The week's big news, and how's it's being spun.
Dec. 9 1998 3:30 AM



The Clintometer Aug. 18: Polls show that 1) Clinton's favorable rating falls, but 2) his job approval rating holds firm and 3) people want the investigation to end. One Democrat in Congress calls for Clinton's resignation, but Democratic leaders say the country should move on. (FRAME GAME: Further analysis--O.J. or Rodney?) 15%

Aug. 14: Advisers tell the press Clinton is discussing a possible confession. Theory 1: This will end the investigation and discourage Congress from taking up impeachment. Theory 2: The blood is in the water. (FRAME GAME: An analysis of the state of play.) 16%

Aug. 12: The Washington Post reports that Starr will probably confine his pre-election report to Lewinsky and not focus on Whitewater or Filegate. Starr tries to determine whether a Secret Service officer saw Clinton and Lewinsky in an intimate encounter. (FRAME GAME: Starr's drifting investigation of successive layers of conspiracy.) 13%

Aug. 11: Clinton's lawyers use mock cross-examinations, reportedly with advice from Hillary, to prep him for testimony. TV producer Harry Thomason is expected to join the coaching staff. The Wall Street Journal reports Clinton's "deft handling of questions" in his Paula Jones deposition gave him "more legal escape hatches than is often recognized." 13%

Aug. 10: Appeals court confirms Starr must prove his office didn't leak grand jury secrets. Clinton's defenders ponder "modified mea culpa" option. (FRAME GAME: An analysis of this strategy.)13%

Aug. 7: Lewinsky testifies, reportedly saying that 1) they had an affair; and 2) they discussed "cover stories" to conceal it; but 3) Clinton never explicitly told her to commit perjury. She has also reportedly told prosecutors that 4) Clinton discussed in hypothetical terms how she could avoid relinquishing gifts from him to Paula Jones' lawyers; but 5) no explicit quid pro quo was ever mentioned when Clinton's friends helped her seek a new job. Pundits think obstruction of justice will be hard to prove. The White House spin: Let's get this over with. Republicans say they don't want to pursue impeachment because 1) the sex stuff is distasteful; 2) they don't want a constitutional crisis; 3) if they delve into Clinton's sex life his "War Room" will delve into theirs; and 4) they can hurt Clinton more discreetly just by leaking Starr's report. 15%

Aug. 5: Democrats rally around Clinton for the time being. Clinton advisers are forced to testify but continue to claim confidentiality privileges. Lewinsky testimony is reportedly scheduled for Aug. 6, giving Clinton plenty of time to size up Starr's evidence and fashion his Aug. 17 testimony accordingly. (FRAME GAME: Clinton's possible delayed-confession strategy.)

April 3: Starr vows to press on, but dismissal of the Paula Jones case emboldens Democrats--and prods Republicans--to demand that he wrap it up. Congressional circular file awaits his report. 4%

April 1: Judge throws out Paula Jones case on the grounds that she failed to demonstrate she had suffered job discrimination or sexual harrassment. Pundits are surprised. Starr probe continues. 6%

March 30: Key grand jury witness Betty Currie appears delighted to be touring Africa with Clinton. Pundits are insufficiently impressed by the Paula Jones team's latest claim that Clinton suppressed Kathleen Willey's letters. Republicans continue to come up with reasons not to pick up the impeachment hot potato. 11%

March 27: 1) Starr subpoenas evidence from Paula Jones' lawyers regarding other women who may be linked to Clinton, thereby lending credence to the White House line that he's merging with the Jones team. 2) He subpoenas records of Lewinsky's book purchases, thereby outraging civil libertarians. 3) Lewinsky's mother is forced to submit to further grand jury interrogation about her daughter's sex life, thereby offending everyone else. 12%

March 25: Even in Africa, reporters grill Clinton about invoking executive privilege. Editorialists complain, correctly and impotently, that the side debate over executive privilege will postpone resolution of the sex and cover-up scandals until after the 1998 elections. 13%

