Pressing Clinton

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WASHINGTON: Ah, democracy in action -- and about time, too. Not that President Clinton's first solo news conference of 1998 actually told us much, beyond the fact that the President isn't going to tell us any more about l'affaire Lewinsky. What happened to the promise, made back in January, to tell his side of the story "sooner rather than later"? "You have more information than you did when I said that," said Clinton. "I have nothing else to say."

What the President did offer in an otherwise lackluster performance was his first veiled attack on what Hillary would call right-wing conspiracists -- "All these people who have been working hard on this for seven years now" -- and his assessment of their impact. "They can affect my reputation," Clinton admitted, "but they can't affect my character." Although it was a sound bite he liked enough to say twice, administration officials swear this is not their latest spin. TIME White House correspondent Karen Tumulty disagrees. "He's trying to turn the character issue to his own advantage," she says -- a "sticks and stones may break my bones" strategy. Which may well work. But with Webster Hubbell indicted and Lewinsky herself facing a possible court appearance, Ken Starr is throwing some pretty sizable sticks.