Clinton: 'I misled people' 'Time to move on' from Lewinsky matter

Television address follows historic grand jury testimony

Republicans quick to pounce

A composed president chides investigations 'into private lives'

President Confronts Crisis

August 18, 1998|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,SUN NATIONAL STAFF Sun staff writers Jonathan Weisman, David L. Greene, Geoffrey C. Upton and Mark Matthews contributed to this article.

WASHINGTON -- In an extraordinary admission, President Clinton acknowledged to the nation last night that, contrary to his denials for the past seven months, he engaged in a relationship with Monica Lewinsky that was "not appropriate" and constituted a "personal failure on my part for which I am solely and completely responsible."

Clinton, speaking in a four-minute televised address from the White House, did not disclose any details of that relationship. He said his deposition in the Paula Corbin Jones case, in which he denied having "sexual relations" with the former White House intern, was "legally accurate."

But he admitted that in the course of answering questions about the Lewinsky matter, he "misled people, including even my wife. I deeply regret that."

Clinton's statement to the public was the dramatic culmination of seven months in which the president has been under intense pressure to fully explain his relationship with Lewinsky. It followed shortly after his historic testimony yesterday to a federal grand jury and marked perhaps the most perilous day in the president's turbulent political career.

At stake for Clinton is nothing less than his grasp on the White House as independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, who questioned him yesterday for more than four hours along with three of his deputies, now decides whether to send an impeachment report to Congress.

The most serious issue Starr is investigating is whether Clinton encouraged Lewinsky to lie in the Jones lawsuit or took part in an effort to obstruct justice in the case.

"I told the grand jury today and I say to you now," Clinton said last night, "that at no time did I ask anyone to lie, to hide or destroy evidence, or to take any other unlawful action."

In his remarks, Clinton projected resolve and self-assurance, even as he admitted a "critical lapse in judgment." Much of his statement, in fact, was combative and implicitly critical of Starr, who has doggedly pursued various allegations against Clinton and his associates for four years.

By way of explaining why he resisted telling the full truth for so long, Clinton said that, in part, "I had real and serious concerns about an independent counsel investigation that began with private business dealings 20 years ago," and "moved on to my staff and friends, then into my private life."

A note of bitterness

"This has gone on too long, cost too much and hurt too many innocent people," he said.

The president injected a note of bitterness in his references to Starr's investigation. "Even presidents have private lives," he said. "It is time to stop the pursuit of personal destruction and the prying into private lives and get on with our national life."

Clinton's admission stood in stark contrast not only to his sworn denial of a sexual relationship with Lewinsky in the Jones sexual misconduct case but to a TV sound bite that is likely to haunt the Clinton presidency. In a defiant denial last January, Clinton stared into TV cameras and wagged his finger when he said: "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky."

Last night, Clinton said that in misleading the public since January, he was motivated by his desire to "protect myself from the embarrassment of my own conduct" and to protect his family.

He said the matter is now "between me, the two people I love most -- my wife and our daughter -- and our God. Now it is time -- in fact, it is past time, to move on."

Clinton's 10 p.m. address to the nation came at the end of a long and difficult day for the president -- with the mood inside the White House as gray and oppressive as the weather outside -- in which he became the first U.S. president to testify in a grand jury investigation in which he, himself, is the target.

Some questions unanswered

Clinton told the grand jury yesterday, much as he told the public last night, that he had an inappropriate physical relationship with Lewinsky. But his lawyer, David E. Kendall, said Clinton refused to answer "a few very highly intrusive questions in order to preserve personal privacy and institutional dignity."

Starr said he reserved the right to come back and ask the questions again or issue a subpoena that would force Clinton to answer his queries.

After Clinton's testimony, which took place in the Map Room in the White House residence, Kendall made a brief statement in which he said the president testified "truthfully" about his relationship with Lewinsky and the questions he was asked about that relationship in the Jones deposition in January.

Kendall also took a swipe at Starr. "We're hopeful that the president's testimony will finally bring closure to the independent counsel's more than four year and over $40 million investigation, which has culminated in an investigation of the president's private life," Kendall said.

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