Starr Report Bombshell

There was something entirely fitting about the way Bill Clinton began what must surely have been one of the most trying days of his long political life.

This article was originally published in Maclean's Magazine on September 21, 1998

There was something entirely fitting about the way Bill Clinton began what must surely have been one of the most trying days of his long political life.This article was originally published in Maclean's Magazine on September 21, 1998

Starr Report Bombshell

There was something entirely fitting about the way Bill Clinton began what must surely have been one of the most trying days of his long political life. Just ahead lay a kind of public humiliation that few have known - the most intimate details of an illicit sexual liaison laid bare for all the world, or at least all the world with access to the Internet, to read. What better time to fortify oneself with prayer, as the President did when he mingled with 125 priests, ministers, rabbis and imams at the annual White House prayer breakfast. It was there, in the East Room, that his evolving apologia for his affair with young Monica Lewinsky reached its apogee. The evasions, halfhearted apologies and slippery legalisms seemed finally to be behind him. "I have sinned," Clinton said. "The sorrow I feel is genuine." He had, he said, "a broken spirit," and had reached "an understanding that I must have God's help to be the person that I want to be." Tears welled in his eyes, and some of those who listened wept with him.

It was, perhaps, the speech that could have spared him the personal embarrassment and acute political danger that came with the long-awaited release of a devastating report from his nemesis, independent counsel Kenneth Starr. History is bedeviled by might-have-beens, and future chroniclers of the Clinton presidency are bound to wonder whether the kind of forthright admission of guilt and humble apology he made last Friday would have saved him from the ordeal he now faces if he had made it when the scandal broke in mid-January. But when it finally came, it was only hours before Starr's 445-page report was made public by the House of Representatives. For weeks, Washington had been awash in rumors that the document would not only lay out grounds for impeaching Clinton, but would also be replete with baroque details about his 16-month affair with Lewinsky, the onetime White House intern. It did not disappoint. Starr contended there are 11 grounds for impeaching Clinton, involving perjury, obstruction of justice, witness tampering and abuse of power. The President, he argued, engaged for seven months in nothing less than "a strategy of deceiving the American people and Congress."

The salacious material was all there, too - page after lurid page of it, enough to make parents turn off the TV news and hide the newspaper from their children. With hindsight, one of Clinton's biggest mistakes was to insist on Aug. 17, when he testified before Starr's grand jury, that he had been "legally accurate" when he denied having sexual relations with Lewinsky. That gave Starr's investigators an opening to explore in excruciating detail exactly what did go on behind closed doors between the President and the intern. Three days after Clinton's testimony, they called Lewinsky, now 25, back to the grand jury and questioned her closely about her physical contacts with the man she liked to call "Handsome." The result is surely one of the most bizarre documents ever issued by a government agency. For scores of pages, mixing dry legalese with eye-popping revelations, Starr's report lays out his version of what happened: 10 sexual encounters in a study, hallway and bathroom adjacent to the Oval Office. Lewinsky performing oral sex on Clinton while the President was talking on the phone to congressmen. Even, as late-night talk show hosts have joked for weeks, sex involving one of Clinton's cigars.

It is, even the President's defenders acknowledged, a sad, tawdry, strangely adolescent story. But is it something much more serious - grounds for removing the most powerful man in the world from office? All last week, as the hour for releasing Starr's report neared, congressmen and senators spoke in increasingly solemn tones about their heavy responsibility. "Next to declaring war," said Richard Gephardt, the Democrats' leader in the House of Representatives, "this may be the most important thing that we do." The House judiciary committee was charged with reviewing Starr's evidence - 36 white boxes containing two copies of his report and thousands of pages of supporting documents and tapes. It was the beginning of a process that could eventually lead to removing the President from office. Not in a quarter of a century, since Richard Nixon was forced to resign the presidency in the Watergate scandal, had Washington felt events lurch so ominously out of control.

But when the speculation was over and Starr's report was finally public, there was another realization: it really is all about the Bill and Monica story. Conservative analysts had suggested that Starr, after digging for more than four years into the tangled web of controversies known as Whitewater, would put Clinton's alleged misdeeds into a wider context of abuse of power going back to the earliest days of his presidency. Starr himself had made this pattern-of-abuse argument in January in gaining permission, from the judicial panel that appointed him, to expand his probe to Lewinsky.