March 23: Clinton's invocation of executive privilege temporarily puts out one fire (possible forced testimony by top aides) but starts another (sharper comparisons to Nixon). Gloria Steinem and Anita Hill say the incident alleged by Kathleen Willey isn't sexual harassment because 1) Clinton, unlike Clarence Thomas and Bob Packwood, "took 'no' for an answer" and 2) Willey doesn't claim to have suffered retribution on the job for rejecting him. Republican women senators denounce Clinton's "unwanted touching." Clinton sneaks off to Africa. 13%

March 20: Clinton's polls hold firm, and Willey's 60 Minutes interview earns her a weeklong media beating over her friendly letters to Clinton (Tuesday), her book deal negotiations (Wednesday), and a friend's claim that Willey asked her to lie (Thursday). Republicans in Congress appear confused and terrified by what to do when Kenneth Starr hands them his evidence. Clinton-hating pundits, in disgust, resume scorning the public for its apathy and rationalizing that if we don't punish Clinton, history will. 14 %

March 18: Coverage of Willey's book deal negotiations and her friendly letters to Clinton turns momentum against her. Polls show 1) the public is split on whether to believe her; 2) most consider the alleged Willey incident a private matter; 3) most don't deem her charges against Clinton more serious than those made by other women; and 4) Clinton's approval rating remains high. 17%

March 16: Willey accusation rekindles hopes of a Clinton ouster. Sen. Hatch, R-Utah, says if her story pans out, "this presidency would be over." National Organization for Women President Patricia Ireland calls the alleged behavior "sexual assault," signaling that feminist groups might finally renounce Clinton. Next question: Can Starr nail Democratic fund-raiser Nathan Landow for allegedly trying to silence Willey? 18%

The Starrometer

March 13: Lewinsky's and Clinton's lawyers ask the judge to rule that Starr has violated grand jury rules by leaking testimony. Clinton aides signal that if Congress pushes ahead with Starr's findings, they'll attack GOP for derailing "the people's business." 8%

March 11: 1) Lott drops pressure on Starr and tells Clinton to "call off his attack dogs" and stop "stonewalling" Starr. 2) Starr gets his first key cooperating witness: Kathleen Willey. 3) Four former attorneys general defend Starr. 4) Report of negotiations for Clinton testimony signals that grand jury testimony will end within weeks and that Starr won't further wound himself by forcing Clinton to testify via subpoena. 8%

March 9: Bad weekend. 1) Trent Lott says Starr "needs to wrap it up" and either indict people or "close it out." In lieu of impeachment, Lott suggests congressional censure of Clinton. 2) Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., says GOP shouldn't press for impeachment without an "open and shut case" of subornation of perjury. He adds that censure wouldn't "be worth a tinker's damn." 3) Newt Gingrich and Bill Bennett disagree with Lott and imply that he's gone wacky. 4) Jim McDougal dies. 5) Ginsburg lunches with Clinton lawyer David Kendall to discuss joint action against "the orchestrated campaign of leaks by Starr's office." The spin: Republicans are divided over whether to cave in to a) the Christian right's demands for impeachment proceedings or b) polls indicating that Starr's probe might be a GOP albatross in this year's elections. 10%

March 7: The good news: 1) He drops investigation of White House smear campaign against him and gets back to investigating alleged perjury. 2) Lawsuit seeking to oust him for conflict of interest (due to alleged right-wing links) runs into technical obstacle. The bad news: 1) Lewinsky's lawyer Ginsburg begins courtroom battle against him, limiting Starr's options for securing Lewinsky testimony. 2) Poll shows public thinks Starr has gone too far. 7%

March 4: 1) Attorney in General Motors case tells Justice Department that Starr, as GM's attorney, tried to "cover up" perjury by a GM executive through "intentional abuse of the attorney-client privilege." White House aides accuse Starr of hypocrisy. 2) Starr cancels plans to interrogate National Enquirer investigators who checked out his love life. 3) Pundits liken his punishment of reporters to infamous exploitation of the 1798 Sedition Act. 4) Tired grand jurors force him to cut back the investigation's pace. 8%

