Lewinsky affair comes to the boil

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The Independent Online
AS THE crisis in Iraq comes to the boil, so does President Clinton's own political crisis at home, with the principal actors in the drama poised to appear before the grand jury in the coming week to answer questions from Kenneth Starr and his inquisitors.

Monica Lewinsky, the former White House trainee who claimed on tape to have had an affair with the President, will be taking the stand; as will Vernon Jordan, the high-powered Washington lawyer accused of helping President Clinton to urge Ms Lewinsky to lie about an affair; and possibly, according to lawyers involved in the case, Mr Clinton himself.

But while Iraq has shifted the Lewinsky affair momentarily from the front pages, the White House is feeling increasing discomfort at the President's refusal to give the "full, free and unfettered access" to the truth about his relationship with the young woman that he demands from Saddam Hussein about his weapons of mass destruction.

The normally ice-cool Mike McCurry, the President's chief spokesman, cracked under the strain on Monday when he blurted out to the Chicago Tribune the view that Mr Clinton's relationship with Ms Lewinsky was not "simple" and "innocent"; that he believed it had been "very complicated".Otherwise, he said, Mr Clinton would have spoken out more freely on the matter, rather than simply provide flat denials that sex had been involved.

The White House press corps immediately assumed that his remarks marked the beginning of an attempt to present a more nuanced description of the relationship, possibly with a view to preparing the ground for an admission that their boss had been economical with the truth.

But then a rather sheepish-looking Mr McCurry appeared at a White House briefing to deliver what amounted to a public act of contrition. Describing his remarks in the Chicago Tribune interview as "a lapse in my sanity", he said he had placed himself in the doghouse.

But as every day goes by, it becomes more and more obvious that Mr McCurry was absolutely right; that the relationship between the President and the trainee was indeed, to put it euphemistically, very complicated. How else, for example, to explain the 37 visits Ms Lewinsky made to the White House to see the President after she had stopped working at the White House and had taken up a job requiring sensitive security clearance at the Pentagon?

If it was not sex that was involved, it must have been, as Maureen Dowd of the New York Times observed in a column, that the bimbo from Beverly Hills was advising the President on matters of high policy - how to resolve Asia's economic problems, how to handle the crisis with Iraq. As Ms Dowd remarked, it might be comforting to know that they only had sex.