But in his report, Starr merely promises to decide later how to deal with the other scandals. The document focuses entirely on what he claims is Clinton's wrongdoing in the Lewinsky affair. The President, Starr charges, lied five times under oath about his relationship with the intern; obstructed justice by concealing evidence about the relationship; tried to influence the testimony of his secretary, Betty Currie, and other witnesses before Starr's grand jury; abused the power of his office by impeding the grand jury looking into the affair; and "made false statements to the American people" when he publicly denied having a sexual relationship with Lewinsky. "This," Starr concludes, "represents substantial and credible information that may constitute grounds for an impeachment."

But does it? Even before Starr's report was released, Clinton was counterattacking on two fronts. First, with his unreserved apology at the prayer breakfast, he continued his campaign for public forgiveness. And though he insisted there that "legal language must not obscure the fact that I have done wrong," his lawyers were firing back with a new barrage of legal language. David Kendall, his personal lawyer, continued to argue that the President did not technically perjure himself when he swore under oath last January that he did not have a sexual relationship with Lewinsky - still clinging to Clinton's much-ridiculed contention that such practices as oral sex do not constitute "sexual relations."

At the same time, Kendall outlined what will be the White House's main argument: that all Starr has managed to document is the unsurprising fact that people engaged in extramarital affairs are apt to do a lot to keep them secret. Clinton's defenders have argued all along that Starr, despite his title, is anything but an independent counsel. He is politically motivated, they say, and out to bring down the President at any cost. Nothing in the report, Kendall claimed, suggests that any wrongdoing Clinton committed had anything to do with the serious business of running the country. This is no Watergate, he, in effect, argued. Nixon unleashed the power of the federal government against his political enemies; Clinton, even if Starr's version of events is accurate, lied about sex. "The salacious allegations in this referral," said Kendall, "are simply intended to humiliate, embarrass and politically damage the President. This is personal and not impeachable."

What constitutes an impeachable offence, however, is one of the mysteries of the American political system. The constitution says only that a president may be removed for "treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors." Legal scholars say outrageous conduct in office, even behavior that involves no crime, may also be grounds for impeachment. Ultimately, Congress will decide whether Clinton's misdeeds fall into any of those categories. And in that, they will inevitably be influenced by public reaction to the tawdry story detailed by Starr in a 280-page narrative of the Clinton-Lewinsky liaison. Americans may have learned long ago that their presidents are all too human, but they revere the presidency and may be repelled by what they hear and read. The politicians were clearly waiting to see how voters will react once they get their minds fully around the graphic picture of a president engaged in furtive sex with a young employee just outside the office used by the likes of Lincoln and Roosevelt.

That explained why so few congressmen and senators had much to say publicly after the report was released. Those who did were predictably partisan. "The pattern of conduct here constitutes a defilement of the office of the president," thundered Charles Canady, a Republican congressman from Florida. Thomas Davis, a Virginia Republican, called Clinton's behavior "disgusting. It's not the way normal people act." Clinton loyalists downplayed the impact. Albert Wynn, a Maryland Democrat, said in an interview: "Some of the details are lurid, some of them are sensational, but it doesn't really break new ground." Still, some Democrats worried that the avalanche of cringe-inducing details might gravely wound the President before he has a chance to respond. "This process can steamroll very, very quickly out of control," Jesse Jackson Jr., an Illinois Democrat and son of the well-known civil rights leader, told Maclean's. "It's quite possible that the information, and the way in which it was released, could deny the President the opportunity to have a fair process."

The story, as set out by Starr's investigators, is at once compelling and repelling, a chronicle of a relationship that went from what Lewinsky at first worried was just a sexual "service contract" to something that, for her at least, meant real emotional involvement. Starr's report confirms much of what was already known through news reports and leaks of testimony to Starr's grand jury, and adds new details - including the fact that it was Clinton himself who told Lewinsky that she would be called as a witness in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case, in a phone call to her Watergate apartment at 2 a.m. last Dec. 17. The narrative paints a picture of a young woman determined to win the attention of a powerful man, and a man who had reached the summit of his ambitions but was driven to risk it all for a series of hurried gropes. Starr, who first heard of the Lewinsky liaison from her onetime friend Linda Tripp, defended including sexual details in his report as part of his effort to document the President's alleged lying under oath. "The evidence of the President's perjury," he wrote, "cannot be presented without specific, explicit and possibly offensive descriptions of sexual encounters."

