Lewinsky makes everyone nervous

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The Independent Online
THE CRUSH of reporters and cameras that constitute Monica-watch was back in the gilt and mirrored hallways of the Mayflower hotel yesterday to track the return to Washington of the capital's most wanted witness, the former girlfriend of the President.

Monica Lewinsky faces up to eight hours of further questioning about the relationship today, as the Senate impeachment trial goes on hold. Senators impatiently await the transcripts and possible tapes of the interview.

For the White House, Ms Lewinsky's summons to testify is second only to a "live" appearance by her in the Senate in terms of the dread it arouses. Uncertainty about what she might say, where her loyalties now lie, and whether she could be trapped into incriminating the President lie behind what has seemed at times a rabid opposition to her testifying.

As a postscript to her grand jury evidence last year she offered the unsolicited statement that "nobody asked me to lie and no one offered me a job for my silence" - a statement seized on by White House lawyers, and quoted by them to absolve Mr Clinton of the charge that he obstructed justice. The fear is that, with what prosecutors describe as her "almost total recall" of her conversations with Mr Clinton, she could give evidence that would negate that.

There has been little indication, however, that she will behave like "a woman scorned", and give Mr Clinton's detractors what they want. Her public demeanour throughout has been understated and cool. Unofficial reports - the only ones available - suggest she has no desire to avenge herself by driving the President from office and that she is still fond of him. Advance word about the book she has helped Andrew Morton to write suggests she may not even have abandoned hope of becoming the second Mrs Clinton.

A greater fear in the White House may be Ms Lewinsky's maturity and credibility as a witness. After their preliminary meeting with her a week ago, the prosecutors from the House of Representatives disagreed with her lawyers about whether she had any new information to offer, but their assessment of her as "personable and impressive" chimes with other accounts. In other words, Ms Lewinsky is not an "airhead" who can be swatted away.

Ms Lewinsky's impending testimony was not the only development for the President over the weekend. According to The New York Times, the independent prosecutor, Kenneth Starr, whose investigation of the Lewinsky affair led to the current drama in the Senate, has concluded that he does have the authority to seek an indictment of Mr Clinton.

While Mr Starr has reportedly not decided whether to bring charges soon, or at all, leaked speculation about the possibility might encourage the President to bargain a confession of wrongdoing against immunity from prosecution.

One main point of contention is whether the videotapes of the witnesses' testimony will become public, perhaps by being shown in an open session of the Senate. Republicans say "probably"; Democrats say "no". A vote may be taken on Thursday, once all the witnesses have been interviewed.

Ms Lewinsky will be the first of three witnesses to be questioned by the prosecutors, who are arguing the case for convicting Mr Clinton. Vernon Jordan, who was instrumental in finding her a job in New York, will be questioned tomorrow; and on Wednesday, Sidney Blumenthal, a White House aide who is accused of disseminating negative information about Ms Lewinsky after news of the affair broke.

In an effort to minimise the attendant theatre, Ms Lewinsky will be questioned in her hotel. The other two witnesses will be questioned in a Senate com- mittee room.