Investigators for prosecutor Kenneth Starr have spoken to an Arkansas native on the White House staff who was friendly with Monica Lewinsky and heard her describe a relationship she said she had with President Clinton, according to individuals familiar with the matter.
The episode involving administrative employee Ashley Raines prompted a fresh round of White House complaints regarding leaks.A source close to Clinton's defense team confirmed that the White House has known that Raines is talking to Starr. The White House is concerned that Starr's office may be trying to portray the talks as evidence that Raines has turned against Clinton.
"That's not true," the person said. He contended that Clinton's lawyers have reason to believe Raines is not hurting the president's case - although officials could not rule out the possibility that Lewinsky told Raines she had an affair with Clinton.
Newsweek disclosed Raines' appearance in the case and said she gave prosecutors detailed descriptions of Lewinsky's accounts of an alleged affair with Clinton. In its edition hitting newsstands today, Newsweek reported that in addition to talking to Raines, Lewinsky played for her tape-recorded telephone messages that the president left on Lewinsky's answering machine. Individuals who spoke to The Associated Press about the matter declined to characterize Raines' statements in any way.
Raines works as the customer-service program director in the White House Office of Management and Administration.
Raines' mother is manager of the Excelsior Hotel in Little Rock, where an alleged 1991 meeting between Clinton and then-state worker Paula Jones resulted in the current sexual harassment lawsuit against the president.
In a Jan. 7 affidavit given in that suit, Lewinsky denied that she had an affair with Clinton.
If Lewinsky played answering-machine tapes for Raines, it would mark the second time the issue has come up in the Lewinsky investigation. Sources close to former White House staffer Linda Tripp say she has told investigators that she heard answering-machine messages that the president left for Lewinsky.
The Raines disclosure is part of "a campaign of misinformation and intimidation" from Starr, White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said.
Starr said Saturday he would look into charges of leaks from his office and said he would "take appropriate action" against anyone found leaking information on the investigation.
The president's supporters suspect that Starr is leaking information in an attempt to persuade Lewinsky to cooperate with the investigation, and Lewinsky's lawyers joined the White House in attacking Starr.
"Starr seems to think it's OK to break the law to enforce the law," lawyers William Ginsburg and Nathaniel Speights said in a three-page article they co-authored for Time magazine's edition on newsstands today.
NBC News reported that 57 percent of the public has a positive feeling about the president while just 19 percent views Starr positively. The same poll showed 27 percent of the public with a negative view of Clinton and 39 percent with a negative view of Starr.
Republicans sprang to Starr's defense Sunday.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., called the criticism "an effort to get away from the real story, the truth," adding in remarks on CBS' "Face the Nation" that "as long as he won't say what happened, the problem will hang out there."