March 2: Having shot himself in both feet with subpoenas of Blumenthal and Lenzner, Starr fires again by subpoenaing private investigators who were hired by the National Enquirer to check out Starr's love life. Pundits, amazed, cease debating Clinton's fate and begin debating Starr's. White House aide Rahm Emanuel calls for end of Whitewater probe; Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt., says Starr should resign; and Republican senators criticize Starr's excesses. Starr's unpopularity in polls reaches Gingrichian proportions. Most delicious irony: Starr's deputies apparently begin to leak stories criticizing him and exonerating themselves. 7%

The Clintometer

Feb. 27: Sid Blumenthal bares his Starr-inflicted wounds before the cameras, achieving in publicity the spin triumph that eluded him in anonymity. Pundits hoot or wince at Starr's idiocy, depending on their political orientation. 12%

Feb. 25: Starr commits suicide by subpoenaing Clinton spinner Sid Blumenthal and private investigator Terry Lenzner to determine whether they've given reporters dirt on his prosecutors. Accomplishments: 1) Starr infuriates the press by appearing to threaten its freedom. 2) He lets the White House sucker him into a procedural side debate, distracting him and the media from the main question of a Lewinsky job-offer cover-up. 3) He buries the same-day story that the White House is asserting executive privilege à la Nixon. 4) He ruins what's left of his credibility by appearing to treat his investigation as a political vendetta. Bonus: The Justice Department decides to oppose testimony by Secret Service agents. 12%

Feb. 23: Jordan says Clinton didn't tell him that Lewinsky was a potential witness in the Jones case. Pundits regain hope that Jordan will slip Clinton the shiv--and that if it comes down to Jordan's word against Clinton's, Clinton will lose. 22%

Feb. 20: Lewinsky's father likens Starr's tactics to McCarthyism, Nazism, and the Inquisition. American Bar Association president suggests that Starr has manipulated Lewinsky unethically and is inflating "the hiding of noncriminal, sexual indiscretion into a criminal obstruction of justice." Clinton's legal advisers skirmished with prosecutors over whether executive privilege shields Bruce Lindsey and other top aides from testifying about presidential confidences. 19%

Feb. 19: Prosecutors say Jordan had four meetings and at least seven phone conversations with Lewinsky in a month--evidently to help her land a new job-prompted by a request from Clinton's secretary, three days after Paula Jones' lawyers named Lewinsky as a potential witness in the Jones case. 20%

Feb. 18: Clinton pal Bruce Lindsey testifies. Alleged Clinton gropee Kathleen Willey is reportedly subpoenaed. Pundits theorize that McCurry's comments were a "trial balloon" for a modified admission that Clinton was intimate with Lewinsky. Moralists, beginning to dread that Clinton will spin his way successfully through such an admission, hold out hope that the public is merely in denial and will eventually turn on Clinton as it did on Nixon. 17%

Feb. 17: Mike McCurry tells the Chicago Tribune: 1) Clinton probably can't provide "a simple, innocent explanation" for his relationship with Lewinsky; 2) Clinton's lawyers worry that if Clinton talks, "Starr will squeeze enough people to say, 'Well, that's just not true' or develop some way of impeaching the story"; 3) "at some point," Clinton will have to provide a "fuller account"; and 4) Clinton is withholding his comments from aides because he fears they will leak what he says. McCurry also says that the Clinton-Lewinsky relationship will turn out to be a "very complicated story" but later dismisses this as sheer speculation. 17%

Feb. 13: Former Secret Service officer retracts claim that he saw Clinton and Lewinsky alone together. Lewinsky lawyer William Ginsburg says client is "angry" at Starr's prosecutors for "torturing" her mother. Congressional Democrats rally behind Clinton. 16%

Feb. 11: Lewinsky testimony postponed. Former Secret Service officer says Lewinsky was alone with Clinton for 40 minutes one weekend. 19%