Lewinsky went to work as a 21-year-old intern at the White House in July, 1995, and soon began what she called "intense flirting" with the President - making eye contact and arranging to meet him as often as possible. Their relationship turned physical on Nov. 15, she told Starr, while the federal government was shut down as part of a budget showdown between the White House and Congress. Late that evening, she was working in the West Wing of the White House, which also contains the President's office. He summoned her into another office, and she told him she had a crush on him. Later, he took her to his private study adjacent to the Oval Office, kissed her and put his hand down her pants. She performed oral sex on him - even while he took phone calls from two congressmen. Clinton, she said, told her to stop before he ejaculated, "that he needed to wait until he trusted me more ... And then he made a joke ... that he hadn't had that in a long time."

Two nights later, as the interns worked late again during the shutdown, they had another encounter. Clinton's secretary, Betty Currie, ushered Lewinsky into the Oval Office after she said she had a pizza for the President. They went to the back study again, and while Clinton was on the phone with another congressman, Lewinsky again performed oral sex on him - but stopped before what Starr's report refers to as "completion." By their third encounter, on New Year's Eve, 1995, Lewinsky worried that he might have forgotten her name. He assured her that he did know her name and again took her into his private study for oral sex.

The litany continues: similar encounters on Jan. 7, 1996, Jan. 21 and Feb. 4 - either in the study or in a windowless hallway outside while Clinton leaned against a door to ease his sore back. It was only on Feb. 4 - after their sixth sexual incident - that Lewinsky said they had a lengthy conversation, that he was "trying to get to know me." On Feb. 19, Lewinsky said, Clinton told her they had to end their relationship - but he revived it on March 31, a Sunday when Hillary Clinton was in Ireland. They started fondling each other in the hallway outside Clinton's private study and: "At one point, the President inserted a cigar into Ms. Lewinsky's vagina, then put the cigar into his mouth and said: 'It tastes good.' " (In a footnote, the report notes: "In the grand jury, the President declined to answer whether Ms. Lewinsky would be lying if she said he had used a cigar as a sexual aid with her.")

In April, 1996, however, White House officials became suspicious of the pretty intern's unusually close relationship with the President and arranged to have her transferred to the Pentagon. On April 7, Easter Sunday, she performed oral sex on him for the last time that year, but they spoke regularly on the phone, having what Lewinsky characterized as "phone sex" about 15 times. Then, twice in early 1997, Lewinsky returned to the Oval Office and again had sex with Clinton. On Feb. 28, he ejaculated with her for the first time, staining the navy-blue dress she wore, which became a key piece of physical evidence. Lewinsky later turned it over to Starr's investigators for testing. They matched DNA from it with a blood sample from Clinton and confirmed the match.

During his grand jury testimony on Aug. 17, Clinton was asked about that encounter and said: "I was sick after it was over and I, I was pleased at that time that it had been nearly a year since any inappropriate contact had occurred with Ms. Lewinsky. I promised myself that it wasn't going to happen again." But it did, according to Lewinsky, one more time - on March 29. Soon after, on May 24, Clinton again ended their intimate relationship. He asked her to visit him in the Oval Office, and told her that early in his marriage he had had hundreds of affairs, "but since turning 40 he had made a concerted effort to be faithful."

For Lewinsky, at least, it wasn't just physical. As their relationship developed, she told investigators, she grew emotionally attached to Clinton: "I never expected to fall in love with the President. I was surprised that I did." At times, she said, she believed he shared her feelings. She called him "Handsome"; he called her "Sweetie," "Baby," sometimes "Dear." A friend of Lewinsky, Neysa Erbland, told Starr's grand jury that Monica held on to a romantic notion of her relationship. Lewinsky told her that Clinton had confided that he was not sure he would remain married after he left the White House. "He said in essence, 'Who knows what will happen four years from now when I am out of office?' Ms. Lewinsky thought, according to Ms. Erbland, that 'maybe she will be his wife.' "

