Clinton's affairs discussed by first lady in interview

She calls relationship he had with Lewinsky `a sin of weakness'

August 02, 1999|By HOUSTON CHRONICLE

WASHINGTON -- Hillary Rodham Clinton, in a new magazine interview, says she believed President Clinton's marital infidelities had been "conquered" a decade ago and, even though that was not true, she views his affair with Monica S. Lewinsky as "a sin of weakness" rather than one of malice.

"There has been enormous pain, enormous anger, but I have been with him half my life, and he is a very, very good man," the first lady said. "We just have a deep connection that transcends whatever happens."

She appears to blame her husband's sexual affairs on childhood "abuse," but that seemed to be a reference to disputes between his mother and grandmother rather than physical attacks.

The first lady's comments appear in an interview in the inaugural issue of Talk magazine to be published this week. The magazine issued a news release with bits of the interview, and more extensive excerpts appeared in the Sunday Times of London.

The White House -- neither the president's press operation nor the first lady's separate staff -- had immediate substantive comment on the interview.

"The article will speak for itself," said Marsha Berry, the first lady's press secretary.

The president did not answer a reporter's questions about the interview as he attended church yesterday near the White House. The first lady remained at the executive mansion.

The Talk article was written by Lucinda Franks, an author who shared a Pulitzer Prize with Thomas Powers for national reporting in 1971.

A staff member for Mrs. Clinton quoted in the article said the first lady had "barely spoken" to the president for eight months after the semen stain on one of Lewinsky's dresses was disclosed.

Melanne Verveer, the first lady's chief of staff, said that as the president had attempted to make up, she had seen "physical passion" come back into the couple's lives.

In some ways, the interview appears to be the frankest that either Clinton or his wife has given about what he has earlier described as rocky patches in their almost 25-year marriage.

George Stephanopoulos, a former top Clinton adviser and now an ABC News commentator, said on the network's "This Week" program that the interview was the type that for months "Ms. Clinton swore she would not give." The first lady's interview became known late Saturday, and her political advisers were "a bit blindsided" by her comments, Stephanopoulos said.

The interview is likely to throw the president's extramarital affairs -- and especially the one with Lewinsky, which took place in the White House -- into the first lady's expected campaign for the U.S. Senate from New York.

"He's responsible for his own behavior whether I'm there or 100 miles away," Mrs. Clinton said in the interview when asked if their marriage could survive the strains of a campaign that will separate the first couple geographically.

"You have the confrontation with the person, and then it's their responsibility, whether it's gambling, drinking or whatever. Nobody can do it for you."

The first lady acknowledged her familiarity with extramarital affairs by her husband and her belief that they ended as he began to campaign for the White House in the early 1990s.

"You have to be alert to it, vigilant in helping," Mrs. Clinton said. "I thought this was resolved 10 years ago. I thought he conquered it. I thought he understood it, but he didn't go deep enough or work hard enough."

She expressed certainty that there had been times in their marriage when Clinton had not strayed.

"You know, we did have a very good stretch, years and years of nothing," she said.

Of the possible causes of her husband's affairs and his "abuse" as a child, Mrs. Clinton said:

"Yes, he has weaknesses. Yes, he needs to be more responsible, more disciplined. But it is remarkable given his background that he turned out to be the kind of person he is, capable of such leadership.

"He was so young, barely 4, when he was scarred by abuse. There was terrible conflict between his mother and grandmother. A psychologist once told me that for a boy being in the middle of a conflict between two women is the worst possible situation. There is always a desire to please each one."

In the excerpts, the first lady did not detail the incidents to which she referred.

"He has been working on himself very hard in the past year," she said. "He has become more aware of his past and what was causing his behavior."

"You know, in Christian theology there are sins of weakness and sins of malice, and this was a sin of weakness," the first lady said.

The first lady referred to her own mother, Dorothy Rodham, as being the child of a broken marriage.

"Everybody has some dysfunction in their families," she said. "They have to deal with it. You don't walk away if you love someone. You help the person."

When author Franks suggested the biblical analogy from Corinthians, the first lady said: "Love endures all things? No, I love that, but I was thinking of when Peter betrayed Jesus three times, and Jesus knew it but loved him anyway. Life is not a linear progression. It has many paths and challenges, and we need to help one another."

Hillary Clinton said she and the president "have love" but added: "I don't believe in denying things. I believe in working through it. Is he ashamed? Yes. Is he sorry? Yes. But does this negate everything he has done as a husband, a father, a president?"

The Lewinsky scandal "has been particularly difficult for her," said one friend of the first lady, who suggested that Mrs. Clinton's comments to Talk were an attempt to put it behind her as she readies for her political race.

Pub Date: 8/02/99

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