Life According To Clinton
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 17, 1998; Page D1
For months, it has been apparent that Kenneth Starr does not like the president of the United States. Now it is apparent why. The Bill Clinton portrayed in the independent counsel's report is a man of unnerving appetites and odd philosophies part Rasputin, part Machiavelli and part leering adolescent. His world is one where words have no fixed meaning, treacheries come easy, truth is so slippery it cannot be seized, and human congress is quick, transactional, and above all, cheap.
This is Ken Starr's Clinton.
Clinton as Employer:
I Don't Feel Your Pain All THAT Much
On several occasions, the president asked his secretary, Betty Currie, to come in to work on a Saturday or holiday. The sole purpose of these requests was to ensure that Currie, 59, was at her desk to admit Monica Lewinsky to the White House, so no suspicions would be aroused.
Once, Clinton is said to have telephoned Lewinsky at 2 a.m. with two pieces of news: that Currie's brother had died in a car accident, and that Lewinsky had been named as a potential witness in the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit. Clinton allegedly told Lewinsky that if she received a subpoena she should promptly notify Currie, and that he would ask Currie to come in over the upcoming weekend so he could give Lewinsky some Christmas pres ents.
Lewinsky recalled that she advised the president that perhaps they should not bother Currie in her grief.
Clinton on Sex:
Whether You Score Depends on How You Keep Score
Clinton's views on the nexus of sex, guilt and propriety are complex and not entirely consistent. But if the report is to be believed, through his actions and his explanations under oath he appears to be making certain clear, if torturous, distinctions and gradations. Among the most interesting:
1. One may be justifiably proud of one's fidelity to one's spouse over a period of many months if one engages only in repeated phone sex.
2. When one is attempting to terminate an illicit sexual relationship, it is permissible to kiss one's former lover, passionately but only on her birthday and Christmas.
3. Only rape or sexual assault can strictly be defined as willful sex. Consensual sex sort of just happens, and no one can be said to "cause" it.
Clinton on Friendship:
Hey, Pal. You're on Your Own
In explaining why he permitted his attorney Robert Bennett to assert categorically at a deposition that there "absolutely is no sex of any kind," Clinton initially said he wasn't paying much attention to what Bennett was saying. In any event, he elaborated, he had no duty to prevent attorney Bennett from making an incorrect statement to the court:
"Mr. Bennett was representing me. I wasn't representing him."
As the scandal began to unravel, the president summoned his closest advisers, one by one, and reassured them in specific terms that nothing improper had occurred. To Deputy Chief of Staff John Podesta, he supposedly volunteered that there had been no intimate contact of any kind.
Presidential adviser Sidney Blumenthal says Clinton told him he recalled only one phone call to Lewinsky, informing her of the death of Currie's brother; in fact, the Starr report notes dryly, there were many, many calls that were far more "memorable."
Blumenthal said Clinton told him that Lewinsky had come on to him, and he had rebuffed her. Then, unbidden, the president added this: His abstinence was not only a matter of prudence but a matter of honor: "I've gone down that road before," Blumenthal said Clinton told him. "I've caused pain for a lot of people and I'm not going to do that again."
Clinton did not even tell the truth to his dearest friends, Vernon Jordan and Harry Thomason. He held his tongue when his wife went on national television and made the following statement, which would turn out to be unintentionally prescient: "Some folks are going to have a lot to answer for."
The only friend in whom Clinton felt comfortable enough to confide was Dick Morris, his former pollster, disgraced two years ago in a tawdry scandal involving a prostitute.
Clinton on God and Family:
On Easter Sunday, 1996, Clinton attended services at the church of one of the young victims of the plane crash in Bosnia that also killed Commerce Secretary Ron Brown. Then the president, his wife and daughter had brunch at the Four Seasons hotel.
Then, the president went to the White House.
Then, he telephoned Monica Lewinsky and invited her over for a tryst.
Clinton on Life's Priorities:
First, You Take Care of Business
Because the White House keeps phone logs and visitor logs, and because the president's movements are monitored by the Secret Service, there are ample rec ords not so much of what occurred but how long it took.
These logs provide a lesson in priorities. Clinton's conversations with congressmen, lawyers and other advisers tend to last only minutes. He appears to conduct business quickly and decisively.
Similarly, te^te-aź-te^tes between the president and Lewinsky tended to be brief affairs. Calls in which Lewinsky and Clinton are said to have engaged in phone sex were likewise abbreviated. But there was at least one dramatic exception.
On Oct. 10, 1997, after Lewinsky complained that Clinton was reneging on a promise to help find her a job, Clinton began, correctly, to suspect disloyalty, even that he was being blackmailed. He phoned her.
This call occurred at 2 o'clock in the morning. By Lewinsky's account, she and Clinton talked for an hour and a half.
He invited her to the White House the following day.
On this day, he was preparing for a week-long visit to South America, a major trip in which he was to push for lowered trade barriers.
