Cautious Hope at the White House Clinton's Team Is Buoyed by Public Opinion but Knows Dangers Still Lie Ahead

Article excerpt

Are the worst of the Lewinsky gales over for the White House? Or is a resurgent Clinton team simply operating in that deceptively calm place that's the eye of the storm?

Certainly a reenergized White House is more confident than it's been in months, drinking in the life-giving polls that show 65 percent of Americans believe Bill Clinton should finish his term.

The sense among President Clinton's aides is that the most damaging of the Starr allegations and evidence have been released, and that their impact is not fatal.

"It's like an asteroid that's smaller than people expected, or even a near miss," says Jim Kennedy, a White House spokesman.

Mr. Clinton's reinforced anti-impeachment team, meanwhile, is up and running, joined by a group of outside advisers consisting of former members of Congress and the White House staff and Democratic lawyers and pollsters.

But Mr. Kennedy downplays the confident mood, explaining, "there's a cautious sense of optimism. We're realists here - it's never wise to predict the future."

The caution is well-founded. Dangers ahead include November's midterm congressional elections and the expectation that conservative Republicans will turn out with enough strength to hand significant gains to the GOP. Meanwhile, the White House still has a challenge in uniting Democrats on the Hill behind Clinton.

Add to that the likelihood that the House will vote next month to start impeachment hearings - as opposed to a quick process that ends with a mere presidential censure. Then there's the possibility that the hearings could expand to include other alleged Clinton- administration wrongs, though that seems less probable at the moment.

Given the history of surprises in this case and the unknowns ahead, "any developments on a day-to-day basis, or even a week-to- week basis, count little," advises Viet Dinh, a Georgetown University law professor and former member of the Senate Whitewater Committee.

Still, White House insiders and outsiders consider last week a turning point of sorts, especially the videotape of the president's grand-jury testimony.

Certainly, the testimony illustrated the persuasiveness of the orator-in-chief. The president took control from the outset, and kept it. He used questions of specificity to launch into soliloquies of context. …