White House Forced To Respond To Testimony Leaks
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WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Aug. 22) -- Even though President Clinton has said it is time to "move on" from the scandal of his relationship with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky, grand jury testimony that has been leaked is forcing Clinton aides to explain what he said -- as opposed to what she said.
He said it was just sex, but she said it was romance. He said it was just a necktie while she said it was a symbol. He said it was just a few trinkets, but she said he wanted the gifts back.
As details of this week's grand jury testimony by Clinton and Lewinsky filtered into the public domain, the Clinton camp was slowly unwinding a fragile string of explanations to protect him against charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.
Start with the nature of his May-December relationship with Lewinsky.
On a rare point of agreement at week's end, Clinton and the woman half his age testified that they had about a half-dozen sexual encounters in the White House.
He said those began in late 1995 or early 1996; she said it was definitely 1995.
Lewinsky told grand jurors and prosecutors that their conduct included oral sex and fondling. On that delicate point, Clinton hedged, neither confirming nor denying her account.
The president did say that, based on his understanding of the legal definition of "sexual relations," the meetings did not include oral sex.
According to that tortured explanation, Clinton said he did not perjure himself when he testified under oath in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case in January that he did not have sex with Lewinsky.
Clinton also did not acknowledge touching Lewinsky in any way -- even his lawyers concede that would have been tantamount to admitting to perjury.
A critical component of the prosecutors' obstruction case are the gifts the president gave to her, including a book of poetry, a T-shirt and a hat pin.
Clinton supporters called the presents meaningless trinkets -- "no big deal," one adviser quotes the president as saying.
Independent Counsel Ken Starr wants to know if Clinton tried to cover up evidence of an affair by having Lewinsky return the presents before lawyers in the Jones case uncovered them via subpoena.
It went unreported for months that Clinton had given Lewinsky as many as six gifts at a private White House meeting on December 28 -- three weeks after she was named as a potential witness in the Jones case.
Starr's allies could argue that the gifts were intended to keep her quiet about the affair. The president already has a line of defense: If he was trying to hide gifts from Jones' attorneys, why would he give her more presents on December 28?
That does not explain why Clinton, less than three weeks after their get-together, told Jones' lawyers under oath:
- "I don't recall" ever being alone with Lewinsky at the White House.
- "I don't remember a specific gift."
The gift-giving went both ways. Lewinsky told prosecutors she gave Clinton a tie and told him she'd feel close to him when she saw him wearing it.
He wore it on her first day of testimony. Asked by prosecutors if he was sending her a signal, the president laughed and said no.
The issues go deeper than numbers of gifts and types of acts.
Lewinsky told friends and associates this week that she felt wounded by the president's apology televised to the nation the day he testified to the grand jury. She viewed Clinton's characterization of their relationship as dismissive, a contrast to her belief that theirs was an affair rooted in strong emotional ties.
The president "made it out to be just a sexual relationship," said one Lewinsky associate.
Prosecutors want to know whether Clinton obstructed justice by trying to cover up their relationship. He denied it under oath, but acknowledged working with Lewinsky to keep the relationship quiet from the start.
The explanation from Clinton's camp: Any married man would try to keep an affair hush-hush. His lawyers argue that he never crossed the line between careful adulterer and common criminal.
One legal source familiar with the president's testimony described it as a "let's-not-shout-this-from-the-rooftops" strategy.
Clinton also told grand jurors that Lewinsky told him she didn't want to testify in the Jones case. He acknowledged telling her that many women had filed affidavits in the case to avoid testifying.
Later, she filed her own affidavit, claiming she never had sex with the president.
Did the conversation amount to Clinton suggesting she perjure herself?
His lawyers would argue there is no evidence that the talk involved any direction by him for her to lie.
Finally, there's the dress -- a stained blue number that Lewinsky gave to her mother, who turned it over to prosecutors in exchange for immunity deals.
DNA tests reportedly have concluded the stain was semen. Starr has secured DNA material from Clinton to compare.
The president's supporters now assume that tests will prove the semen came from Clinton. And they are, as usual, prepared to handle this bit of information. The results are moot, the Clinton camp will argue, because the president has already told the grand jurors he is guilty of sexual impropriety with Lewinsky.
Though he didn't quite confess to a specific sex act, one adviser said, he "did everything other than draw a picture." White House press secretary Mike McCurry said Saturday that the president was currently in seclusion with his family at Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, dealing with the pain of his acknowledgment of a relationship with Lewinsky.
"I'm not going to give you a play-by-play account. But I think there is a healing process that needs to occur and, as far as I can tell, it's under way and it's not done yet," McCurry told reporters.
McCurry and several other senior aides said there were no firm plans for the president to deliver another public address to the American people about the Lewinsky affair.
"I think the president has many advisers, and many of them are rendering their advice sometimes in the newspapers," he said. "When the president elects to take any of that advice and do something, I'll let you know."
Two other senior advisers said such an idea was not under serious consideration at this time. Some top aides -- and many Democrats -- have complained that the speech was not contrite enough.
One influential adviser said it is inevitable that at some point the president will need to speak again to the American people about the controversy.
But this adviser said "now is not the time," because of the president's family crisis.
Correspondent John King contributed to this report.