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Senate, Nation View a Poised Lewinsky

Monica Lewinsky, AP Monica Lewinsky, in this video image played in the Senate Saturday, is sworn in for her deposition on Feb. 1, 1999. (AP)

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  • By Peter Baker and Helen Dewar
    Washington Post Staff Writers
    Sunday, February 7, 1999; Page A1

    A poised and unflappable Monica S. Lewinsky told her story in public for the first time yesterday through videotaped testimony played on the Senate floor and broadcast to the nation as President Clinton's impeachment trial heard its only witnesses before moving to conclusion this week.

    Her voice steady, her tone matter of fact, the 25-year-old ex-White House intern described the events that would lead to two articles of impeachment against the president she once loved. And while the substance of her Monday deposition already was known through transcripts, senators on both sides emerged struck by the power of her performance.

    "For me, the best way to explain how I feel what happened was, you know, no one asked or encouraged me to lie, but no one discouraged me, either," Lewinsky said on the tape, reading aloud from a previous grand jury statement as senators watched on four flat-screen, high-definition television sets strategically placed on the Senate floor.

    Still, there were no indications that the selective portions of her testimony aired yesterday did anything to alter the course of a trial seemingly on track toward an acquittal vote by Thursday or Friday. The two sides even chose to play many of the same words, but heard entirely different meanings. To the House Republican prosecutors, Lewinsky's testimony helped establish "a broad tapestry of corruption" by the president. To the White House defense, it not only failed to prove perjury or obstruction of justice, it "seriously damaged the 'managers'‚' case."

    "We must have attended a different deposition," Clinton lawyer Nicole K. Seligman said at one point.

    The video deposition excerpts from Lewinsky as well as Clinton friend Vernon E. Jordan Jr. and White House aide Sidney Blumenthal were the first and last direct testimony for the senators sitting in judgment of the president. When the trial resumes at 1 p.m. Monday, the two sides will present closing arguments. Final deliberations are to begin Tuesday.

    Behind the scenes, several senators continued to labor over a bipartisan censure resolution that would condemn Clinton after the trial ends. With senior Republicans so far noncommittal, the question of whether the two parties could agree on such an approach remains the major suspense left in the month-long proceedings. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) described the talks as "premature and inappropriate" while censure advocates conceded they have yet to forge a deal.

    "It is very fluid, very much a work in progress," said Sen. Robert F. Bennett (R-Utah), who is working with Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) on a censure proposal they hope will command broad support in both parties. Many Republicans, he added, "need a little more time to adjust to it."

    Among the unadjusted were those who complained that censure would not adequately hold Clinton accountable. "A pat on the butt," said Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska). "A wet noodle across the wrist," said Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho).

    Lewinsky's appearance at the trial yesterday ended 13 months of mystery about what she would look and sound like in a speaking role about her affair with the president. Since the story first broke, Lewinsky has been a silent figure, a sphinx seen but never heard as she went to dinner or dodged cameras outside the federal courthouse. The only time her voice has been heard publicly was in the secret audio tapes made by Linda R. Tripp and released by the House.

    Queasy at the prospect of listening to her describe sexual antics in the Oval Office suite, the Senate overwhelmingly decided last week not to let House GOP prosecutors summon her to the well of the chamber to testify in person, disregarding the managers' pledge not to ask "salacious" questions. Instead, it settled for tape of her closed-door deposition at the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel.

    For all of the anxiety in the Capitol and the White House, there was no discussion of presidential sex practices yesterday. The 30 excerpts put on display – 16 by the managers and 14 by Clinton lawyers – nearly all related to the now-famous job search, false affidavit and gift hiding that form the basis for the obstruction of justice charge against the president.

    There were also fleeting glimpses of the personal side to the case. When Clinton first told her she might be called as a witness in the Paula Jones lawsuit, Lewinsky recalled, "He said it broke his heart that my name was on the witness list."

    Later when she was talking with Jordan, she told him she saw Clinton "more as a man than as a president." Jordan, she said, responded jokingly, "You know what your problem is and don't deny it – you're in love with him."

    "Did you have a response to that?" Rep. Edward G. Bryant (R-Tenn.) asked on the tape.

    "I probably blushed or giggled or something."

    But the tell-all emotion will have to wait for Lewinsky's planned interview with ABC's Barbara Walters because the rest of the testimony shown yesterday centered on dates and details and the like. Lewinsky, her hair falling in her face and a strand of pearls highlighting her black suit, appeared talking about how she used the cover stories she developed with the president ("It was part of the pattern of the relationship") and how she received little job help from Jordan until she was named as a witness ("I hadn't seen any progress").

    To contrast her clear answers with Clinton's, House managers played eight video clips of the president, including his infamous finger-wagging denial that he had sex with "that woman, Miss Lewinsky." They also juxtaposed his Jones case testimony suggesting he knew little about the job search for Lewinsky with Jordan's statements this week that he kept the president well informed.

