Barnes & Noblead

Home
AllPolitics
 

 Home
 News
 Analysis
 Community
 CNN.com

Related Stories
 Click here for more political coverage from TIME magazine.


Search


  Help

"I Misled People"

In apologizing, Clinton declares his family's pain a private affair. Is this just another clever evasion?

By Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy

TIME magazine

(TIME, August 31) -- When Chelsea Clinton was six years old, her parents used to make her cry in hopes that they could make her tough. Dad was in the middle of an especially ugly re-election fight, his enemies were drawing blood, and so they all tried a game at the dinner table: Chelsea would pretend that she was her father, making speeches about why people should vote for her, and then he would attack her, say really mean things, so she would learn to protect herself. At first the exercises reduced the little girl to tears: "Why would anybody say things like that?" But after a while, Hillary later wrote, "she gradually gained mastery over her emotions"; she came to understand people's dark motives; and, finally, she would come back fighting, fully prepared to handle the wicked lies that enemies might tell.

What would it take to prepare her, so many years later, for the possibility that this time, the enemies were the ones telling the truth? And what would it take to prepare us?

If we Americans watched and weighed Bill Clinton more closely this week than we ever have, we may have been watching Hillary even more carefully. Before the drama could play out in prime time, it had to play out in private, and at times it felt as though she invited us into her kitchen to role-play some more. You think this has been hard to discuss with your children? she would say. Imagine what we have had to say to our own. You hate this coarse and vulgar story? You at least can turn off the TV; you don't have to sleep with it.

Since last weekend, the Clinton circle has been betting that Americans would take their cues from Hillary. They put out the word that the First Lady did not know about her husband's betrayal until late last week. By Saturday she had disappeared. On Sunday morning she went to church with him. On Sunday night she said a prayer for him. On Monday she lit a fire under him. And on Tuesday, after her office issued a statement that "clearly, this is not the best day in Mrs. Clinton's life," she and her daughter took him by the hand and walked across the South Lawn into the most interesting summer vacation we may never hear about.

But there was, of course, a crucial difference for us. Hillary Clinton's decision about whether to believe him or not, forgive him or not, was born of their life and her vows. We didn't marry him; we hired him. She signed on for better or worse. We elected him to make things better.

When he decided three weeks ago to testify before Kenneth Starr's grand jury, Clinton was agreeing to make three of the hardest speeches of his life: to his wife and daughter, to the grand jury and to the rest of us. Before that was over, the Commentariat would also need to be fed, to satisfy its hunger for a story line with drama and pathos and a denouement, perhaps a body or two, certainly some blood and guts. By last Sunday, when the speech was nearly at hand and the predictions were buzzing like cicadas over the capital, there came a moment when private pain could even solve a political problem, and Clinton could argue that he had already suffered enough and should be released on probation with credit for time served.

In the days leading up to Monday's confession, the mystery of what he would say to the nation was never as compelling as what he would say to his wife. Clinton had apparently found it easier to lie to 269 million Americans with Hillary at his side than to sit her down and tell her the truth. There are people at the heart of the White House who swear up and down that going into this weekend, Hillary Clinton still did not know, really know, the truth about Monica Lewinsky. Such ignorance in a very smart woman, they argue, is born of a mix of decision and denial: an unusual career--the brilliant Yale lawyer who gave up her work to make her husband better at his--and an unusual marriage, in which his serial infidelity was taken for granted by everyone except her.

Clinton took his first step on Wednesday night, Aug. 12, a sort of out-of-town opening for the performances that would follow. He tried out a lawyer's redacted version of a confession, not on Hillary but on a friend whose reviews he could trust. He said the relationship had begun during the 1995 government shutdown; it strayed across the line, and it made him ashamed. What really worried him, now that he had to face the grand jury, was how he would prepare Hillary for the next four days.

That talk came the next night, Thursday, when Chelsea was out with friends and her parents had some time to be alone. How it went is the only thing that is sure to remain between Bill, Hillary and their God.

