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How Will 'Truth' Tip The Scales?

Monday's testimony may be the pivotal point in Bill Clinton's presidency as he comes before a grand jury investigating whether he tried to obstruct justice by covering up an affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
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A former Washington Post reporter, CBS News Consultant Carl Bernstein, played a key role in exposing the defining crisis of another presidency - the Watergate scandal that brought down Richard Nixon.

But Bernstein says today's scandal is only similar to Watergate in that the president must come before a grand jury, and, if he does not tell them the truth, he may face impeachment.

"This is not Watergate," Bernstein said.

"Watergate was about a vast and pervasive abuse of power by a criminal president of the United States who ordered break-ins, firebombings, presided over a cover-up, and obstruction of justice in which hundreds of thousands of dollars were paid to burglars, a president who hired a goon squad to thwart the electoral process, who abused his presidential authority."

Carl Bernstein (CBS)
"This story," Bernstein said, "the Lewinsky events, are really a sex scandal in which there are allegations that the president lied under oath and may have obstructed justice. There is a big difference in proportionality."

Mr. Nixon's presidency ended with his resignation under the threat of impeachment.

Even if Mr. Clinton is prepared to tell the grand jury he lied about his relationship with Lewinsky, some political observers believe that the public is ready to forgive him.

"Bill Clinton is not perceived by the American people as being a Lincoln," said Democratic strategist Bob Beckel.

"From the beginning, people have believed he has had some sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky, and yet they still give him high approval ratings, which has been my point. That is, that the public knows this man, they know about his background, and they are accepting of it."

Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Weekly Standard, disagrees.

"I don't think he's going to be able to get by with one of these quickie things, 'Okay, I made mistakes. I did something that was inappropriate'," Barnes said. "He has to explain about the gifts and why he said he didn't remember ever being alone with
Monica LewinskyÂ…He's got to explain al the things he couldn't recall or denied in that deposition."

Many observers agree that, whatever Mr. Clinton says Monday, his career and administration is on the line.

"Clinton needs to be careful because he doesn't know what Starr knows," Beckel said.

Although Starr himself is under pressure to deliver evidence as a prosecutor, it is the president who will bear the brunt of this investigation for the rest of his term.

"The White House is a very demoralized place today," Bernstein said. "A second term of a president, as in Watergate, is turning out to be a wreckage, at least this far, and people who work with the president and for the president are disturbed and really demoralized."