Last effort at swaying Senate vote

House prosecutors make Lewinsky tapes public for first time

She has `mixed feelings'

Transcripts indicate witnesses say little that will harm Clinton

February 06, 1999|By Jonathan Weisman and Karen Hosler | Jonathan Weisman and Karen Hosler,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Armed with hours of videotape, House Republican prosecutors will enter the august Senate chamber today and give the world its first view of Monica Lewinsky as she discusses her intimate relationship with the president of the United States.

But their last-ditch effort to convict President Clinton is unlikely to sway anywhere near enough votes to produce the two-thirds majority of the Senate needed to remove Clinton from office.

Transcripts released yesterday indicate that today's presentation of three videotaped depositions could support Clinton's acquittal perhaps as much as it does the case for conviction.

Lewinsky seems protective of the president, for whom, she says, she still harbors "mixed feelings."

A second witness, Clinton's friend Vernon Jordan, is scornful of the prosecution in his own deposition.

And a third, Sidney Blumenthal, a senior White House aide, seems to offer the prosecutors virtually nothing.

Still, today is a day that many in the Senate and across the nation have been awaiting, just as many others have been dreading.

"For the first time, the Senate and the people of the United States of America are going to get a chance to meet Monica Lewinsky the person, not Monica Lewinsky as she has been described by lawyers and `spinmeisters,' " said Rep. James E. Rogan of California, one of the prosecutors.

In 55 dense pages of transcripts, none of the witnesses veers far from previous statements before the grand jury. But they do reveal some glimpses of themselves that have never before emerged publicly.

Lewinsky is still the most crucial witness for the prosecution, and in her deposition, she comes off as savvy, sometimes sassy and usually unhelpful.

She reaffirms that she believes she and Clinton engaged in sexual conduct that the president has denied under oath. But Lewinsky refuses to say "whether what he said was truthful or not truthful" when he testified Aug. 17 before a grand jury about their relationship.

It was her idea, she emphatically states, to seek a job in New York, long before she ever came to the attention of the lawyers in the Paula Corbin Jones lawsuit. She says the job search had been prompted by her inability to find work at the White House, not by the president's desire to get her out of town and away from the Jones lawyers.

Lewinsky speaks at length about a crucial 2 a.m. phone call from the president Dec. 17, 1997. During that conversation, Clinton told her that her name had appeared on the Jones lawyers' witness list.

Clinton suggested that she could file an affidavit to possibly avoid testifying in the Jones case, but Lewinsky testifies that Clinton never suggested what she should say in the affidavit.

Lewinsky and Clinton did talk about long-standing cover stories they had developed as "part of the pattern of the relationship" during that phone call but, Lewinsky says, "not in connection with the affidavit."

"There was no discussion of what would be in an affidavit," she says flatly.

That statement could be significant. House prosecutors contend that Clinton urged Lewinsky to repeat the cover stories in her affidavit to convince the Jones lawyers that she would be of no help to their case.

Rep. Ed Bryant of Tennessee, one of the prosecutors, pushes Lewinsky to affirm the prosecution's contention that all her legal maneuvering was done for the president's benefit. But again, she refuses to budge.

"But you didn't file the affidavit for your best interest, did you?" Bryant asks.

"Uh, actually, I did," Lewinsky replies, saying that her relationship with Clinton "was nobody's business."

Indeed, she repeatedly rejects the link between the cover stories and the affidavit. But finally, after several queries, Lewinsky concedes, "From what I learned in that conversation, I thought to myself I knew I would deny the relationship."

That remark is likely to turn up today in the prosecutors' presentation, to buttress their assertion that although Clinton might not have explicitly asked Lewinsky to lie under oath, he more than hinted that she should do so.

In perhaps her most damaging testimony, Lewinsky minces no words in saying that the president's secretary, Betty Currie, called her to suggest that perhaps Lewinsky had "something" for Currie. This call occurred shortly after Lewinsky asked Clinton what she should do with gifts he had given her that had been subpoenaed by the Jones lawyers.

But never does Lewinsky take swipes at Clinton personally. House prosecutors have hoped that the image of a woman discussing her affair with a president twice her age could damage Clinton politically and legally. But Lewinsky may not fulfill her role in that plan.

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