WASHINGTON _ Raising the prospect of a dramatic courthouse appearance, Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr has asked whether President Clinton would be willing to testify before the Monica Lewinsky grand jury.
The president's lawyers have not responded formally, but senior Clinton advisers have said he was likely to testify _ but only after Lewinsky. Lawyers for the former White House intern were trying to secure immunity in exchange for testimony about her alleged presidential affair and cover-up.
The Clinton advisers, speaking Tuesday night on condition of anonymity, said Starr's office asked in the past few days whether Clinton would appear before the grand jury _ and under what conditions.
His team has expected since the Lewinsky investigation began seven weeks ago that Clinton would talk to the grand jury. Indeed, his political advisers, fearing that his high approval ratings could quickly collapse, have strongly urged Clinton to testify as soon as possible.
A top political aide to Clinton said Tuesday night that the only question in the White House's view has been whether Clinton should testify in person or by videotape. Echoing the views of other political aides, the official said a personal appearance would be a dramatic step toward convincing the public that he's not covering up an affair with the former intern.
As part of an aggressive public relations strategy, the White House is trying to show that Clinton is eager to cooperate with Starr.
Clinton's lawyers fear that having the president testify before Lewinsky, 24, would give Starr the ability to tailor her testimony to undercut Clinton, who has denied that his relationship with her was sexual.
She has said in secretly tape recorded conversations with former colleague Linda Tripp that she and the president carried on an 18-month affair beginning in late 1995. However, in an affidavit in Paula Jones' sexual harassment suit against Clinton, Lewinsky reportedly denied that her relationship with the president was sexual.
A big uncertainty was when Lewinksy would testify. Her attorney, William Ginsburg, has been in war of wills with Starr the past month over whether and how much immunity would be granted to her in exchange for her testimony.
The grand jury on Tuesday heard from another former White House aide, Kathleen Willey, about a sexual encounter she reportedly had with the president in November 1993.
Starr's office, according to news reports, wants to determine whether Willey was asked by someone with ties to the Clinton administration to alter her account of the meeting with Clinton.
A former White House volunteer, Willey was seeking a paid job at the time because her family had major financial problems. Her husband committed suicide on the day she met with Clinton, although Willey did not know about his death at the time.
Willey was one of the few witnesses in the grand jury investigation to show up at the federal courthouse in the company of Starr's investigators rather than private attorneys. She declined to speak with reporters as she was spirited into a car to be driven away after a full day of testimony.
ABC News and Newsweek have reported that Nathan Landow, a Democratic fund-raiser from Maryland, urged Willey to deny that Clinton made a sexual advance. Landow has denied he did so.
Lawyers for Jones also have been interested in Willey's story. They're trying to show a pattern of employment favors or harm, depending on the response of women to Clinton's alleged sexual advances.
Willey did get a paid job in the White House counsel's office, which lasted about 10 months. She later got a nonpaying position as a U.S. delegate to an international summit in Denmark.
According to The Washington Post, the president in his deposition in the Jones case said he recalled the meeting with Willey because she was so upset about her financial situation.
Clinton denied that he groped Willey, but said he embraced her and may have kissed her on the forehead, the Post reported.
Tripp has told Newsweek magazine she encountered Willey outside the Oval Office _ with her makeup smeared and clothing disheveled, but appearing happy.