WASHINGTON -- It now appears, at least for the moment, that President Clinton is going to ride out the Monica Lewinsky episode. The White House strategy of simply stonewalling is working.
There are, however, legions of questions that would confront the president if he were to agree to answer them. Here are some:
If Mr. Clinton did not have a "sexual relationship" with the 24-year-old White House intern, as he insists is the case, just what was that relationship?
Was she a protege? Was she just a young person in whom Mr. Clinton took a benign interest? Or was she an ambitious young woman who intruded on the Oval Office without encouragement from the president?
How did the president's friend Vernon Jordan become involved in trying to find Ms. Lewinsky a job with companies with whom he had a connection, such as American Express and Revlon?
Did Mr. Clinton ask him to help? And if so, why? Or was it a case of Mr. Jordan simply taking an interest in an ambitious young woman? And if so, how did the question of whether she had a sexual relationship with Mr. Clinton arise?
How about the role of Bill Richardson, the ambassador to the United Nations? How did he come to interview Ms. Lewinsky for a job on his staff? Did the president ask him to do it and, if so, why? How often does the ambassador personally interview candidates for entry-level jobs on his staff?
Then there are the records the White House has refused to produce. How many times was Ms. Lewinsky cleared into the White House after she had left her internship there for a job at the Pentagon? Who was she supposed to be seeing? At what time of day or night was she admitted? Did she see Clinton on those occasions or not? What was the nature of her ostensible business at the White House? What was the role of Betty Currie, the president's secretary, in clearing Lewinsky for admission?
How about the telephone record? Do they show a pattern of calls from Ms. Lewinsky to Mr. Clinton? What about the reverse?
How often, if ever, did Mr. Clinton telephone her? What were those calls about? Were any of them made, as Linda R. Tripp says, late at night to Ms. Lewinsky's Watergate apartment?
Success of stonewalling
What about gifts? Did Ms. Lewinsky and Mr. Clinton send each other gifts? If so, were they simply tokens that could be bought in a souvenir shop, as her lawyer suggests? Or were they more personal?
Why would the president be sending anything to a young intern?
A new opinion poll made over the weekend by CNN shows that two of three Americans polled think Mr. Clinton has "something to hide."
But they also show the president's job performance earning the highest approval -- 69 percent -- he has enjoyed in five years in office.
And many surveys show the voters are angry with the attention the episode has been given by the press, a finding that makes White House stonewalling somewhat easier politically.
The question now is whether Mr. Clinton can continue to ride out the controversy.
The policy appears to be simply to take the position that the president already has said all he intends to say in denying a sexual relationship.
Mr. Clinton also will argue that nothing more should be said so long as the matter is being investigated by the independent counsel, Kenneth W. Starr.
Mr. Starr makes a perfect villain for the other facet of the Clinton defense -- that the whole thing is the product of what Hillary Rodham Clinton called "a vast right-wing conspiracy."
Americans are having a hard time understanding how someone charged with looking into a real estate deal 10 years ago ends up investigating the president's personal conduct in the Oval Office.
But this charge also raises questions.
How did the right-wing conspirators play a role in the Lewinsky matter? Is there evidence they recruited her to compromise Mr. Clinton? Or is it just a case of Mr. Clinton's political enemies seizing an opportunity to exploit doubts about his character?
Although the White House strategy appears to be succeeding, some obvious risks exist for the president.
The most serious is the possibility that Ms. Lewinsky's story will be spelled out in detail for the public, either by the special prosecutor or by Ms. Lewinsky herself on some television program, and will appear convincing.
If that were to happen, some of those defending Mr. Clinton today surely would feel betrayed.
Meanwhile, however, the president rides high and the questions remain unanswered.
Jack W. Germond and Jules Witcover report from The Sun's Washington bureau.
Pub Date: 2/04/98