- The Washington Times - Friday, April 14, 2000

A combative President Clinton declared Thursday that he is not ashamed of his impeachment and is not interested in a presidential pardon by his successor.

"I'm not ashamed of the fact that they impeached me," Mr. Clinton told the American Society of Newspaper Editors, meeting in Washington, D.C. "That was their decision, not mine, and it was wrong."

Mr. Clinton, in a question-and-answer session, said he would not seek a presidential pardon and that he is "prepared to stand before any bar of justice."

But Mr. Clinton did not flatly rule out accepting a pardon.

"Well, the answer is I have no interest in it. I wouldn't ask for it. I don't think it would be necessary," the president said.

Mr. Clinton, narrowing his eyes and pointing his finger for emphasis, also said the Whitewater investigation was "a lie and a fraud from the beginning."

He added that his acquittal in his Senate impeachment trial "saved the Constitution of the United States."

Whitewater independent counsel Robert Ray said last week that his investigation of Mr. Clinton remains open. Mr. Ray, who took over for Kenneth W. Starr, has not ruled out seeking an indictment of Mr. Clinton for perjury after the president leaves office Jan. 20.

Last year, U.S. District Judge Susan Webber Wright, in Little Rock, Ark., cited Mr. Clinton for contempt of court and fined Mr. Clinton $90,000 for lying in his deposition in the Paula Jones sexual harassment suit. The judge found that Mr. Clinton presented "false, misleading and evasive answers that were designed to obstruct the judicial process."

Vice President Al Gore, who is trying to avoid the taint of Mr. Clinton's scandals, addressed the editors Wednesday and said the question of a pardon for Mr. Clinton is moot.

"President Clinton is way ahead of you on this. He said publicly some time ago that he would neither request nor accept a pardon, so that's the answer to that question," Mr. Gore said.

Jim Nicholson, chairman of the Republican National Committee, Thursday accused Mr. Gore of "twisting the truth."

Former White House Counsel Charles F.C. Ruff, who defended Mr. Clinton during his impeachment trial, has said the president would not seek a pardon, but Mr. Clinton had never made such a public statement until Thursday, Mr. Nicholson said.

"The real question, perhaps the question of the year, is whether or not he will accept a pardon," Mr. Nicholson said. "Once again, Clintonian speak rears its ugly head."

In his speech to the editors, Mr. Clinton said the nation should take advantage of its prosperity and should secure Social Security and Medicare, rather than seek an across-the-board tax cut.

The president then took questions from the editors. Two dealt with his impeachment and the possibility of a pardon. The third referred to Elian Gonzalez.

Mr. Clinton, apparently irked by the questions, portrayed his impeachment and his Senate acquittal as part of a larger battle with Republicans in Congress led by then-Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia.

Mr. Clinton told an editor from Washington state that his presidential library will present his impeachment as a chapter in that battle.

"We'll have to deal with it. It's an important part of it. But I have a slightly different take on it than many of you do, or at least than the Washington media does."

The impeachment drama is "one of the major chapters in my defeat of the revolution Mr. Gingrich led," Mr. Clinton said.

The president called his involvement with White House intern Monica Lewinsky "a terrible personal mistake." He said he has paid for his transgressions, both monetarily and in the toll the scandal took on his family.

Mr. Clinton noted that he paid $850,000 to settle the Paula Jones case, which a judge dismissed.

"I gave away half of my life savings to settle a lawsuit I'd won, because I wanted to go back to work being president," Mr. Clinton said.

Mrs. Jones filed suit against Mr. Clinton May 6, 1994, charging that Mr. Clinton asked her to perform a sex act in an Arkansas hotel room three years earlier, when he was governor of Arkansas and she worked as a state clerk.

Judge Wright dismissed Mrs. Jones' suit April 1, 1998. Mrs. Jones announced on April 16, 1998, that she would appeal, saying, "The court's ruling affects many women other than myself."

On Nov. 13, 1998, Mr. Clinton agreed to pay Mrs. Jones $850,000 to drop the lawsuit with no apology or admission of guilt.

But Mr. Clinton was unapologetic about his impeachment.

"On the impeachment, let me tell you, I am proud of what we did there, because I think we saved the Constitution of the United States," he said.

Mr. Clinton, adopting a tough partisan tone, said he first "had to defeat the Republican revolution of 1994, when they shut down the government and we beat back the Contract on America."

He said he then beat the Republican Congress when he was acquitted on impeachment charges and when he vetoed the Republican tax cut in 1998. Mr. Clinton said the voters "had their verdict" when he was re-elected in 1996 and when Democrats gained five seats in the 1998 congressional election.

"But as a political matter," Mr. Clinton said, "I'm not ashamed of the fact that they impeached me. That was their decision, not mine, and it was wrong.

"As a matter of law, Constitution, and history, it was wrong. And I'm glad I didn't quit, and I'm glad we fought it. And the American people stuck with me, and I am profoundly grateful."

Mr. Clinton said a conviction on impeachment charges "would have changed the Constitution forever in a way that would have been very destructive" to the American people.

"That has nothing to do with the fact that I made a terrible mistake, of which I am deeply regretful."

White House spokesman Joe Lockhart criticized the editors for asking Mr. Clinton about pardons and impeachment.

"These are purportedly reasonably intelligent people, but I think it demonstrates just how isolated some newspaper editors are from the rest of the country," Mr. Lockhart told The Associated Press.

"They get a chance to ask the president about anything, any challenges that face America and … the best they can come up with is two questions about impeachment.

"The country has moved past this. Unfortunately, many major newspaper editors haven't. It may be some reason for declining circulation."

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