Clinton awaits his final trial as Congress votes to release video

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The Independent Online
A CONGRESSIONAL committee ruled last night that the videotape of Bill Clinton's testimony about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky will be made public in its entirety, with almost 3,000 pages of documentation supporting the report of the independent prosecutor, Kenneth Starr.

The decision was announced from Capitol Hill after an extended and often bad-tempered session of the House of Representatives judiciary committee.

Clinton loyalists were bracing for the release of the four-hour tape, said to show the President veering from coolly legalistic, to evasive, to angry and coarse, at least once breaking off his replies to walk away from the interrogation.

The few members of Congress who have already viewed the tape say that it presents a devastating picture of a President embarrassed by his own behaviour and cornered by the judicial process.

The tape and the documents, which include transcripts of much of Ms Lewinsky's sometimes graphic testimony, are to be released simultaneously at 9am Washington time on Monday. The tape will be shown immediately on the congressional in-house television circuit, and could be broadcast on US television at the same time. US cable channels, including CNN, have undertaken to broadcast the tape in full, while the networks are more cautious and could excise some of the explicit material.

At the same time, to his embarrassment, Mr Clinton will be meeting world leaders, including Tony Blair and giving the opening address to the autumn session of the UN General Assembly.

According to Henry Hyde, the committee chairman, the argument was overwhelming for presenting the material directly to the American people to allow them to make up their own minds. This was the reason the tape would be released with minimal editing. There would be sexually explicit material, but that was the nature of the case.

About 120 pages would be edited from the documents, "to protect innocent people" from the disclosure of embarrassing information.

The decision to release the material was immediately attacked by the White House. Deputy spokesman Barry Toiv said the development was "very troubling" and he questioned its fairness, but he did not challenge the committee's right to make the decision.

Mr Clinton himself remained silent on the subject; earlier in the week he had told reporters that while he believed his testimony should remain confidential, he had always expected it would become public.

With the votes in the committee dividing strictly along party lines, committee members on both sides gave starkly different accounts of the discussion.

Republicans insisted that the bipartisanship that prevailed during the the late President Richard Nixon's impeachment hearings was "alive and flourishing."

Democrats, chief among them Dick Gephardt, retorted that there was no such thing. "At the heart of bipartisanship," he said, "lies compromise. The spirit of bipartisanship cannot be alive and flourishing ... when party-line votes decide issues of disagreement between the parties."

John Conyers, the leading Democrat on the committee who has stood by Mr Clinton throughout the Lewinsky scandal, accused Republicans of "jumping the gun" on impeachment proceedings, and another Democrat, William Delahunt, contrasted the decision to release Mr Clinton's testimony with the confidentiality observed during the preliminary hearings on the late president.

Democrats were looking for scapegoats in their own camp. Some took to task Mr Clinton's lead lawyer, David Kendall, for allegedly failing to protect the President against the risk of allowing the President's 17 August testimony to be taped.

One of Mr Clinton's former advisers, Harold Ickes, who was also a witness in the Lewinsky case, was quoted as saying that Mr Clinton should have agreed to attend the court in person, as his testimony would not then have been taped, only transcribed.

The view in Washington was that release of the tape would be immensely damaging to Mr Clinton, in showing the American public a side of the President's character usually kept hidden.