He was due to go on television at 10pm local time to address the American people with an apology. It came at the end of a day of humiliating firsts for the President, who became the youngest Democrat President since Kennedy when he was elected in 1992. He had become the first American President ever to give evidence to a grand jury in a case where he was the target; the first to admit to adultery and lying on national television.
Mr Clinton's admission of what sources said was "an inappropriate physical relationship" with Ms Lewinsky came during more than four hours of questioning by Kenneth Starr, the independent prosecutor, which appears to have turned into an ill-tempered sparring match. Leaked reports said that Mr Clinton did not answer all the questions, and invoked his "executive privilege", a Presidential right to confidentiality, on more than one occasion. Although Mr Clinton was closeted with the prosecutor for more than five hours, he answered questions for four.
Mr Clinton's lawyer, David Kendall, hinted at the tension in a brief statement he read outside the White House soon after Mr Clinton completed his testimony. Stressing that the President had testified "voluntarily" - that is, not because of the subpoena that was served a month before and then withdrawn - he said that Mr Clinton had answered questions "for more than four hours about his relationship with Ms Lewinsky" and about the sworn testimony he had given in January about the relationship in the sexual harassment lawsuit.
"He testified truthfully," Mr Kendall said. "We are hopeful that the President's testimony will finally bring closure to the independent counsel's more than four-year and over $40m investigation, which has culminated in an investigation of the President's private life." The references to the time and cost of Mr Starr's investigation reflected White House anger at Mr Starr's zealousness in pursuit of the President.
The bald statement that the President testified "truthfully", however, contrasted with Mr Clinton's own promise, two weeks before, to testify "completely and truthfully" and confirmed that Mr Clinton had declined to answer some questions. The nature of those questions was not revealed.
There were unconfirmed reports that before addressing the nation, Mr Clinton - who was due to go on holiday with his wife and daughter early today - would address White House staff. The mood there was said to be despondent and, among some who had loyally defended the President against sex allegations, a sense of betrayal.
Political life in Washington had come to a complete standstill for the duration of Mr Clinton's testimony, with Democrats and Republicans alike recognising that what Mr Clinton said in his sworn testimony could save or ruin his presidency. Mr Clinton had been permitted to testify over ultra-high security closed circuit television from the White House, and to have his lawyers with him. Unconfirmed reports said that he had consulted them frequently and that some disputes with the prosecutor's lawyers had been referred to the presiding judge, Norma Holloway Johnson.
The 23 members of the grand jury viewed the testimony at the Washington federal courthouse 10 blocks away.
Mr Clinton had prepared for his historic day of giving evidence in concentrated sessions with his close circle of lawyers, and his wife, Hillary, at the White House on Sunday.
Then, Mr Clinton was said to be ready to admit to an "inappropriate" relationship with Ms Lewinsky, but not to perjury and not to encouraging Ms Lewinsky to commit perjury.Reuse content