Friday was an endurance contest. The New York Times brought the curtain up with the news that Clinton might admit to a sexual affair with Lewinsky. The fact that this had been assumed for two weeks did not dilute the drama of the paper of record's stating what he would do and how he would do it: the legalistic parsing of definitions of sex that would let him admit to lying but deny perjury--a nifty legal trick. As if that were not enough, some observers suggested that the story had been leaked to give Hillary the bad news that Clinton might not be able to deliver himself. Hillary, her lawyers and just about every White House official with a telephone would deny the report at least once that day. And in the meantime, Hillary had her own surprise to spring--an early birthday party for her husband on the South Lawn, complete with spice cake and the Marine Band and everything short of For He's a Jolly Good Fellow.

Then the White House went dark. There's nothing so rare at the Executive Mansion as a quiet Saturday, when people can relax and Presidents actually get to play. But this was a whole new kind of quiet--hollow and grim. Clinton was looking, simultaneously, at the most dangerous prospect of his public life and the most devastating chapter of his private one. He canceled his plans for the weekend to prepare for his testimony; Hillary went into seclusion. She virtually locked herself in a room upstairs, forswearing visitors and talking to no one other than her mother and other family. Chelsea was nowhere to be seen either.

White House officials later announced that Hillary had "learned" over the weekend, which naturally raised the question of what she had been thinking for the past seven months. Denial is a wonderful thing; it can stretch to contain an awful lot of evidence that looks hostile. A friend said her free fall had to do with the fact that in many ways, the Clintons' marriage has gone so well since they arrived at the White House six years ago. Some marriages would blister under such hot lights, but theirs flourished, partly because Bill was under what amounted to house arrest. What trouble could he get into there, right under her nose, not to mention the Secret Service's?

Not before Sunday morning would Hillary show any signs of where she had landed. It's possible that hatred can be a comfort when the alternative is grief. At least a part of her anger at her husband was not about lying or treachery but about handing their mortal enemy a weapon to use against them both. She had stood by her husband when his character was in question, for dodging the draft and whether he had inhaled, through Gennifer and Paula. But prior to Ken Starr, her own morals had never been questioned.

It was Starr who had challenged her judgment, investigated her law firm, friends and partners for four years. The Clintons have always believed in a conspiracy to topple them--they did when they were in Arkansas; they did when they ran for President; and they have since they've gone to Washington. By Sunday morning, says a friend, Hillary pulled on her boots and went to church. Then she prepared to go to war. "She didn't want Ken Starr to kill her husband," says the friend. "She wanted him alive so she could do it later."

Whenever things go terribly wrong, it is always Hillary who leads the way out of the wilderness. By Sunday afternoon she was huddled with the lawyers, shaping the strategy. And though the White House has carefully framed the entire scandal as one immense invasion of privacy, by Sunday the First Family decided to turn on the lights in the mansion so we could see the shadows through the shades. In the middle of the most painful weekend of her life, Hillary invited into her home for comfort the one clergyman in America better known for his pulpit at CNN than at the Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church on Chicago's South Side.

It was hard to know what to make of the family's late-night house call by Jesse Jackson. Jackson has a way with people, and he certainly seemed to have a way with Chelsea. He had been at the White House to watch the Super Bowl back on the first horrible weekend of scandal, and he and Chelsea got along great. It was mainly for her that he was invited back last weekend, family friends said, to help talk her out of her funk.

But if the Clintons know their Bible, and they do, they know that Jesus made a point about prayers: the real ones are done in secret, not on the street corner, to make an impression, but in a closet, just you and your God. But that is not where Jackson lives. He was actually live on CNN right up until he scooted off to the White House around 10:30, entering through the side door. He met Hillary on the second floor. She was dressed casually, in some sort of warm-up suit, and she and Jackson and Chelsea embraced. "We began to talk about one's faith and the storm," Jackson says. When Clinton came in, they greeted each other and chatted, but the President went into the third-floor solarium for a meeting with Harry Thomason, Clinton's old Arkansas friend, making it clear he wanted Jackson to spend time in the family quarters with Chelsea.

Then, Jackson says, he talked to Chelsea about Adam and Eve. "Of course, at the age of 19 or 20, she knows about sex. She's seen videos, watched television, listened to music. She knows what is expected in marriage and knows what, in fact, happens." It was when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, he explained, that all the cover-ups started. "The moral here is, 'You should have stopped talking to the snake in the first place.'" Later he prayed with the family, and before he left, Chelsea said, "I love Dad. I'll handle it." Both women, Jackson said, knew what they had to do: Chelsea's "mission is to lift her dad up." And if Hillary was, as he said, bruised and humiliated, she was also standing by her man and holding to her vows and joining the legal team for the first time in weeks.

