After months of resistance, President Clinton's lawyers have opened talks with Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr on the delicate issue of how the president might provide information to the grand jury in the Monica Lewinsky investigation.
Presidential spokesman Mike McCurry refused to say Friday whether the discussions were prompted by a subpoena - or the threat of a subpoena - from Starr. But McCurry said Clinton attorney David Kendall was working with Starr "to try to ensure that the grand jury gets the information it needs."The White House announcement appeared intended to signal a strategy shift after at least four or five rejected requests for voluntary testimony by Clinton, disputes over providing documents and legal challenges to block the testimony of presidential aides and Se-cret Service agents.
"I can't tell you what the status of discussions are that the lawyers are having," McCurry said, relaying a statement from White House counsel Charles Ruff. "But as this statement of the counsel indicates, it makes very clear that Mr. Kendall is working with Mr. Starr's office to provide the information that the grand jury needs."
Starr spokesman Charles Bakaly did not return telephone calls.
Former White House special counsel Lanny Davis said the case appeared to be at a turning point.
"It's my judgment that the White House and the president's lawyers see the end game is very near and that the country wants this over with," said Davis, who maintains close ties with the administration. "This is the right time for the president to come forward."
Trying to read between the lines of the Starr-Kendall discussions, Davis said, "My interpretation of what's been said is that no official subpoena has been served out of respect for the office, but it is certainly implicit that these discussions are in lieu of a subpoena."
Meanwhile, Harold Ickes, the president's former deputy chief of staff, denied that he had ever seen Clinton alone with Lewinsky. "No, I've never seen that," he said.
On Thursday, a government official said a Secret Service uniformed officer had told the grand jury that he and Ickes had come across Clinton and Lewinsky in a room just off the Oval Office. They were said not to be engaged in any improper behavior.
Starr's office has taken the position that it is constitutionally permissible to subpoena the president in a criminal matter; Clinton's defenders dispute that assertion and say only the House can issue a subpoena.