Clinton says again he's sorry
President says he 'gave in to my shame,' is ready to accept the consequences
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, December 11) -- With the momentum on Capitol Hill moving towards his impeachment, President Bill Clinton made a last-ditch personal apology Friday afternoon to members of Congress and the American people.
Clinton said he was "profoundly sorry" for what he did in the Monica Lewinsky affair and was ready to accept the consequences.
Clinton, who spoke in the Rose Garden, made no new admissions and said he could not add to the defense offered this week by his lawyers before the House Judiciary Committee. Shortly after he spoke, the committee approved the first of four drafted articles of impeachment against him.
"What I want the American people to know, what I want the Congress to know, is that I am profoundly sorry for all I have done wrong in words and deeds," Clinton said. "I never should have misled the country, the Congress, my friends and my family. Quite simply, I gave in to my shame."
After his statement, Clinton turned and walked back to the Oval Office, ignoring two shouted questions from reporters -- whether reasonable people could conclude he lied under oath and whether he would resign if the House sent articles of impeachment to the Senate.
Clinton also said he feels "profound remorse" for what the nation is going through as the Judiciary Committee debates the proposed articles of impeachment.
"Like anyone who honestly faces the shame of wrongful conduct, I would give anything to go back and undo what I did," he said. But Clinton said that is not possible, and anything that Congress does to him would pale in comparison to the agony he has caused his wife Hillary and daughter Chelsea.
Clinton worked for the past several days on the apology and delivered the remarks even after being repeatedly warned that Republicans would quickly "shred" whatever he said as inadequate, White House aides told CNN.
Clinton told advisers at a Thursday night meeting in the White House residence he was leaning in favor of making a statement before leaving Saturday for a trip to the Middle East, but wanted to sleep on it.
Shortly after 3 p.m. ET Friday, the president summoned top aides and told them he wanted to make the statement.
Sources familiar with the president's thinking said he believed he needed to say something at the close of a week dominated by debate in the House Judiciary Committee.
The sources dismissed as ludicrous Republican demands for the president to admit he lied under oath.
"Look, he doesn't think he committed perjury in the first place, and even if he did he isn't going to confess," said one. "That was never a serious proposition -- just Republicans trying to lead the president to the cliff and watch him jump."
Instead, aides said the president wanted to make a personal statement making clear his contrition and his awareness of the gravity of the situation.
As predicted, some Republicans immediately dismissed Clinton's latest apology as inadequate.
Rep. Bob Franks (R-New Jersey) told CNN that Clinton's speech "missed the mark."
"What was needed from the president was admission, not contrition," Franks said.
Franks, a moderate Republican, has said he will vote for impeachment unless the president admits lying under oath.
"We have heard this or a version of this time and time again. He needs to admit he broke the law," Franks told CNN. "Through his remarks this evening, he once again put his own interest ahead of the nation's interest."
Franks predicted the president's speech would not sway any undecided Republicans.
House Majority Whip Tom DeLay also ripped Clinton in a statement, calling the president's remarks an insult to the intelligence of House members undecided about impeachment. He urged Clinton to resign.
"The president's refusal to admit that he lied under oath perpetuates and compounds the untruths he formulated in the Paula Jones deposition and continued during his grand jury testimony," DeLay said in the statement.
After Clinton's August 17 admission of an improper relationship with Lewinsky, he addressed the nation in a speech widely panned for its lack of contrition and his hostile attitude toward Independent Counsel Ken Starr.
Later, Clinton publicly apologized several more times.
Before Clinton's speech, there was debate in the White House over whether Clinton should speak out publicly before he leaves Saturday on a Middle East peace mission.
Earlier in the day, a senior House Democrat told CNN the consensus of Democratic leaders was that Clinton should wait until he returns from his trip. Said this lawmaker: "Anything he says now will be dissected and criticized by Republicans. ... Just before the vote is better."
But a prominent Washington lobbyist close to the White House said he was urging Clinton to speak out. Said this source: "The White House needs to do something to get the country to tune into this, so people realize they are talking about removing him from office."
Moments after Clinton's dramatic statement, the House Judiciary Committee voted to send at least one article of impeachment to the full House. The move was expected and White House efforts have focused this week on the handful of undecided Republicans and wavering Democrats who could determine the fate of the president.
Even so, three more Republican members of the House indicated Friday they will vote for impeachment: Reps. Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, Charles Norwood, also of Georgia and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida.
