Clinton grovels to save his job

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BILL CLINTON was facing the biggest test of his two-term presidency last night, with both supporters and opponents now speaking openly in Washington about the prospect that the eight-month scandal over his relationship with Monica Lewinsky could finally force him from office.

Even as he wound up his visit to Ireland last night, Mr Clinton's political fortunes appeared to be in meltdown as commentators and fellow politicians digested the shock of a blistering attack in the US Senate by Senator Joseph Lieberman. While Mr Lieberman stopped short of demanding impeachment or any immediate sanction of the President, he voiced his deep disappointment following the admission by Mr Clinton on television on 17 August that he had indeed had an affair with the White House intern, Ms Lewinsky, after denying it for months.

Although the Dublin visit had been carefully choreographed to highlight his contribution to the peace effort in Ireland, Mr Clinton found himself forced into trying to draw the sting from Mr Lieberman's attack by once more apologising for the relationship with Ms Lewinsky. For the first time, the President said he was "sorry" for his actions and, again, "very sorry".

His sputterings, made during an appearance before photographers alongside the Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, reinforced the impression that whatever the President does he cannot escape the rapidly tightening pincers of the scandal. And all of this is happening before the special prosecutor in the case, Kenneth Starr, has even submitted his report to Congress that may or may not provide grounds for impeachment. The report should reach Congress by the end of this month.

"Clinton finds himself like a character in a horror movie, trapped alone in a room with the walls closing in," remarked Allan Lichtman, a political scientist at the American University in Washington. "He needs another Houdini-like escape".

"I think it's the beginning of the end," said a leading Democratic consultant. "Lieberman opened the way for many Democrats to express their anger, which will only grow after the mid-term elections." Those elections, which could end in debacle for Democrats on Capitol Hill, are set for early November.

In his rebuke, Senator Lieberman declared: "The transgressions the President has admitted to are too consequential for us to walk away and leave the impression for our children and our posterity that what President Clinton acknowledges he did within the White House is acceptable behaviour for our nation's leader". That behaviour, he added, had been "disgraceful".

In his reply yesterday, Mr Clinton virtually grovelled to the cameras. It was an image that was played over and over again on television screens in the US. "I made a bad mistake," the President said. It's indefensible and I'm sorry about it".

The worry for the White House, which once again finds itself on political high-alert, is that more damaging details of the liaison may still be to come. The New York Post reported yesterday that one of Mr Clinton's sexual encounters with Ms Lewinsky occurred on Easter Sunday two years ago - just four days after death of his friend Ron Brown, the former US commerce secretary, in a plane crash in Croatia.

"The roof is caving in on Clinton inside Washington DC," remarked Democratic consultant Jennifer Laszlo, adding however, that the rafters remained strong in the rest of the country. There is a distinct danger, however, that popular support may crumble if people begin to perceive that the only way for the scandal to go away is for Mr Clinton to go away first.

Sinn Fein talks, page 4

Clinton swamped, page 12

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Review, page 3