Tales of naked dancing may be Clinton's undoing

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The Independent Online
ANY HOPES harboured by the White House that last Thursday's anti- terrorist strikes might have taken the spotlight off the presidential sex scandal were dashed at the weekend with opinion polls, new revelations and expert legal assessments all showing continued danger for the President.

Some forecast that Bill Clinton might take a second try at his poorly received "confession"; there were warnings, however, that further, more explicit, leaks about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, the former White House trainee, could repel even his most die-hard supporters, and the less said the better.

Unofficial reports through a rumour mill that has often proved more accurate than the White House in the past seven months, said that the restrained establishment media were having difficulty deciding how much more, if any, of the details about the President's relationship with Ms Lewinsky to publish.

A member of Mr Clinton's legal team had let it be known after his testimony that some of the details were "disgusting" and would not be released. It is becoming harder and harder, though, for the media to resist printing what is already common knowledge among journalists.

Talk of Ms Lewinsky dancing naked for the President's delectation, the multiple uses of a presidential cigar and the unprintable etiquette of "phone sex" have done the rounds of the media drinks circuit for several months.

Now that the President has admitted an "inappropriate" relationship and so many of the details contained in the leaked excerpts of Ms Lewinsky's taped confessions have turned out to be true, there is a widespread belief that the baser details will eventually come out. The only question is how, and how soon.

It is the details of exactly what Mr Clinton and Ms Lewinsky got up to in the study off the Oval Office that some think could finally scupper the President's still favourable job approval ratings.

Middle America has so far been able to divide its views of Mr Clinton as President from Mr Clinton personally. That gap, however, is now growing so wide that - the pollsters say - it may not be sustainable much longer.

Opinion polls conducted after the United States missile attacks on Afghanistan and Sudan, for instance, showed strong approval for the use of force, but this had no impact on views of Mr Clinton's personal credibility, which continued to decline.

One poll registered a small fall in Mr Clinton's job approval rating (from 70 per cent to 66 per cent), but all the polls showed a far greater drop in the proportion of people saying that they disapproved of the President personally.

A poll conducted for The New York Times and CBS News shows a majority of people expressing concern about his lying: a total of 62 per cent said they were either bothered "a lot" (40 per cent) or "some" (22 per cent), when asked: "How much does it bother you that Bill Clinton lied to the public in January about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky?" A similar majority, however, still believes that the matter should now be dropped.

This view is not shared by the political establishment in Washington, where leading Democrats are still reluctant to come out in support of Mr Clinton on anything more controversial than striking at international terrorists. The Washington Post predicted a major charm offensive by the White House towards congressional Democrats in the weeks remaining before November's mid-term elections, but also forecast that Mr Clinton would face a struggle to win back doubting Democrats.

The consensus is that public opinion could still turn against Mr Clinton very quickly - just as quickly as it turned against Richard Nixon 24 years ago - and that this could maroon Democrats who come out too enthusiastically in his support.

One straw in the wind was a warning from the former senator, Sam Nunn, who yesterday became one of the most senior Democrats to broach Mr Clinton's resignation as a serious possibility.

Mr Nunn, who retired from the Senate two years ago, said of Mr Clinton's seven-month silence: "It must be clear that ... he has placed his own personal interests far above the national interest." He also accused him of providing "a negative role model for our children" and increasing "cynicism towards elected officials as well as the political and judicial process".

While expressing the hope that Mr Clinton might still save his presidency with "a voluntary and complete disclosure of all relevant matters" to the independent counsel, Kenneth Starr, to the congressional leadership and to the American people, Mr Nunn concluded: "This will require personal sacrifice and may even require his resignation."