- The Washington Times - Friday, August 11, 2000

From combined dispatches

President Clinton Thursday repeated earlier apologies for the Monica Lewinsky affair, with the additional twist of a specific exoneration of Vice President Al Gore on the eve of the Democratic National Convention.
"He didn't fail in his ministry because I did," Mr. Clinton said to 11,000 ministers at a church leadership conference outside Chicago. "Surely, no fair-minded person would blame him for any mistakes that I made."
Mr. Gore, a week away from his nomination as the Democratic standard-bearer to succeed Mr. Clinton, has suffered in the polls, in part from being tied to a president whose job approval is high but whose ethics have drawn widespread scorn.
Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush indirectly criticized Mr. Clinton's scandal-wracked administration in his acceptance speech at last week's Republican National Convention.
"To lead this nation to a responsibility era, a president himself must be responsible," Mr. Bush said. "And so, when I put my hand on the Bible, I will swear to not only uphold the laws of our land. I will swear to uphold the honor and dignity of the office to which I have been elected, so help me God."
Two years after the sex and perjury scandal that nearly toppled his presidency, Mr. Clinton told the ministers meeting Thursday that he feels "this overwhelming sense of gratitude" to have gained a measure of forgiveness from Americans over the affair and the resulting yearlong impeachment drama.
"I feel much more at peace than I used to," Mr. Clinton told the conference at Willow Creek Community Church during questions from the Rev. Bill Hybels, the church's senior pastor and a Clinton adviser since 1992. "I'm now in the second year of a process of trying to totally rebuild my life from a terrible mistake I made."
"It's always a work in progress," he said. "This has to be a dynamic ongoing effort. I had to come to terms with a lot of things, the fundamental importance of character and integrity."
Mr. Clinton did not specifically refer to his acknowledged affair with the former White House intern less than half his age or to his attempts to cover it up.
Despite his use of terms and phrases like "ongoing" and his being "a work in progress," Mr. Clinton said he had not thought about the Lewinsky affair and its consequences for "a long, long time." He implied that he was only talking about it now at his interlocutors' insistence.
"You know, believe it or not, I hadn't thought about it in a long, long time now. I thought about it a little bit now because you asked me to do this and I said yes, and here we are in the soup together."
In what was billed as a "no-holds-barred" interview on the church stage, Mr. Hybels said many in the United States, and some in his church, felt that Mr. Clinton had never properly apologized. In his address to the nation in which he acknowledged his affair, Mr. Clinton ripped independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, blaming him for investigating the president's private life.
Mr. Clinton apologized Thursday, but said his earlier words had been "clear and unambiguous" and that he's no longer bothered by those who said it was insufficient.
"I think that anyone who saw that, and who observed what happened afterward, would not doubt that there had been a full and adequate apology.
"I suppose there was a time when I was upset about it, but I realized it was … just another excuse not to be doing what I should be doing, working on my marriage, work on my parenthood," said Mr. Clinton.
White House spokesman Joe Lockhart denied political timing, saying the speech was scheduled six months ago.
The discussion with group leader Mr. Hybels was not supposed to focus on the Lewinsky matter, but conservative members insisted Mr. Hybels bring it up, Mr. Lockhart said.
Asked for comment, Cliff May, a Republican National Committee spokesman, said, "If it's therapeutic for Clinton to talk about his personal growth, I can only wish him well."
Mr. Clinton said the degree of disgrace he suffered made him face the truth.
"It may be that if I didn't get knocked down … I might not have had to really deal with it 100 percent," he said, in apparent reference to his impeachment by the House of Representatives. "When there's nothing left to hide, it sort of frees you up to do what you ought to be doing anyway.
"And I think that as awful as what I went through was, and humiliating as it was, more to others than to me, sometimes … you think you've got something behind you and it's not behind you," he said.
There was widespread speculation earlier this week that Mr. Clinton would use his speech Monday at the Democratic National Convention to "exonerate" Mr. Gore for his scandal-plagued administration, which is dragging down Mr. Gore's poll numbers.
For example, among voters who opposed Mr. Gore in a Pew Research poll conducted last year, 51 percent cited his close ties to the Clinton administration.
Independent pollster John Zogby also said earlier this week that increasing signs in his polling show independent and swing voters are driving up Mr. Bush's poll numbers and linking Mr. Gore with the scandals of the past several years.
Mr. Gore crystallized his link with Mr. Clinton on Dec. 19, 1998 the day Mr. Clinton was impeached. Mr. Gore stood on the South Lawn at the White House and said impeachment "does a great disservice to a man I believe will be regarded as one of our greatest presidents."

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