WASHINGTON -- The face -- framed by a legendary bubble of thick black hair -- is one of the most recognizable on the planet. The voice, too -- clear and strong, yet with unmistakable nuances of youth -- has been heard before, if only from tape recordings.
But yesterday, for the first time since Monica Samille Lewinsky commanded center stage in the premiere drama of the past year, the public got the chance to put the face and the voice together and see the former White House intern speak about her relationship with the president.
In opening his presentation at the Senate impeachment trial of President Clinton yesterday, House prosecutor James E. Rogan of California tried to portray Lewinsky, 25, as a victim of President Clinton's misconduct.
"The day has finally arrived," Rogan said, when the Senate would hear from Lewinsky, "a bright lady whose life has forever been marked by the most powerful man on earth."
But through the videotaped deposition of Lewinsky -- snippets of which were played in the Senatechamber along with those of Clinton confidant Vernon E. Jordan Jr. and White House aide Sidney Blumenthal -- TV viewers saw a serious, self-assured and composed young woman who appeared neither victim nor sexual temptress.
Dressed demurely in a tailored black coat-dress with a single strand of pearls, the Lewinsky on tape yesterday was a far cry from the breathless Californian whose desperation over her relationship with the president -- begun with a flash of her thong -- was shared with the world through deposition transcripts and Linda R. Tripp's secretly recorded audiotapes.
There was no weeping, no fretting, none of the obsessive rants that marked her phone conversations with Tripp.
In a deposition taped Monday, the wide-eyed, stone-faced Lewinsky appeared as poised and practiced as a lawyer, staring intently at her questioner, Rep. Ed Bryant of Tennessee, and often responding to questions with a mere "correct" or a declaration that she stood by her previous grand jury testimony.
The ease with which she answered questions seemed to reflect the dozens of times she has testified about her relationship with Clinton and the company she has frequently kept since the scandal erupted -- lawyers.
In one exchange, reminiscent of Clinton's answers in his grand jury testimony, Lewinsky was asked if the "cover stories" she and the president devised to explain her visits to the Oval Office were misleading and thus not the whole truth.
"They were literally true, but they would be misleading, so, incomplete," she said.
Glimpse of girlishness
But through her curt, well-rehearsed answers to the House prosecutor's questions, glimmers of the young and girlish Monica Lewinsky occasionally peeked through.
She often tossed her head back to swing hair out of her eyes, cocked her head to the side as she listened and answered questions with the tell-tale rising inflection of a teen: Asked where she went to college, for instance, she responded, "Lewis and Clark? In Portland, Oregon?"
Neither the House prosecutors nor the White House lawyers used the few portions of her testimony that dealt with details of Lewinsky's sexual encounters with the president. And exchanges that revealed Lewinsky's sense of humor and efforts to charm her inquisitors were conspicuously left out.
But in recalling scenes from her relationship with Clinton, Lewinsky allowed a bashful smile to creep upon her full, generally down-turned lips.
When describing how Jordan once suggested to her that she was in love with the president, she cast her eyes down and smiled. "I probably blushed or giggled or something," Lewinsky said in recalling her response.
Asked if she thought it was odd that the president gave her additional gifts after she had been subpoenaed by lawyers for Paula Corbin Jones -- and ordered to produce gifts given to her by the president -- she smiled and said, "I was happy to get them."
Underscoring her youth
The House prosecutors tried to underscore Lewinsky's youth, opening their presentation yesterday with a video clip of the former White House staffer raising her right hand -- a strikingly round, childlike hand -- in an oath to tell the truth.
"Who is this former intern who swore under oath to tell the truth?" Rogan asked the Senate. "Monica Lewinsky is an intelligent, articulate young woman who until recently held untarnished hopes for tomorrow -- like any other recent college graduate."
After showing another video snippet, in which Lewinsky recounts college internships, Rogan continued: "That image, the image of a young woman very much like a family member or a friend that we might know, is an image that the president did not want America to see."
After more than a year of fleeting glimpses of Lewinsky darting in and out of hotels or restaurants and always surrounded by media, yesterday's video presentation was a sort of debut for the woman at the center of the scandal that has resulted in only the second presidential impeachment in U.S. history.
"Now you've seen her for what she really is," Sen. Larry E. Craig, an Idaho Republican said after yesterday's presentation. "Is she a stalker today? No. Is she a predator or someone of that type? No."
Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer was underwhelmed. "I don't think it's a bombshell one way or the other to see her and to put the voice and the face together."
Little new information
Although Lewinsky appeared, for the most part, an earnest and cooperative witness -- often nodding along with the House prosecutors' questions -- she gave the Republicans little if any new information, at times challenged their questions with searching or quizzical eyes and continued to insist that the president never encouraged her to lie.
While the House prosecutors used her deposition sparingly in their presentation yesterday, White House lawyer Nicole Seligman used more extensive clips, saying the House Republicans "cleverly snipped here and there" to give a distorted view of Lewinsky's testimony.
In one segment played over and over by Seligman, Lewinsky said that the president suggested to her she could possibly sign an affidavit to avoid testifying in the Paula Corbin Jones case but that the two of them never discussed what the affidavit would say.
"He didn't discuss the content of my affidavit with me at all, ever," Lewinsky said.
Bryant asked if she understood the implications of filing a false affidavit.
"I don't think I necessarily thought at that point it would have to be false," she responded in Clintonesque fashion.
"Did you know what an affidavit was?" Bryant asked.
The young woman, who clearly knows more about the law today than she did a year ago, responded with appealing candor: "Ummm, sort of."
At the trial
Tomorrow: The Senate "court of impeachment" resumes at 1 p.m. House prosecutors and President Clinton's defense lawyers each have up to three hours to make closing arguments. A vote may be taken tomorrow on holding the Senate's deliberations on the articles of impeachment in open session.
Tuesday, Wednesday and perhaps Thursday: The Senate debates the articles of impeachment.
Thursday or Friday: The Senate votes on the articles of impeachment, one at a time. The votes on the articles will conclude the trial. No procedure has yet been arranged for any action on a proposal to censure the president.
Pub Date: 2/07/99