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Lewinsky questions dominate Clinton-Havel news conference

Clinton denies he is considering resignation, refuses to detail relationship

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Sept. 16) -- Though President Bill Clinton tried to project an image of 'business as usual,' he was hit hard Wednesday by questions from the press concerning his conduct surrounding his admitted sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

Video: Clinton answers questions about the Starr report (9-16-98) Real: 28K | 56K, Windows Media: 28K | 56K

Transcript: U.S. President Bill Clinton, Czech President Vaclav Havel

In a joint news conference with Czech President Vaclav Havel at the State Department, Clinton fielded questions for the first time since the American public learned the details of Independent Counsel Ken Starr's report of potentially impeachable offenses.

Clinton

The American president insisted the Lewinsky scandal has not diminished his ability to lead and said he would continue to focus on his job as president.

Clinton denied that he was considering resignation despite the toll the probe was taking on him and the nation. Insisting the "personal toll was of no concern," Clinton said, "I believe the right thing for the country, and what I believe the people of the country want ... me to go and do my job. And that's what I intend to do, and that is the right thing to do."

Clinton sidestepped questions asking him to relate the specifics of his relationship with the former White House intern, saying it was better to not get "mired in details."

Though he declined to take the opportunity to rebut Starr's allegations, Clinton also did not repeat his defense of his deposition language being "legal" -- an argument that has not sit well with lawmakers of both parties who have urged the president to quit the "hair-splitting."

As he has done many times in recent days, the president once again expressed "acknowledgment and chagrin" over his inappropriate relationship with Lewinsky and said he was "trying to do the still-quite-painful work that I need to do with my family in our own life."

In the arena of international affairs, the president bristled at the suggestion that he had lost the moral authority to continue pressing U.S. worldwide interests.

Citing his continued work over the past year in battling terrorism, working for peace in Northern Ireland and the Middle East and addressing the recent financial crises in Russia and Asia, Clinton said moral authority "is something that you have to demonstrate every day. My opinion is not as important as the opinion of others. What is important is that I do my job."

Clinton continued: "I'm determined to lead this country and to focus on the issues that are before us. It is not an option. There's no option. We have got to deal with these things, and I am very, very heartened by what world leaders have said to me in the last two weeks about what they want us to do."

Domestically, the president attempted to refocus attention on the work he and Congress needs to take care of now, such as the budget, International Monetary Fund funding, saving Social Security and the Clinton Administration's Patients' Bill of Rights.

"These are the things to me that I should be talking about as president without in any way ever trying to obscure my own personal acknowledgement and chagrin about what I did wrong and my determination to put it right," Clinton said

The White House is currently bracing for the expected release later this week of the president's videotaped August 17 grand jury deposition before Starr's grand jury. During the four hours of questioning sources tell CNN there were angry exchanges between Clinton and Starr's prosecutors, which could be embarrassing to the president if made public.

Though the White House opposes the move, Clinton said the release of the tape was the House's decision. When asked if he knew at the time of his testimony that the tape could be made public, Clinton said he "knew that rules were against it, but I thought it would happen."

Havel
Czech President Vaclav Havel  

But Clinton said the release of the tape is "not so much a concern to me. You know that I acknowledged an improper relationship and I declined to discuss the details. And that's what happened. So, I leave it for others to judge and evaluate. That's not for me to say."

Though talk of foreign affairs and national security were pushed aside in favor the American crisis, Havel praised Clinton's leadership in building a "new Europe," and credited him with much of the progress in that part of the world. On the subject of the president's troubles, the Czech president said, "There are some which I don't understand. I don't like to speak about things which I don't understand."

At several point during the news conference, State Department officials sitting in the back of the auditorium applauded Clinton and Havel, particularly when both men said there were more important issues that needed to be addressed.

Starr's report to Congress outlines 11 potentially impeachable grounds, charging the president lied under oath and obstructed justice. It also contained graphic details of the sexual relationship between Clinton and Lewinsky that the White House argues were not necessary to include.

Before Wednesday's news conference the president had only faced press questioning on the Lewinsky matter once since admitting last month to a sexual relationship with the ex-intern. During a news conference in Moscow, following his summit with Russian President Boris Yeltsin, Clinton took several questions but only spoke on the matter briefly.

Havel is on a five-day visit to the U.S. He will be honored by Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton at a White House state dinner Wednesday night, featuring rock 'n roll star Lou Reed.


Investigating the President

MORE STORIES:

Wednesday, September 16, 1998

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