By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 17, 2004; 9:15 AM
You knew the moment was coming.
With Bill Clinton kicking off a big-time media campaign for his book, you knew the question that everyone wanted the answer to would not have to do with taxes or Bosnia or his failed health care plan.
The Monica moment was lurking out there.
What would he say in the book about the "inappropriate" relationship, as he put it, that nearly ended his presidency? What would he say to interviewers? How would he handle the inevitable grilling about the woman he once assured the nation he "did not have sex with"?
Would he be contrite -- or defiant? Would he split linguistic hairs -- or own up to lying? This was the question that Hillary faced with her book, and Bill's turn has come.
Now we have a glimpse. Here's my report in today's Washington Post:
Bill Clinton says his affair with Monica Lewinsky was "a terrible moral error" but that he regards his battle against the impeachment that followed as "a badge of honor."
In excerpts from a "60 Minutes" interview with Dan Rather airing Sunday, the former president says the disclosure of his relationship with Lewinsky put him "in the doghouse" with his wife, Hillary -- who, he says, needed time to decide whether to stay married to him -- and threatened to alienate his daughter Chelsea.
But Clinton called the Republican attempt to drive him from office "an abuse of power," saying: "I didn't quit, I never thought of resigning and I stood up to it and beat it back. The whole battle was a badge of honor. I don't see it as a stain, because it was illegitimate."
In a tone of sadness and self-reproach, Clinton said of the affair: "I think I did something for the worst possible reason -- just because I could. I think that's just about the most morally indefensible reason that anybody could have for doing anything. There are lots of sophisticated explanations, more complicated psychological explanations, but none of them are an excuse." Those comments were aired on last night's "CBS Evening News."
Rather said in an interview yesterday that Clinton also ripped into former independent counsel Kenneth Starr, who investigated whether Clinton had falsely testified about his sexual relationship with the former White House intern. "He says Starr was unethical if not illegal" and suggested that Starr "did something illegal," Rather said. Clinton argued that the former prosecutor "threatened and put in jail Clinton supporters who wouldn't tell what he called 'lies,' and went easy on other people who could have been prosecuted," according to Rather.
Did Clinton, who is publicizing his forthcoming memoir, appear angry while discussing Starr? "Yes. Very," the CBS anchor said. "It's one thing to read it, another to see him say it."
Clinton was "uncomfortable" discussing his relationship with Lewinsky and the reaction of his wife, Rather said, but "sat through it all. He didn't brush aside any question. He took every question, every follow-up. I would have preferred not to ask any of these questions, but he wrote about them in his book. . . . Was I uncomfortable doing it? Yeah."
Asked how he overcame the damage to his marriage, Clinton said: "We'd take a day a week, and we did -- a whole day a week every week for a year, maybe a little more -- and did counseling." In her own book last year, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said she started crying when her husband told her the truth and that "I wanted to wring Bill's neck."
Clinton was asked about Starr last night at the New York premiere of the Harry Thomason film "The Hunting of the President." He described Starr and his prosecutors as "the instruments of a grand design," and said that after his wife was "hooted and derided" for blaming the investigations on a "vast right-wing conspiracy," he told her: "The only thing I'm not sure about is the word conspiracy. This is right out in the open."
Clinton added that "the mainstream press was basically in the tank with Starr until the issuing of the Starr report" detailing the Lewinsky investigation, but that he had no complaint about the coverage after the report, which he appeared to view as a turning point.
Clinton's book, titled "My Life," hits bookstores Tuesday, and the excerpts released by CBS also deal with policy issues during his eight-year tenure.
Clinton's greatest accomplishment, in his opinion, was the creation of 22 million jobs. "I kept score, how many people's lives were better off," he said.
The former president also cited the 1999 war in the Balkans that toppled Slobodan Milosevic. "The day that Kosovar war ended and I knew Milosevic's days were numbered was a great day. I had a lot of great days," he said.
The interview also covered the war in Iraq, which was not mentioned in yesterday's excerpts. Rather said Clinton was "supportive" of President Bush on Iraq and that "it will surprise some people."