Jackson held a press conference the next day and hit every network, presenting the tableau that the drama had been missing: the repentant father, the angry mother, the isolated daughter. The story needed its cleansing ritual of contrition and penitence and absolution. That was a high bar for Clinton to clear: a coerced confession doesn't count as much as a voluntary one, but he very deliberately chose not to give that back in January, when there was still a chance the lies might work. Still, if Clinton's sex life was his own business and not ours, then the subtext was that it was up to Hillary and Chelsea to punish him, up to them to forgive him. Whatever righteous indignation we may feel was Hillary's to express; any crockery we feel like breaking was hers to throw. And if she can put this behind her, the thinking goes, surely we can too.

Not everyone bought it--not even the people inside. Some top aides in the White House could not fathom the possibility that Hillary did not know much more than the story line of the weekend allowed. "That doesn't seem real to me," said one. "They have no secrets," argued another. "They know each other. They know each other backward and forward." She had to profess ignorance, in this view, because the alternative to being a trusting sucker was being a cold-blooded liar. A longtime Democratic official, who has never been in Clinton's camp, watched the mopping-up operation and marveled at the way the Clintons had used their own misery, if that's what it was, to grow new arms and legs. "Do I think she may have been hurt? That it was potentially a much more graphic thing than she ever expected? That it questioned the validity of their marriage? Sure. But they are working hard to cast it not as a presidential issue but as a personal one. His numbers will stay high as long as they isolate it to a sexual family matter," he said. "That's what they are trying to do."

But since the damage clearly went beyond just the President's immediate family, the circle of victims had to be widened; at least that way Clinton could be seen as paying a price. By Monday, White House reporters were being fed tales of the President's other painful conversations. The word for the weekend was "betrayal"; the scene was of the President taking his loyal aides aside one by one and apologizing to them for what he had put them through. This was essential, since his willful abuse of the people around him was becoming a matter of public record. There were career civil servants, secretaries, Secret Service officers who do not have rich consulting fees in their futures, just high legal bills, courtesy of their visits to the grand jury.

Then there were Clinton's political aides, the ones who talked while he did not, who became household names thanks to Larry King and Charlie Rose, defending the President, insisting that he was not being cute with language when he denied the affair, insisting that this was taking so long because Starr was asking questions he shouldn't, not because Clinton was simply refusing to answer them. By telling the truth now, the President was about to make liars out of them.

The story of betrayed aides' being treated to one-on-one apologies continued to circulate through the weekend and all day Monday. But within the White House there was a strange echo chamber. The more the TV reporters spoke of his private contrition to colleagues, the more bemused aides were rankled about being out of the apology loop--until they called around and found that there was no loop. It was hard to find anyone who had talked to Clinton for more than about 30 seconds, and that time was usually used, pre-emptively, to say, "Mr. President, we don't have to have this conversation now."

It was really not until Tuesday, when the stories of these painful presidential conversations had made the front pages, that Clinton actually decided to have some of them. The Washington Post would later report that aides drafted talking points for colleagues on how to answer questions about their own reactions to Clinton's deceptions. "Do you forgive him for misleading you and the country?" read a sample question. The talking points suggested the following answer: "It's been said that 'He who cannot forgive others breaks the bridge over which he must pass himself.' Of course I do."

In the meantime, there was another audience to prepare for, and that was the prosecutors. Starr had many more choices to make about how Monday would go than Clinton did. It would have been unwise for Clinton's lawyer David Kendall even to consider allowing his client to answer direct, graphic questions about his conduct with Lewinsky. The President had, after all, not only denied having an affair with her in his Paula Jones deposition; he couldn't remember ever having been alone with her, an assertion that does not allow much room for elaboration. So there was very little leeway for Clinton to change what he intended to say to Starr.