    "His is a continuing pattern of indulging all choices and accepting no consequences," Rep. James E. Rogan (R-Calif.), one of the managers, told the Senate. "The president impulsively began using Lewinsky for his gratification the very day he first spoke with her. ... Had the president's bad choice simply ended with this indiscretion, we would not be here today. Adultery may be a lot of things, but it is not an impeachable offense. Unfortunately, the president's bad choices only grew worse."

    With Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.) serving as narrator, the managers wove together a series of statements from Lewinsky, Jordan and Blumenthal to recount the president's alleged obstruction. In this telling of it, Clinton was the puppeteer manipulating others without them being aware of what he was doing – most pointedly by not revealing to Lewinsky or Jordan right away that she faced a subpoena even while they conducted the search for a New York job.

    Jordan, 63, wearing a blue suit and a blue, white-collared shirt with a purple tie and matching pocket square, was shown recalling the times he asked Lewinsky and Clinton separately whether they had sex and both said no. Lewinsky, he recalled, had expressed a fascination with the president to the point that she asked whether Jordan thought Clinton would leave his wife after his term.

    "That was alarming and stunning to me," Jordan said.

    "You might say, 'Well there's nothing explosive here,'‚" Hutchinson told the senators. "Whenever you're talking about obstruction of justice, it ties together, it fits together."

    Blumenthal was shown recounting conversations with Clinton in the early days of the scandal when the president denied the affair and called Lewinsky a "stalker" who made sexual demands on him. Blumenthal, 50, conceded that Clinton lied to him and never recanted before his aide passed along those falsehoods to a grand jury – making him a "messenger of lies," as Rogan put it.

    In their rebuttal later in the day, Clinton lawyers offered a scathing assessment of the managers' presentation, accusing them of cutting and splicing the three depositions to fit their "inflated claims" while misrepresenting the thrust of the testimony.

    "As those of you who watched the entire video are well aware, the managers have cleverly snipped here and there in an effort to present their story, even if as a result the story they are telling you is not Ms. Lewinsky's story," Seligman told the senators, who had access to private screenings of the entire deposition tapes last week. "They have distorted . . . and they have created a profoundly erroneous impression."

    In fact, she and her partner, David E. Kendall, said the testimony exonerated Clinton and they played longer segments of the Lewinsky and Jordan tapes to show a fuller context. In the clips they showed, Lewinsky stressed that she and the president never discussed the content of her affidavit, in which she later falsely denied their affair. The discussion of the affidavit and the cover stories "weren't linked for me," she testified. When he suggested filing an affidavit, she said, "I don't think I necessarily thought at that point it would have to be false."

    And the Clinton team highlighted a comment by Lewinsky that suggested it was possible the president did tell her she would have to turn over gifts in response to a Jones subpoena, as he has claimed.

    Shown 11 times by prosecutors, Jordan appeared eight times for the defense talking about his habit of helping young people find jobs and his close friendship with the president. His testimony, Kendall said, demonstrated there was no quid pro quo linking the job and the affidavit.

    "It's a shell game, but the game doesn't have any shell in it," Kendall said of the prosecution time line. "And I think that this is the loneliest conspiracy in human history, if it was a conspiracy, but it wasn't."

    White House lawyers did not show any clips from Blumenthal's testimony, which was excerpted 12 times by the managers.

    With all in attendance except Sens. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who had a family emergency, and Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii), the senators watched with interest, though some rolled their eyes or shook their heads at portions they did not find believable.

    They laughed when Lewinsky got the better of her questioner, who was trying to get her to say she filed the false affidavit for Clinton's benefit.

    "You didn't file the affidavit for your best interest, did you?" asked Bryant.

    "Actually, I did," she shot back.

    And they roared when Rep. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) quipped about a late-night telephone call from Clinton to Lewinsky, "Where I come from, you call somebody at 2:30 in the morning, you're up to no good."

    Lott said he thought the video testimony was compelling. "I think people finally have a chance to see live people talking about what's happened. And it has, I think, reaffirmed some of the very serious, you know, concerns that people have in terms of obstruction of justice and perjury."

    Craig was even stronger in his assessment: "I think what I've heard this morning is devastating to the White House. ... Now we know why the White House fought right to the bitter end on disallowing those videotapes from coming to the floor."

    Still, it did not noticeably change the minds of any Democrats, who appear to be united for acquittal and while praising Lewinsky called the day mostly a rehash of known evidence. "We know nothing more or less than we did" before senators read the House record for the trial, adding up to "de»ja¼ vu all over again," said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.).

    Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said she thought the testimony undermined any sense of a "conspiracy" by the president. "I don't think they [House managers] did themselves any good. . . .I don't think the videotapes were swaying anybody from the position they held."

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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