Feb. 10: Lewinsky faces subpoena to testify tomorrow. What will she say? Polls show it may not matter: Sixty-two percent of pollees say the Clinton-Lewinsky relationship isn't a public concern, and 57 percent think Starr should drop the investigation. 20%

Feb. 9: Clinton wows pundits by deflating media excitement over Currie testimony. Aided by Lewinsky's lawyer, White House successfully deflects scrutiny to Starr and alleged grand-jury leaks. Pundits begin to realize that Starr will have to hand off his probe to Congress, where Clinton's political popularity will stymie it. 22%

Feb. 6: The good news for Clinton: Ginsburg ruins Lewinsky as a witness by accusing Starr of "an orchestrated campaign to pressure [her] into statements that are not true." The bad news: Starr now has corroboration from Presidential Secretary Betty Currie that Clinton and Lewinsky were sometimes alone, evidently contrary to Clinton's account. The worse news: Clinton's conversation with Currie about Lewinsky is being construed as an attempt to coach Currie's testimony. 24%

Feb. 5: Starr refuses to grant immunity for testimony proffered by Lewinsky's attorney. Reports say she offered to testify that Clinton had oral sex and encouraged her to be evasive, but not that he had intercourse with her or encouraged her to lie. Lewinsky's attorney threatens Starr with a political firestorm if he prosecutes her. 18%

Feb. 4: Stephanopoulos says Clinton's failure to explain Lewinsky's White House visits raises a "lot of questions." But media show little ability or resolve to get answers. No breakthrough in grand-jury proceedings. 19%

Feb. 3: Records reportedly show Lewinsky visited the White House 37 times after she was moved to a Pentagon job. Clinton aides grope for innocent explanations. Reporters drifting away to cover budget, Iraq. 20%

Feb. 2: Clinton's approval rating hits all-time high. Pundits in abject retreat. 21%

Jan. 30: Lewinsky reportedly isn't offering Starr the testimony he needs to nail Clinton for suborning perjury. Clinton's rising polls and a public backlash against the media feeding frenzy begin to persuade pundits that Clinton will get away with stonewalling. Remaining wild card: Can Starr corroborate orchestration of perjury? 30%

Jan. 29: Lewinsky immunity talks reach impasse. One report indicates she is holding back and may take the Fifth. Associate claims that, according to Lewinsky, Clinton told her in December to testify evasively in the Jones case but evidently did not tell her to lie. State of the Union address boosts Clinton in polls. 34%

Jan. 28: Confident State of the Union speech gives vultures pause. Still no immunity deal for Lewinsky. Lawyer for married man in Oregon says Lewinsky 1) had an affair with his client and terrorized him by threatening to reveal the affair; 2) was sexually obsessed, manipulative, dishonest, and boastful; and 3) told him she was having oral sex with a senior White House official. 35%

Jan. 27: Rumor that a Secret Service agent witnessed a Clinton-Lewinsky tryst fizzles. Hillary calls Starr "politically motivated" and says her marriage is nobody's business. A New York Times poll shows a plurality blames Clinton's enemies for the crisis, and only half think suborning perjury merits his removal. 38%

Jan. 26: Clinton's approval rating recovers in some polls. He denies the affair more explicitly. Hillary stands by him. Lewinsky's credibility questioned. 40%

Jan. 25: ABC reports a Clinton-Lewinsky tryst was witnessed. Polls show support for resignation or impeachment if perjury is proved. But Lewinsky's lawyer says that he knows of no semen-stained dress and that if she's granted immunity, she'll testify that Clinton had an affair with her but not that he asked her to lie. 45%

Jan. 24: Senior Democrats urge Clinton to come clean and, if allegations are true, to resign. 45%

Jan. 23: Clinton's approval rating falls. 40%

Jan. 22: Documentary evidence of Lewinsky affair is reported. Clinton admission of Flowers affair is reported. Stephanopoulos raises prospect of impeachment. 35%


Jan. 21: First report surfaces. Clinton and McCurry issue weak denials and duck questions. 25%