Clinton vows to tell the truth

Click to follow
IN HIS first response to the mounting crisis over his relations with Monica Lewinsky, President Bill Clinton yesterday said that he was looking forward to testifying to prosecutors and promised to do so "truthfully".

Mr Clinton deviated from the subject in hand - a paean to the US economy after better-than-expected second-quarter figures - to tell reporters: "No one wants to get this matter behind us more than I do ... I'm looking forward to the opportunity of testifying. I will do so completely and truthfully."

Mr Clinton is scheduled to give videotaped evidence to prosecutors from the White House on 17 August. Ms Lewinsky, who has immunity from prosecution if she now admits to an affair, is expected to appear before the grand jury in the next two weeks.

Meanwhile, officials and legal analysts close to the White House were entering the fray to play down the significance of material evidence, including a dress and telephone messages, surrendered by Monica Lewinsky to prosecutors earlier in the week. They were responding to reports that the dress had been sent to FBI laboratories to be tested for semen stains.

The new "spin" cautioned that the dress would yield no evidence of anything untoward, and that the telephone messages were "innocuous", along the lines of: "Hey, it's me. Sorry I missed you". But they did not explain why the President should be ringing a White House trainee at home, out of hours.

Preliminary results of the tests on the dress were expected to be available by the end of the weekend, but it was not known whether they would be made public.

The sordid nature of the allegations, however, and the implicit confirmation that the dress does really exist, plunged the standing of the US Presidency, even in the eyes of liberal commentators, to one of its lowest points on record.

There was speculation that the luck of the man who described himself recently as "the luckiest man on earth" might finally be running out. Is Bill Clinton finally cornered?

An older, perhaps wiser, Monica Lewinsky, just turned 25, is talking about what she told her friend Linda Tripp was an 18-month affair conducted in the precincts of the Oval Office. The independent prosecutor, Kenneth Starr, is now in possession of highly damaging evidence, including the dress. How can the great escape artist possibly get out of this? Mr Clinton is on record as denying a sexual affair. He denied it in his sworn testimony in the Paula Jones sexual harassment suit and he denied it again in his "I did not have sexual relations with that woman" statement. The questioning in the Paula Jones case went to great lengths to clarify exactly what Mr Clinton was denying, and this included oral sex.

The line of questioning was believed to stem from reports that Mr Clinton drew a distinction between oral sex and sexual intercourse for personal moral purposes. His denials in the Paula Jones case appear to have closed that escape route.

If the dress tests negative and Mr Clinton persists with his outright denials, it is possible that the investigation ends in stalemate: a "he said/she said" dispute, where the circumstantial evidence confirms Ms Lewinsky's version, but nothing clinches the argument absolutely. Then, Mr Clinton may well be off the hook; tarnished, but - as so often - off the hook.