Lewinsky heads for sanctuary

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The Independent Online
Monica Lewinsky, the 24-year-old alleged to have had a sexual relationship with President Bill Clinton, was preparing to leave Washington for her home in California yesterday, in an attempt to regain some privacy. She had been a virtual prisoner in her mother's city flat at the Watergate since claims about her and the President first broke almost two weeks ago.

After more than a week of turmoil, Mr Clinton's political position also looked much stronger. Riding high in the opinion polls, his approval rating for his performance as president reached a record 70 per cent over the weekend, a figure that exceeded even Ronald Reagan's best rating. This was despite the fact that more than 60 per cent of those asked also believed that Mr Clinton had probably lied about his relationship with Ms Lewinsky.

The capacity of Americans to praise Mr Clinton as president on the one hand, while also believing that he has been less than truthful, betrayed an unexpected willingness on their part to forgive personal flaws in return for administrative competence and was ascribed in part at least to the flourishing economy. But it also underlined the fact that Americans by and large like Mr Clinton.

While commentators yesterday tended to agree that the crisis for Mr Clinton had passed, they also stressed the fragility that could accompany the remaining three years of his presidency. He has still given no explanation of his relationship with Ms Lewinsky.

Hillary Clinton said in interviews last week that details of the relationship would be revealed in time. As long as the polls remain favourable, however, there will be minimal pressure on Mr Clinton to say any more. More risky for him is the continuing silence not just of Ms Lewinsky, but of the dozen or so women he was questioned about in the sworn evidence he gave to lawyers in the Paula Jones case. If any of them were to produce evidence that a sexual relationship existed, he will find himself on the wrong side of the perjury law. And if Ms Lewinsky changes her story to admit a sexual liaison, and has proof, Mr Clinton's televised denial will be used against him: not only in the court of law, but in the court of public opinion that has so far saved him.