JUST WEEKS before his relationship with Monica Lewinsky erupted into the headlines, President Bill Clinton gave the former White House intern a series of gifts at a farewell meeting in the Oval Office, her testimony reveals.
The evidence, leaked to US newspapers yesterday, shows one of the directions that the probe into Mr Clinton is now taking: investigators are examining contradictions between her testimony and the President's over key meetings between the two where they believe attempts were made to conceal the relationship.
The President gave her an Alaskan stone carving of a bear, a rug, a decorative brooch, chocolates, joke sunglasses and a bag from the Black Dog store at Martha's Vineyard, when they met on 28 December, she told the grand jury on her second appearance last week. Three weeks after that meeting, when asked if he had given her any presents, the President said that he did not recall; and when asked if he had ever met her alone in the Oval Office, his memory was similarly deficient.
Ms Lewinsky had been subpoenaed only a week before the meeting to give evidence on her relationship with the President. This encounter has become one of the key events in the investigation by the independent counsel, Kenneth Starr, into the relationship and claims that the President tried to cover it up.
Mr Clinton's lawyers are using the gifts to prove that he did not, as has been claimed by the investigators, ask her to return all the presents he had given her during the course of nearly two years. A subpoena from those investigating the sexual harassment case brought by former Arkansas hotel employee, Paula Jones, had ordered Ms Lewinsky on 19 December to hand over any gifts she had received. Shortly after the 28 December meeting, Mr Clinton's secretary, Betty Currie, asked Ms Lewinsky to return the gifts and went to her Watergate apartment to pick them up. The President's lawyers have argued that Ms Currie did this on her own account. Ms Currie's testimony is said to conflict with the President's on this point.
Opinion polls after a rollercoaster week show that the President's approval rating is still high - at 65 per cent - and 61 per cent of the population think the case should be dropped now that he has testified. But views of Clinton the man, rather than the President, have swung: 40 per cent have an unfavourable view, up from 33 per cent, while 48 per cent have a positive view, down from 50 per cent.
The President's legal war chest has now increased to $2.2bn (pounds 1.38bn), figures released on Friday show, with large gifts from Hollywood figures such as Tom Hanks, Barbara Streisand and Michael Douglas, as well as the three co-owners of DreamWorks SKG - Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen.
Godfrey Hodgson, Culture, page 9
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