This Week

Issue: "Clinton: Time to resign," Aug. 29, 1998

A little too late

The "Real IRA," a splinter group from the larger, Catholic-dominated Irish Republican Army, claimed responsibility for the Aug. 15 car-bombing at Omagh, Northern Ireland. The group announced four days later a ceasefire in its terrorist activities. That was too little too late for the families of 28 people killed in the attack and more than 200 injured. The splinter group said it was not targeting the civilians in the attack; British and Irish authorities, however, said they would target the Real IRA, drafting new laws and tougher enforcement designed to put the group out of business.

Changing the subject?

Commander-in-chief Clinton ordered knockout strikes against suspected terrorists camps inside Afghanistan and Sudan in retaliation for car bombs that destroyed American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania Aug. 7. Whether motivated by word from national security advisers or-as Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) suggested-the need for cover from sex scandals and perjury charges, President Clinton called for the attacks after he received intelligence briefings linking to the bombings in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam a Saudi multi-millionaire and terrorist guru named Osama bin Laden. Mr. bin Laden operates from a mountain hideaway in Afghanistan and is believed to control a network of up to 5,000 Islamic militants bent on crippling American interests abroad. In a June interview with ABC's John Miller, Mr. bin Laden vowed to attack U.S. interests in coming weeks and said, "We predict a black day for America and the end of the United States." Mr. bin Laden's Afghan compound, which included six sites housing up to 600 people, was targeted and apparently destroyed by U.S. military units. It was not immediately known whether or not Mr. bin Laden survived the U.S. strike. The other site targeted by U.S. air forces was an industrial compound north of Khartoum, the Sudanese capital, believed to house production facilities for chemical weapons. Hours after the Aug. 20 strikes, White House officials said the operation was successful and described it as complete. "We are sending a very small signal," said Defense Secretary William Cohen. "Those who attack our people will find no safe haven." Pentagon officials would not say which forces or kinds of weaponry had been used in the attack. They said persistent threats against U.S. installations overseas, coupled with evidence that Mr. bin Laden's network was involved in past attacks on U.S. targets, including two against military installations in Saudi Arabia, led to the swift response. Critics will wonder. The timing of the U.S. strikes seemed over-hasty for a president whose foreign policy has rotated around coalition building within NATO and the United Nations. The administration had never undertaken any unilateral military moves until the week following Mr. Clinton's grand jury testimony concerning Monica Lewinsky and growing demands for impeachment proceedings.

The moment of truth

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President Clinton wore what aides call his "game face": stiff posture, eyes glaring into the camera, jaw set. He sat in silence and awaited his time to deliver the unprecedented address last week from the White House Map Room. It might have been called instead the Wiggle Room. For earlier in the day of Aug. 17-in the course of a "voluntary" four-hour session with prosecutors from Kenneth Starr's Office of Independent Counsel-Mr. Clinton read from a prepared statement outlining his "inappropriate" relationship with ex-White House intern Monica Lewinsky. He reportedly acknowledged a specific sexual act involving Miss Lewinsky. Piecing together numerous wire-service and newspaper accounts, it was clear that Mr. Clinton bobbed, weaved, and counter-punched in the grand-jury session, took several breaks, conferred at length with lawyers, and in the end refused specifically to concede lying in a January deposition. As Mr. Clinton argued in the Monday night address, his answers were "legally accurate." But were they? Mr. Clinton's legal team is employing a novel legal theory that the sex was one-way and that the president was a passive partner. That reportedly hurt Miss Lewinsky, who returned to the grand jury last Thursday, three days after the president's bombshell admission of adulterous relations. Ms. Lewinsky's credibility now intact, prosecutors sought to bore in on important details of the president's grand-jury testimony-and perhaps establish obstruction of justice and witness tampering by Mr. Clinton. One line of inquiry concerned a gift given by Miss Lewinsky to the president. The New York Times reported that on the day Miss Lewinsky testified for the first time, Mr. Clinton, presiding over a televised ceremony in the White House Rose Garden, wore a gold-and-navy tie that Miss Lewinsky told prosecutors she had given the president. Prosecutors wanted to know whether Mr. Clinton was sending Miss Lewinsky a signal by wearing it. In addition, prosecutors focused on presidential secretary Betty Currie's collection of gifts the president gave to Miss Lewinsky during their inappropriate relationship. That could also be key evidence of obstruction of justice. Also last week, former Clinton adviser Dick Morris appeared before the Starr grand jury. Mr. Morris said he testified about five conversations with Mr. Clinton after the Lewinsky scandal broke seven months ago. On television in January, Mr. Morris said Mr. Clinton admitted to him that he did "do something" with Miss Lewinsky, despite his public denials. "I just slipped up with that girl," Mr. Morris said on Fox News Channel, quoting the president. Even as calls intensified for the president to step aside, reports surfaced that his would-be successor, Vice President Gore, may be in hotter water. Facing a possible contempt citation by Congress, Attorney General Janet Reno was said last week to be reconsidering seeking appointment of an independent counsel to probe Mr. Gore's role in soliciting illegal campaign donations. Justice Department officials leaked word to The New York Times that they have uncovered a memorandum that may establish that Mr. Gore knew he was acting unlawfully. The new memo may allow Ms. Reno to change her mind on the independent counsel without looking like she had caved in to congressional pressure. Public pressure on the independent counsel, meanwhile, began to mount. About two-thirds of Americans want the investigation to end-69 percent in an ABC News poll, 65 percent in a CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll, and 63 percent in a CBS News/New York Times poll, all taken after Clinton's address to the nation. And the president's job-approval ratings remain steady, above 60 percent. But while polls also claim to show American citizens are tired of news about the Clinton scandals, other data show the opposite. Nielsen Media Research estimated that more Americans watched the presidential address than watched President Nixon deliver his resignation speech in 1974. More than 67.6 million viewers watched the "spectacle" the president says now the public should turn away from. On the Internet, CNN's Web site reported 20.4 million "hits" the day of the president's testimony; that is 31 percent higher than's heaviest day ever. On television, the upstart Fox News Channel's speech coverage and analysis drew the network's highest viewership since its launch in October 1996. CNN said its TV ratings were the highest since the 1995 verdict in the O.J. Simpson criminal trial. The slow-speed Starr probe has finally hit the accelerator.


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