Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Testimony from Clinton on Whitewater Calms Some Fears of Democrats

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Testimony from Clinton on Whitewater Calms Some Fears of Democrats

Article excerpt

President Bill Clinton's steady performance in his videotaped Whitewater testimony - and the general lack of public interest in the issue - could keep any political damage to a minimum.

Still, Clinton aides remain apprehensive that snippets will one day end up in damaging Republican campaign ads.

Polls suggest voter interest in Whitewater is minimal at a time when the president's popularity is soaring. He leads Sen. Bob Dole in national public opinion polls by at least 20 points.

"People have steadfastly ignored Whitewater over the course of the past six months," said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

Kohut said he didn't think Clinton's testimony, played Thursday in a trial in Little Rock, would make much difference to Clinton's political fortunes even if the judge in the trial allowed the tape to be made public.

So why are Clinton's strategists so worried?

Clinton is the first sitting president to give testimony in a criminal trial in which his own conduct is at issue, a point that Republicans are sure to make if they ever use the tape to produce that political commercial.

"There's a way to present it that kind of smells nefarious," said independent media consultant David Garth.

And, despite Clinton's generally poised performance, "In 3 1/2 hours (the length of the testimony) there's certainly got to be a phrase, a line, an expression that could be taken out of context," Garth said. "What the White House is afraid of is the risk that it would be chopped up and used in 30-second or 60-second spots."

Ann Lewis, Clinton's deputy campaign manager, said Friday: "We know they would use it. There's no question over whether they will use it."

Clinton and his aides want U.S. District Judge George Howard Jr. to keep the tape under wraps, even though it has been played in the courtroom and transcripts made available. …

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