Lewinsky videotape transfixes senators

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SENATORS WEIGHING whether President Clinton should be removed from office had their first glimpse yesterday of Monica Lewinsky, the former White House intern whose 18-month affair with Mr Clinton triggered his impeachment. Her appearance in the Senate, if only on videotape, completely eclipsed speculation about what the Senate's second witness - Mr Clinton's millionaire lawyer friend, Vernon Jordan - would tell prosecutors about his job search on her behalf.

Mr Jordan was seen leaving the Capitol in the early afternoon after what was said to have been three hours of questioning by one of the House prosecutors, Asa Hutchinson. The questioning took place in a secure room at the top of the Capitol, and Mr Jordan departed without a word to reporters.

Elsewhere in the Capitol, four rooms had been set aside for video-showings of Monica Lewinsky's testimony from the previous day. Senators, who had to sign an undertaking to divulge nothing about the contents, described her variously as "heartbreakingly young" (Patty Murray, Senator for Washington state) and "young, vulnerable and credible" (Orrin Hatch, Senator for Utah). Mr Hatch added that she would "make an excellent witness", re- igniting the debate the White House has desperately tried to extinguish about whether the Senate should summon "live" witnesses. Her evident youth was said to be one reason the White House was so reluctant for her to appear.

The senators' impressions of Ms Lewinsky also fuelled another debate, also anathema to the White House, about whether witnesses' testimony should be make public. That decision rests with the Senate when it reconvenes tomorrow.

On Monday, it had taken only a couple of hours for three salient points of Ms Lewinsky's question-and-answer session to leak out. Her demeanour was reported to have been polished and poised - not surprising, perhaps, for someone who was testifying under oath for the 23rd time. She was said not to have diverged from her previous account. And - the one surprise - White House lawyers forwent their turn to question her, reading instead a "statement of regret on behalf of the President" for what she had endured over the past year.

This was the closest he had come to offering Ms Lewinsky an apology. It could be seen in part as acknowledgement that she had not incriminated him further; in part, as a way of discouraging her from exacting vengeance - through the book and television interviews planned for when the trial is over, or if she is called to testify in the Senate.

Yesterday's questioning of Mr Jordan had been expected to focus on whether he knew about the true nature of Ms Lewinsky's relationship with Mr Clinton and his reason for so assiduously helping her job search. Mr Jordan was said to have kept closely to his previous testimony and offered no new explanations for the discrepancies between his testimony and that of Ms Lewinsky.

With two witnesses now questioned, and the White House aide, Sidney Blumenthal, to be questioned today, the lack of new evidence already seems to be pushing the Senate to step up its quest for a mutually agreeable end to the trial.

Dick Gephardt, leader of the Democrat minority in the House of Representatives, has decided not to seek the party's nomination for president in 2000.