All that, of course, is titillating or appalling - or both. What transformed it into the subject of a possible impeachment inquiry is what Starr alleges - that Clinton broke the law repeatedly by denying the relationship and preventing the grand jury from getting at the truth. First, Starr charged, Clinton perjured himself by lying during his deposition in the Paula Jones lawsuit in January, and again when he testified before the grand jury in August. In January, he denied having "sexual relations" with Lewinsky, following a convoluted definition given to him that included touching another person's breasts, genitals, inner thigh, groin or buttocks "with an intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person." Later, before the grand jury, he argued that a person receiving oral sex is not covered by that definition - a contention that his lawyer continued to stand by last week. And, Starr said, Clinton lied again in January by saying he did not recall being alone with Lewinsky, or exchanging gifts with her. Perjury may well be the toughest area for Clinton's lawyers to argue. The best they could do last week was to claim that "he gave narrow answers to ambiguous questions."

The rest of Starr's allegations are equally grave. He says Clinton obstructed justice by agreeing with Lewinsky to lie about their relationship when they were called to give depositions in the Paula Jones case, and that they concocted elaborated "cover stories" to conceal their liaison - such as pretending that she was really visiting his secretary, Currie, when she came to the West Wing. Clinton's lawyers say he was just trying to conceal an affair, as any married man might do. Starr says Clinton arranged with Lewinsky to conceal gifts he had given her that were subpoenaed by Jones's lawyers, by having Currie pick up the gifts from her apartment. Clinton's camp maintains that it was Lewinsky who asked Currie to hold the gifts, and the President never discussed them. Starr says Clinton tried to get Lewinsky a job in New York City through his friend Vernon Jordan so that she would be out of Washington when the Jones case proceeded. Clinton's lawyers say it was Currie who put Lewinsky in touch with Jordan. And Starr claims that Clinton tried to influence Currie's grand jury testimony on two occasions by suggesting to her such things as: "Monica came on to me, and I never touched her, right?" Clinton's lawyers say he was just asking Currie to refresh his memory.

Finally, Starr argues, Clinton tried to obstruct justice by refusing to testify before the grand jury for seven months and lying to senior White House aides about his affair with Lewinsky, knowing all along "that they would relay the President's false statements to the grand jury." Clinton's lawyers say he has admitted lying to his staff, family and the country - but maintain that does not constitute obstruction of justice. And most generally, says Starr, Clinton "abused his constitutional authority" by lying to Congress and the public in January about his affair with Lewinsky, refusing to co-operate with the grand jury, and lying again on Aug. 17 when he finally testified. Nonsense, say the President's lawyers. Clinton invoked legal privileges in a legitimate effort to protect himself and the presidency from an out-of-control prosecutor. In a second rebuttal on Saturday, Clinton's lawyers again charged that Starr's four-year investigation has turned up nothing of substance - "after investigating virtually every aspect of the President's business, financial, political, official and, ultimately, personal life."

In coming weeks, those issues will be endlessly hashed out as the House judiciary committee weighs whether to launch a formal impeachment inquiry. It plans to release more of Starr's evidence after reviewing it - tens of thousands of pages of grand jury testimony. Already, the debate is turning partisan, with the 15 Democrats on the committee pressing to give the President more time to prepare his defence while the 21 Republicans urge quick disclosure of Starr's material.

For Clinton, much, perhaps all, will depend on how the public reacts to Starr's revelations. Two early polls, taken shortly after the report was released, showed the President's approval rating holding steady at around 60 per cent. His best argument will be the one of proportionality: what he did was wrong, but is it really enough to justify the traumatic step of ousting a president? Kendall, his lawyer, put it this way last week: "The question is whether there is evidence here to countermand and override the judgment of the people of the United States, who not once but twice elected this man President of the United States." In that, congressmen and senators will be keenly aware of swings in the public mood. Democrats on Capitol Hill, in particular, face an early test. Clinton has never cultivated close relations with them, and the Nov. 3 midterm elections will reveal how much his transgressions may have damaged them. Analysts predict the Democrats will lose 10 to 20 seats in the House, and as many as five in the Senate, at least partly because of the Monica Effect. Democratic voters, they say, are likely to stay at home while outraged Republican activists flock to the polls, tipping the balance in many close races.

