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Jewish World Review / July 30, 1998 / 7 Menachem-Av, 5758

Roger Simon

Roger Simon All ya need is luv...
and to deny, deny, deny

WASHINGTON -- Whether it has been about Gennifer Flowers, smoking marijuana, draft dodging or now Monica Lewinsky, Clinton has found that hanging tough can get you through tough times.

In telephone conversations with
Frankly, Monica, America just
doesn't seem to give a da-n!
Gennifer Flowers, for instance, Clinton told her "if everybody's on record denying it, you've got no problem" and "if everybody kind of hangs tough, they're just not gonna do anything" and "they can't run a story like this unless somebody said, 'Yeah, I did it with him.' "

The problem for Clinton turned out to be that Flowers said yeah, she did do it with him, but Clinton denied it. When the story broke while Clinton was running for president during the critical New Hampshire primary of 1992, he repeatedly said there had been no affair between Flowers and himself.

And voters seemed to believe him. Clinton, who also denied dodging the draft and breaking the laws of this country by smoking marijuana, came in second in New Hampshire after many had counted him out and went on to win the Democratic nomination and the presidency.

It was not until January of this year that Clinton admitted to having had sex with Flowers, but it no longer mattered: Clinton has no more elections to face.

He does have a job to hold onto, however, and denial still looks like his defense of choice.

Days after the Lewinsky story broke, CNN's John King reported that on one audio tape Lewinsky quotes the president as saying, "There is no evidence, so you can deny, deny, deny."

The New York Times reported Wednesday that Lewinsky will tell Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr's grand jury that Clinton told her: "If there are two people in a room and something happens and they both deny it, there is no way to prove it."

This conversation allegedly occurred in mid-December, before Lewinsky was subpoenaed by Paula Jones' attorneys, but after Lewinsky's name appeared on their witness list.

The president's comments may be a simple statement of fact. And continuing to deny he had a sexual relationship with Lewinsky could certainly be the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

But total denial is also an inviting tactic, both simple and profound.

Simple, because assuming there is no convincing physical evidence of a sexual encounter or witnesses to one, Starr's case is reduced to "he said/she said" with the "he" being a popular president and the "she" being a 24-year-old who has now admitted she lied in a sworn statement and has told friends she likes to lie.

The tactic is also profound because it calls into question not only what Lewinsky says about sex, but any other damaging testimony she might give regarding obstruction of justice, suborning perjury or the roles that presidential buddies Vernon Jordan and Bruce Lindsey may have played.

It is always best, however, if the accused can come up with a reason for his accuser to lie and the White House came up with one months ago: In an interview with the Chicago Tribune in February, Mike McCurry said one of the big fears of the White House was that Starr was using pressure tactics to get people to alter the truth.

"The other danger here is there may be enormous pressure on people to say certain things," McCurry said. "That's a very real concern our lawyers have."

A senior administration official said that the White House was worried that Starr was going to "squeeze" people into attacking the president, whether truthfully or not.

So to explain why Lewinsky would now lie, all the White House has to do is portray her as a troubled young woman who, along with her mother, was threatened by Starr with prosecution for perjury.

Lewinsky's former lawyer, William Ginsburg, described Lewinsky as "mentally devastated" by the investigation and as being in the "vortex of a storm."

The White House could easily argue that a person in such a state might agree to lie in order to obtain a "get out of jail free" card.

The White House also has been busy laying a ground work for attacking the credibility of Lewinsky. Early on, White House staffers called reporters and said Lewinsky was "troubled," "a little bit weird" and that her nickname was "The Stalker."

The last piece of the puzzle, why Starr would "squeeze" Lewinsky to lie, was provided by Hillary Rodham Clinton, who has been playing a pivotal role in the White House damage control efforts.

The attackers of the president were part of a "vast right-wing conspiracy" according to the First Lady, and she accused Starr of "intimidating witnesses."

A White House that knows the power of image-making had now created the images of its choosing: a troubled young woman, who might also be a sexual predator, a prosecutor with a political motive, and a president who staunchly denies, denies, denies and goes on running the country.

And so far, if polls are any judge, the American people are buying the images: In a poll of 413 adults conducted by CBS News on Tuesday, 61 percent said Starr was conducting a "partisan" probe, and 62 percent disapproved of his immunity offer to Lewinsky. Some 45 percent said she would not be a credible witness, compared to only 34 percent saying she would. And 47 percent said they would be happy if Clinton never said anything more about Lewinsky, compared to 24 percent who said they wanted more information now.

Another CBS poll, this one conducted from July 19 to July 21, showed Clinton's job approval rating at an astonishingly high 64 percent, with a personal approval rating of 50 percent. By comparison, Starr's personal approval rating was at 14 percent.

In the same poll, 56 percent of the public said the Starr investigation had very little or no importance, and 59 percent said Starr should drop it.

While nobody is doing handstands at the White House because they know how quickly poll numbers can turn around, the announcement that Clinton will give sworn testimony to Starr on Aug. 17 helped calm many staffers, who have enormous faith in Clinton's ability to hang tough and gut out any crisis.

And it is not just staff people who have been worried. At one of his last cabinet meetings, Clinton looked around the table, saw concern written on many faces and felt the needed to remind everyone that he wasn't called the Comeback Kid for nothing.

"I'll be fine," he said, "and you will be too, and let's all hang in there."


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1/29/98: What the president has going for him
1/27/98: Judgment call: how Americans view President Clinton
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1/15/98: Let's get it over with: it's time to deal with Saddam, already
1/13/98: Sonny Bono is dead, let the good times roll
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©1998, Creators Syndicate, Inc.