Clinton Accused Special Report
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V. Hunkering Down
Ginsburg, however, is not part of the Washington defense lawyers' fraternity. He isn't even a white-collar-crime lawyer. He is a medical-malpractice lawyer in Los Angeles. Clinton's lawyers watched with horror last week as Ginsburg seemed to beg for a deal on television. Ginsburg announced that his client was sticking to her affidavit "for now," clearly signaling she would change her story for the right price. Starr's team was content to let Lewinsky sweat. As of Saturday night, Ginsburg was telegraphing that, in exchange for a grant of immunity, Lewinsky would say that she had had sex with the president. His client, Ginsburg said, would not be like Webb Hubbell or Susan McDougal, who have been willing to sit in jail rather than sell out Clinton on Whitewater.

While Ginsburg played "let's make a deal," the White House PR machine was paralyzed. Clinton's political advisers understood the need to get out a coherent defense before too many news cycles went by with fresh revelations (she kept sex dress, bannered the New York Daily News on Saturday morning). But Clinton's legal team had warned that they couldn't shape a story until they knew what Lewinsky would say. Wary of Ken Starr, they believed that the special prosecutor would coerce a version of the story – any version of the story – from Lewinsky that would contradict Clinton. So Clinton remained silent into the weekend, watching movies.

By Saturday night, there was a Final Days atmosphere around the White House. The True Believers had been summoned home: former Commerce secretary Mickey Kantor by the president, shunned deputy chief of staff Harold Ickes by the First Lady. CNN was playing, over and over, that tape of Lewinsky and Clinton in November 1996 – she standing a little too close, eying the president with a seemingly proprietary, come-hither look. Aides were beginning to speculate that Clinton would have to acknowledge some kind of sexual contact with Lewinsky while still furiously denying that he had told her to lie. Would the voters tolerate another Clintonian confessional? Could he pull a modified-Swaggart? Or maybe 12-step his way out of the crisis?

The White House story line, when it emerged, would undoubtedly involve character attacks on Linda Tripp and Monica Lewinsky. Tripp would be accused of plotting with right-wingers and other Clinton enemies. Lewinsky would be portrayed as troubled – the president, perhaps, was just reaching out to her, feeling her pain. Tripp may at least get a book deal out of the whole mess. Lewinsky, well, she'll get a place in history. Presidents have been laid low by assassins, dragged down by war and dissent, disgraced by their own corruption. But no one, up until now, had ever been done in by a young girl desperate for attention.

With Daniel Klaidman, Karen Breslau, Mark Hosenball, Lucy Shackelford, Pat Wingert, John Barry, Gregory L. Vistica and Andrew Murr

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