Clinton Avoids Most Questions About Lewinsky Probe
He says critics can affect his reputation, but not his character
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, April 30) -- President Bill Clinton
brushed aside most questions about the Monica Lewinsky investigation Thursday, saying his job is to deal with the "great public issues" facing the nation.
But in his first solo news conference of the year, Clinton said he feels "terrible" about legal fees his friends and associates have incurred so far because of the probe. (224K wav sound)
He contrasted their situation with Independent Counsel Ken Starr, who he said "has an unlimited budget and can go
on forever -- 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years, spend $40 million today,
$100 million tomorrow."
When a reporter asked Clinton if his private behavior should be an issue, the president referred to his earlier denials that he had a sexual relationship with Lewinsky, a former White House intern, and lied about it under oath.
"Since I have answered the underlying questions, I really believe it's important for me not to say any more about this," Clinton said. "I think that I am, in some ways, the last person who needs to be having a national conversation about this.
"I may be the leader, but my job as leader is to lead the country and to deal with the great public issues facing the country..." Clinton said.
Asked if Starr has gone too far in his investigation, Clinton replied, "I think modestly observant people are fully capable of drawing their own conclusions." (192K wav sound)
But he said he would not ask Attorney General Janet Reno to remove Starr. "That would not be the appropriate thing for me to do," he said.
Clinton said critics could affect his reputation, but not his character, and said he had no involvement in the Secret Service's decision to seek to avoid having its agents answer some questions in the Lewinsky matter. (704K wav sound)
The president was asked about poll results that suggest while people approve of his job performance, many Americans no longer feel they share
his moral values or respect him.
"I don't think it's hard to account for," Clinton said. "It's been part of a strategy that's -- goes all the way back to 1991. And -- but it used to distress me greatly. It doesn't any more.
"You know, I will say again, all these people that have been working hard on this for seven years now -- they can affect my reputation," he said. "They can do nothing, for good or ill, to affect my character."
Clinton opened the session by boasting about the nation's strong economy and praising what he called a bipartisan Senate debate on NATO expansion.
A vote is expected Thursday night and Clinton said he hopes for strong approval for the addition of Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic to the western military alliance.
Beforehand, aides warned reporters not to expect many answers about the Lewinsky controversy, or word that a judge has decided that she does not have a binding immunity deal with Starr that would spare her from possible prosecution.
Clinton took questions for slightly more than 45 minutes on subjects ranging from relations to Iraq to tobacco policy to campaign finance.
On proposed tobacco legislation that would boost the price of cigarettes, he said he hoped tobacco companies would return to the bargaining table. (384K wav sound)