Clinton Videotape Aired on TV
Sep. 21, 1998
WASHINGTON (AP) _ By turns humble and defiant, President Clinton tussled with prosecutors over ``the truth of my relationship'' with Monica Lewinsky in a grand jury deposition released Monday by Congress and broadcast unedited across a broad spectrum of American television.
The videotape and 3,183 pages of printed material were provided by Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr to augment his report to the House. Republicans in Congress voted to release the material as a prelude to a possible impeachment inquiry.
The public's main focus was on the videotape of Clinton's Aug. 17 appearance before a federal grand jury investigating whether Clinton committed perjury or took other steps to cover up his relationship with Ms. Lewinsky, the former White House intern.
``It's an embarrassing and personally painful thing,'' Clinton declared in testimony recorded in secret and now laid bare to the nation and world.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, minimized the day's events.
``I don't expect a meaningful impact on the public's overall impression of the president or the process that's under way,'' he said. ``Based on the expectations built up by both sides, the broadcast failed to register on the Richter scale.''
Presidential spokesman Mike McCurry said it ``should now be clear to everyone'' that ``the president's conduct does not rise to the level of an impeachable offense.'' Still, he added: ``The White House couldn't feel anything but awful about the day that we have gone through as a nation.''
Much of the printed material released Monday was Lewinsky's version of the relationship as she testified over the summer to the same grand jury. Portions of her account had been published last week in Starr's report to Congress.
The president resisted persistent efforts by prosecutors to get him to admit that he committed perjury last January in the Paula Jones lawsuit when he denied ``sexual relations'' with Ms. Lewinsky. Prosecutors expressed exasperation and grand jurors forwarded a question to the president asking on what legal grounds he could refuse to answer the questions.
``Look, I'm not trying to be evasive here. I'm trying to protect my privacy,'' Clinton snapped. At another point, he said: ``I can't explain why I didn't answer every question in the way you seem to think I should have.''
Painfully aware that the video footage ``will be forever in the historic annals of the United States,'' Clinton lamented that he had ``to contend with things no previous president has ever had to contend with.''
While the president repeatedly brushed aside questions about their sexual relationship, Ms. Lewinsky described them to the grand jury in sometimes-reluctant detail. ``I've always felt that he was sort of my sexual soulmate,'' Ms. Lewinsky testified in her summertime appearance before the grand jury.
She rejected the president's legalistic descriptions of their relationship. ``It's hard for me to feel that he has characterized this relationship as a service contract and that was never something that I thought it was,'' she said.
As chronicled in the Starr report, Ms. Lewinsky testified that her relationship with the president included fondling and oral sex that began while she was a 22-year-old intern in November 1995. She said Clinton suggested misleading testimony she could give in the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit and tacitly agreed that she should hide gifts after they were subpoenaed.
Clinton, for his part, described a relationship that involved intimate encounters that began after her internship ended and she had shifted to a paid White House job. He steadfastly denied that he fondled Ms. Lewinsky or encouraged her to obstruct justice.
``I absolutely never asked her to lie,'' Clinton said emphatically during his Aug. 17 testimony. He did acknowledge: ``It's an embarrassing and personally painful thing, the truth about my relationship with Ms. Lewinsky.''
The materials released Monday by the House Judiciary Committee provides one side of the story: the evidence that Starr said supports his case for 11 possibly impeachable offenses against the president. The White House denounced the release as ``deeply flawed'' and ``regrettable.''
Two fat volumes of evidence accompanied the release of Clinton's videotaped testimony, adding to the president's embarrassment. The material included a picture of the dress the FBI concluded was stained with his semen, brief private phone messages he left on her answering machine, and dozens of love letters Ms. Lewinsky drafted but never sent.
The evidence also included a chart 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 last entry is Dec. 28, 1997 when Ms. Lewinsky gave Clinton holiday presents that included a suggestive candy gag gift.
