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America judges Clinton

As details of tawdry affair and alleged coverup become public, the question is: Will his presidency survive?

With tearing eyes and a trembling voice, President Clinton on Friday tells a roomful of religious leaders at a prayer breakfast, "I don't think there is a fancy way to say that I have sinned." [AP photo]

By DAVID DAHL

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 12, 1998


WASHINGTON -- In a lurid report detailing his sexual habits, President Clinton was accused Friday of a months-long coverup of his affair with Monica Lewinsky that independent counsel Kenneth Starr says amounts to 11 separate grounds for impeachment.

More coverage:
Full text of Starr's report

Monica Lewinsky: The story of a naive intern, lust and love

White House reacts: Read the rebuttal text via AP [part one and two]

Capitol Hill: Congress sees through party-colored glasses

Locally: Reaction of Floridians in Congress

On the Net: Lurid details of affair disgust many

Troxler: Lunchtime diversion is difficult to digest

Special forum: What's your take on the crisis?

Starr says Clinton lied under oath, obstructed justice by coaching witnesses to protect him from legal jeopardy and committed "an abuse of authority inconsistent with the president's constitutional duty to faithfully execute the laws."

Using descriptions more often found in adult magazines than a legal document, the report says Lewinsky testified she and Clinton had 10 sexual encounters -- oral sex in a hallway just steps away from the Oval Office. In three instances, the liaisons allegedly occurred while Clinton was on the phone with members of Congress. The report says they once used a cigar as a sexual toy.

According to the report, Clinton lied under oath when he denied the relationship in his deposition for Paula Jones' sexual harassment lawsuit in January and again before the federal grand jury investigating him in August. It says he also lied to aides by denying the affair, knowing that they would repeat the lie to the public and to investigators.

Starr's report says Clinton tried to obstruct justice by helping Lewinsky obtain a job in New York. He was also accused of trying to obstruct justice by attempting to influence the testimony of his Oval Office secretary, Betty Currie, the day after he testified in Jones' lawsuit.

In many ways the document tells the story of an affair of a most common nature: a middle-aged man, a young woman, an attempt to conceal it. She fell in love with him, according to the report, and he suggested his marriage might end some day.

But in this case, the man involved was the president of the United States, whose lifelong dream to be the nation's leader will now carry a salacious legacy. Whether the embarrassment will turn to impeachment still must be weighed by lawmakers on Capitol Hill, who were saying Friday that they were shocked by the comprehensive case Starr had presented but not ready to take the grave step of removing him from office.

"This is not the way normal people act," said Rep. Tom Davis, a Virginia Republican. "We have to concentrate on impeachable acts, but the conduct here is pretty disgusting."

At the White House, Clinton's aides drew a line of defense: the president has admitted wrongdoing, but Starr's accusations are not offenses that the nation's founders contemplated when they created the impeachment process.

A 73-page rebuttal by the Clinton legal team insists that Clinton did not commit perjury, because he "gave narrow answers to ambiguous questions" in the Jones deposition. The document argues that Starr's report is uneccesarily spiced with "graphic details with the intent to embarrass."

"This is not a new story. A man tried to keep an inappropriate relationship private," attorney David Kendell said. "In short, this is personal and not impeachable."

Kendell would not rule out the possibility that Congress would censure Clinton for his behavior, in itself a politically and historically devastating act. One president has been impeached, and another was censured. "I think this is very much a political question now," Kendell said of Clinton's fate.

Clinton used his annual prayer breakfast with religious leaders Friday morning to offer the latest in a series of explanations and apologies he has given since his grand jury testimony on Aug. 17. For the first time, he asked forgiveness from Lewinsky and her family.

"I agree with those who have said that in my first statement after I testified I was not contrite enough," a misty-eyed Clinton told the clergy in the East Room of the White House. "I don't think there is a fancy way to say that I have sinned. "I will instruct my lawyers to mount a vigorous defense, using all available appropriate arguments," he added. "But legal language must not obscure the fact that I have done wrong."

