Clinton to admit he had sex link with Lewinsky

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WITH LESS than three days remaining before President Bill Clinton faces grand jury questioning, American public opinion is being softened up for a "limited admission" that he did have a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

A process that began with an article in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, elaborating on Mr Clinton's earlier sworn denial, went into overdrive yesterday with a lengthy front-page article in the New York Times and a shorter account in the Washington Post, which were picked up by television networks and Internet services across America.

Meanwhile, findings of a Gallup Poll conducted for USA Today and CNN indicated that the public was ready to accept that Mr Clinton had sex with Ms Lewinsky, a former White House trainee, but would find it unacceptable if he lied to the federal grand jury on Monday. Asked if they would lose confidence in Mr Clinton if he said he did have sex with Ms Lewinsky, more than 70 per cent said no. Asked whether they would consider removing Mr Clinton from office if he lied to the grand jury, 60 per cent said yes. The poll findings illustrated clearly what is at stake for Mr Clinton

Repeating essentially what the Wall Street Journal had set out, but in greater detail, the New York Times said the small, close-knit legal team now advising Mr Clinton was veering towards a "limited admission" scenario, in which the President would tread a very thin line between admitting some kind of sexual relationship - probably oral sex - and denying perjury in his earlier statement.

This high-wire act would be made possible by what amounts to a legal technicality. Until this week, reporters had relied on an edited transcript of what Mr Clinton told the judge in the Paula Jones sexual harassment suit in January. That transcript was released by Ms Jones's lawyers, but was never contested by Mr Clinton.

It included the following exchange: "Did you have an extramarital sexual affair with Monica Lewinsky?" Mr Clinton: "No." The questioner followed up: "I think I used the term 'sexual affair'. And so the record is completely clear, have you ever had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky?" Mr Clinton: "I have never had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky. I've never had an affair with her."

Ms Jones's lawyers had also released a three-point definition of sexual relations that encompassed pretty much everything, from full intercourse to fondling. Now, it is said, Mr Clinton's lead lawyer in that case, Robert Bennett, challenged the definition - at his client's instigation - on the grounds that it would encompass "even a handshake".

So when Mr Clinton answered, his denial related only to activity covered in point one: "Contact with the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh, or buttocks of any person with an intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person." This could be interpreted as excluding oral sex, so allowing Mr Clinton to claim that he told the truth - as he understood the question.

This limited admission option follows Mr Clinton's apparent rejection of a widely canvassed "confession" scenario, according to which he would go on television in full penitence mode to admit that he lied in his Paula Jones testimony. "Yes, I lied," Mr Clinton might have said, "but only to save my wife and daughter from the damaging truth, and I now beg for the forgiveness of the American people."

While popular with leading Democrats, who saw it as the least bad option, and some senior Republicans, who hoped it would save them from having to impeach Mr Clinton, the "confession" had one big liability. It meant Mr Clinton would effectively admit to perjury, which is a crime. In Mr Clinton's terms, it might also be untrue.

In the wake of the New York Times disclosures yesterday, the White House insisted that Mr Clinton had not yet settled on a final strategy for Monday's testimony. But it did not deny the Times version either. And with most television networks clearing their schedules for Monday night to cover presidential testimony that is legally confidential, there is speculation that Mr Clinton will change his story, and might even go on television to explain himself.