WORLD

Monica, almost live

Will her testimony sway any of the senators?

ANDREW PHILLIPS February 15 1999
WORLD

Monica, almost live

Will her testimony sway any of the senators?

ANDREW PHILLIPS February 15 1999

Monica, almost live

WORLD

UNITED STATES

Will her testimony sway any of the senators?

Representative Ed Bryant: I want to refer you to the first so-called salacious occasion...

Monica Lewinsky: Can—can we—

can you call it something else?... I mean, this is—this is my relationship. _

ANDREW PHILLIPS

IN WASHINGTON

Pity Monica Lewinsky. When she was cross-examined last week for five hours by Republicans prosecuting their case against Bill Clinton, it was the 23rd time in the past year that she has been forced to retell the story of what she prefers to call her “encounters” with the President. Once again, the familiar story of their futile attempt to cover up their White House liaison, his efforts to help her find a job, and the saga of the many gifts they exchanged was exhaustively explored. This time, though, there was a difference—one that the Republican congressmen had hoped would rescue their case from seemingly inevitable failure. For the first time, Lewinsky was on videotape. The senators weighing the accusations against Clinton, as well as the American public, could see her actually speaking. Surely that, the thinking went, would finally bring home the full impact of the President’s perfidy.

In fact, it will almost certainly have no impact on the outcome of the trial. The Senate, anxious to end Clinton’s impeachment trial as soon as decently possible, had already made it clear that it is not prepared to convict the President by the two-thirds majority needed to eject him from office. And when the taped excerpts of Lewinsky’s testimony did eventually play on the floor of the Senate chamber, it was more fascinating footnote than legal bombshell. The prosecutors, forbidden by the Senate to summon live witnesses, had to make do with stringing together snippets of evidence from Lewinsky,

Clinton’s close friend Vernon Jordan, and his aide Sidney Blumenthal. They were trying, said Representative James Rogan of California, to show in dramatic fashion “how the President wove a web of perjury and obstruction of justice.”

The real impact of broadcasting Lewinsky’s words may be quite different. With their legal case all but lost, the Republicans were clearly determined to land some final political blows on Clinton. Showing Lewinsky, poised but still only 25 years old, was a way of driving home the nature of his behaviour in having sex repeatedly with

what Rogan referred to as “this vulnerable young intern” only steps from the Oval Office, starting when she had just turned 22. That was bad enough, Rogan in effect said. But it was only when the President tried to cover up the relationship that “his behaviour graduated from the unconscionable to the illegal.” Even after the senators watched Lewinsky’s testimony, though, that was still a tenuous argument. Lewinsky stuck to her story that Clinton never asked her to lie or file a

false affidavit when she was summoned as a witness in Paula Jones’s sexual harassment lawsuit against him. But the prosecutors did get her to acknowledge that during a late-night phone call on Dec. 17, 1997, when Clinton called Lewinsky to tell her that she might be subpoenaed by Jones’s lawyers, they did discuss “cover stories” involving his secretary, Betty Currie. The President, she recalled, said that “you can always say you were coming to see Betty or bringing me papers.”

All that, however, has been known for months—since Lewinsky’s testimony before a grand jury investigating the scandal was made public last September. The key question remains unresolved: do Clinton’s “cover story,” his lies to his staff and the public, and Jordan’s efforts to find a job for Lewinsky demonstrate anything more than the unsurprising fact that a married man caught in an unseemly affair will go a long way to conceal it? Senators have already made clear their feelings. Forty-four Democrats voted in late January to dismiss the case without even hearing from witnesses—showing that they had already decided not to turn against their President.

And last week, the Senate redoubled its determination to end the trial by this Friday, Feb. 12. On Monday, the prosecutors and White House lawyers will complete their presentations. Then, the senators are to deliberate for as long as three days. Finally, they will vote on the two articles of impeachment— one charging the President with lying before the grand jury investigating the scandal, the other accusing him of obstructing justice by manipulating witnesses and arranging for Lewinsky to hide evidence of their relationship.

With enough Democratic votes lined up to keep Clinton in office, the fiercest struggle this week will be over the terms of his acquittal. Will the Senate simply defeat the impeachment articles, leaving all parties to argue endlessly over the real meaning of their verdict? Or will it find a way to formally record its unhappiness with his behaviour? Two senators, Democrat Dianne Feinstein of California and Republican Robert Bennett of Utah, circulated a draft motion last week condemning Clinton’s behaviour as “shameless, reckless and indefensible,” while stating that he “deliberately misled and deceived the American people.” Lewinsky’s appearance may not have changed the outcome of the trial. But it may persuade more senators to support such a resolution—if only to put their disgust with his conduct on the public record. □