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Monday, September 21, 1998 Published at 20:28 GMT 21:28 UK

No sweat? Reading the body language

By BBC News Online's Dominic Casciani

Watch the body language: 'I don't believe I was given this neck tie'
Americans were paying as much attention to the performance of President Clinton as to his words as they watched the tapes of his evidence about the Lewinsky affair.

Body language is everything in politics. Sweat on the lip, nervous movements or a smug look could mean a lot more than what President Clinton intended to say.

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Summoning the experience of years of perfecting the art of political presentation, the president started well. A starched shirt, a gold-brown tie and a warm glow in his cheeks.

The bags under the eyes could be forgiven as an occupational hazard that comes with being the leader of the western world.

But at other times his mood shifted from embarrassment, through evasion to defiance.

Faced with some searching questions about his private life, the president raised his voice and gesticulated wildly. At other times he appeared almost mute and lost in his private thoughts.

As the questioning began, he presented a defensive front, arms folded and a steely look fixed on the camera.

No emotion

The hearing began with the president swearing the oath. He was then asked questions to ensure that he understood his responsibilities under the law.

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Asked if he understood that he could face charges of perjury, the president paused for what seemed an eternity, and answered, without a flicker of emotion, yes.

Throughout the early parts of his evidence, Mr Clinton had two props to help him through the questioning.

He constantly broke up his answers with long sips from a large glass of water. When that ran out, he replaced it with a canned soft drink and casually drank from it while the prosecutors threw their best questions at him.

But while he appeared confident in the first 45 minutes, he became increasingly restless as the questioning continued.

Glass props

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His half-moon glasses became the next prop.

He would put them on to read documents and then leave them on the end of his nose and then fix the camera with his eye, as if giving orders to his cabinet.

He first became prickly when asked about his definition of a sexual relationship.

Up came the glasses, passed from hand to hand as he sat back, sat forward and then sat back again.

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The question was repeated and the glasses were put down and then picked up again. Unlike the fidgety movements of his hands, the answers came slow and deliberate.

Often the hands were clasped or the chin fell onto the palms as he sat deep in thought.

In the spotlight

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At times his voice was raised but no more than any other politician determined to make his point across a crowded debating chamber.

When riled, the tone in which he prefixed his answers with "Well, sir" appeared calculated to annoy rather than appear respectful.

Mr Clinton came across as a man who wanted to take control of the proceedings, but knew he was at the mercy of those hidden behind the camera.

Near the end of the testimony he suddenly got out of his seat and pull off the microphone. The public were denied the chance of finding out what happened next as the film was cut.

Only once in the early session did he dominate the hearing.

When asked about the gifts he and Monica Lewinsky exchanged, he took over and forced home his point that he had done nothing wrong.

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Remaining defiant throughout a short speech that "there was nothing improper in a man giving a woman gifts", he then sat back in his seat, folded his arms and gave a grin of broad satisfaction with his answer.

But as with any questioning of a witness in a court, the advantage can soon move back to the prosecutor and, within minutes, he was back on the defensive.

Asked probing questions over how he found out that Ms Lewinsky had been summonsed to give evidence, his body language appeared to signal he was not happy with the line of questioning.

In a short period, he put his glasses on, clasped his hands, took his glasses off, looked down, looked up sat back, fidgeted and then finally sat forward again.

As the hearings drew to an end, Mr Clinton's counsel remained determined to stick to the agreed four hours and no more.

The prosecutors were given a 12-minute warning and, then, it was all over.

The president was up out of his seat, flashed a smile at the camera and left for another television camera, this time broadcasting to the nation.

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