But first, Clinton and Lewinsky met for an hour to discuss her job search. Then, she said, he kissed her on the forehead.
Clinton on Romance:
Thank You, Ma'am
After sexual encounters with the president on two different occasions, Lewinsky says she suspected that Clinton did not remember her name, and so she reminded him.
Lewinsky testified they did not have a meaningful conversation until after their sixth sexual encounter.
Typically, Lewinsky said, Clinton would inform her of his desire for sexual intimacy by opening his trousers.
Often, these events are said to have occurred in the bathroom.
Clinton the Leader:
Once More, Into the Breach of Faith
Referring to a sexual liaison, Lewinsky says Clinton's attitude was: "If two people involved say it didn't happen, it didn't happen."
This lack of distinction between fact and provable fact was evidently communicated to others. Clinton's aides practiced deceptions both minor and signal. Currie and Lewinsky called themselves "Kay" in messages to each other. Lewinsky referred to Vernon Jordan as "Gwen" in letters to friends, and to Clinton as "she" in letters to Currie.
The furtive atmosphere pervaded the president's security detail. Secret Service agents made it clear in their testimony that they suspected the boss of dalliances with Lewinsky. One is said to have routinely speculated on the speed with which the president would leave his residence and arrive at the Oval Office after Lewinsky arrived for her visits.
Once, when Lewinsky created a disturbance at the Northwest Gate of the White House after a uniformed Secret Service agent unwisely told her the president was meeting with another woman, the president was said to have become enraged and threatened to fire the indiscreet agent. Eventually, the matter was smoothed over when the Secret Service agreed not to file an incident report.
Taking a cue from the boss, Capt. Jeffrey Purdie, the watch commander, is said to have informed his guards that "whatever just happened didn't happen."
Clinton on Honesty:
There Are No Lies, Just Varying Degrees of Truth
Explaining to Starr's grand jury why his lawyer said at the Jones deposition there "is absolutely no sex of any kind" between Clinton and Lewinsky, Clinton reportedly testified: "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is. . . . actually, in the pres ent tense, that is an accurate statement."
This led his questioner to ask sardonically: "Do you mean today that because you were not engaging in sexual activity with Ms. Lewinsky during the deposition that the statement . . . might be literally true?"
When he was asked to explain his statement in the Jones case that he did not recall being alone with Lewinsky, he said, "There were a lot of times when we were alone but I never really thought we were."
Clinton's sifting and declension of language is so intricate it seems to lend itself to footnotes and superscripts and underlines that slant off into the margins of the page. A 10th-grade grammar teacher would be impressed.
Nowhere are these semantic gymnastics more evident than his explanation of a seeming inconsistency that could become the central issue in any perjury charges brought against him: why, at his deposition in the Jones case, he answered "no" to whether he'd had sexual relations with Lewinsky.
That response came after he had been been shown this definition of sexual relations: "when the person knowingly engages in or cause contact with the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh or buttocks of any person with an intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person."
In his analysis, Clinton explained, "any person" means any other person, so since Clinton was the person being deposed, the only portion of the other person's anatomy being touched was the lips "not with anything on that list."
By that definition, though, Lewinsky certainly had had sexual relations with Clinton, and she had denied it in her affidavit. And yet at his deposition, the president also testified to the veracity of her deposition. Why?
According to the Starr report, Clinton said this:
"I believe if she believed the definition of sex was two people having intercourse, then this is accurate. I believe this is the definition most Americans would give it."
Clinton on Women:
Less Is More
Much has been made of Lewinsky's age at the time of the consummation of the affair alternatively described as barely older than Clinton's daughter, and less than half Clinton's age. Both are true, but neither is probative: Many women of 22 are worldly and sophisticated.
The Starr report, however, suggests otherwise of Lewinsky, whose words and actions bespeak nearly comical petulance and immaturity.
At one point, she complains that she has to avoid staffers who try to limit her access to the president. She calls them "the White House meanies."
She says she fears a job at the Pentagon would be "YUCK!"
When given bad news, she tends to burst into tears.
Her indiscretion is profound. She babbled incessantly about her affair to 11 different people, including a former boyfriend, an aunt, two high school friends, Linda Tripp, and Irene Kassorla, a Hollywood TV celebrity-psychologist and sex therapist who once wrote a bestseller that promised to take female readers to a state where they can reach "the untamable maxi-orgasm."
When Lewinsky eventually decided it was time to apply pressure on Clinton to bring her back to the White House, she made the following threat: She would tell her mom and dad.
Lewinsky once wrote in a letter to Clinton: "If you were 100 percent fulfilled in your marriage I never would have seen that raw, intense sexuality that I saw a few times watching your mouth on my breast or looking in your eyes while you explored the depth of my sex. Instead it would have been a routine encounter void of anything but a sexual release."
This may have been Lewinsky's final folly: She actually thought Clinton was in love with her.
Clinton on Starr
The president says he has not read the Starr report. And has no plans to do so.
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company