Boldface Lies and Alleged Goings-On
By Joel Achenbach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 29, 1998; Page B01
The scandal surrounding President Clinton seems to have hit a plateau and is now merely completely out of control. As a reader service we are providing this review and summary of the scandal, with token mention of other newsworthy events, such as the possible war with Iraq. The use of boldface is intended to highlight concepts of particular importance, as well as those terms that are not suitable for younger readers and should be dealt with in a sensitive manner, such as oral sex.
The story began in 1995 when Monica Lewinsky, then 21, received an internship in the office of Chief of Staff Leon Panetta in the West Wing of the White House. Although she had no obvious skills and had fundamental problems with grammar and spelling, she nonetheless found herself in the center of power of the planet Earth. It was at this point, according to knowledgeable insiders desperate to put a good spin on the situation, that she began fantasizing that she was having an affair with the president even though he was very busy working hard for the American people.
Nine months later she was transferred out of the White House for "immature" behavior, and moved to a job in the Pentagon, where she was befriended by Linda Tripp. Lewinsky told Tripp in allegedly graphic detail of the alleged 18-month affair with the alleged president. Tripp did what any friend would do in this situation: She secretly tape-recorded conversations with Lewinsky in hopes of selling, with help from sleaze-peddling agent Lucianne Goldberg, a tell-all book about Clinton's purportedly uncorroborated womanizing.
Lewinsky deeply loved the president, according to unconfirmed rantings by a barefoot wino in Lafayette Park. It is believed that Lewinsky became distraught to discover that the president had been cheating on her regularly. She began to lose respect for him.
While this was happening, Clinton was preparing for a civil trial in the case of Paula Jones. Jones, a former low-level Arkansas state employee, claimed that in 1991 then-Gov. Clinton crudely propositioned her in a Little Rock hotel room and that she could prove it by identifying a distinguishing characteristic of Clinton's anatomy.
In late 1993, a published report in a right-wing magazine claimed that a state trooper had taken a woman named "Paula" to the hotel room for a liaison and that the woman had said afterward that she was now ready to be the governor's girlfriend. Jones then filed her suit, saying she was not out for money but simply wanted to get her "good name" back among the eight or nine people who had ever heard of her. The mainstream press debated how to cover the story. There were fears of "going tabloid." The decision was made to mention the Jones case, but only in a few carefully hidden paragraphs in the middle of a story about rural electricity initiatives in Botswana. Rumors flew, meanwhile, that the distinguishing characteristic was a vestigial tail.
The Supreme Court ruled, despite arguments from Clinton's lawyer, that a sitting president is not immune from civil lawsuits even if they are filed by big-haired women who wear too much makeup.
During pretrial maneuverings, lawyers for Jones began seeking other women who had fantasized that they were being asked for sexual favors by the president while he was actually very busy working hard for the American people. They were tipped to the Lewinsky situation. In a signed affidavit, Lewinsky denied having an affair with Clinton, but, according to sources who overheard a subway conversation that sounded plausible, she told Tripp that she had been instructed to lie by Clinton and his friend Vernon Jordan, a noted political fixer.
Tripp went to Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel investigating the ancient and, in retrospect, extremely boring scandal known as Whitewater. Delighted to have something more interesting than a failed real estate deal to probe, Starr arranged for Tripp to wear a wire in her next meeting with Lewinsky. This yielded yet more hideously graphic details about things that are not suitable to be printed in a family newspaper, should any such publications still exist.
The story broke Wednesday morning, Jan. 21, and Washington suddenly had the biggest political scandal since Watergate. Everyone wanted to know: What did the president lie about and when did he lie about it? There was a rush to judgment as the news media and political establishment assumed that Clinton was guilty simply because the allegations precisely fit everything that is known about the man.
Many pundits said the initial denials by Clinton were unconvincing, as he seemed to leave himself wiggle room. He said there "is no improper sexual relationship." This then led to a philosophical debate throughout Washington about what, exactly, is meant by the word "sex," the word "improper" and the word "is." People asked, Isn't there a passage in the Bible that states that it is not sex unless you have a cigarette afterward? What if throughout the entire encounter you never change your facial expression and stare blandly straight ahead as though you are watching the Weather Channel? Is it really "adultery" if you believe your own lies about it? Washington was confused.
The allegations shattered the morale of the entire Clinton community, according to something surmised based on last Friday's horoscope. Former White House boy wonder George Stephanopoulos turned on his old boss, saying Clinton had promised to behave himself and not act like a rutting animal. The president is assumed to have decided that the next time he goes golfing he will tee up George's head.
The White House scrambled to develop a better strategy to combat the accusations. One possibility, according to a guy who sells hot dogs on the street downstairs, was that the president could say that all this stuff was a private family matter among he, his wife, his daughter and his various girlfriends. Or he could try to downplay the seriousness of the charges, noting that Scripture forbids coveting Thy Neighbor's Wife but does not specifically mention anything about the billions of women who don't live nearby.
Finally the decision was made to send the president out one more time with a blanket denial. After that he would go back to working hard for the American people and would deliver his State of the Union Address and hope that he remembered, when going to the House chamber, to wear pants.
Instead, all comments on the scandal would be handled by Hillary Rodham Clinton, who would go on a one-person crusade to prove that either the president has been horribly wronged, or that once again the wife is the last to know.
The first lady blamed the entire scandal on a mean-spirited right-wing conspiracy to drive her husband from office. Officials at the Right Wing Conspiracy to Get Bill Clinton Foundation, based in Roanoke, quickly denied the accusation.
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