Clinton, the perennial Comeback Kid, will doubtlessly try to mount the comeback of all time. For him, it is a matter of both political and personal redemption. At last week's prayer breakfast, he quoted at length from the Gates of Repentance, a book used during Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. "For us, turning does not come so easily," he read. "It means breaking old habits. It means admitting we have been wrong. It means losing face. It means starting all over again." He sounded like he really meant it - but the question is whether, for him, it is much too little, much too late.

The chemistry of 'Handsome' and 'Sweetie'

Independent counsel Kenneth Starr says his report had to go into explicit detail about the relationship between President Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky to counter Clinton's carefully crafted denials of having had narrowly defined "sexual relations" with the former White House intern. The result is a sober government document that often reads like a steamy novel. Edited excerpts:

Sex and Love

According to Ms. Lewinsky, she and the President had 10 sexual encounters, eight while she worked at the White House and two thereafter. The sexual encounters generally occurred in or near the private study off the Oval Office - most often in the windowless hallway outside the study. During many of their sexual encounters, the President stood leaning against the doorway of the bathroom across from the study, which, he told Ms. Lewinsky, eased his sore back.

Ms. Lewinsky testified that her physical relationship with the President included oral sex but not sexual intercourse. According to Ms. Lewinsky, she performed oral sex on the President; he never performed oral sex on her. Initially, according to Ms. Lewinsky, the President would not let her perform oral sex to completion. In Ms. Lewinsky's understanding, his refusal was related to "trust and not knowing me well enough." During their last two sexual encounters, both in 1997, he did ejaculate.

Whereas the President testified that "what began as a friendship came to include [intimate contact]," Ms. Lewinsky explained that the relationship moved in the opposite direction: "[T]he emotional and friendship aspects . . . developed after the beginning of our sexual relationship." As the relationship developed over time, Ms. Lewinsky grew emotionally attached to President Clinton. She testified: "I never expected to fall in love with the President. I was surprised that I did." Ms. Lewinsky told him of her feelings. At times, she believed that he loved her too.

They were physically affectionate: "A lot of hugging, holding hands sometimes. He always used to push the hair out of my face." She called him "Handsome"; on occasion, he called her "Sweetie," "Baby," or sometimes "Dear." He told her that he enjoyed talking to her - she recalled his saying that the two of them were "emotive and full of fire," and she made him feel young. He said he wished he could spend more time with her.

Ms. Lewinsky told confidants of the emotional underpinnings of the relationship as it evolved. According to her mother, Marcia Lewis, the President once told Ms. Lewinsky that she "had been hurt a lot or something by different men and that he would be her friend or he would help her, not hurt her." According to Ms. Lewinsky's friend Neysa Erbland, President Clinton once confided in Ms. Lewinsky that he was uncertain whether he would remain married after he left the White House. He said in essence, "[W]ho knows what will happen four years from now when I am out of office?" Ms. Lewinsky thought, according to Ms. Erbland, that "maybe she will be his wife."

Ms. Lewinsky testified that she and the President "enjoyed talking to each other and being with each other." In her recollection, "We would tell jokes. We would talk about our childhoods. Talk about current events. I was always giving him my stupid ideas about what I thought should be done in the administration or different views on things."

Along with face-to-face meetings, according to Ms. Lewinsky, she spoke on the telephone with the President approximately 50 times, often after 10 p.m. and sometimes well after midnight. On 10 to 15 occasions, she and the President had phone sex. After phone sex late one night, the President fell asleep mid-conversation.

Covering Up

Both Ms. Lewinsky and the President testified that they took steps to maintain the secrecy of the relationship. In his grand jury testimony, the President confirmed his efforts to keep their liaisons secret. He said he did not want the facts of their relationship to be disclosed "in any context," and added: "I certainly didn't want this to come out, if I could help it. And I was concerned about that. I was embarrassed about it. I knew it was wrong."

For her visits to see the President, according to Ms. Lewinsky, "[T]here was always some sort of a cover." When visiting the President while she worked at the White House, she generally planned to tell anyone who asked (including Secret Service officers and agents) that she was delivering papers to the President. Ms. Lewinsky explained that this artifice may have originated when "I got there kind of saying, 'Oh, gee, here are your letters,' wink, wink, wink, and him saying, 'OK, that's good.'"

