Clinton in Ireland: 'I'm sorry' Democratic rebuke at home precipitated remarks in Dublin

Lieberman: 'It's a start'

President's comments probably not his last word on the scandal

September 05, 1998|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

DUBLIN, IRELAND SUN STAFF WRITER SUSAN BAER CONTRIBUTED TO THIS ARTICLE. — DUBLIN, Ireland -- After several weeks of avoiding the word and under mounting criticism from leaders in his party, President Clinton said yesterday that he was "sorry" for his conduct in the Monica Lewinsky matter.

Clinton's comments came one day after Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, a Connecticut Democrat, delivered a forceful speech from the Senate floor in which he called the president's actions "immoral," "disgraceful" and deserving of formal public rebuke.

During a photo opportunity yesterday with Irish Premier Bertie Ahern, Clinton said, "I've already said that I made a bad mistake, it was indefensible, and I'm sorry about it."

Forced to confront the embarrassing issue on foreign soil for the second time this week, Clinton added, "So I have nothing else to say except that I can't disagree with anyone else who wants to be critical of what I have already acknowledged was indefensible."

Asked whether he thought Lieberman's comments were "helpful," Clinton said: "It's not for me to say."

"But there's nothing that he or anyone else could say in a personallycritical way that I -- that I don't imagine that I would disagree with, since I have already said it myself, to myself," the president added. "And I'm very sorry about it. There's nothing else I could say."

While some lawmakers have raised the possibility that the Senate could censure Clinton, the president shrugged when asked about that possibility and said, "I just don't want to comment on that."

Since his admission Aug. 17 that, contrary to his public denials, he had had an intimate relationship with Lewinsky, the president has been dogged by criticism -- even from longtime associates -- that he had not properly expressed remorse or said directly that he was sorry.

In Lieberman's stinging remarks on the Senate floor Thursday, the moderate Democrat and longtime Clinton ally took issue with Clinton's assertion that the Lewinsky matter was nobody's business but his family's, and said the president's personal conduct has "profound public consequences."

His 24-minute speech, which was followed by like-minded statements from two other leading Democratic senators, Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York and Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, forced Clinton to respond quickly. Further breaks in the Democratic ranks could shake his ability to govern effectively and perhaps loosen his grip on the presidency.

Lieberman said through a spokesman yesterday that he "appreciated" Clinton's remarks offering more direct words of apology. In an interview with CNN, the senator said: "I know how hard it is for the president. I hope it's the beginning of a process of healing for him and the country. It's a start."

But the White House and Congress are braced for much more. A report by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr that would present evidence of any possible impeachable offenses by the president is expected on Capitol Hill this fall. Though Starr has not yet announced when his report is to be completed, House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Democratic leader Richard A. Gephardt agreed yesterday to meet Wednesday with other House leaders to outline procedures for dealing with the report.

With congressional displeasure with Clinton becoming more and more evident, Mike McCurry, Clinton's spokesman, acknowledged at a briefing yesterday that the subject is not yet closed.

"I think the president clearly does not believe that one conversation, one statement, one speech is going to be sufficient in addressing this matter the way he wants to, and he intends to keep addressing it both personally, and to the degree he needs to publicly, as he sees fit," McCurry said.

McCurry said the White House has no clear strategy to address the issue because "this is such an intensely personal thing, and the president is deciding for himself how to address these matters."

The president, McCurry said, "believes his tone has been consistent" in his public comments.

The White House was aware that Lieberman "had deep concerns about this matter and wanted to address it," McCurry said. In fact, Lieberman had considered earlier in the week calling for a censure of Clinton. McCurry acknowledged that Erskine Bowles, the White House chief of staff, had called Lieberman on Monday to ask that he hold off making any public comment until the president had returned home.

Before the trip, McCurry said, Clinton had spoken with Lieberman about arms issues. "But they may have had an opportunity to talk about the matter Senator Lieberman addressed on the floor yesterday [Thursday] as well," the spokesman added.

Despite the White House pleas that he hold back, Lieberman took to the Senate floor, where he said the president deserved some sort of public rebuke but added that it was premature to say whether censure, impeachment or a call for resignation was appropriate.

Lieberman's speech came on the same day that the president was being lauded as a peacemaker in Northern Ireland.

While abroad, Clinton had sought to polish his image as a world statesman. Instead, he has been dogged by the Lewinsky affair and was forced to take questions on the matter.

Yesterday's comments overshadowed what had been a highly successful outing for the president in Dublin. Clinton praised Ireland's business leaders, who have been presiding over robust economic growth, saluted its politicians, who have been part of the peace process in Northern Ireland, and spoke of a country that has moved "from nightmares to dreams."

"There has literally never been a better time, I don't suppose, to be Irish because of the economic success, because of the renaissance in writing, filmmaking," the president told a crowd at the Royal College of Surgeons.

Pub Date: 9/05/98

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