That meant that what mattered was what Starr would ask. If the White House held out an olive branch to the prosecutors, it could hope that perhaps he would stand down a bit, not provoke a constitutional crisis, focus on the most relevant questions about obstruction of justice and subornation of perjury and not press the graphic sexual material too far. White House aides were quietly drawing reporters' attention to a hot scoop: "You know, the story no one has written..." The White House, they said, was backing off on Starr, hadn't attacked him for weeks. And of course, if none of that worked, if Starr came in with guns blazing, as every bit of his conduct to date suggested he would, the White House had some cover for fighting back.

That was enough to give the commentators plenty to chew on through the long wait on Monday. The day began with an NBC poll showing Clinton's job approval at an all-time high, 70%. The markets were happy too: the Dow jumped 150 points. The weather in Washington was baffled, raining and shining and raining again through air that defied you to breath it. On "Monica beach," the 50-yd. stretch of White House gravel where the TV reporters do their stand-ups, 35 bright umbrellas sprouted like mushrooms, and the pressroom was packed despite a complete absence of news. Outside the White House, a man was arrested after he cut his throat with a screwdriver in front of the mansion, shouting, "Why do you care about Lewinsky? Bad things are happening in Iraq!"

For once in his life, Bill Clinton was early: he showed up for his testimony at 12:59 and didn't even wait for the first question before speaking. When he sat down in the White House Map Room, with the grand jurors watching on closed-circuit TV and Starr and his six prosecutors spread out before him, he had a statement all prepared so he could tell his story before they had a chance to ask. Yes, he had had an "inappropriate" relationship with Monica Lewinsky. He had indeed been alone with her, but he didn't really consider it alone, since stewards and assistants were always hovering just outside the office, within earshot, as he suggested during the Jones deposition. He presented a brief history of the relationship and gave dates and places of their liaisons.

On most issues the President's account of the affair generally matched Lewinsky's. He admitted giving her the gifts--the hatpin, the book of poems and a T shirt--that he had difficulty remembering when Jones' lawyers asked about them back in January. And he explained how the two had promised to keep the affair secret, though he stressed that those discussions did not occur after she was subpoenaed in the Jones case.

But when it came to talking about the actual sexual encounters, the two stories went their separate ways. Just as the previews promised, the President claimed that he did not commit perjury back in January because under the definition of sexual relations that the Jones lawyers put on the table that day, he did not consider his behavior with Lewinsky to count as sex. During that deposition seven months ago, a source familiar with his testimony told TIME, "he construed things narrowly. He was accurate but not helpful. That was his goal, and that's what he did. That's why he testified honestly."

That line of defense, of course, made the whole question of what he did and didn't do with Lewinsky relevant, especially since by her sworn account, what happened between them qualified under any definition of sex. Lewinsky, sources close to her defense said, had told the grand jury that Clinton fondled her breasts and genitals--the kind of activity covered by the Jones definition of sexual relations. Unless the President gave detailed testimony, there was no way for prosecutors to reconcile the discrepancy.

But when the prosecutors tried then to ask the specific questions, Clinton revolted, invoked his right to privacy, and refused to answer. Discussing the sexual-relations definition used in the Jones case, Clinton was asked about various activities that might fit the definition--and the President said oral sex did not make the cut. Yet he did not acknowledge engaging in it with Lewinsky. Starr and his team huddled, came back and proceeded to ask Clinton specific questions the President had just ruled out of bounds. The prosecutors pushed harder, drawing on the details they had from Lewinsky's testimony. He refused to budge, trying to screen out what his legal team described as questions of a "graphic and offensive" nature. Clinton's team insists these were the only questions he refused to answer--a strategy apparently aimed at making it appear that any further pushing by Starr would be an effort to get into the salacious details that no American would want to volunteer and that the country doesn't want to hear anyway.

With prosecutors pressing for answers and Clinton balking, the tone started out tense and got worse. Starr's team reminded Clinton of his obligation to answer, implicitly threatening that they could issue a new subpoena at any time. At one point, Clinton told the grand jury members that they and Starr had done their homework, but he was not going to change his story no matter how long they asked. Starr himself asked a few questions, but most of the grilling was left to his more seasoned deputies. Nearly the entire session focused on the Lewinsky affair, with questions also coming up about Kathleen Willey's allegation of being groped in the Oval Office. When the agreed time of four hours had elapsed, Starr asked to extend the session. The President declined.

