At last report, George T. Conway III-the New York tobacco lawyer and secret Paula Jones adviser-was on the lam. Seeking to evade a subpoena from Robert Bennett, President Bill Clinton’s counsel in the Jones sexual harassment case, Mr. Conway suddenly disappeared on Jan. 26. His secretary at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, the powerhouse midtown firm where he is a million-dollar-a-year partner at the age of 34, told The Observer that he was “on vacation,” and he later responded to a voice-mail request for comment by saying that he was “out of town.” A friend said he had “gone skiing.”
Since then, he has returned to Wachtell Lipton, where he reportedly was in bad odor among his partners for concealing his four-year participation on the Jones legal team. But nobody at Mr. Conway’s law firm seems overly upset that he apparently tried to duck Mr. Bennett’s subpoena, perhaps because his responses to questions under oath would have been even more embarrassing than his undignified “vacation.”
Mr. Bennett was interested in evidence of possible collusion between the Jones lawyers and the Whitewater independent counsel, Kenneth Starr, stretching back well before the current White House crisis. After all, Mr. Starr and Mr. Conway have represented Philip Morris Companies in tobacco litigation at the same time, and both simultaneously worked on briefs for Ms. Jones arguing against Presidential immunity from a civil lawsuit such as hers. And no doubt Mr. Bennett would have asked Mr. Conway to explain his relationship with Internet gossipmonger Matt Drudge. Mr. Drudge, of course, is the celebrated author of the Drudge Report , a dumpsite for unverified and often inaccurate “news” items provided by the President’s hidden adversaries.
Now The Observer has established that among the chief sources, if not the chief source, for Mr. Drudge over the past several months has been, in fact, Mr. Conway. It was the New York lawyer, for example, to whom Mr. Drudge owed his “exclusive” last October about Ms. Jones’ claim (later dropped) that the “distinguishing characteristic” of the President’s anatomy was a curvature caused by a malady known as Peyronie’s disease.
In this light, it is not hard to imagine why the partners at Wachtell Lipton, grasping but not without self-respect, would wish to distance themselves from Mr. Conway’s particular brand of patriotism.
As for Mr. Drudge, in a long and rambling interview on the evening of Feb. 9, he acknowledged to The Observer that Mr. Conway was among his sources-a group that he coyly hinted includes literary agent-provocateur Lucianne Goldberg, former White House aide Linda Tripp, members of Mr. Starr’s apparatus and, as he put it, “F.B.I. people.” Bizarrely, he also lashed out at his friend and sometime hostess, the conservative CBS news analyst Laura Ingraham.
At first, Mr. Drudge said of Mr. Conway, “I’ve never even met the guy.” But Mr. Drudge, who invites informants to contact him by e-mail, probably meets few of his sources in person. When The Observer suggested strongly that during a recent visit to New York Mr. Drudge had indeed met with Mr. Conway, he replied, “Do you have people, like, spying on me or something?” Queried a third time, he said, “Ummm …” and then demanded to know whether his phones were being tapped.
“I know Laura Ingraham was running around saying Conway was my source. I will have to leave it to you whether you trust Laura Ingraham’s point of view or not. I’d be inclined not to,” he said.
But hadn’t Mr. Conway told him about the “distinguishing characteristic”?
“Hmmmm. I’m trying to think back.” He then tried to change the subject. “You know, the Washington Times called me on that, too …”
Actually, Mr. Drudge has been peddling “exclusives” about the Jones case for a long time, with at least some of them coming from Mr. Conway, who may not consider himself covered by the confidentiality order issued by Judge Susan Webber Wright. Mr. Drudge attributed his information on various occasions to “an East Coast legal source,” “a well-placed legal insider who requested anonymity” and “a legal source,” any of which could apply to Mr. Conway. There is ample reason to believe that Mr. Conway was among Mr. Drudge’s informants as far back as last summer, when the Drudge Report first gained national attention by lifting an unpublished story from Newsweek about Kathleen Willey, the alleged object of a sexual advance from Mr. Clinton who was subpoenaed to testify by Ms. Jones’ attorneys.
But Mr. Drudge denied ever having spoken with Mr. Conway about Ms. Willey. “No, I did not,” he said. “Absolutely did not. I will deny that.” He cackled, and went on. “Not meaning that I won’t deny the others, but I will deny that one. Yeah, I mean, I’ve had such limited contact with [Mr. Conway]. If you’re trying to blow this up, you’re just misled. It’s coming from other places.” He finally left open the matter of whether he met with Mr. Conway, who did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Professing indignation at being questioned about his sources, Mr. Drudge said: “I will tell you this. I have had multiple sources for this [story]-and I know this disturbs you-some of them quite close to the action that would surprise you. And I’m not going to say they’re Tripp’s friends, I’m not going to say it’s Tripp herself, I’m not going to say it’s Starr’s people, I’m not going to say any of that. All the potential for that exists, including F.B.I. people.”
And referring to the controversy about leaks between Mr. Starr and David Kendall, the President’s attorney for Whitewater and other matters involving the independent counsel, Mr. Drudge added, “The funny thing is, Kendall is focusing in on Starr, Starr is focusing in on Kendall, but there’s a few other people who are involved with this. And I know of a few other copies [of the Lewinsky tapes] floating around, that are in possession of people that you wouldn’t even suspect! Besides the Goldbergs, besides the Conways, besides these potential people who would be obvious.”
It isn’t surprising that Mr. Drudge, who claims the privileges of journalism without assuming its responsibilities, would try to conceal the mysterious custodians of the tapes he has exploited to such advantage. An important question remains, however, as to who knew about the illegal taping of Monica Lewinsky and when they knew it-a question to which Messrs. Drudge, Conway and Starr may have the answer.
Follow Joe Conason via RSS.