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Inside Politics

Clinton: Lewinsky affair a 'terrible moral error'

Former president insists impeachment was 'illegitimate'

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(CNN) -- Former President Bill Clinton said in a television interview Sunday that his relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky was "a terrible moral error" -- but insisted he wears his subsequent impeachment as a "badge of honor."

"I don't see [the impeachment] as a stain, because it was illegitimate," Clinton said on CBS's "60 Minutes" in advance of Tuesday's release of his much-anticipated 957-page memoir, "My Life."

The former president, who left office in 2001, three years after he became only the second president in American history to be impeached, reportedly received a $10 million advance for the book.

Clinton told CBS he had no rational explanation for his behavior with Lewinsky.

"I did something for the worst possible reason -- just because I could," he said. "I think that's just about the most morally indefensible reason anybody could have for doing anything."

But in an interview published in this week's issue of Time magazine, Clinton said his anger over independent counsel Ken Starr's investigation, coupled with his battles with Republicans after they took over Congress in 1994, figured into his behavior.

"It's not good for a person to be as mad underneath as I was. I think if people have unresolved anger, it makes them do non-rational, destructive things," he said.

"So I was involved in two great struggles at the same time -- a great public struggle over the future of America with the Republican Congress, and a private struggle with my own demons.

"I won the public one and lost the private one. I don't think it's much more complicated than that. That's not an excuse. But it is an explanation, and that's the best I can do."

Clinton told Time, which like CNN is a unit of Time Warner Inc., that Starr was "part of the new right that runs the Washington Republican Party" -- and that Starr "knew what he was supposed to do."

Clinton had originally agreed to an independent counsel to investigate Whitewater, a failed land deal in Arkansas in the 1980s in which he and his wife, Hillary, now a U.S. senator from New York, were investors.

But Starr's probe eventually expanded to include Clinton's testimony in a sexual harassment case filed by Paula Jones, a former state worker in Arkansas who alleged Clinton had made sexual advances toward her while he was governor.

It was during testimony in the Jones case that Clinton was asked under oath whether he had a sexual relationship with Lewinsky. His denial set off the impeachment case against him.

"This was not about evidence. This was about a struggle for power. I think they really saw us as usurpers," Clinton said of Starr's investigation.

"They honestly believe that the most important thing is that people that espouse conservative values and antigovernment policies and their economic philosophy be in power.

"So of course, there should be a different set of rules for them than everybody else, because the most important thing is to kick everybody else out."

In an unusual front-page review in Sunday's New York Times, Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Michiko Kakutani called Clinton's reminiscences "sloppy, self-indulgent and often eye-crossingly dull -- the sound of one man prattling away, not for the reader, but for himself and some distant recording angel of history."

Nevertheless, Clinton's book has turned into one of the publishing events of the year, with anticipation of details of the much-dissected personal lives of the former president and his wife.

Published by Alfred A. Knopf, the book has a first printing of 1.5 million and is almost certain to outsell Mrs. Clinton's memoir, "Living History," which came out last year.

'I was embarrassed'

According to an excerpt released by Time, Clinton said he misled his wife and daughter and the American public about his relationship with Lewinsky because "I was embarrassed."

"I didn't want to help Ken Starr criminalize my personal life, and I didn't want the American people to know I'd let them down. It was like living in a nightmare," he wrote.

"I went on doing my job, and I stonewalled, denying what had happened to everyone: Hillary, Chelsea, my staff and Cabinet, my friends in Congress, members of the press and the American people. What I regret the most, other than my conduct, is having misled all of them."

Once Clinton admitted to a relationship with Lewinsky, he was "in the doghouse," with his wife, and his relationship was also strained with his daughter, he told CBS. The family went into counseling.

"We'd take a day a week, and we did a whole day a week, every week, for a year, maybe a little more, and did counseling," he said. "We did it together. We did it individually. We did family work."

Clinton told Time that Starr's appointment "was a horrible mistake" that wound up ensnaring his wife and a number of Arkansas associates, including Susan McDougal.

"The thing that really angered me was I felt helpless because I felt like I had set in motion a chain of events in a good-faith effort to reassure mostly the press, more than the American people -- the people didn't care -- that I hadn't done anything wrong in Whitewater and neither had Hillary," he said.

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