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Friday, September 11, 1998 Published at 15:22 GMT

Vernon Jordan: Smooth operator

The Clinton scandal put Vernon Jordan into the limelight

Vernon Jordan is the ultimate Washington insider. He has been called a "go-between", a "fixer-without-portfolio", a "freelance hired gun".

What everyone wanted to know during the Lewinsky scandal was whether the master fixer had got himself into his own unfixable fix - and if so was it at the behest of the president?

There is no question about Vernon Jordan's close relationship with President Clinton. After the 1992 election, he chaired the Clinton transition team. And at the time, there was talk that he could have any cabinet post he chose. In the end, he chose to stay out of the limelight.

His lack of an official post has not lessened his friendship with Mr Clinton. The Clintons spend Christmas Eve with the Jordans and often visit them at their holiday home in the island resort of Martha's Vineyard.

"The last thing he'd ever do is betray a friendship," Mr Clinton once told the New York Times. "It's good to have a friend like that."

Rapid rise to power

Like Mr Clinton, Vernon Jordan grew up poor in America's deep south. In the 1960s, he entered the civil rights movement to fight for black equality. Reports say that early in his career Mr Jordan decided that working inside the system was the best way to advance the status of the black community - and his own.

[ image:
"Mr Fix-it"
In the 1970s, Mr Jordan served as executive director of the United Negro College Fund and the National Urban League. Colleagues say that it was through his civil rights work that he came to the attention of powerful corporate leaders who named Mr Jordan to their boards of directors.

Those contacts served Mr Jordan well in the 1980s. After he survived a racist assassination attempt in an Indiana hotel parking lot, Mr Jordan left the civil rights movement for corporate power.

"The whole point of the civil rights movement was to open the doors of access to mainstream America," said Hugh Price, Mr Jordan's successor at the National Urban League. "Vernon Jordan both opened those doors and led the charge through."

Asked what his strengths as a lawyer were, Mr Jordan responded: "I know people, all kinds, everywhere and I can understand them."

"Knowing people" helped Mr Jordan become a Washington "super-lawyer". His ability to cut back-room deals and smooth over rough spots has secured him a seat on the boards of some of America's most high-profile companies, including Revlon, where he helped Monica Lewinsky to get a job.

Man in the shadows

But his moving and shaking among both the government and corporate elite is exactly what raises suspicions about his dealings in the Clinton scandal.

Although Mr Jordan says he helped Miss Lewinsky with her "vocational aspirations" because he believes "in giving a helping hand", few believe he would go out of his way for a lowly intern.

"Vernon Jordan is a Mr Fix-it," said Eleanor Clift of Newsweek magazine. "His very presence in this scandal raises suspicion that something did go on or else he would not have been needed."

Mr Clinton needs shrewd friends during his time of trouble. Mr Jordan is one of them. If Mr Clinton survives the scandal, he will owe much to Vernon Jordan. But then Mr Jordan has built his life by being owed favours by the powerful.

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In this section

Profile: Lewinsky sees name in lights

Key figures in the Senate trial

Vernon Jordan: Smooth operator

Sidney Blumenthal: Starr witness

Kenneth Starr: Bullyboy or crusader?

Betty Currie: Innocent or enabler?

President Clinton's best defence

Tough Hyde

Sex and the White House

Linda Tripp: Friend and foe