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 Sources: President's Strategy For Testimony Still Undecided (08-14-98)



Analysis: Maybe It Was Just A Form Of Massage...

By Craig Staats/AllPolitics

WASHINGTON (Aug. 14) -- Let me get this straight.

President Bill Clinton is apparently considering acknowledging in his grand jury testimony next week that he had oral sex with Monica Lewinsky. But sources suggest he could maintain he was still telling the truth in January when he clenched his manly jaw, looked into the cameras and told the nation he never had "sexual relations" with her.

What would Clinton's escape hatch be? A definition of sexual behavior in the Paula Jones case that, if you stretch it past all bounds of common sense, could give him an out.

This comes from a report in Friday's New York Times. Senior advisers to the president will not confirm the report, but will not knock it down either. If it's a trial balloon, it ought to pop and drop into the Potomac.

Seven months into this mess, we can all agree that the president's sex life is his own business. If Hillary hasn't been bothered enough to throw Bill's golf bag and saxophone on the White House lawn and order him out, who are we to judge? The real issue is alleged subornation of perjury and obstruction of justice.

But this latest legalistic wrinkle is a concern, because if Clinton pursues it, he could expose himself to a level of public ridicule unmatched since Richard Nixon proclaimed himself "not a crook."

From the very start, Clinton has approached this sordid story thinking like lawyer, not a leader, certainly not like a husband or father.

Do you remember Clinton's verbal soft shoe when the story broke Jan. 21 and he was asked about the accusations by PBS' Jim Lehrer?

When Lehrer asked Clinton: "You had no sexual relationship with this young woman?" Clinton replied, "There is not a sexual relationship."

He danced around the issue then, and it looks like he is still thinking about trying some sort of electric slide on Monday when he tells his story to the grand jury.

If Clinton does pursue an "oral-sex-is-not-sexual-relations" gambit, it would be a rare privilege to be in the grand jury room and observe the reactions of those jurors. Is it contempt of court to giggle when you hear an absurdity? This may be the ultimate example of "Don't try this at home." You could find all your belongings piled up on the lawn and the locks changed when you get home.

Sex is sex is sex, and the best thing Clinton could do is tell the truth about what happened, and try to move on.

But "moving on" rests on the assumption that he waffled only about the sex and not about the more serious aspects of Independent Counsel Ken Starr's inquiry: the alleged subornation of perjury and obstruction of justice.

Americans are awfully tired of this peep show. The latest CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll found that 61 percent of people wished they knew less about what happened between Monica and Bill than they do.

But that poll also showed that 56 percent of people believe that if it is shown that Clinton lied as a witness in the Jones case, that would be serious enough to consider removing him from office.

There is no good way out for the president. Political ridicule may look like an acceptable alternative, if he and his attorneys decide the legal risks of anything but this absurdist strategy are worse.

In Other News

Friday, August 14, 1998

Clinton To Face Grand Jury Monday Afternoon
Transcript: Mike McCurry's White House Briefing
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