Clinton faces sex-life grilling

John Carlin in Washington on the historic hearing in which the President faced his accuser Paula Jones (now, left, and before) accuses

AS THE Butcher of Baghdad was rattling his sabre at Uncle Sam yesterday, Bill Clinton was confronting a domestic threat in Washington that poses no less fearsome a challenge to his presidential fortunes.

He came face to face with Paula Jones, the young woman from Arkansas whose charge that, seven years ago, he dropped his trousers in front of her and invited her to perform oral sex could well be fixed for evermore as the defining memory of his presidency.

Behind closed doors, but with Ms Jones in attendance, he was subjected under oath to the almost six-hour ordeal of answering questions about his sex life from his accuser's lawyers. The extraordinary deposition hearing marked the first time that an American president had testified as a defendant in a legal proceeding.

While Mr Clinton's motorcade disappeared straight into the underground garage of his lawyer's office building, Ms Jones seemed to be having the time of her life. Smiling broadly for the cameras upon her arrival, she exuded the confidence of a woman who, at 31, knows she is looking better than she ever has done.

Students of style have gasped at her transformation from "big-haired floozy" - one term used to describe her by White House insiders when she filed suit against the President in 1994 - to respectably elegant Washington power-dame.

Aware that her "trailer-trash" looks might count against her in the eyes of a jury, her handlers put her in the charge of hairstylist Daniel DiCriscio, a Los Angeles make-over king who counts Pamela Lee and Playboy cover-girls among his clients.

Interviewed by the Washington Post last week, Mr DiCriscio said he had spent five months overhauling Ms Jones's frizzy mane to achieve today's softer, sleekly-layered effect.

"I removed the perm," Mr DiCriscio said. "It had to be taken out. It just wasn't pretty."

He also advised Ms Jones to change her make-up, replacing the neon colours she once favoured with warm but subtle natural hues that "emphasise the beguiling beauty of her eyes".

All parties to the case are under a gag order from the judge, but aides said Mr Clinton had insisted he could not recall meeting Ms Jones. His testimony was videotaped and may be used as evidence in the sexual-harassment trial, which is expected to go ahead as scheduled on 27 May.

Any possibility of a settlement seemed to disappear last week when Mr Clinton rejected a proposal from Ms Jones to drop the case in exchange for $2m (pounds 1.25m) in damages and a public apology, which she demanded should be made on the White House lawn. She had previously turned down an offer from Mr Clinton of $700,000 and no apology.

The deposition had initially been expected to be heard in the White House, but was moved to the nearby offices of Mr Clinton's lawyer, Robert Bennett, after it emerged that Ms Jones intended to fly out from her home in Los Angeles to witness the President's torment.

The legal pundits who have been saturating the American airwaves in recent days predicted that Ms Jones's lawyers would seek to expand their field of questioning beyond the events that may or may not have taken place in an Arkansas hotel room in 1991, when he was the state governor and she was a low-level secretary employed by the state. The pundits concurred that the President's interrogators would ask him point-blank whether he had ever had a sexual liaison with any Arkansas state employee while governor, or any federal employee during his time as President.

The objective of the lawyers, who have already taken sworn testimony from the President's alleged ex-mistress, Gennifer Flowers, would have been to try to portray Mr Clinton as a goatish serial adulterer who would very plausibly have invited Ms Jones to kiss his erect penis, as she claims in her suit.

It is likely, too, that the lawyers sought to extract some comment from the President for use in court in May as to Ms Jones's claim concerning the so-called "distinguishing characteristics" of his organ. These, she is reported to have said, amount to three; that, erect, it is 5in long, has the circumference of a 25-cent coin and veers off at an unusual angle.

In the light of the keen embarrassment to which even this most thick- skinned of politicians was inevitably subjected, the word from the White House on Friday, that he viewed his ordeal as "a distraction but ... not a burdensome distraction", appears hard to credit. No less an exercise in understatement was the comment from Hillary Clinton's spokeswoman that the First Lady's weekend plans amounted to no more than her usual "personal time".

The feelings experienced by the First Couple's teenage daughter, Chelsea, who was no doubt following events on television at Stanford University, do not bear thinking about.

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