The meeting broke up at 6:25, and attorney Kendall appeared outside the diplomatic entrance to say there would indeed be a speech that night. He then invoked the "four years, $40 million" mantra against Starr. That was a sure sign that the olive branch hadn't worked.

The last part of Clinton's triathlon was always supposed to be the easiest; at the very least, he is usually a good talker. Public opinion hadn't budged in seven months: we know you did it, we like you anyway, please just make it go away. He never had to offer much more than a simple explanation and a genuine apology, and in the final days leading up, people competed to lower the bar for him. Yet the greatest irony in a year of ironies would be that the speech in which he had to admit he had been lying went bad because, for once, he said what he honestly thought.

No one even wanted to confirm that there would be a speech at all, just in case things went too late or horribly wrong, or Clinton just couldn't pull it off after wrestling with Starr. Begala had begun working on a draft at home on Saturday. He tapped away on Sunday on a White House computer, without knowing anything about what the President was going to say under oath. He knew that an important element of the speech would be to say something about Hillary, but he had to leave that section blank for Clinton to fill. Begala's version centered on the President's own contrition, with no attack on Starr. Various friends sent in suggestions. Linda Bloodworth-Thomason helped with the language.

The next morning, Clinton turned over his draft to Begala to hone through the afternoon. After Clinton entered the Map Room to begin his testimony, longtime adviser Mickey Kantor convened a meeting in White House counsel Charles Ruff's office that included Clinton's top political aides. At this point, the phrase "legally accurate" as a way of describing a lie that does not count as perjury had not yet entered the lexicon.

Clinton's proposed draft was circulated, and his advisers were alarmed at the language and the fury he directed at Starr. Though Starr is unpopular, if the polling had made anything clear at all, it was that public forgiveness was conditioned on an apology. To try to skip that step seemed an unnecessary risk: it might cost Clinton a lot to say that he was a liar, but it would only help to say he was sorry for it. Kantor, chairing the meeting, was clear about where the boss stood. Everyone who was trying to keep the President from going after Starr was wasting his time.

Another meeting convened in the solarium about two hours before the speech, and it was a contentious scene. Aides kept arguing against an attack on Starr, and Clinton kept arguing back. Starr is the only prosecutor who would have delved into his personal life, he said, adding that not everyone in America knows this, and this would be an opportunity to tell them. He said there was an an anti-Starr group out there that would welcome his criticism. The aides persisted. Hillary turned to her husband and said, "It's your speech. You say what you want to say." Then she left the room, and the arguments continued.

It is too soon to know whether, as the millennium approaches, Monday night was the moment the Spin Decade ended. Clinton's sharpest sword has always been his ability to persuade. And even as the speech approached, it was hard to know whether to root for or against the man from Hope, to wish that he might seize what the office affords him in grace and redemption: to apologize and, with just the right mix of candor and contrition, to make himself new again. Or wish that he wouldn't.

After so much criticism of his promiscuous use of language, Clinton made his basic points very directly. "It was wrong." "A personal failure." His observation that even Presidents have private lives was compelling and legitimate--most Americans agree that what goes on in a President's bedroom is no one's business but his. It skipped right past the problem that the conduct he admitted to occurred not in his bedroom but off the Oval Office, with a junior employee, an act disgraceful enough that any manager in any other job would lose it.

But he was tripped up by his anger at Starr and the collapsing weight of his own double-talk. He essentially did not say he was sorry for what he had done; he was just sorry he got caught. The reason he lied was to protect himself, protect his family and--this was the biggest error of all--because the cops were after him. And then he appealed for us to make it all go away.

The language also had that Clinton smell. Seven months of lies and the famous finger wag somehow amounted only to an admission that he "gave a false impression." As for defending answers as "legally accurate," most people think something is accurate or it is not. The idea of establishing some new zone of semitruth immediately brings to mind another phrase, the one that still haunts Al Gore: "no controlling legal authority." That too was one supplied by lawyers. This may have been a necessary way of avoiding admitting perjury, but the whole speech said the opposite: I was lying then, I'm telling the truth now, but I never perjured myself.