In his testimony, Clinton brushed aside the question of whether he encouraged Ms. Lewinsky to hide the subpoenaed gifts with Oval Office secretary Betty Currie _ an event Starr cited as evidence of obstruction of justice.
Ms. Lewinsky ``may have been worried about this gift business but it didn't bother me,'' he declared.
Americans were divided about what they saw.
``I see him really trying to squirm his way around,'' said Kevin Grimsley of Wichita, Kan., who watched the footage while waiting to be selected for courthouse jury duty. ``He basically set himself up to fail.''
Mike Howard, a snack bar manager at the state Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., dismissed the whole ordeal. ``I think it's a bunch of hooey,'' he said. ``I can't believe they're messing up good, quality soap opera time to put it on.''
``If the man is doing a good job, you got to give him a chance to let him finish what he's doing,'' said New York cab driver Fofana Sekou.
Clinton ignored the spectacle, receiving a standing ovation at the United Nations in New York where he gave a speech on combating terrorism. The first lady also was in New York, making a university appearance. Neither commented on the video's release.
With polls showing most Americans believe that release of the video was unnecessary, lawmakers reacted cautiously.
House Speaker Newt Gingrich brushed away most questions while campaigning in South Carolina. ``I frankly wish the president had told the truth and none us would be engaged with this kind of sordid detail,'' he said.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., said it was too early to determine ``how damaging'' the video would be.
Members of the House Judiciary Committee hinted impeachment proceedings were inevitable. ``What we've seen here is disturbing,'' said Rep. Charles Canady, R-Fla. ``There's a picture here of evasion. ... This is a sad sight for all of us to witness.''
Woven through the evidence are threads that Democrats were certain to seize on to question Ms. Lewinsky's credibility. At one time, the former intern admits there were ``times when I was not truthful'' in her conversations with Linda Tripp, her one-time friend who secretly taped their conversations.
The video footage was broadcast unedited Monday morning on a wide array of broadcast and cable TV outlets. Americans also could watch it on their computers via the Internet.
It gave a glimpse of a president speaking of the personal cost to a crisis he acknowledged was his own doing. ``It's no secret to anybody that I hoped that this relationship would never become public,'' Clinton testified.
At one point he spoke with seething anger about the Jones lawsuit. ``I deplored what they were doing,'' Clinton said of Mrs. Jones' attorneys, jabbing his hand at prosecutors for emphasis.
In more than a dozen instances, Clinton said he was unable to recall details of his relationship with Ms. Lewinsky, including whether he summoned her for a crucial meeting on Dec. 28, 1997. He fielded at least 43 separate questions about sex acts involving Ms. Lewinsky. On 10 occasions, Clinton referred prosecutors back to his opening statement in which he admitted to ``inappropriate intimate contact'' and ``sexual banter'' with Ms. Lewinsky.
And 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.''
The president also lamented that Starr's multimillion-dollar investigation had ``come down to parsing the definition of sex.''
Ms. Lewinsky's testimony contrasted in tone and specificity with that of Clinton. She recounted her conversations with Clinton about concealing 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 how the president responded.
``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.'''
Ms. Lewinsky testified it was Clinton who suggested she file an affidavit seeking to get out of her Jones testimony. Clinton denied, however, he ever instructed her to lie in the affidavit. ``I felt quite comfortable that she could have executed a truthful affidavit, which would not have disclosed the embarrassing details of the relationship we had had,'' he said.
Ms. Lewinsky expressed frustration that Clinton did not allow their sexual activity to go further, saying, ``maybe that was his way of being able to feel OK about it, his way of being able to justify it or rationalize it.''
Clinton testified that he cut off the intimacy in March 1997 and was resigned that she would eventually disclose their dalliances.
``She's basically a good girl,'' Clinton said. ``She's a good young woman with a good heart and a good mind. I think she is burdened by some unfortunate conditions of her upbringing.''
``I knew that the minute there was no longer any contact, she would talk about this. ... She couldn't help it.''