Clinton accused: Vice President stays loyal, but could soon find himself promoted

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Consider, in all of this, the plight of one Al Gore. How does he behave as the Lewinsky scandal envelops his President? His task must be to show loyalty to his senior partner in White House. But at the same time, he must know this: people are gossiping already about a Gore presidency.

For the first 36 hours after the storm first broke in Wednesday morning's newspapers, the Vice President offered no response. Indeed, on that same day, he stuck to his schedule and appeared at an event to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Roe v Wade Supreme Court decision on abortion. He delivered his speech, in characteristic wooden fashion, without so much as a nod to the tempest outside.

He cannot have avoided hearing the titters in the audience, however, on his introduction to the podium. "He has taken the time today, out of an enormously busy schedule," the speaker began. "I mean Arafat's in town, Netanyahu ... and a few other things."

It is not as if Mr Gore has not had sufficient on-the-job training. Indeed, his crash course came before the 1992 election, when the Clinton-Gore campaign nearly became derailed by Gennifer Flowers' adultery allegations. Since then, he has perfected the art of loyalty-while-lying-low through Whitewater, Vince Foster, Web Hubbel, Paula Jones. There has been almost no let-up.

Finally, in a pre-arranged interview with a group of newspaper columnists, the fruit of which was published yesterday, the Vice President did address the crisis. And, so far, he is standing by his man. Indeed, he has been more or less alone in Washington voluntarily to break cover on Clinton's behalf.

"The President has denied the charges, and I believe it," Mr Gore told the scribes gathered in his White House office. "He has said he will co- operate fully with the independent counsel. And you will see that that is exactly what he does".

Poignantly, Mr Gore added: "Beyond that, he is not only the President of the country, he is my friend". Mr Clinton, he said, has been able to "maintain his focus on the agenda he has been pursuing on behalf of the American people".

Otherwise, Mr Gore is conspicuously absent from the spotlight. Aides and friends are also staying quiet, declining to answer media inquiries. And all of this while lawmakers in Congress, Republicans certainly and even some Democrats, are openly talking about a future with President Al Gore and First Lady Tipper. - David Usborne