After their first two sexual encounters during the November, 1995, government shutdown, according to Ms. Lewinsky, her encounters with the President generally occurred on weekends, when fewer people were in the West Wing. According to Ms. Lewinsky, the President was concerned that the two of them might be spotted through a White House window. Ms. Lewinsky testified that, on Dec. 28, 1997, "when I was getting my Christmas kiss" in the doorway to the study, the President was "looking out the window with his eyes wide open while he was kissing me and then I got mad because it wasn't very romantic." He responded: "Well, I was just looking to see to make sure no one was out there."

Getting Together

Ms. Lewinsky testified that Wed. Nov. 15, 1995 - the second day of the government shutdown - marked the beginning of her sexual relationship with the President. At one point, Ms. Lewinsky and the President talked alone in the Chief of Staff's office. In the course of flirting with him, she raised her jacket in the back and showed him the straps of her thong underwear, which extended above her pants.

En route to the restroom at about 8 p.m., she passed George Stephanopoulos's office. The President was inside alone, and he beckoned her to enter. She told him that she had a crush on him. He laughed, then asked if she would like to see his private office. Through a connecting door in Mr. Stephanopoulos's office, they went through the President's private dining room toward the study off the Oval Office. Ms. Lewinsky testified: "We talked briefly and sort of acknowledged that there had been a chemistry that was there before and that we were both attracted to each other and then he asked me if he could kiss me." Ms. Lewinsky said yes. In the windowless hallway adjacent to the study, they kissed. Before returning to her desk, Ms. Lewinsky wrote down her name and telephone number for the President.

At about 10 p.m., in Ms. Lewinsky's recollection, she was alone in the Chief of Staff's office and the President approached. He invited her to rendezvous again in Mr. Stephanopoulos's office in a few minutes, and she agreed. Asked if she knew why the President wanted to meet with her, Ms. Lewinsky testified: "I had an idea." They met in Mr. Stephanopoulos's office and went again to the area of the private study. This time the lights in the study were off.

According to Ms. Lewinsky, she and the President kissed. She unbuttoned her jacket; either she unhooked her bra or he lifted her bra up; and he touched her breasts with his hands and mouth. Ms. Lewinsky testified: "I believe he took a phone call . . . and so we moved from the hallway into the back office . . . . [H]e put his hand down my pants and stimulated me manually in the genital area." While the President continued talking on the phone (Ms. Lewinsky understood that the caller was a member of Congress or a Senator), she performed oral sex on him. He finished his call, and, a moment later, told Ms. Lewinsky to stop. In her recollection: "I told him that I wanted . . . to complete that. And he said . . . that he needed to wait until he trusted me more. And then I think he made a joke . . . that he hadn't had that in a long time."

Blossoming Friendship

On Sun. Feb. 4, according to Ms. Lewinsky, she and the President had their sixth sexual encounter and their first lengthy and personal conversation. After their sexual encounter, the President and Ms. Lewinsky sat and talked in the Oval Office for about 45 minutes. Ms. Lewinsky thought the President might be responding to her suggestion during their previous meeting about "trying to get to know me." It was during that conversation on Feb. 4, according to Ms. Lewinsky, that their friendship started to blossom.

Breaking Up - Briefly

According to Ms. Lewinsky, the President terminated their relationship (only temporarily, as it happened), on Mon. Feb. 19, 1996 - President's Day. In Ms. Lewinsky's recollection, the President telephoned her at her Watergate apartment that day. From the tone of his voice, she could tell something was wrong. She asked to come see him.

The President told her that he no longer felt right about their intimate relationship, and he had to put a stop to it. Ms. Lewinsky was welcome to continue coming to visit him, but only as a friend. He hugged her but would not kiss her.

After the breakup on Feb. 19, according to Ms. Lewinsky, "there continued to sort of be this flirtation . . . when we'd see each other." After passing Ms. Lewinsky in a hallway one night in late February or March, the President telephoned her at home and said he was disappointed that, because she had already left the White House for the evening, they could not get together. Ms. Lewinsky testified that the call "sort of implied to me that he was interested in starting up again."

