Clinton Tape Plays on Nation's TVs
Sep. 21, 1998
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Congress laid before a wary nation today the raw footage of President Clinton's grand jury testimony and 3,183 pages of evidence chronicling his relationship with Monica Lewinsky in explicit detail. ``It's an embarrassing and personally painful thing,'' Clinton told the grand jurors.
The videotape of Clinton's testimony began playing unedited on television sets across America shortly before 9:30 a.m. EDT.
The tape portrayed Clinton as sometimes angry at prosecutors' questions and other times expressing bitterness at how the Paula Jones lawsuit precipitated Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr's criminal investigation of the Lewinsky matter.
``I deplored what they were doing,'' Clinton said of the Jones lawsuit. Jabbing his hand at prosecutors for emphasis, he insisted that in his January testimony in the Jones case, he was ``determined to walk through the minefield of this deposition without violating the law, and I believe I did.''
``I deplored the innocent people they were tormenting and traumatizing. I deplored their illegal leaking,'' Clinton said.
A two-volume set of evidence was delivered to lawmakers this morning, then made public. It includes Ms. Lewinsky's own account to prosecutors and the grand jury, in which she calls the president her ``sexual soulmate'' and testifies about her frustration that the president hadn't taken their sexual activity further.
``Maybe that was his way of being able to feel OK about it, his way of being able to justify it or rationalize it,'' she testified.
Away from the spectacle, the president was at the United Nations in New York. His speech on combating terrorism got a standing ovation _ ``the warmest and most enthusiastic reception'' he has received in six U.N. speeches, said White House spokesman Joe Lockhart.
Clinton did not watch the videotape, Lockhart said, and the White House had no comment on it.
Likewise, Hillary Rodham Clinton, appearing at a New York University forum, made no mention of the Lewinsky matter in her opening remarks.
The materials released today provide one side of the story: the material that Starr said supports his case for 11 possibly impeachable offenses against the president. Even before the transcripts were made public, the White House described the release of the material as a ``garbage dump.''
With the House not in session, few lawmakers were on hand at the Capitol. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said it was ``unfortunate'' that Republicans insisted on releasing the tape. As for its impact, he said, ``how damaging is not something anybody can assess right now.''
House Speaker Newt Gingrich, campaigning in South Carolina, kept quiet about the matter. Asked what the president should do, he said: ``I don't want to get into that.''
Ms. Lewinsky's testimony contradicted the president's on several key aspects. She insisted he did touch her body during their sexual encounters and that they were alone at times in the Oval Office. She dates their first sexual encounter to November 1995 while she was still an intern; he said the contacts began in January 1996 after she had a paid White House job.
At the request of one grand juror, Ms. Lewinsky recounted her conversations with Clinton about concealing or denying their sexual relationship, discussions that prosecutors allege amounted to obstruction of justice.
``I told him I could always _ I would always deny it. I would always protect him,'' Ms. Lewinsky said. She was then asked by a juror to recount what the president said.
``I'm seeing him smile and I'm hearing him saying 'that's good,' or _ something affirmative. You know. Not _ not _ 'don't deny it.'''
Clinton said he ``absolutely never asked her to lie.'' And he said there was nothing improper in their conversations about turning gifts that he had given to Ms. Lewinsky over to Oval Office secretary Betty Currie after they were subpoenaed. The handoff of the gifts was cited by prosecutors as evidence that Clinton obstructed justice.
Ms. Lewinsky ``may have been worried about this gift business but it didn't bother me,'' Clinton testified.
The evidence included a table chronicling Clinton and Ms. Lewinsky's encounters, which began in August 1995 with ``eye contact'' and ``flirtation'' and led to ``physical intimacy'' that November. The table's last meeting is a Dec. 28, 1997, meeting in which Ms. Lewinsky gave Clinton Christmas gifts that included a sexually suggestive candy gag gift.
Americans watching on TVs and computers across the country saw their president taking the oath before a grand jury, wrestling with difficult and graphic questions and trying to fall back on a technical, legal defense.
``I am not going to answer your trick questions,'' the president snapped at prosecutors at one point. At another, he tells lawyers his memory ``is not what it was when I came here'' because of the crush of information that he faces as president.
At an office food court in Atlanta, attorney Larry Ellerbe stopped briefly to watch Clinton's testimony on a large-screen TV. Ellerbe said it was ``wrong and improper,'' for Congress to release the tape but that ``sadly enough,'' he would probably watch all of the testimony later.
Eighteen-year-old Chris Junker tuned in at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln student union. Clinton has ``done a bunch of lying so far and now he's just trying to make up for it,'' Junker said. ``He's in pretty deep.''
A different view came from New York cab driver Fofana Sekou, watching in the Greyhound bus station in Philadelphia. ``If the man is doing a good job, you got to give him a chance to let him finish what he's doing,'' Sekou said.
The president testified in the Map Room under bright light that contrasted with the warm muted glow bathing the same room when he gave his TV address to the nation later that day.
The formality and legalism of his testimony contrasts starkly with that of the youthful Ms. Lewinsky, who spoke of a ``mushy note'' and scolded prosecutors during tough questions by saying, ``Oh, you really want to embarrass me don't you?''
The testimony showed Clinton reading a statement early on describing his relationship with Ms. Lewinsky as involving ``sexual banter'' and ``inappropriate intimate contact.'' He then refuses to describe the relationship further when prosecutors press for more.
``I think it is clear what inappropriately intimate is. I have said what it did not include. I _ it did not sexual intercourse _ and I do not believe it included conduct which falls within the definition I was given in the Jones deposition,'' Clinton says in one exchange. ``And I would like to stay with that characterization.''
Deputy Independent Counsel Robert Bittman, the first of four prosecutors to question Clinton, said at the start: ``The questions are uncomfortable and I apologize for that in advance.''
Clinton gradually grew more animated. He grasped his chin, pointed his finger thoughtfully and took frequent sips of water as he discussed the meaning of sexual relations in almost businesslike fashion. He peered over his reading glasses to look into the camera at times, taking them off and gesturing at others.
At one point, Clinton bristles at prosecutors questioning him about specific details.
``Again I say, sir, just from the tone of your voice and the way you're asking questions here, it's obvious this is the most important thing in the world, and that everybody was focused on all the details at the time. But that's not the way it worked. I was, I was doing my best to remember,'' the president said.