None of these members are considered to be in the group of 24 or so GOP moderates targeted by the White House. But Chambliss and Norwood were on their longshot list because they are conservative Republicans from districts that have a large number of Democratic voters.
The president's team has been quietly but urgently working to assemble an unorthodox network to court those members. Clinton cabinet secretaries Bill Richardson, Dan Glickman and Bill Daley are working the phones, as are former House Democratic Reps. Tom Downey of New York, Butler Derrick of South Carolina and former White House chief of staff Leon Panetta of California.
Sources told CNN that current White House Chief of Staff John Podesta and other presidential surrogates are calling not only members of Congress but also lobbyists and corporate chief executive officers, asking them to warn undecided Republicans that impeachment could shock the stock market.
Dealing a blow to the White House, a Democratic congressman who first called for Clinton to resign, then spearheaded a censure movement, now may vote for impeachment. Rep. Paul McHale said if censure is not an option, he will vote in favor of articles of impeachment unless the president admits giving false information under oath, a spokesman for McHale told CNN Friday.
The Pennsylvania Democrat has mistakenly been listed as anti-impeachment in several publications. Democrats had been counting on him as a "no" vote.
"We need to be convinced that a dereliction of character has now been repaired and this type of deceit won't happen again," McHale told the Allentown Morning Call.
A bipartisan mix of elected local officials also is assisting the White House in reaching out to Republican House members who have not declared how they will vote on impeachment, sources told CNN.
Montgomery County, Maryland, County Executive Doug Duncan, for example, was enlisted to reach out to moderate Republican Rep. Connie Morella. Duncan is a Democrat.
In Michigan, sources said Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer, a Democrat, volunteered to discuss the impeachment debate with Republican Rep. Fred Upton. One of the sources said the two are longtime associates. An Upton spokesman said calls to the Washington office were running 2-1 in favor of impeachment; the congressman plans to announce his position Tuesday or Wednesday of next week.
These sources said that in Iowa, Cedar Rapids Mayor Lee Clancy, a Republican, had spoken recently with moderate Republican Rep. Jim Leach.
Similarly, Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton told White House officials she would speak with GOP Rep. Jim Ramstad of nearby Bloomington.
Sources familiar with the White House "intelligence network" said the Republican Mayor of Rome, New York, Joe Griffo, had volunteered to make the case against impeachment to several members of the New York House delegation, including Republican Sherwood Boehlert.
One adminstration official said mayors and other local elected officials were being asked if they knew where undecided members stood, and that many were volunteering to reach out and encourage these lawmakers to oppose impeachment.
This official said "there's no direct lobbying or arm-twisting, but in the course of gathering intelligence and information many people are offering to help."
White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart reacted sharply Friday to comments by House Judiciary Committee member Bob Barr (R-Georgia), who accused the White House of a concerted effort to spread critical stories about him and other Republicans.
"Representative Barr has made a series of unsubstantiated charges against the White House," Lockhart said. "He should either substantiate the charges or refrain from any further inflammatory statements. It is his duty as a member of Congress, it is his duty as a member of the Judiciary Committee to not engage in innuendo, personal attacks or spreading vile gossip. In short, produce some evidence or get away from the cameras."
Asked whether Barr's accusations of White House promotion of critical stories about Barr and Rep. Mary Bono (R-California) and critical comments by White House adviser Sidney Blumenthal about Rep. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) were correct, Lockhart said, "I have no evidence that there is anyone in the White House involved in anything he's talking about. When you make a charge it is incumbent on you to substantiate the charge."
On Blumenthal's reference to Graham and his comment "I wish I had a better class of critic," Lockhart said Blumenthal was merely responding "to what Lindsey Graham said about him [Blumenthal]" during Wednesday's impeachment hearing. Graham has accused the White House of an orchestrated campaign to destroy Lewinsky.
The majority and minority leaders in the Senate have issued a joint statement saying they will have no official statements on the impeachment proceedings.
Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Mississippi) and Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota) said, "The Senate leaders will not make any official statement on the matter pending before the House Judiciary Committee unless and until the full House, by its actions, makes it clear that this body has a specific, constitutional duty to consider."
Should the House Judiciary Committee vote out one or more article of impeachment, and should the full House vote for impeachment next week, the Senate would conduct a trial when the 106th Congress convenes in 1999. The Chief Justice of the United States, William Rehnquist, would conduct the trial.
CNN's John King, Jonathan Karl, Mary Kramer and Frank Sesno contributed to this report.
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