For seven months, President Clinton tried to keep his illicit affair secret. Friday, it all came out - much of it in the words of the one-time lover whose often lurid tale of White House romance is likely to shock many Americans and threaten his presidency.
The sexually graphic testimony of Monica Lewinsky provided the gist of the case built by independent counsel Ken-neth Starr in a 445-page report accusing Clinton of lying under oath about his affair and using the power of his office to cover it up.The report's steaming prose, released raw and uncensored to the country on the Internet, is certain to cause devastating embarrassment to the president, his family and many others. And its charges, serious allegations of wrongdoing, are likely to invite impeachment hearings and threaten the remaining two years of his term in office.
The sensational report recounts 10 specific sexual encounters in the White House between Clinton and Lewinsky, including one after he returned from Easter Sunday church services with his wife.
It also paints a portrait of a lovestruck young woman who had a crush on the president, who told friends that Clinton spoke of leaving his wife after his presidency, who dreamed of becoming his wife.
And it tells of a husband and politician so eager to cover up the affair that, according to the charges, he twice lied under oath about it, tried to obstruct justice by seeking to keep investigators from finding gifts he had given Lewinsky, tampered with witnesses and abused the power of his office by enlisting White House aides in a seven-month coverup.
"President William Jefferson Clinton," the report says, "committed acts that may constitute grounds for an impeachment."
On Friday, Clinton maintained a two-track response, confessing that he sinned but strenuously denying that he committed impeachable crimes.
Appearing before religious leaders at a sober White House prayer breakfast, Clinton again asked for forgiveness from the country and for the first time extended words of remorse to Monica Lewinsky and her family. But he insisted that while repenting, he will fight any attempt to impeach him.
"I will instruct my lawyers to mount a vigorous defense, using all available appropriate arguments," he said. "But legal language must not obscure the fact that I have done wrong."
In a sign that the revelations could severely damage Clinton politically among one of his most loyal constituencies, women, one of the quickest and angriest reactions came from Patricia Ireland, president of the National Organization for Women. She said Clinton "betrayed the trust of the women who supported him."
"President Clinton may not have violated the letter of the law," she said, "but he most certainly betrayed its spirit. And in doing so, he threatened the dignity and respect of millions of women who must face bosses and co-workers with the false impression that such behavior is acceptable."
In Congress, many members reserved judgment, heading home for a weekend with constituents before commenting.
One, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said it will be up to the Congress to decide whether Clinton committed impeachable offenses. He said some senators have started researching how they would handle an impeachment if it were approved by the House and sent to the Senate for trial.
But Clinton's lawyers launched an aggressive counterattack at Starr in a 73-page preliminary response, challenging his conclusions and questioning his motives. They promised a more detailed response today.
"This private mistake does not amount to an impeachable offense," said the statement from nine attorneys headed by Clinton's personal lawyer, David Kendall, and White House Counsel Charles Ruff.
"In the face of the president's admission of his relationship, the disclosure of lurid and salacious allegations can only be intended to humiliate the president and force him from office."
But Starr and his legal team insisted that their case centers on the affair between Clinton and Lewinsky and that they had to resort to sordid details to show why they believe Clinton lied.
"Unfortunately, the nature of the president's denials requires that the contrary evidence be set forth in detail," they said.
Starr and his deputies made no charges relating to the other subjects they have investigated for four years, at a cost of more than $40 million. The inquiry started with allegations of financial wrongdoing in the Whitewater land deal from Clinton's days as governor of Arkansas, then expanded to include questions about the White House travel office, and the White House use of FBI files on Republicans.
Instead, the Starr team leveled 11 specific charges against Clinton relating to his relationship with Lewinsky. Each found "substantial and credible" evidence of offenses potentially worthy of impeachment. The offenses came under the broader areas of perjury, obstruction of justice and abuse of power.
"There is substantial and credible information that the president's lies about his relationship with Ms. Lewinsky were abundant and calculating," the Starr report said.
It said that Clinton lied first in a Jan. 17 deposition he gave under oath in a sexual harassment lawsuit filed against him by former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones. Her lawyers were trying to show that Clinton had a history of having sex with employees, and they interviewed Lewinsky. The lawsuit has since been dismissed.
On Easter Sunday, April 7, 1996, the report says, he and Lewinsky had a sexual encounter in a hallway outside the Oval Office after Clinton returned from church with his wife, a day when he was still mourning the death of his friend, Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, in an airplane crash.
It also quoted Lewinsky saying she and Clinton engaged in arousing "phone sex" about 15 times, each time initiated by a call from Clinton.
The report said Clinton repeated the perjury when he testified before Starr's grand jury in August.
"Either Monica Lewinsky lied to the grand jury or President Clinton lied to the grand jury," the report said. "Under any rational view of the evidence, the president lied to the grand jury."
Also, the report accuses Clinton of trying to obstruct justice by working to keep Lewinsky quiet and to keep investigators from finding evidence of their relationship.
The report portrays the president as far more deeply involved in the effort to find Lewinsky a job than has been previously disclosed, at one point meeting with her in the Oval Office dining room to discuss employment prospects. Clinton personally called Lewinsky at home on Dec. 17 to tell her that she was on a list of potential witnesses in the Paula Jones case, according to the report.
During that conversation, the report said, Clinton and Lewinsky discussed cover stories they had used months earlier to conceal their relationship from co-workers and, presumably, the president's wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Although the report cites no evidence that the president explicitly told her to lie, it quotes Lewinksy's grand jury testimony in which she says the implication of the conversation was that she should deny that the two had had a sexual relationship.
Starr also charged that Clinton sought to throw investigators off the track by coaching his secretary Betty Currie to give misleading information about his relationship with Lewinsky.
Following his Jan. 17 deposition in the Paula Jones case, Clinton summoned Currie to the Oval Office for a meeting the following day. The president, according to the report, led Currie through a series of questions that appeared to suggest she give misleading information about whether he and Lewinsky ever met privately in the Oval Office.
During this meeting, the president asked Currie, "We were never alone, right?" and "Monica came on to me and I never touched her, right?" the report said.
Starr also accused the president of obstructing justice by telling senior staff, including chief of staff Erskine Bowles, his deputy John Podesta and adviser Sidney Blumenthal, that he never had a sexual relationship with Lewinsky, knowing that they would repeat that assertion to Starr's grand jury.
The report also charged Clinton with abusing the powers of his office. Starr said the president's public denials of the affair led to enlisting unwitting White House aides and Cabinet members in his defense and eventually months of court battles - all to conceal the liaison with Lewinsky.
"While refusing to testify for seven months," the report said, "he simultaneously lied to potential grand jury witnesses knowing that they would relay the falsehoods to the grand jury."
Clinton's actions, according to Starr's report, are "inconsistent with the president's constitutional duty to faithfully execute the law."
The House authorized the report's release after a contentious debate in which many Democrats complained that it was unfair to release it to the public before letting the president's lawyers have an advance look so they could better prepare a response.
"This is like giving him a fair trial and then hanging him," said Rep. W.G. `Bill' Hefner, D-N.C., who is retiring from Congress in December. "This (impeachment process) is political and I regret it, and it's one of the reasons I'm going to be so glad that I'm getting out of here."
But the House approved the release by a vote of 363-63 anyway.
The president's lawyers quickly released a detailed rebuttal based on what they believed would be in the report. (See story on Page A1.)