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TIME on politics Congressional Quarterly CNN/AllPolitics CNN/AllPolitics - Storypage, with TIME and Congressional Quarterly

Lawmakers wrangle over two Clinton videotapes

The president's testimony in the Jones case could hit public airwaves, too

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, September 17) -- In an all-day session Thursday, the Republican-controlled House Judiciary Committee wrangled over the public release of two potentially explosive videotapes: President Bill Clinton' grand jury testimony in the Monica Lewinsky affair and his deposition in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case.

In a closed-door session that continued into the early evening, Rep. Henry Hyde's committee was debating what to do with the Lewinsky grand jury videotape and an additional 2,600 pages of supporting documents from Independent Counsel Ken Starr's sex-and-perjury investigation of Clinton.

But in a surprise development, the committee also has gained access to the videotape of Clinton's January 17 deposition in the Jones sexual harassment case. Judge Susan Webber Wright agreed to provide it to the committee in a conference call Thursday morning, and it should be in the panel's hands in a matter of two to three days, sources told CNN.

Democrats on the committee attempted to block or at least delay the Lewinsky tape's release. But sources said the tape could be made public sometime Friday, along with at least some of Starr's supporting documents.

An early move by Democrats on the panel to at least open the session to the public failed. Lawmakers were expected to go through the videotape, debating which sections should be edited out before any release, so the meeting could last long into the evening.

On computer screens or on paper, the written details of Clinton's affair with Lewinsky have been embarrassing enough. But with release of the four-hour Lewinsky tape, the scandal could quickly get even more vivid -- and even worse for Clinton.

House leaders last week made public Starr's report, which cited 11 instances of alleged impeachable offenses by Clinton, including perjury and obstruction of justice.

The report also included dozens of sexually explicit details, designed to demolish Clinton's claim he had not engaged in sexual relations with Lewinsky according to the narrow definition he was given in the legal proceedings.

But the full House directed the Judiciary Committee to go through the supporting materials, including the videotape, to see what else to make public.

Clinton has repeatedly apologized for his relationship with Lewinsky, but has denied he lied under oath or asked anyone else to do so.

The Lewinsky videotape shows an angry, defiant and evasive president struggling with questions about his extramarital affair, sources told CNN.

Some Republicans fear the prosecutors' dogged questioning of the president on the tape could elicit sympathy for the president and spark a backlash against Republicans for making it public.

The tape's release comes as lawmakers consider a possible impeachment inquiry, weighing the president's actions against his continuing strong job approval ratings.

Rep. Henry Hyde TV  

Committee spokesman Sam Stratman said before the meeting that any committee vote would be on a resolution to block the release of further documents or the videotape of the president's grand jury testimony. A vote last week gave the committee authority to release all materials by September 28. Thus, any new vote would be a vote to limit the release of either the documents or videotape or both.

Minority Democrats on the Judiciary Committee said showing the Lewinsky tape would be unfair to the president, who became the only witness videotaped when he insisted that his August 17 questioning take place in the White House.

Jurors at the federal courthouse watched a closed-circuit TV signal of the testimony, with extraordinary security measures in place to prevent electronic interceptions.

Lawyers familiar with Clinton's testimony said the videotape shows the president at times angry with sexually graphic questioning by Starr's aides -- at one time even accusing them of attempting to criminalize his private life.

A few times, Clinton appears caught off guard by a question and struggles to answer it, the lawyers said. And many times when pressed to give more details, Clinton keeps referring back to the narrowly legalistic statement his lawyers prepared to answer questions about the sexual nature of his relationship with Lewinsky.

White House officials worried the tape may undo the contrite image Clinton carefully built over the past two weeks with frequent public apologies about his "indefensible" and "wrong" relationship with the former White House intern.

And they also worried that the public release of the Lewinsky video would begin appearing in Republican political attack ads and fund-raising appeals.

There also is speculation that the tape will quickly be reproduced and be available for rental in video stores.


Investigating the President

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Thursday, September 17, 1998

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