White House Prepares for Tape's Release
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 20, 1998; Page A18
They have put him before the television cameras on so many occasions certain that it would help, not hurt, their political cause. But when the nation tunes in tomorrow morning, President Clinton's top advisers for once have no sense of what reaction to expect.
Clinton is widely regarded as masterful on television, but the president who will be seen in four hours and 12 minutes of uninterrupted grand jury testimony being released by Congress is unlike the man voters have seen for six years not the polished candidate or commander-in-chief, but a witness and a target, sometimes somber, sometimes indignant and mostly uncomfortable.
"What you're going to see is a man who clearly acknowledges an inappropriate intimate relationship," said one senior aide who has been briefed on the tape.
What the White House hopes, this aide added, is that the public will react not to seemingly evasive or legalistic answers but to the indignity of the occasion. "They don't want to see the president of the United States . . . grilled about his sex life, particularly when the guy says, 'I did wrong.' "
Yet no one can predict. Never before has the American public watched its leader be interrogated under oath as a target of a criminal investigation, let alone about such topics as his sexual escapades with a young aide and subsequent efforts to hide it. Clinton has testified on videotape three times before, twice as a witness in Whitewater-related trials and the third time as the defendant in the Paula Jones civil lawsuit. Never was any of that testimony shown on national television.
The House Judiciary Committee voted Friday to make public Clinton's testimony about his affair with Monica S. Lewinsky beginning at 9 a.m. tomorrow, with many cable stations planning to air it live and unedited. Some of his testimony has been made public as part of independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr's report to Congress. Other details more sympathetic to Clinton were made available yesterday to the New York Times and Associated Press.
Near the beginning of the session in the White House Map Room, Clinton acknowledged impropriety and then declined to answer more detailed questions.
"When I was alone with Ms. Lewinsky on certain occasions in early 1996 and once in early 1997, I engaged in conduct that was wrong," Clinton said, according to a source close to the case. "These encounters did not consist of sexual intercourse. They did not constitute sexual relations as I understood that term to be defined at my January 17, 1998, deposition. But they did involve inappropriate intimate contact.
"These inappropriate encounters ended at my insistence in early 1997. I also had occasional telephone conversations with Ms. Lewinsky that included inappropriate sexual banter. I regret that what began as friendship came to include this conduct and I take full responsibility for my actions."
"While I will provide the grand jury whatever other information I can, because of privacy considerations affecting my family, myself and others and in an effort to preserve the dignity of the office I hold, this is all I will say about the specifics of these particular matters."
To begin laying the groundwork for the sight of Clinton's testimony, the White House will dispatch deputy chief of staff John D. Podesta and senior adviser Rahm Emanuel to this morning's talk shows. A White House adviser said the general theme will be to attack the tape as intended only to embarrass the president, but "I don't think there's any advantage in us getting into a factual debate."
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