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Video of CLinton's Testimony Viewed by American Public

By Norman Kempster
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON

In videotaped testimony that television networks broadcast with a warning of "explicit details," the American public on Monday got an unprecedented look at President Clinton struggling to parry painful and embarrassing questions from Kenneth Starr's prosecutors about his relationship with Monica S. Lewinsky.

Over the objection of the White House, Congress made public a four-hour videotape of Clinton's Aug. 17 testimony to a grand jury, backed up by 3,183 pages of documents detailing acts that Starr said constitute grounds for impeachment.

The president argued the events were improper, but not criminal.

White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry blamed the release of the videotaped testimony and supporting evidence on "rank partisanship," and said most of the material being made public is irrelevant.

Although the tape - broadcast unedited by several cable channels - and two-volume compilation of backup material provided more explicit details of Clinton's relationship with Lewinsky, there were few real surprises. The highlights of Starr's case were made public on Sept. 11 in his summary report to lawmakers.

In his taped testimony to the grand jury, Clinton was sometimes bitter and sarcastic, but mostly kept his temper under steely control. At times, the president insisted he could not recall events that he said were far less important than his official duties.

"Just from the tone of your voice and the way you're asking questions here, it's obvious (that you think) this is the most important thing in the world, and that everybody was focused on all the details at the time," Clinton told a prosecutor. "But that's not the way it worked."

He staunchly denied charges that he committed perjury when he was asked about his relations with Lewinsky in a sworn deposition in the since-dismissed sexual harassment lawsuit filed by former Arkansas state employee Paula Corbin Jones. He also denied telling Lewinsky or anyone else to lie.

But his defense of his own veracity was legalistic, hanging on a definition of "sexual relations" that he said excluded Lewinsky performing oral sex on him. That defense already has outraged many on Capitol Hill, including some of Clinton's Democratic allies. But the videotape gave the public its first look at Clinton haggling over the meaning of terms that many people thought were self-evident.

The court in the Jones lawsuit defined sexual relations to include touching of breasts, genitals or other erogenous body parts for the purpose of arousing or gratifying sexual desire. Clinton said he had done none of those things, arguing at one point that a recipient of oral sex would have contact with his partner's lips, "but not anything on that list."

Clinton said Jones' lawyers realized their civil lawsuit was weak and tried to use the pretrial discovery process, including his deposition, to hurt and embarrass him. He said he answered the questions put to him, but refused to volunteer anything.

"My goal in this deposition was to be truthful, but not particularly helpful," he said. "I did not wish to do the work of the Jones lawyers. I deplored what they were doing. I deplored the innocent people they were tormenting and traumatizing. I deplored their illegal leaking. But I was determined to walk through the minefield of this deposition without violating the law, and I believe I did."

But transcripts of Lewinsky's grand jury testimony, included in Monday's public release, appear to contradict Clinton's assertion that they avoided sexual relations, even under the narrow definition cited by the president. She called Clinton her "sexual soulmate," and testified that the president touched her in ways that clearly were included in the definition.

While Clinton seemed somewhat cold and legalistic in his testimony, Lewinsky recalled events in graphic detail, describing episodes of oral sex in a hallway adjacent to the White House Oval Office and citing encounters that led her to orgasm. She said the relationship was purely sexual when it began, but later, she came to love Clinton. She said she was devastated when the affair finally ended.

Clinton and Lewinsky even disagreed about when their relationship began. She dated their first sexual encounter to November 1995, while she was still a White House intern; he said the contacts began in January 1996, after she moved to a paid job.

In answer to questions from a grand juror, Lewinsky said she told Clinton that she could lie about their relationship. She said the president smiled and encouraged her to do just that. For his part, Clinton said he told Lewinsky to tell the truth.

Although questions from Starr's office were explicit and sometimes X-rated, Clinton avoided, as much as possible, intimate details in his replies.

While Clinton's grand jury testimony dominated television screens, the president was at the United Nations delivering a speech on combating terrorism. He received a standing ovation .