The speech played beautifully to an audience of one. But other than Hillary, the instant reviews started out surprised and went down from there. The polls were generally neutral, didn't move up or down; but the editorial pages were blistering, and, more important, the Democrats lifted scarcely a finger to rally round their man. Democratic leaders on the Hill grew more incensed after White House officials, acting on Kendall's guidance, called Monday evening to report that the President's testimony had gone just fine.

In the postspeech recap, the commentators hit Clinton hard for going after Starr and turning what was supposed to be a sacred moment into a profane one. But a White House insider argued otherwise: "It was a great piece of bait, and the Republicans took it." Instead of focusing their fire on Clinton's lying or misconduct in the Oval Office, he noted, they are using their sound bites to defend the most unpopular man in America. That may not pull Starr up much, and if the Democrats have any luck, it may pull down the Republicans. And it certainly is a diversion.

Starr's team lost no time in signaling that it was not about to back down because of a four-minute speech. On Tuesday morning the independent counsel was back in his office by 5:30 and issued another call for Lewinsky to testify. The plan is apparently designed to test the President's latest testimony for perjury, by contrasting her detailed story with the President's evasive account. Far from receding in any way, the confrontation between Starr and the President seemed to raise the stakes and send both men back to their corners more ornery than ever.

Starr and his team still have the option of subpoenaing Clinton. The President defied them, refusing to answer their questions fully. "No prosecutor would accept that from an ordinary witness," says John Barrett, a former Iran-contra prosecutor now teaching at St. John's University School of Law in New York City. "You'd get a subpoena the next day and ask specific, pointed questions until you got answers, or you'd indict the guy." But the Chief Executive plays by different rules.

Legally, Starr would almost certainly win a subpoena fight--Clinton already conceded the grand jury's legitimacy by testifying--though appeals could take months if the Supreme Court chose to hear the case. The harder prediction was political. Would the public blame Clinton for dragging out a subpoena fight now that he's admitted sex and lies, or Starr for continuing to hammer away on more Monica minutiae?

Starr's first steps after Monday showed awareness that restraint gave him strength in a war of attrition. Instead of picking an immediate subpoena fight with Clinton, he was apparently weighing whether the smarter course might be just to finish up a few remaining witnesses and send the House his report "of any substantial and credible information...that may constitute grounds for an impeachment." Along with other important evidence, the transcript of Clinton's answers and evasions could be included for the Judiciary Committee to make its judgments, and could help Starr's case. But Clinton seemed to relish a gallop to Congress, where those big approval ratings and the thought of a promotion for Gore have the Republicans paralyzed.

By Tuesday morning, the First Lady's office, which never breathes a word without permission, officially notified reporters that "this is a time that she relies on her strong religious faith. She's committed to her marriage and loves her husband and daughter very much and believes in the President, and her love for him is compassionate and steadfast. She clearly is uncomfortable with her personal life being made so public but is looking forward to going on vacation with her family and having some family time together." With that, the Clintons were walking hand in hand in hand to their helicopter, heading off to Martha's Vineyard on a vacation that insiders said over and over was likely to be awful.

On the plane, Clinton worked on the New York Times crossword puzzle. At one point he sat back and smiled, bemused at 46 down, a four-letter word for "meal for the humble?" "Well," he said, "here's one that's appropriate for today." (Answer: crow.) When the plane touched down, the crowds were waiting, eager and therapeutic, waving handmade signs that called WELCOME BACK and MV LOVES BILL. At the bottom of the steps to greet him with a bear hug when Air Force One touched down in Edgartown, Mass., was Vernon Jordan.

As they came into the crowds, Chelsea was, perhaps for the first time since her public life began six years ago, on center stage. She smiled with grace. She worked the rope line. She knelt and talked to the children, a bright-eyed American echo of other countries' princesses. No matter what designs lay behind those pictures, what sympathy they were designed to generate, there were some undeniable realities. The night before, she had had to watch her father admit to something hideously painful. It may not have been a surprise to her, but that makes it no less of a tragedy. Her ability to come back and fight for him, to walk with him and smile for him and throw herself before the cameras aimed at him, was an act of generosity and love that speaks better for Bill and Hillary Clinton than anything they could say or do in whatever public life remains to them. The whole family lingered, but the President had to pull Chelsea away when it was time to go. All that role playing had taught her well.