The Cigar

On Sun. March 31, 1996, according to Ms. Lewinsky, she and the President resumed their sexual contact. Mrs. Clinton was in Ireland. According to Ms. Lewinsky, the President telephoned her at her desk and suggested that she come to the Oval Office on the pretext of delivering papers to him. She went to the Oval Office and was admitted by a plainclothes Secret Service agent. In her folder was a gift for the President, a Hugo Boss necktie.

In the hallway by the study, the President and Ms. Lewinsky kissed. On this occasion, according to Ms. Lewinsky, "he focused on me pretty exclusively," kissing her bare breasts and fondling her genitals. At one point, the President inserted a cigar into Ms. Lewinsky's vagina, then put the cigar in his mouth and said: "It tastes good."

Breaking Up for Good

On Sat. May 24, 1997, according to Ms. Lewinsky, the President ended their intimate relationship. Ms. Lewinsky arrived wearing a straw hat with the hat pin the President had given her, and bringing gifts for him, including a puzzle and a Banana Republic shirt. She gave him the gifts in the dining room, and they moved to the area of the study. According to Ms. Lewinsky, the President explained that they had to end their intimate relationship. Earlier in his marriage, he told her, he had had hundreds of affairs; but since turning 40, he had made a concerted effort to be faithful. He said he was attracted to Ms. Lewinsky, considered her a great person, and hoped they would remain friends. He pointed out that he could do a great deal for her. The situation, he stressed, was not Ms. Lewinsky's fault. Ms. Lewinsky, weeping, tried to persuade the President not to end the sexual relationship, but he was unyielding, then and subsequently. Although she and the President kissed and hugged thereafter, according to Ms. Lewinsky, the sexual relationship was over.

The Ultimate Test

The delivery of special prosecutor Kenneth Starr's report on Bill Clinton to the U.S. Congress set in motion a process that is both legalistic and highly political. It revolves around the often loosely used term "impeachment." Under the U.S. Constitution, the word does not mean removal of the American president. Impeachment is the decision by the House of Representatives to charge him with treason, bribery or "other high crimes and misdemeanors," and send him to the Senate for trial. But the Constitution's drafters deliberately avoided defining what those other offences might be, so it is up to Congress to decide what kind of behavior is beyond the pale. As they consider Clinton's fate, members of both houses will have several opportunities to end the process well short of his removal. November's mid-term Congressional elections may also play a role; both chambers seem destined to remain under Republican control, but a change in numbers could affect key votes. Here are the potential stages Clinton faces:

STEP ONE: The House Judiciary Committee.

The 36-member committee, chaired by Illinois Republican Henry Hyde, will make the initial decision on what to do with Starr's report. If a majority of its 21 Republicans and 15 Democrats agree, it can launch hearings into Starr's charges. Witnesses from Linda Tripp to Monica Lewinsky would be asked to repeat their previous closed-door testimony in front of the world's television cameras. That spectacle, likely to begin only in the new year, could take months. At the end of it, the committee would decide whether to draw up articles of impeachment - the charges of high crimes and misdemeanors, since treason and corruption are not at issue. Each proposed article would require a simple majority to go to the full House.

STEP TWO: The House of Representatives.

Its 435 members would debate - no doubt at length - the committee's articles of impeachment. Then they would take the momentous votes - again, by a simple majority - on whether to impeach Clinton on any of the charges.

STEP THREE: The Senate.

If the House impeached Clinton, the 100-member upper chamber would hold a full courtroom-style trial, presided over by the chief justice of the Supreme Court. Again, the full panoply of witnesses would testify; again, the process would take weeks or months. After that, it would require a vote of two-thirds of the senators present to convict Clinton and remove him from office. But few analysts think things will go that far. It is true that in 1868 president Andrew Johnson toughed out the only Senate trial so far - and escaped conviction by one vote. But the modern precedent was set in 1974 by Richard Nixon, who resigned over the Watergate scandal after the judiciary committee voted for three articles of impeachment and his support in both houses evaporated. If today's Congress shows a similar determination to go all the way - still a very big if - Clinton would almost surely choose to leave office on his own.

Maclean's September 21, 1998