At last, the voice, the face, the testimony ... and the answers?

Did the President commit perjury and obstruct justice? Andrew Marshall gets to hear it from the horse's mouth
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The Independent Online
THE FACE was familiar, and we had heard the voice before. But not until yesterday had both been brought together. Monica Lewinsky, demure and neat in a dark jacket with a single string of pearls, made her first appearance on television as part of the closing stages of Bill Clinton's impeachment trial.

The woman who has dominated the headlines for a year had given her testimony "a gazillion" times already, but she took the show to Washington one (last?) time last week, and yesterday excerpts were played to the Senate in a special Saturday morning session. "Who is this former intern?" asked a Congressman as he introduced the entertainment to the venerable ladies and gentlemen of the Senate.

It was rhetorical question, of course, and yesterday added little beyond the shock of the real. She is a smart, composed, practised witness. She had her trademark helmet of hair well moussed, so that it moved just a few milliseconds more slowly than she did as she nodded and shook her head for emphasis. But above all, it was to her lips that the eye was drawn: wide, sensuous, but often firmly set in a defiant line as she parried the questions of the Congressmen probing her relationship with the President.

James Rogan, the aquiline Republican from Pasadena, was the warm-up man, telling us that this was the "one person whose testimony invariably leads to the conclusion that the President of the United States committed perjury and obstructed justice." Then, like a conjuror, he raised her spirit from the tapes as she gave her name.

"Are you a resident of California?" Ms Lewinsky was asked. "I'm - I'm not sure exactly where I'm a resident now, but I... that's where I'm living right now," she replied, an ironic, inexact and indirect response that characterised her testimony.

"The Monica I discovered is a bright, lively, and witty young woman who bears the scars of her continuing public shaming, but remains undefeated," said Andrew Morton, the author of her story which is due to come out in two weeks' time - and it seemed a fair description. Though it is as yet unpublished, the book (Monica's Story) is currently at number 80 in the Internet bookseller Amazon.com's Hot 100, and 22 on the Barnes and Noble best-seller list, just above Windows 98 for Dummies.

She made a $600,000 advance from the book, which will help to offset the costs of over $1m that she has run up over the last year.

The Republican prosecutors used the tapes to illustrate their by now overfamiliar case: that the President sought to conceal his relationship with Ms Lewinsky, thereby committing a crime so grave that he should be removed from office. But the tapes of Ms Lewinsky, Vernon Jordan, the President's lawyer friend, and Sidney Blumenthal, the journalist turned official, added nothing new to the facts of the trial.

They bring into slightly sharper focus some of the key disagreements between the President's testimony and that of his colleagues, but the issues were already clear. They gave a reminder of the range of characters involved in the drama, however: Ms Lewinsky, with traces of California's shopping malls in her accent; the neatly scrubbed Mr Blumenthal, precise and slightly sharp-edged, and the smooth Mr Jordan in a pinned collar, hints of Atlanta in his vowels as he referred to the President's secretary Betty Currie as "Bettah Currah".

The hope was that by bringing in real people, and especially Ms Lewinsky, the House managers of the trial would be able to galvanise the Senators and win back support for toppling the President.

"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," Mr Rogan said on Friday, sounding as if he was plugging a new programme in the television networks' winter line-up. If that was his intention, then he should stick to his day job.

The level of excitement in the US about the trial cannot be said to be uncontainable. When one overheated spectator at the trial last week rose up and shouted for the Senate to finish things off, he was speaking for many people. The ratings for the Senate trial have been disappointing. And the Senators themselves are well down the road towards completing the trial by next Friday.

The planning is also well under way for a vote of censure on the President. There is still uncertainty about whether it will take place - some Republicans think it will deflect from the larger task of impeachment. And it is far from clear whether it would come before or after a vote on impeachment itself, or what its constitutional status would be. But formulations were printed in yesterday's papers, accusing the President of "shameless, reckless and indefensible behaviour," and condemning his conduct in "the strongest possible terms."

One of the fears about interviewing witnesses was that it would make the prosecutors look cruel and cold-hearted, especially when they dealt with Ms Lewinsky. But the Republican trial managers do not come over as the torturers of the Inquisition .

Sometimes they are downright inarticulate. "Okay," says Congressman Ed Bryant as he confronts Ms Lewinsky. "Um, tell me how you, um, began - I guess the - the - we're going to talk about a relationship with the President." Mr Bryant is a former soldier and lawyer. He has three children, and one dreads to think what will happen when he comes to explain the facts of life to them.

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