LITTLE ROCK — In his new presidential library that opens today, Bill Clinton defiantly mocks the impeachment proceedings against him, charging that the independent counsel who investigated him had “a bias against the president” and blaming Republicans for engaging in the “politics of personal destruction.”
The former president, in exhibits he approved, repeatedly castigates Newt Gingrich, accusing him of instructing Republicans to label Democrats as “sick,” and asserts that the former House speaker led a cabal of radical right-wing “revolutionaries” bent on destroying Mr. Clinton for one reason: “Because we can.”
“The impeachment battle was not about the Constitution or the rule of law, but was instead a quest for power that the president’s opponents could not win at the ballot box,” says one exhibit placard in a library alcove titled “The Fight for Power.”
“In this combustible climate, the congressional Republicans took the politics of personal destruction to a new level, using the subpoena power to investigate Democrats, attack them in a number of public hearings and attempt to change popular public policies by discrediting the president and members of his administration personally,” says another.
All of the text included in the exhibit was personally approved — and in some cases, even written or “tweaked” — by Mr. Clinton himself, said Bruce Lindsey, a longtime Clinton confidant who served as White House deputy counsel for the former president.
Although Mr. Gingrich would not comment on the new exhibit, his spokesman did.
“Why should anyone expect that a dishonest administration would produce an honest library?” Rick Tyler said. “It looks like we have the first ‘I pity me’ presidential library.”
The alcove — one of 15 on the first floor of the William J. Clinton Presidential Center that recount the administration’s achievements over eight years — covers a slew of scandals that engulfed the Clinton presidency, including Whitewater, an Arkansas land deal that went bad; the White House travel office firings; and the former president’s sexual affair with an intern his daughter’s age, Monica Lewinsky.
The exhibit includes several attacks against former independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, who is labeled “a conservative activist who had never prosecuted a case and who had already shown a bias against the President.”
“Starr repeatedly expanded the scope of his investigation. Witnesses complained that Starr and his staff would threaten them with jail in an attempt to get them to change their stories. In January 1998, Starr began to look into the President’s testimony about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky,” one placard in the alcove reads.
In the only instance in which the library’s exhibit acknowledges wrongdoing, the text stops short of admitting that Mr. Clinton lied to the American people when he asserted that he “did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”
“In September 1998, President Clinton acknowledged that he had not been forthcoming about the relationship,” the exhibit says, but goes on to say, “On this basis, Starr, the Republican Congressional leadership and their allies launched an impeachment drive that the overwhelming majority of constitutional scholars said was unjustified.”
The combative text in the impeachment alcove returns often to Republicans, who won a majority in the House in 1994 and have picked up seats in almost every election since then.
“From the start of the Clinton presidency, the administration’s opponents waged an unprecedented fight for power. Seeking to steer America sharply to the right, Republican leaders pursued a radical agenda through radical means. They used new tools and tactics — lawsuits, investigations, new partisan media, front groups, a secret slush fund, and deeply divisive rhetoric — in their battle for political supremacy,” one placard says.
After Democrats picked up House seats in 1998, which the exhibit concludes was the voters’ way of telling Republicans “to stop their impeachment drive … Speaker Gingrich was asked why Republicans were proceeding anyway, instead of finding another remedy such as censure or reprimand.”
“The Speaker replied, ‘Because we can,’” according to the exhibit.
Clinton aides on hand for a media walkthrough yesterday of the $165 million library defended the exhibit.
“Impeachment was a part of an eight-year struggle beginning in ‘93, escalating in ‘94 after Republicans took the Congress,” Mr. Lindsey said. “The Congress did it because, as Newt Gingrich said, because they could, because they had the votes. That is the context in which he believes it should be viewed.”
Mr. Lindsey added that although the text of the exhibit contains no words of regret, a video display in the alcove shows a clip of “when he went out to the lawn and said, ‘For the part that I played in doing this, I apologize.’”
John Podesta, Mr. Clinton’s chief of staff from 1998 until 2001, also said the impeachment section of the library strikes the correct balance.
“It is a look back at the times, a reflection about what was going on over the course of a very long series of investigations that didn’t amount to anything,” he said. “That dealt with this in the context that it was an important event in the presidency but put it together with what was really going on at Washington at the time. I don’t think it’s defensive.”
Mr. Podesta noted that none of the other 11 presidential libraries deal as frankly with scandal.
“I don’t think there’s an ‘Iran-Contra’ alcove in the Reagan library,” he said, laughing, unaware that the library does treat the affair. “There’ll be partisans on both sides who think it’s too much or too little, but I think it’s an honest treatment that will stand the test of history.”
But there are instances in the exhibit that, while technically true, skirt the edge of truth. For instance, one placard in the alcove states that although seven separate investigations of the Clinton administration cost more than $100 million, “none of these efforts yielded a conviction for public misconduct.”
In fact, at least 14 persons were convicted in the Whitewater investigation for fraud or conspiracy involving bogus loans through public institutions, mail fraud and income-tax evasion, among others. Mr. Clinton himself agreed to a five-year suspension of his Arkansas law license as a means to end the Lewinsky inquiry and head off an Arkansas court move to punish him for misleading answers in a deposition taken during the Paula Jones sexual-harassment suit.
Jerry Seper contributed to this report.