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Impeachment Diary:
Lewinsky Makes Senators Uncomfortable

Monica Lewinsky, AFP Former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky arrives Saturday at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington. (AFP)

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  • By Kevin Merida
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Tuesday, January 26, 1999; Page C1

    They have read all about her the stained blue dress, the job search, the search for a way into Bill Clinton's permanent life. They have listened to her voice on those secretly taped phone conversations, reviewed her testimony, watched enough footage of her hugging the president that they are sick of that.

    It is hard to find anyone in the United States Senate who feels comfortable talking about Monica Lewinsky, meaning Monica the person, the phenomenon, the image that has a room at the elegant Renaissance Mayflower Hotel. Oh, members from both parties will wax constitutional about whether this former White House intern should be hauled up to Capitol Hill to give an accounting in Clinton's impeachment trial.

    That's easy.

    But many senators are simply too senatorial to go any deeper, to offer a shred of introspection about the woman in black who towers over this scandal like the Wizard of Oz, the all-and-powerful without whom these senators would be gnawing over Social Security.

    "I have no desire," says Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.), "to get into a kind of opinion session about Monica Lewinsky."

    "I think it would be improper to comment in the midst of this thing," says Sen. Strom Thurmond (R-S.C.).

    "I'm not talking," says Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.).

    "No, I don't want to get into whether I have an image of her or not," says Sen. John Chafee (R-R.I.).

    "I don't even have a picture of her," says Sen. Paul Coverdell (R-Ga.). "Not one person has ever asked me about Monica Lewinsky."

    "What do I think of her? I don't know her," says Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). "I never give opinions of people I don't know."

    "What do I think of her? I've never met her," says Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.).

    And he probably hasn't met Michael Jordan either.

    But the thing is, you give some senators just a pinch of time to think about a question and they come up with something. Turns out Leahy does have a bit to say about Monica Lewinsky. He quotes his Vermont constituents. "They say, 'Who's paying for that $5,000 suite she's staying in? Couldn't she have just gone across the street and stayed with her lawyers for free?'" Well, to be accurate, she wasn't staying at a $5,000-a-night suite. The hotel's presidential suite was where House managers interviewed her on Sunday. She was staying in one of the Mayflower's regular rooms, which start at $235 a night. "The taxpayers are still paying for the whole thing," said Leahy spokesman David Carle.

    So there you have it.

    Today, the senators will be forced to consider Monica Lewinsky when debate begins over whether witnesses should be called in the trial. There will be six hours of arguments from House prosecutors and White House lawyers, and then the senators themselves will tussle. The tussle could go on into Wednesday.

    The senators know Lewinsky's return to town has created a big buzz. Many saw her on the TV news or on the front pages of their papers, either ducking the swarming hordes or being escorted to breakfast by a security phalanx. The hullabaloo reaffirmed for some senators what a spectacle her appearance in the Senate would make.

    "I think it may make some of my colleagues wary about the reality of bringing that aura to the Senate," says Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.), who spoke of the "show biz quality" that Lewinsky's reemergence had brought to the Senate's proceedings. "It's interesting in a way I hadn't thought about."

    Lieberman was one of the few willing to ponder her.

    "It's an odd case because we heard so much about her initially, then she was a silent figure for much of the year. I must say that I was surprised by her voice on the tapes." A more "mature woman" than he had expected, "an intelligent woman."

    That's Lieberman's opinion. His fellow Democrat from Connecticut, Christopher Dodd, has "no opinion," other than he doesn't think she belongs for a minute on the floor of the United States Senate. To make his point, he invoked modern legends of the place Barry Goldwater, Everett Dirksen, Howard Baker.

    "You think they would have allowed Monica Lewinsky on the floor of the Senate? I think not."

    That's his opinion. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) has some questions for her, namely this one: "How did the presents get under her bed?"

    And Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) apparently has some questions about her, but he sent those directly to the president yesterday in this form: "It is uncontroverted that you made the following statements to Ms. Currie on Jan. 18: 'Monica came on to me, and I never touched her, right?' 'You were always there when Monica was there, right?' 'I was never alone with Monica, right?' 'You could see and hear everything, right?' 'She wanted to have sex with me, and I cannot do that, right?' At the time you made these statements, did you believe them to be true? Please provide an answer with respect to each of these statements."

    Enough already. That's the view of Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), who watched Lewinsky's Mayflower arrival on the tube this past weekend with his kids. He wondered what she could possibly bring new to the case at this point. "I said to my kids, there are only so many ways and so many times you can say the same thing," Wyden recalled.

    "And they said, 'Yeah, we know it by heart.'"

    © Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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