Clinton's Testimony Trial Balloon

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WASHINGTON: This could be Bill Clinton's greatest escape yet. With Ken Starr preparing a tightly-wound perjury trap, the President's options are limited. If he continues to deny a relationship with Monica Lewinsky in front of the grand jury Monday, Starr has an armory of evidence that suggests otherwise. Now senior advisers are floating the possiblity that Clinton will admit to sex with Monica without contradicting his previous denial of the affair -- because the definition of sex he was shown in the Paula Jones case was incomplete. This legal loophole, says TIME Deputy Washington Bureau Chief Jef McAlister, "presents Clinton with a potential 'get out of jail free' card."

Back in January's Jones deposition, the only definition of sex applied to Clinton's relationship with Lewinsky -- and not struck down by the judge -- was this: "Contact with the genitalia, anus, groin, breast, inner thigh or buttocks of any person with an intent to arouse or gratify the sexual desire of any person." As McAllister notes, Clinton could technically argue that under this definition, oral sex performed on him by Lewinsky means that he did not have "sexual relations" with her even though she did with him. Since perjury requires a conscious lie, McAllister says there is enough ambiguity there "to create a colorable argument that Clinton did not completely understand what he was answering, and thus did not commit perjury." Which may be enough to get him off the legal hook. But will the American public accept that the President had only this definition in mind when he looked them in the eye and said he did not have sexual relations with "that woman"? No-one at the White House knows for sure -- hence the tentative trial balloon.