The White House's Last Stand

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WASHINGTON: The fight is not out of Bill Clinton. In a terse speech of less than five minutes, Clinton admitted a great many things -- a "not appropriate" relationship with Lewinsky, something close to perjury in the Jones case -- but he drew the line at details, and he drew the line at the issue of suborning perjury. Then he dared Ken Starr to come get him.

One of Starr's few smart soundbites has been to insist that his investigation -- from Whitewater to Monica -- has been about conspiracy, buying silence, and fighting the investigation itself at every turn. And he's not without leads. "Clinton's problems are, with the possible retrieval of gifts, whether he told Monica to lie" and whether he told Betty Currie to lie, says TIME Washington correspondent Michael Weisskopf. "But he may have been able to skirt the line between suggesting something be kept quiet and actually suborning perjury."

Starr may indeed have more than that. But in private, White House staffers have reserved their unequivocal denials for the subornation issue -- a rare degree of confidence for that demoralized bunch -- and a sign that perhaps, after all those subpoenas, Ken Starr may not have enough to beat out the power of one Clinton confessional.