Clinton's Anticlimax

The President's grand jury testimony is aired, and the Earth doesn't move. How could four hours of sex talk be so dull?

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WASHINGTON: Four and a half hours later, are we any the wiser? For anyone seeking a smoking gun or salacious new details in the Lewinsky case, President Clinton's grand jury testimony tape was distinctly disappointing. Indeed, very little of what the President said -- from his definition of sex in the Paula Jones case to his defense of the gifts he gave Lewinsky -- could not be read or inferred from the 445-page Starr report. What had remained unseen, until Monday, was the way it was delivered. And while his text amounted to hairsplitting and none-too-subtle filibustering, Clinton brought all his speechmaking skills to bear in his testimony. "Legal parsing looks a lot better on TV than when you sit down and study it," says TIME Washington correspondent Jay Branegan.

Special Report But where was that famous Clinton temper? Reports of presidential pique, it seems, were somewhat exaggerated. The witness remained controlled, if not entirely calm, throughout. And that may leave GOP members of the House Judiciary committee wondering if they weren't suckered into rushing the tape out with more fanfare than they intended. "The White House certainly thinks Republicans are guilty of playing a clumsy expectations game," says Branegan. That may backfire politically; on the other hand, many viewers may simply write the whole video episode off as an inevitable, unwatchable anticlimax. As one Clinton aide joked: "Only a roomful of lawyers could make four hours of sex sound boring."