Just A Sex Cover-Up?: High Crimes? Or Just A Sex Cover-Up?

Starr shows all the ways Clinton tried to keep Monica quiet. It's not Watergate

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I feel like a character in a novel," Bill Clinton told an aide on the day the Lewinsky scandal broke. With equal parts self-pity and deceit, the President cast himself as the protagonist in Darkness at Noon, Arthur Koestler's 1941 classic about the victim of a totalitarian witch-hunt. Eight months later, in the pages of Kenneth Starr's report to Congress, Clinton finds himself the villain in a much trashier tale, a fetid blend of libido and legalese that reads like Jackie Collins by way of the Congressional Quarterly.

"In the course of flirting with him, she raised her jacket in the back and showed him the straps of her thong underwear, which extended above her pants," the report says, describing Clinton and Monica Lewinsky's first encounter, on Nov. 15, 1995. Later that night, according to her testimony, "she and the President kissed. She unbuttoned her jacket; either she unhooked her bra or he lifted her bra up; and he touched her breasts with his hands and mouth." Then he took a call from a Congressman while she performed oral sex on him.

As numbing and repetitive as any porn, the narrative is clinical and sad, a recitation of furtive gropings and panicky zipping-ups between two profoundly needy people, one of whom happened to be the leader of the free world. While Clinton's lawyers thunder that the endless tawdry details serve no purpose but to "humiliate the President and force him from office," Starr argues that Clinton himself made them necessary. Starr's office had originally planned to confine the seamier material to a secret sex appendix, a Starr ally told TIME. But because the President lied so long and hard, the report maintains, Starr had no choice but to include the particulars that proved that, despite Clinton's parsing of the term and even by the tortuous definition used in the Paula Jones deposition, Clinton and Lewinsky had sex, and Clinton lied to cover it up.

No one outside the White House will be quibbling there, thanks to Lewinsky's phenomenal memory and careful record keeping. Awestruck and infatuated though she may have been, Lewinsky was a cool and precise recorder of every moment she spent with Clinton--what they said and did, which Secret Service agents were warily watching them come and go, which aides were shooting daggers at her outside the Oval Office, which phone calls Clinton took during their time together. The narrative relies on Lewinsky's testimony for the particulars of 10 alleged sexual encounters, but to bolster her credibility--she did, after all, perjure herself in her Jones affidavit and cooperated with Starr in exchange for immunity--the report time and again uses White House records and contemporaneous accounts to corroborate her stories. Lewinsky remembers being with Clinton on President's Day 1996, when he spoke to a Florida sugar grower named "something like Fanuli." Phone logs show Clinton spoke to sugar baron Alfonso Fanjul that day. Lewinsky says that during three sexual encounters, Clinton was on the phone with Congressmen; during another, he took a call from his disgraced consultant Dick Morris; in each case, phone logs bear out her account. (Lewinsky says she was performing a sex act on Clinton while he spoke to Alabama Representative Sonny Callahan. The lawmaker, aghast, says they were discussing American troops in Bosnia.)

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