President In Crisis: Video paints dark picture of Clinton

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The Independent Online
REPUBLICANS INVESTIGATING Bill Clinton's alleged crimes have taken aim at what until now has been his strongest suit and could become his greatest liability: his image. The release of a video of him testifying to the grand jury would add nothing new to allegations against him. But it would probably make him look even shiftier and less sympathetic than he does already.

The video would, crucially, show that he was not penitent, as he has been in public in the past few weeks, but evasive. While in public he is warm and clubbable, under questioning by Kenneth Starr's investigators he became testy and irritable. A key weakness in his case has been the dissonance between his legal claim that he did not commit perjury and the public perception that he did.

His lawyers say that as a matter of law, he did not. He kept to the definition of sex used in the Paula Jones sexual- harassment case, which was the only one that he was offered. Monica Lewinsky says he went further; the President denies that. In any case, they say, it is his testimony against hers, and perjury cannot be proved without one other witness.

This is all very well but the public has reacted with incredulity. That is why the President's enemies and friends alike have pleaded with the White House to change its tune and adopt a more credible stance. The video will show him being evasive and legalistic in the following exchange:

Q: [Was] oral sex performed on you, within that definition as you understood it, the definition in the [Paula] Jones [case]?

A: As I understood it, it was not; no.

Q: The question is, if Monica Lewinsky says that while you were in the Oval Office area you touched her breasts, would she be lying?

A: That is not my recollection. My recollection is that I did not have sexual relations with Ms Lewinsky and I'm staying on my former statement about that ... My, my statement is that I did not have sexual relations, as defined by that.

Q: If she says that you kissed her breasts, would she be lying?

A: I'm going to revert to my former statement.

The second way the video may damage Mr Clinton is by shattering his image. The way a political personality is assembled is a matter of high art in US politics, and Mr Clinton has presented himself as a folksy "aw-shucks" guy. Behind the scenes that was not always true. Under questioning by Mr Starr's lawyers, for whom he has shown contempt, he was often angry and confrontational. Showing that on television will do him no good.

There is a third risk. The presidency is held in awe by Americans even when the office-holder is not. Showing the man with his pants (metaphorically) around his ankles will make him look what he is: a suspect under questioning, not the nation's commander-in-chief.

The presidency is, in some respects, similar to the monarchy as described by the British constitutional writer WalterBagehot. The President's advisers would endorse his thoughts on how damaging disclosure can be: "We must not let daylight in on magic," he said.