Clinton goes on air, denies new charges President says he never had affair or coached woman to lie

'This is a bombshell'

Friends and enemies caught by surprise

first lady supportive

January 22, 1998|By Paul West and Carl M. Cannon | Paul West and Carl M. Cannon,SUN NATIONAL STAFF Sun staff writers Jonathan Weisman and Susan Baer and news researchers Jean Packard and Robert Schrott contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- Confronting the most serious crisis of his presidency, Bill Clinton went on national television yesterday to rebut explosive allegations concerning his relationship with a 24-year-old former White House intern.

Amid reports that he personally left messages on the young woman's telephone answering machine, Clinton denied that they had had a sexual relationship or that he helped coach her to lie under oath when she gave a signed statement this month to lawyers in Paula Corbin Jones' sexual harassment case against the president.

"I did not urge anyone to say anything that was untrue," Clinton stated during a midafternoon PBS interview. The extraordinary question-and-answer session, carried live by most major TV networks, recalled a similar exchange from Clinton's past -- a "60 Minutes" interview at the height of the 1992 campaign, in which he denied having a 12-year affair with an Arkansas woman named Gennifer Flowers.

Clinton used a series of previously scheduled media interviews yesterday to respond to reports that the Whitewater independent counsel, Kenneth W. Starr, has expanded his long-running investigation to examine allegations of inducing perjury, making false statements and obstructing justice against the president and his close friend, attorney Vernon Jordan.

The president repeatedly denied having had a sexual relationship with the former intern, Monica Lewinsky. But he stubbornly refused to say whether he had spoken with her. It would be "inappropriate" to answer that question in light of the special counsel's investigation, he told National Public Radio.

Hillary Rodham Clinton came to her husband's defense yesterday, as she has many times before in similar situations. Reports of her husband's affair were "false, absolutely," she said, and politically motivated.

"This is a continuation of a lot of the political accusations and attacks that my husband has been subjected to, I guess for five, six years now," she told reporters at Pennsylvania Station in Baltimore, after a speech at Goucher College.

News of the widening inquiry into Clinton's personal affairs caught supporters and detractors by surprise and generated serious talk, for the first time, about the possibility that he might not be able to complete his second term.

"This is a bombshell," said Illinois Republican Henry J. Hyde, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who said the allegations, if true, could set impeachment proceedings into motion.

"I stand ready to begin impeachment proceedings if the allegations are founded," said Hyde, a respected senior member of Congress, whose panel, by law, is the place any such investigation would begin.

Asked whether the allegations, if true, constitute impeachable offenses, Hyde replied, "Unquestionably. They got Mr. Nixon for obstructing justice and telling people to lie for him."

The Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post reported that Starr, who has spent 3 1/2 years investigating an ever-expanding sea of questions that have rippled out from the Clintons' Whitewater land deal in Arkansas, was authorized by a three-judge federal panel Friday to investigate criminal allegations involving the Clinton-Lewinsky relationship.

The latest, and potentially most damaging, allegations grow out of more than 10 tape recordings surreptitiously made by Linda R. Tripp, a longtime federal worker from Columbia who befriended Lewinsky at the Pentagon, where both had gotten jobs after leaving the White House staff.

Lewinsky, who began working at the White House in 1995 as an unpaid 21-year-old volunteer, reportedly gave Tripp intimate details of alleged sexual encounters with Clinton.

On the tapes, Lewinsky also says she and Clinton exchanged gifts and letters, Newsweek reported last night in an online version of a story that the magazine decided not to publish in its current printed edition. At one point, the magazine reported, the president gave Lewinsky a dress.

After Tripp turned over to Starr some of her tapes, he had Tripp outfitted with a hidden body microphone to obtain further information from Lewinsky, according to news reports. It was not immediately clear whether Starr acted before or after the court expanded his investigative authority.

Lewinsky also played for Tripp tapes of recorded messages that Clinton left on her phone answering machine, CNN reported.

On Jan. 7, Lewinsky reportedly gave a sworn affidavit to lawyers for Paula Jones, denying that she had had an affair with Clinton. Lewinsky is scheduled to answer questions from Jones' attorneys tomorrow.

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