Obituaries

Evelyn Lieberman, 71; presidential aide intervened with Monica Lewinsky

Deputy White House Chief of Staff Evelyn Lieberman, with President Clinton, in 1996.
Greg Gibson/Associated Press/File
Deputy White House Chief of Staff Evelyn Lieberman, with President Clinton, in 1996.

NEW YORK — Evelyn Lieberman, who as the first woman to serve as deputy chief of staff to a president grew concerned about the behavior of the junior aide Monica S. Lewinsky around Bill Clinton and banished her to a job outside the White House, died on Saturday in Washington. She was 71.

Her husband, Edward, said she had pancreatic cancer.

A Brooklyn-born former teacher, Ms. Lieberman also directed the Voice of America and was the first person to serve as undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs.

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“Evelyn,” Clinton said at her swearing-in at the Voice of America in late 1996, “has a special talent for cutting to the chase and getting to truth.”

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The House of Representatives impeached Clinton in 1998 on grounds that he had lied under oath about his sexual relationship with Lewinsky, who was in her early 20s when she worked at the White House. The Senate voted not to convict.

In April 1996, some months after the Clinton-Lewinsky relationship had begun but nearly two years before the scandal broke, Ms. Lieberman, then deputy for operations to the chief of staff, Leon E. Panetta, transferred Lewinsky, a onetime intern, to the Pentagon from her job in the White House Office of Legislative Affairs.

According to the report issued by Kenneth W. Starr, the independent counsel in the case, Ms. Lieberman testified before a special grand jury on Jan. 30, 1998, that Lewinsky had displayed “immature and inappropriate behavior,” was “spending too much time around the West Wing,” and was “always someplace she shouldn’t be.”

“I decided to get rid of her” because of “the appearance that it was creating,” the Starr report quoted Ms. Lieberman as saying.

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She said she had heard no rumors linking the president and Lewinsky, but acknowledged that Clinton “was vulnerable to these kind of rumors” and that this vulnerability was a reason for the transfer. After testifying, Ms. Lieberman said publicly: “I want to make one point clear. I know of no improper relationship between the president, Monica Lewinsky or anyone else, for that matter.”

Ms. Lieberman testified to the Starr grand jury that after she transferred Lewinsky, she had a conversation with Clinton in which he said he had a phone call about it. “She was evidently very upset about it,” she said. “He said, ‘Do you know anything about this?’ I said, ‘Yes.’ He said, ‘Who fired her?’ I said, ‘I did.’ And he said, ‘Oh, OK.’ ”

Marcia Lewis, Lewinsky’s mother, said she confronted Ms. Lieberman about the transfer. She testified Ms. Lieberman had responded by “saying something about Monica being cursed because she’s so beautiful.”

Evelyn Lieberman was born Evelyn May Simonowitz on July 9, 1944, the daughter of Jack Simonowitz and the former Rose Cohen. Her parents separated when she was a child.

She graduated from Buffalo State College, part of the State University of New York, with a bachelor’s degree in education in 1966, taught on Long Island, and moved with her husband to Washington. They divorced.

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In addition to her second husband, she is survived by a brother, Haskel Simonowitz.

Besides deputy chief of staff under Clinton, Ms. Lieberman was public affairs director for the National Urban Coalition and the Children’s Defense Fund; press secretary to Joe Biden when he was a Delaware senator; assistant to Hillary Clinton’s White House chief of staff; chief operating officer of Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign; and chief spokeswoman for the Smithsonian Institution.

In an interview with the Buffalo State alumni magazine last winter, Ms. Lieberman described her work with the Children’s Defense Fund and its founder, Marian Wright Edelman, as transformative.

“Here’s this poor girl from Brooklyn who has had extraordinary opportunities and great encouragement from others,” Ms. Lieberman recalled. “And I believe it’s my responsibility to provide that same encouragement to others, especially young women. Marian Edelman said that ‘service is the rent we pay for living.’ I think that says it all.”