Soon after his remarks, the House voted 363-63 to accept and release the Starr report that the independent counsel had sent Congress on Wednesday. At 2:18 p.m., it arrived at the White House and soon thereafter it was posted on the Internet. Clinton's lawyers had already put out a rebuttal, hoping against hope to shape the story on what was the worst day yet for the Clinton presidency.

A curious public went to the Internet, which had made the unprecedented disclosures readily available worldwide. Meantime, White House spokesman Michael McCurry, sweating under bright television lights and tough questioning from the press corps, insisted that Clinton's presidency would go forward despite the looming impeachment inquiry on Capitol Hill.

"It's not a question of whether it's possible to do it, it's mandatory. We have to. The work of this government, the work that we do in this world, the responsibilities for leadership the United States of America has on this planet don't stop because of Monica Lewinsky, and they never have," McCurry said.

For months, Clinton's allies inside and outside the White House have attacked Starr as a partisan Republican who is hellbent on ousting a successful Democratic president. Now, the White House is considering bringing in a Democratic heavyweight -- such as former Sen. George Mitchell or former White House chief of staff Leon Panetta -- to oversee the impeachment defense.

The report is the most significant outcome of Starr's $40-million investigation, which began some 41/2 years ago with an inquiry into Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton's involvement in the Whitewater land deal in Arkansas.

Starr's portfolio grew to include an investigation into a host of other scandals touching on the Clintons -- the firing of White House travel office employees, the suicide of lawyer Vincent Foster among them -- but the report released Friday focused largely on Clinton's affair with Lewinsky.

The report he issued uses salacious details and explicit testimony to argue that Clinton lied when he denied under oath in the Jones deposition that he had "sexual relations" with Lewinsky and that he had no specific memory of having been alone with Lewinsky.

Lewinsky's testimony -- given after she made an immunity deal with Starr -- contradicts the president's denials. The report describes a relationship of "intense flirting" that began at the time of the government shutdown in late 1995, and details Clinton's fondling of Lewinsky's breasts and genitalia and receiving oral sex from the young woman.

The report notes that "Ms. Lewinsky's statements have been corroborated to a remarkable degree."

First of all, DNA tests confirm Clinton's semen on Lewinsky's dress. Further, six Secret Service agents testified that they saw him alone with Lewinsky. Other people whom Lewinsky confided in, including her psychologist, confirmed that she had told them about the affair. Starr dug up White House records that placed Lewinsky at the White House at odd hours, records of phone calls and even a White House photo of Clinton and Lewinsky eating pizza at around the time the affair began in late 1995.

The report says that Lewinsky "grew emotionally attached" to Clinton. She testified: "I never expected to fall in love with the president. I was surprised that I did."

She said they spoke on the telephone as many as 50 times, sometimes engaging in explicit phone sex.

Clinton wanted to end the relationship once, had another liaison, and then ended it once more. He also contacted her after it was over when the Jones case began to heat up.

When the Jones legal team put her on a list of witnesses, the report says Clinton called Lewinsky at 2 a.m. to alert her. Starr's report says Clinton suggested she submit an affidavit denying the affair. Later, he tried to get her a job.

Starr claims that Clinton spoke with pal Vernon Jordan about finding Lewinsky a job in New York. He arranged for an interview with the parent company of cosmetics maker Revlon, and Lewinsky received an offer. Starr's report says Jordan called Clinton and told him: "mission accomplished."

Starr's report points out that Clinton had "strong, personal, political and legal motives to lie" when the lawyers in the Jones case asked him about it.

Furthermore, Lewinsky testified that Clinton had discussed "hundreds of affairs" over the years, though she and other witnesses said that Clinton was trying to reform.

Disgraced former Clinton political adviser Dick Morris, himself entangled in a scandal because of his relationship with a prostitute, testified that Clinton had conceded the affair with Lewinsky and hinted at others.

Morris recalled that Clinton told him: "You know, ever since the election, I've tried to shut myself down. I've tried to shut my body down, sexually, I mean. . . . But sometimes I slipped up, and with this girl, I just slipped up."

 

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