--Reported by Margaret Carlson, J.F.O. McAllister, Karen Tumulty, Michael Weisskopf/Washington, Julie Grace/Chicago and Jay Branegan/Martha's Vineyard


TIME/CNN POLL

--President Clinton admitted on 
television to having an "inappropriate 
relationship" with Monica Lewinsky 
and misleading people about it. Are 
you satisfied or unsatisfied with 
what Clinton said?

Satisfied    52%
Unsatisfied  44%

--Did Clinton go far enough in 
explaining his relationship with
Lewinsky?

Far enough      59%
Not far enough  35%

--Do you believe him when he 
said he:

Didn't ask anyone to lie?

Yes  38%
No   51%

Didn't ask anyone to hide or 
destroy evidence?

Yes  37%
No   52%

--Clinton said he regretted misleading 
people, but did not explicitly say 
he was sorry. Should he have used 
the words "I'm sorry" or "I apologize" 
in his speech?

Yes  60%
No   37%

--Was it appropriate or not appropriate 
for him to criticize Ken
Starr's investigation?

Appropriate    38%
Inappropriate  54%

--Should Clinton be impeached or 
removed from office?

Yes  26%
No   68%

--Is Clinton's sexual relationship with 
Lewinsky a private matter between him and 
his family, or is it a legal matter to 
be explored further in public?

Private  69%
Public   27%

--Which do you favor?

Ending the independent counsel's investigation 
of the President's sexual behavior  58%

Continuing to investigate whether Clinton 
lied under oath or covered up evidence  39%

--Do you approve or disapprove of the way 
Clinton is handling his job as President?

Approve     61%
Disapprove  35%

--Regardless of how you feel about his 
political views, do you
respect Clinton?

Yes  48%
No   50%

--Do you have a favorable impression of:

                    Yes

Bill Clinton        51%
Hillary Clinton     60%
Ken Starr           30%
Monica Lewinsky     15%

From a telephone poll of 1,042 adult Americans taken for TIME/CNN Aug. 18 by Yankelovich Partners Inc. Sampling error is +/-3.2% "Not sures" omitted.


WHAT HE SAID, AND WHAT IT REALLY MEANS

Clinton's "apology" contained classic examples of Billspeak--the artful dodge, the pointed reference, the deniable implication. Following are excerpts and interpretations:

As you know, in a deposition in January, I was asked questions about my relationship with Monica Lewinsky. While my answers were legally accurate, I did not volunteer information.

WHAT IT MEANS

The annoyingly Clintonian "legally accurate" bit prompted a great national cringe: another "I didn't inhale." It indicates he believes that if Monica performed oral sex on him, he didn't technically have sex with her, at least according to the definition of "sexual relations" used in the Paula Jones case.

I know that my public comments and my silence about this matter gave a false impression. I misled people, including even my wife.

WHAT IT MEANS

A weaselly way of saying "I lied," without the legal and moral baggage carried by the actual words. Also, bringing Hillary into the mix is a clear play for sympathy and privacy: Leave us alone to mend our marriage; it's not your business.

In addition, I had real and serious concerns about an independent-counsel investigation that began with private business dealings 20 years ago, dealings, I might add, about which an independent federal agency found no evidence of any wrongdoing by me or my wife over two years ago.

WHAT IT MEANS

"I hate Kenneth Starr with every fiber of my being." But Clinton also has a good point: it seems Starr hasn't been able to dig up anything specifically about him on Whitewater, which started this whole mess and which has always been too confusing to rile most Americans.

In TIME This Week

Cover Date: August 31, 1998

"I Misled People"
Leading By Leaving
Blowing His Stack
Justice Should Come Before Closure
The View From Congress
Lies, Tight Spots
How We Really Feel About Fidelity
Is This What We Expect?
Can We Get On to Something Serious?
Finally, the Telltale Lie
That's Where He Lost Me
The Notebook: Clinton Loses Touch
Lies My Presidents Told Me
President Gantry Addresses The Flock


Archives   |   CQ News   |   TIME On Politics   |   Feedback   |   Help

Copyright © 1998 AllPolitics All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this information is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.
Who we are.