Following the Lewinsky Script

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WASHINGTON: It was, without a doubt, the most embarrassing moment in the Clinton presidency. Imagine: The commander-in-chief forced to answer questions about seven supposed sexual relations in front of his accuser, prosecutors, a judge -- and two video technicians.

Thursday’s leaking of Clinton’s January 17 deposition in the Paula Jones case also looked like a low point for the President. “Somebody in this case should follow the law,” said a seemingly exasperated Clinton, explaining why he wouldn’t say more about testimony the whole world has now read.

Special Report Actually, the President is not legally prevented from commenting on the Jones case. Only his lawyers are covered by the judge’s gag order. But that doesn’t matter. One plausible theory is that a blueprint has been laid down by the release of the deposition -- a script for all future grand jury witnesses to follow, without the President having to utter a word.

Example: Clinton supporters did not hesitate to point out a nice dovetail between Vernon Jordan’s grand jury testimony and what the President said in his own deposition about Betty Currie initiating the Lewinsky job search. “The President’s version is coherent, consistent with what Mr. Jordan has said, and credible,” said former White House counsel Lanny Davis. He was still annoyed that the deposition was leaked, of course. But how convenient that it was.

Furthermore, the revelations clear the way for a tentative White House spin first picked up by CBS News on February 28: That the President and the intern merely kissed. Since that was not covered by the Jones lawyers’ definition of sexual relations, it is consistent with the President’s testimony. The CBS report was denied by the White House, but the idea has now been aired. Indeed, "it's not the first time we've heard about it," says TIME Washington correspondent Jeff McAllister.

Should Monica ever get around to testifying, and should her testimony remain the same, the President may feel able to relieve himself of the gag order. “We only kissed” could well become the “I did not inhale” of the Lewinsky crisis -- with a solitary soundbite, Clinton has his escape route.