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 TIME on politics Congressional Quarterly CNN/AllPolitics CNN/AllPolitics - Storypage, with TIME and Congressional Quarterly
Investigating The President

Clinton apologizes again for his conduct

President tries to secure his political base on Capitol Hill

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Sept. 9) -- As Independent Counsel Ken Starr's office gave Congress 18 boxloads of materials it has collected over the past seven months, President Bill Clinton told Democrats in Florida Wednesday he had let the country down but he was determined to redeem himself.

"I've done my best to be your friend, but I also let you down and I let my family down and I let this country down," Clinton said. "But I'm trying to make it right. And I'm determined never to let anything like that happen again."


Clinton was in Florida Wednesday to raise money for Democratic Lt. Gov. Buddy MacKay, who is trailing Republican candidate Jeb Bush, former President George Bush's son, in the state's 1998 gubernatorial race. Clinton delivered speeches in Orlando and Coral Gables.

In recent days, many Democratic candidates including, Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening have publically distanced themselves from Clinton. Hoping to stop the hemorrhaging of his core Democratic supporters, the president tried to draw a distinction between his conduct and the issues, policies and candidates of the Democratic party.

"There are a whole lot of people, in Washington especially, who ... would like for something going on in Washington to be the subject of an election in November instead of what's going on in the lives of the American people," Clinton said. "I have no one to blame but myself for my self-inflicted wounds. But that's not what America is about."

Clinton also said he was touched when, during a visit with school children in Orlando Wednesday, a young boy said to him, "Mr. President, I want to grow up to be president. I want to be a president like you."

"Now I thought, I want to be able to conduct my life and my presidency so that all the parents of the country could feel good if their children were able to say that again," said Clinton.

Clinton meets uneasy House Democrats

Clinton's apologies in Florida came after the beleaguered president met with eight ranking House Democrats, including House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt and Minority Whip David Bonior, for a White House breakfast amid signs the president's affair with Monica Lewinsky was eroding support in his own party on Capitol Hill.

House Minority Whip David Bonior  

Emerging from the meeting, Bonior told reporters it was an emotional meeting in which the president expressed his regret for his behavior. Bonior also said Democrats had forgiven the president and he should remain in office.

"What we saw was a father, a husband, a leader of our country who was contrite and was very sorry for his actions," Bonior said.

Bonior expressed confidence that Clinton can continue to lead the country.

"Nobody mentioned the word resignation, nobody mentioned the word impeachment," Bonior said. "This was a meeting for the president to express to us his sorrow, his concern, this was a person who felt very deeply about the pain he has caused."

Bonior also advised the president to once again talk to the American people about the scandal.

"I advised him that the president needs to make clear to the American people, in a way that he did to us today, his contrition, his sorrow for his actions, and he needs to do that not just once, he needs to understand that this is a process that is ongoing, that this issue will be raised time and again throughout the weeks, perhaps even months," Bonior said. "He needs to address it on a continual basis with the kind of concern that he expressed to us today but he also needs to get to the issues that he was elected to address in this country."

Senate sage laments current scandal, advises caution

But Clinton's meeting with House Democrats couldn't stifle all of his Democratic critics. In a speech on the Senate floor, Sen. Robert Byrd lamented the "sorrowful spectacle" the president has created.

"There is no question but that the president himself has sown the wind, and he is reaping the whirlwind," Byrd said."What the president had hoped to claim was 'nobody else's business' has now become everybody's business."

But the West Virginia Democrat also cautioned Congress and the American people against jumping to conclusions until Starr's report is made public.

"Caution should be the order of the day. If some time in the future the American people should come to believe that this president, or any president, has been driven out of office for what they may perceive to be political reasons, their wrath will fall upon those who jump to judgment prematurely," Byrd said.

Byrd, a history buff and Congress' foremost constitutional authority, recalled how, almost a quarter of a century ago, President Richard Nixon resigned under pressure from the Watergate scandal and the threat of impeachment hearings.

"Mr. President, just as I urged caution and patience in 1973 and 1974, I urge that same course now. I suggest that we try to restrain ourselves and wait until the House of Representatives has had an opportunity to examine the contents of Mr. Starr's report," said Byrd.

House leaders discuss how to handle report

In anticipation of Starr's report, House leaders from both parties met to discuss how to handle the independent counsel's materials.

Rep. Henry Hyde  

House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Gephardt, Majority Leader Dick Armey, Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde and Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the Judiciary Committee's ranking Democrat, all characterized Wednesday's meeting as a "good start" toward a bipartisan approach to the Starr report.

"This is a lousy job but somebody has to do it ... No one looks forward to this traumatic journey that we're about to enter on," Hyde told reporters at a news conference after the bipartisan meeting. Hyde would lead any impeachment inquiry growing out of Starr's sex-and-perjury investigation.

Gingrich also expressed his belief that the written part of Starr's report should be made public, but any sensitive supporting materials should be strictly controlled.

"I believe that whatever that document is -- inevitably and legitimately -- the American people should have access to (it). Certainly all of the members will want access, the senators will want access..." Gingrich said. "We think it is, frankly, more legitimate and more in the spirit of what we are trying to do ... for everyone to have access to it."

House Speaker Newt Gingrich  

When asked if Clinton's legal team should get an advance copy of the Starr report, Gephardt said he hoped the president's team would have the opportunity to respond to the report before the information was made public, but he wasn't sure if that will happen.

All of the members avoided questions about how the president's situation and the impending Starr report may affect November's elections.

Lawyers familiar with Starr's investigation say the report will include sordid sexual details of the president's admitted affair with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. But they also predict it will include allegations of criminal wrongdoing, including perjury, obstruction of justice and abuse of power.

The Office of the Independent Counsel worked through the Labor Day weekend on the report, summarizing more the seven months of investigation into the Lewinsky affair and four years of inquiry into the Whitewater land deal.

Presidential aides say they will paint Starr's report as one-sided, charging that key witnesses, including Lewinsky, were never cross-examined and that the allegations involve only sex.

CNN's Wolf Blitzer contributed to this report.


Wednesday September 9, 1998

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