In a videotaped spectacle, President Clinton fenced with prosecutors Monday over charges of perjury and obstruction of justice, admitting only that he had an "inappropriate intimate" relationship with a White House intern that he now regrets.
The Republican-controlled House, which made the tape public along with 3,183 pages of other documents, still must rule on whether the contents of 36 boxes of other evidence will be released by next Monday.
But the ultimate question confronting a badly polarized Congress in the last three weeks of this session is whether to launch an impeachment inquiry against the president.
The Associated Press reported that White House aides were contacting congressional Democrats, hoping to persuade them to speak out in favor of a presidential punishment short of impeachment.
"That the president's conduct does not rise to the level of an impeachable offense should now be clear to everyone," Clinton's chief spokesman Mike McCurry said.
"The process leading up to today's events has been deeply flawed," McCurry added. "The rank partisanship that led to the wholesale release of these materials, most of which are irrelevant, is regrettable."
It was a day of contrasts for the president himself.
As much of the nation watched his humiliating grilling by prosecutors, Clinton was in New York City where he received a prolonged, standing ovation from the United Nations before he gave a speech about terrorism.
The tape of the president's Aug. 17 grand jury testimony, released by Republicans of the House Judiciary Committee, did not live up to its advance billing as a rare look at Clinton losing his composure, snarling, even stomping out of the room.
Instead, viewers saw a composed and patient first witness, whose performance ranged from evasive to steely to combative.
When confronted by prosecutors' questions, many involving graphic language, the president visibly reddened but reverted to a
prepared statement in which he insisted that sexual intercourse is what is meant by "sexual relations."
In the statement, Clinton took responsibility for engaging in "conduct that was wrong" with White House aide Monica S. Lewinsky. But he also blamed his predicament on unnamed financial backers of Paula Jones' lawsuit, on the media and Independent Counsel Kenneth W. Starr, whom Clinton charged with running a biased investigation.
"Just from the tone of your voice and the way you're asking questions here, it's obvious (that you think) this is the most important thing in the world, and that everybody was focused on all the details at the time," Clinton told a prosecutor. "But that's not the way it worked."
The Jones lawsuit is sponsored by his "political enemies," he said.
"Their position was 'we're going to cast the widest net we can and get as much embarrassing stuff as we can, and then dump it out there and see if we can make him bleed.' "
The tape revealed no new evidence that would prove that the president committed perjury after he denied having sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky or obstruction of justice when he testified in Mrs. Jones' sexual misconduct lawsuit in January.
At the same time, his testimony left standing the huge gap between what the president thinks "sexual relations" are and what Ms. Lewinsky, now a prosecution witness, testified Clinton took part in.
"These encounters (with Ms. Lewinsky) did not consist of sexual intercourse," he said. "They did not constitute sexual relations, as I understood that term to be defined at my Jan. 17th, 1998, deposition (in the Jones case).
"But they did involve inappropriate, intimate contact . . . I regret that what began as a friendship came to include this conduct. And I take full responsibility for my actions.
"I absolutely never asked her to lie," Clinton said in his grand jury testimony. He did acknowledge: "It's an embarrassing and personally painful thing, the truth about my relationship with Ms. Lewinsky."
Ms. Lewinsky, in her testimony released Monday, rejected the president's legalistic descriptions of their relationship.
"It's hard for me to feel that he has characterized this relationship as a service contract, and that was never something that I thought it was," she testified.
The text of Ms. Lewinsky's testimony shows her detailing many instances in which she performed oral sex on the president in the Oval Office area of the White House. She also testified that Clinton's physical contacts with her, while short of intercourse, went beyond what Clinton has admitted.
Clinton, under questioning, explained that oral sex does not fit his definition of sexual relations "if the deponent (himself) is the person who has oral sex performed on him."
The president's videotaped session may complicate Democrats' hopes of heading off an impeachment inquiry in the Republican-controlled House.
The president made liberal use of such statements as "can't recall," or "can't remember" when asked for details of friends' efforts to find Ms. Lewinsky a job, or specifics of his conversations with his secretary Betty Currie about how Ms. Lewinsky came to return many of his gifts just before she was called to testify in the Jones lawsuit.
He directly denied some of Ms. Lewinsky's statements about some of their encounters and adamantly refused to answer others, referring again and again to the prepared statement he read.
Clinton said he was willing to cooperate with Mrs. Jones' lawyers in the Jan. 17 deposition, but he had decided not to volunteer any help. He emphasized that the Jones suit, which he charged was politically motivated, was dismissed by a federal court in Arkansas.
"My goal in this deposition was to be truthful, but not particularly helpful," he said. "I did not wish to do the work of the Jones lawyers. I deplored what they were doing. I deplored the innocent people they were tormenting and traumatizing. I deplored their illegal leaking. But I was determined to walk through the minefield of this deposition without violating the law, and I believe I did."
Among the questions Clinton refused to answer in the videotape dealt with the semen found on a blue dress Ms. Lewinsky said she wore during one of their encounters.
"Is it possible or impossible that your semen is on a dress belonging to Ms. Lewinsky?" a prosecutor asked the president.
"I have nothing to add to my statement about it, sir," the president answered. He did not address the issue of the dress in the statement.
"You did in fact of course touch Ms. Lewinsky, in a physically intimate way?" the prosecutor asked.
"Now I've testified about that," Clinton said. "And that's one of those questions that I believe is answered by the statement that I made."
In answer to questions from a grand juror, Ms. Lewinsky testified she told Clinton that she could lie about their relationship. She said the president smiled and encouraged her to do just that. Clinton testified he told Ms. Lewinsky to tell the truth.
Clinton conceded that he had hoped to keep the whole thing secret.
"I did what people do when they do the wrong thing," he said. "I tried to do it when nobody was looking."
Ms. Lewinsky testified she and Clinton engaged in 10 to 15 episodes of telephone sex.
A prosecutor asked "if Ms. Lewinsky testified she had phone sex with you, would she be lying?"
"I think that is covered in my statement," the president said.
A three-page FBI report chronicled Ms. Lewinsky's account of explicit phone talks with the president.
The president defended his insistence on using his own, indirect phrases to describe his intimacies with Ms. Lewinsky in this way: "I would say this to the grand jury, put yourself in my position.
"This is not a typical grand jury testimony. I have to assume a report is going to Congress. There's a videotape being made of this, allegedly because only one member of the grand jury is absent.
"This is highly unusual. And, in addition to that, I have sustained a breathtaking number of leaks of grand jury proceedings.
"And so I think I am right to answer all the questions about perjury, but not to say things that will be forever in the historic annals of the United States because of this unprecedented videotape and may be leaked at any time." He said he was doing his best to cooperate and "still protect myself, my family, and my office."
Two volumes of evidence accompanied the videotaped testimony. The material included a picture of Ms. Lewinsky's semen-stained dress, private phone messages he left on her answering machine, and dozens of love letters Ms. Lewinsky drafted but never sent.