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CLINTON UNDER FIRE

Clinton Greeted by Rousing Crowds on Visit to Midwest

Investigation: First lady says allegations will 'fade into oblivion' over time. Starr obtains evidence of a Dec. 28 White House visit by Lewinsky.

January 29, 1998|ELIZABETH SHOGREN and DAVID WILLMAN and RICHARD T. COOPER | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — President Clinton followed up on the success of his State of the Union address with a lightning-fast foray into the American heartland on Wednesday, drawing huge and enthusiastic crowds that cheered his vow to get on with the nation's business.

More than 18,000 people gathered at the University of Illinois to hear him make his case for devoting future budget surpluses to shoring up Social Security and declare that "the doors of college have been opened to everybody who will work for it."

An equally ebullient crowd numbering in the thousands ignored the evening cold of a renovated town square to hear Clinton in LaCrosse, Wis.

And First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton predicted on ABC's "Good Morning America" that the present allegations of sexual indiscretion and possible perjury against her husband, "like all the other accusations that have been made against us for so many years, will fade into oblivion and the things the president has done will stand the test of time."

Less than 48 hours after Washington was awash with talk of resignation and impeachment because of allegations that Clinton had had a sexual relationship with White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky and asked her to lie about it, Clinton's fortunes seemed to swing upward.

Apparent Change in Mood Deceptive

The apparent change was deceptive, however, owing more to the cyclical nature of such controversies than to a substantive change in the situation.

"Everybody take a deep breath. These things take time," the first lady conceded.

As the investigation ground forward, it was learned that independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr had obtained evidence suggesting that Lewinsky--who has both denied and claimed to have had a sexual relationship with the president--last visited him at the White House on Dec. 28. Her visit came 11 days after she was subpoenaed to testify in Paula Corbin Jones' sexual-harassment lawsuit against Clinton.

On Jan. 7, Lewinsky signed an affidavit swearing that she had not engaged in sexual relations with the president.

One major element in Starr's investigation focuses on the question of whether Clinton or others encouraged Lewinsky to lie or participate in a cover-up of their alleged relationship. Clinton has emphatically denied, both publicly and in a sworn statement, that he had a sexual relationship with the former intern.

In a related development, Lewinsky's lawyer, William H. Ginsburg, said he expected to know within 24 to 48 hours whether Starr will grant Lewinsky immunity from prosecution in exchange for testimony about the nature of her involvement with Clinton.

Still, for the moment at least, the buoying signs for Clinton were unquestionably real:

* At the campus in Champaign-Urbana, Ill., the president was greeted by thundering crowds, rousing warm-up speeches and a rocking pep band.

The reception gave a visible lift to Clinton's spirits that lasted throughout the day, even though Air Force One later became stuck in mud at the edge of a runway and the president had to wait for a replacement jet to be flown in.

* Congress turned from the high drama of Tuesday night's State of the Union address to a haystack of pending legislation. Happy to be able to talk about something substantive, many in both parties praised Clinton's idea to use any budget surplus to strengthen Social Security.

"Saving Social Security first is a bold move," said Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.), although he tempered his support by adding that "new spendings for his initiatives must be paid for by reductions in other parts of the budget."

* Even Starr's office contributed to the calmer mood Wednesdaydevoting itself to prosaic chores. Aides arranged to get the president's videotaped deposition in the Jones lawsuit. They collected material Lewinsky had left with a former lover, Andy Bleiler, and said it is likely that Bleiler, and his wife, Kathy, will be subpoenaed to testify in the case.

* And although former White House Chief of Staff Leon E. Panetta faced the grand jury that has been investigating the allegations, the questioning focused primarily on the inner workings of the White House.

Panetta, speaking outside the federal courthouse where he spent most of the day with the grand jury, struck a reassuring note: "I am personally not aware of any improper relationship, sexual or otherwise, by this president and any of the White House interns, or anyone else for that matter.

"My fervent prayer is that for the sake of the president and the sake of this nation, that this matter is resolved soon, so that he and all of us can continue to focus on the issues that affect our families, our nation and our future," he said.

But for all the slowing of the pace Wednesday, the potential threat to Clinton's hold on the White House had changed little. As it did during the darkest hours of last week, almost everything depended on what the evidence finally turns out to be.

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