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The Keeper of Secrets Is in Starr’s Sights

4 minute read
James Collins

One day, not so long ago, an aide to President Clinton was browsing in the library of the Old Executive Office Building across the street from the White House. Seeing a book on the hidden lives of Presidents, the aide opened it up and discovered an old overdue notice tucked inside. The name on the notice? Bruce Lindsey. In the past six years, Clinton’s closest confidant has weathered many scandals, and it appears he was prepared for the latest one.

No one knows more about Bill Clinton than Bruce Lindsey. Most days he is the last aide to see the President before he goes to bed and the first to see him in the morning. And he is the person whose job it has been to protect Clinton from the consequences of his misadventures, from Gennifer Flowers to Travelgate. Which is why it is not surprising that on Friday independent counsel Kenneth Starr subpoenaed Lindsey to testify before a grand jury about the President’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky. White House aides often describe Lindsey as “the keeper of the secrets.” The question now is whether, under oath, he will have anything to reveal.

Potentially the most damaging questions for Lindsey will concern the list of “talking points” that Lewinsky allegedly gave Linda Tripp in mid-January, shortly before Tripp was scheduled to give a deposition in the Paula Jones case. Tripp had apparently been summoned to talk about the 1993 episode in which she saw Kathleen Willey, a White House volunteer, not far from the Oval Office with her lipstick smeared and her blouse untucked. The talking points offered Tripp guidance on what to say and invited her to change her story.

The origins of the talking points remain a big mystery, but Starr may have good reason to press Lindsey under oath. Tripp and Lindsey once worked together; she was his executive assistant for three months in 1993. And the two had evidently discussed the sensitive Willey matter before: A source close to Tripp told TIME last week that Tripp had tried to reach Lindsey in the summer of 1997 to let him know that reporters were snooping around the Willey incident. Lindsey at first did not return Tripp’s phone call, partly because he regarded her as untrustworthy. But later he did, perhaps because Lewinsky allegedly told Clinton that Tripp was a team player who could be trusted, according to TIME’s source. Lindsey and Tripp had several conversations about the Willey incident, which suggests Lindsey may have been counseling Tripp about Willey months before the talking points surfaced. A source close to the White House confirmed last weekend that Tripp and Lindsey did talk several times about Willey in that time period. Lindsey declined to comment on any conversations he may have had with Tripp. Through intermediaries, he has denied to TIME that he was responsible for the talking points.

Officially, Lindsey is the No. 2 lawyer in the White House counsel’s office. He first met Clinton in 1968 when they both worked in the office of Arkansas Senator William Fulbright. Lindsey attended law school at Georgetown and eventually returned to Little Rock. When Clinton failed to win re-election as Governor in 1980, he joined Lindsey’s firm. They remained close after Clinton returned to office, and in the early days of the 1992 presidential campaign, it was just the two of them trekking the country, seeking support for Clinton’s candidacy. Lindsey has remained at Clinton’s side ever since.

Lindsey can take comfort in the fact that when he was last snared by the Starr machine, he came out intact. In 1996 Starr named him as an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the case of two Arkansas bankers, Herby Branscum Jr. and Robert M. Hill, who were involved in Clinton’s 1990 campaign for Governor. Lindsey was accused of trying to persuade Branscum and Hill not to file the required federal forms when the campaign made large transactions in cash. Lindsey testified that he made no such effort. The jury acquitted Branscum and Hill of some charges and deadlocked on the rest, and Starr’s case collapsed. The judge in the case, however, Susan Webber Wright, who now presides over the Paula Jones trial, ruled in a sealed finding during the case that a preponderance of the evidence deeply implicated Lindsey. As he faces Starr a second time, Lindsey may have to explain why he’s not implicated in the latest Clinton scandal. But the White House may come to his rescue: sources tell TIME that it is considering invoking attorney-client privilege at least to shield Lindsey’s conversations with the President.

–By James Collins. Reported by James Carney, Viveca Novak and Michael Weisskopf/Washington

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