President In Crisis: Videotape threat to Clinton's fightback

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The Independent Online
REPUBLICANS IN the US Congress are pushing for early release of Bill Clinton's full testimony to Kenneth Starr's inquiry, a step that could lead to fresh embarrassment for the President. It would add videotape to the already explosive mixture of sex and lies that has threatened to pitch him out of office.

As the Congress gears up to a decision on whether to press for impeachment hearings, it has yet to decide the status of much of the documentation sent by Mr Starr to Capitol Hill. The 36 boxes of evidence contained video and audio tapes, as well as depositions and testimony given to the grand jury.

Mr Clinton gave his testimony to the grand jury by video link, and it was reportedly a stormy session. He was embarrassed at some of the questions and angry at others. Sometimes he refused to co- operate. If the video were to be released it would put him, once more, in a very bad light. Democrats, who are fighting against the release of the tapes, are concerned they could be used in campaign advertisements. The White House said yesterday it did not want the tape "misused". But with a Republican majority on the House Judiciary Committee, which will decide the fate of the tape and all the other documents, the President has little leverage on the issue.

Mr Clinton has tried over the past two days to return to more pressing matters. Yesterday he was due to meet senior military officers to discuss America's defence readiness, after his speech in New York on Monday where he called for a global effort to head off the economic crises in Asia and Russia. But Congress is only starting on the long path that could lead to impeachment, and Mr Clinton's efforts to move the debate on are unlikely to be immediately successful.

The White House indicated late on Monday that it had received criticism from some senior Democrats who said the President should ditch the pretence that he had not lied about sex with Monica Lewinsky. The "hair-splitting" over whether he committed perjury has made it harder to defend his position. "The President has made clear that he doesn't want the work of his lawyers to get in the way of his admission that he had an improper relationship and misled people to keep it private," a statement said. "No legalism should obscure the fact that it was wrong."

There have been frequent clashes in the past between the President's legal and political advisers over what strategy he should adopt. None the less, the White House seems to have ditched the idea of recruiting a senior figure to handle relations between the President and Capitol Hill, and is instead hiring a batch of new legal officials.

Congress will not formally adjourn at the end of the autumn session next month, Newt Gingrich, Speaker of the House, said yesterday. This will allow for the possibility that impeachment hearings might run on into the winter.

But, Mr Gingrich added, it was still unclear whether hearings would be held, and that this uncertainty was unlikely to be resolved in the near future. "We're still several weeks of hard work away from being able to say anything, and I don't want to prejudge anything," he said.

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