall. But saying you don't recall something when you really do is a false assertion of fact and therefore is perjury just as much as denying that same something outright. The only difference is that it is a lot harder to prove.

Perjury #3: Giving and receiving gifts.

Paula Jones' attorneys asked Clinton whether he had given or received gifts from Monica Lewinsky. He said he'd definitely given her a gift from the Black Dog, a store on Martha's Vineyard. He said he wasn't sure whether he'd given her a book, and he'd received gifts from her "once or twice." We know that many more gifts were exchanged.

Clinton's lawyers reply that he admitted to giving and receiving some gifts. They contend this is the only "material" issue. Of course not everyone agrees about what is material, but it's a reasonable legal defense--lies must be important to count as perjury. Clinton's lawyers also argue that they weren't willful falsehoods--that Clinton believed he was telling the truth. The argument is that if he'd wanted to lie about the gifts, he'd have denied receiving any at all. So the fact that he admitted to a few suggests that he intended to be truthful. Another argument, which Clinton's lawyers do not make but others have, is that it's technically true to say you have received one or two gifts when you have received a total of 40.

Perjury #4A: Conversations with Lewinsky

Jones' attorneys asked Clinton to say when he last met with Lewinsky. Clinton said he wasn't sure, but it was "probably sometime before Christmas." Clinton was also asked if, at that time, she said she had been subpoenaed. (The questioners were trying to establish that Clinton pressured Lewinsky to lie.) Clinton said, "I don't know." It is undisputed that, at their last meeting on Dec. 28, Lewinsky said she'd been subpoenaed.

Clinton's lawyers maintain that it's unclear whether Clinton was even talking about the Dec. 28 meeting when he said "I don't know." Since he had claimed not to remember any meeting after Christmas, it's possible the "I don't know" referred to their last meeting before Christmas, where he and Lewinsky in fact didn't discuss her subpoena.

Perjury #4B: Conversations with Vernon Jordan about Lewinsky

Vernon Jordan testified before the grand jury that he had two conversations with Lewinsky in Dec. 1997, and that he told Clinton about both. Both times, Jordan says, he mentioned that Lewinsky had been subpoenaed. Jones' lawyers asked Clinton whether anyone other than his attorneys had told Clinton about the subpoenas. Clinton said "I don't think so," then another question was asked, and Clinton replied "Bruce Lindsey ...[was] the first person [who] told me she was [subpoenaed]."