Lewinsky confident, composed

Broadcast of deposition on television a debut of sorts for former intern

February 07, 1999|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The face -- framed by a legendary bubble of thick black hair -- is one of the most recognizable on the planet. The voice, too -- clear and strong, yet with unmistakable nuances of youth -- has been heard before, if only from tape recordings.

But yesterday, for the first time since Monica Samille Lewinsky commanded center stage in the premiere drama of the past year, the public got the chance to put the face and the voice together and see the former White House intern speak about her relationship with the president.

In opening his presentation at the Senate impeachment trial of President Clinton yesterday, House prosecutor James E. Rogan of California tried to portray Lewinsky, 25, as a victim of President Clinton's misconduct.

"The day has finally arrived," Rogan said, when the Senate would hear from Lewinsky, "a bright lady whose life has forever been marked by the most powerful man on earth."

But through the videotaped deposition of Lewinsky -- snippets of which were played in the Senatechamber along with those of Clinton confidant Vernon E. Jordan Jr. and White House aide Sidney Blumenthal -- TV viewers saw a serious, self-assured and composed young woman who appeared neither victim nor sexual temptress.

Dressed demurely in a tailored black coat-dress with a single strand of pearls, the Lewinsky on tape yesterday was a far cry from the breathless Californian whose desperation over her relationship with the president -- begun with a flash of her thong -- was shared with the world through deposition transcripts and Linda R. Tripp's secretly recorded audiotapes.

There was no weeping, no fretting, none of the obsessive rants that marked her phone conversations with Tripp.

In a deposition taped Monday, the wide-eyed, stone-faced Lewinsky appeared as poised and practiced as a lawyer, staring intently at her questioner, Rep. Ed Bryant of Tennessee, and often responding to questions with a mere "correct" or a declaration that she stood by her previous grand jury testimony.

The ease with which she answered questions seemed to reflect the dozens of times she has testified about her relationship with Clinton and the company she has frequently kept since the scandal erupted -- lawyers.

In one exchange, reminiscent of Clinton's answers in his grand jury testimony, Lewinsky was asked if the "cover stories" she and the president devised to explain her visits to the Oval Office were misleading and thus not the whole truth.

"They were literally true, but they would be misleading, so, incomplete," she said.

Glimpse of girlishness

But through her curt, well-rehearsed answers to the House prosecutor's questions, glimmers of the young and girlish Monica Lewinsky occasionally peeked through.

She often tossed her head back to swing hair out of her eyes, cocked her head to the side as she listened and answered questions with the tell-tale rising inflection of a teen: Asked where she went to college, for instance, she responded, "Lewis and Clark? In Portland, Oregon?"

Neither the House prosecutors nor the White House lawyers used the few portions of her testimony that dealt with details of Lewinsky's sexual encounters with the president. And exchanges that revealed Lewinsky's sense of humor and efforts to charm her inquisitors were conspicuously left out.

But in recalling scenes from her relationship with Clinton, Lewinsky allowed a bashful smile to creep upon her full, generally down-turned lips.

When describing how Jordan once suggested to her that she was in love with the president, she cast her eyes down and smiled. "I probably blushed or giggled or something," Lewinsky said in recalling her response.

Asked if she thought it was odd that the president gave her additional gifts after she had been subpoenaed by lawyers for Paula Corbin Jones -- and ordered to produce gifts given to her by the president -- she smiled and said, "I was happy to get them."

Underscoring her youth

The House prosecutors tried to underscore Lewinsky's youth, opening their presentation yesterday with a video clip of the former White House staffer raising her right hand -- a strikingly round, childlike hand -- in an oath to tell the truth.

"Who is this former intern who swore under oath to tell the truth?" Rogan asked the Senate. "Monica Lewinsky is an intelligent, articulate young woman who until recently held untarnished hopes for tomorrow -- like any other recent college graduate."

After showing another video snippet, in which Lewinsky recounts college internships, Rogan continued: "That image, the image of a young woman very much like a family member or a friend that we might know, is an image that the president did not want America to see."

After more than a year of fleeting glimpses of Lewinsky darting in and out of hotels or restaurants and always surrounded by media, yesterday's video presentation was a sort of debut for the woman at the center of the scandal that has resulted in only the second presidential impeachment in U.S. history.

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