WASHINGTON, Jan. 26 -- President Clinton thought last week he had put to rest allegations he had a sexual relation with a White House intern, so it was clearly a painful moment when a week later he plaintively defended himself in stronger terms. Clinton chose a strange forum -- the unveiling of a $2 billion child care after-school program -- to reiterate that he did not have 'sexual relations with that woman' -- Monica Lewinsky. Clinton looked upset, with deep circles under his eyes. He pounded the podium and told the gathering, 'I want you to listen to me.' Some television watchers thought he looked as if he had been crying. One observer said, 'It looked like he was welling up.' Clinton said: 'I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky. I never told anybody to lie, not a single time, never. These allegations are false, and I need to go back to work for the American people.' Standing on the sidelines were those who had spoken before him about the program, including those who are the most affected by the scandal battering the White House. Among them was his wife Hillary, who as she has in the past, is leading his defense and sounded a rallying cry to former aides who have helped the president in past personal crises. The first lady smiled often during the program and has tried to put the best face on a situation that has profoundly affected her family and the White House.
Also among the child care speakers was Vice President Al Gore who has been low key in his defense of the president and cautious in choosing his words. The same applies to most of the Democratic leaders who do not want to be caught out on a limb if the picture changes drastically. After making his remarks, Clinton beat a hasty retreat, leaving shouted questions hanging in the air. Reporters had been forewarned that the president would make a brief statement but take no questions. But in the past, questions have been a magnet for the president and he has found it difficult to ignore. White House press secretary Mike McCurry has promised that the president will be willing to take the gamut of pressing questions later on. But clearly his attorneys want him to take a more cautious approach until he is out of the words and has restored trust in his statements. His lawyers have been urging silence but they understand the political and public exigencies at the White House. Aides say Clinton has been remarkably focused on drafting the State of the Union address, spending two hours in full concentration with top advisers and speech writers. The president often speaks of being able to compartmentalize and isolate issues in a 'box.' He has been rehearsing his Tuesday night speech, which was expected to be triumphal in boasting of the balanced budget he is presenting to the American people. But there remains a wariness on how the president will be received when he delivers the momentous speech before a joint session of Congress. Aides insist that he will not discuss the allegations against him in the State of the Union speech. But if he had decided to do so he would have had one of the biggest television audiences ever. ---
Copyright 1998 by United Press International. All rights reserved. ---