Clinton took sharp exception to criticism that he had not done enough to combat terrorism while in office, Rather recalled. "On the accusation that he had opportunities to get Osama bin Laden, had opportunities to have him delivered by the Sudanese, he said, 'absolutely, flatly untrue,' describing it as 'bull.' "
Rather described Clinton as "remarkably candid," both in the book and in several hours of interviews in Arkansas and Chappaqua, N.Y. "For someone to publicly be this introspective, reflective and critical of himself is pretty remarkable and rare," he said. "I don't think I could do it."
Aside from his emotional remarks about Starr, Clinton "seemed to be going to great lengths not to be playing 'get even,' " Rather said.
The "60 Minutes" interview, which will take up the full hour, is the kickoff to a multimedia campaign designed to hawk Clinton's $35 book. Clinton will be interviewed next week by Oprah Winfrey, "Today" and "Good Morning America," and all radio stations owned by Viacom, CBS's parent, will carry a Clinton town hall meeting that will include questions from America Online subscribers. Publisher Alfred A. Knopf has ordered an initial printing of 1.5 million copies.
Moving right along . . . We are entering the veepstakes home stretch, as the Boston Globe reports:
"John F. Kerry spent 90 minutes yesterday interviewing Representative Richard A. Gephardt, as the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee began the closing phase of his search for a running mate, according to a Democratic official close to both men.
"The meeting was the first in a series that Kerry plans, the official said, as he prepares to announce his choice of a vice president, most probably the second or third week of July.
"His aides have developed a plan that includes an elaborately staged announcement, as well as a bus, train, air, or boat tour by the duo aimed at building interest in the ticket before the Democratic National Convention, which begins July 26."
Running mate or not, Kerry is raking it in:
"Sen. John F. Kerry's presidential campaign raised more than $100 million in the last three months, a record-breaking surge that helped him stay competitive with President Bush's once-overwhelming war chest, according to figures released Wednesday by Kerry's campaign," the Los Angeles Times reports. "Kerry announced he had raised at least $26 million in May, double what Bush raised in the same period. Kerry also collected more than Bush in March and April. The donations swelled Kerry's campaign coffers to $145 million, the most any presidential challenger has raised, his campaign said."
More trouble for Bush on the 9/11 front. The New York Times has a scorecard:
"The bipartisan commission investigating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks further called into question on Wednesday one of President Bush's rationales for the war with Iraq, and again put him on the defensive over an issue the White House was once confident would be a political plus.
"In questioning the extent of any ties between Iraq and Al Qaeda, the commission weakened the already spotty scorecard on Mr. Bush's justifications for sending the military to topple Saddam Hussein.
"Banned biological and chemical weapons: none yet found. Percentage of Iraqis who view American-led forces as liberators: 2, according to a poll commissioned last month by the Coalition Provisional Authority. Number of possible Al Qaeda associates known to have been in Iraq in recent years: one, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, whose links to the terrorist group and Mr. Hussein's government remain sketchy. . . .
"The presumed Democratic presidential nominee, was quick to seize on the commission's report to reprise his contention that Mr. Bush 'misled' the American people about the need for the war."
The White House, meanwhile, is mounting a summer media offensive:
"The Bush administration, which has long been criticized for being secretive, is suddenly opening up just in time for re-election," says the Washington Times. "Since the beginning of June, President Bush, first lady Laura Bush, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and other senior administration officials have made themselves unusually accessible to the media. 'The president has done three extended news conferences in the very recent past,' said White House deputy press secretary Trent Duffy. 'That is something that is new.'
"During last week's Group of Eight economic summit in Georgia, Mrs. Bush granted interviews to Fox News Channel, CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC and USA Today, among others. "Reporters who previously had difficulty getting their phone calls to the West Wing returned suddenly were offered access to a host of senior administration officials, ranging from White House Chief of Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. to Bush aide Elliot Abrams."
I don't see Karl Rove's name being on the list for some reason.
I thought the gay marriage amendment had faded for the year, but now it's back, prompting these observations by the Washington Monthly's Kevin Drum:
"The Senate Republican leadership is aiming for a mid-July vote on a constitutional amendment that would ban gay marriage, forcing Democrats to take a stand on the controversial topic just before the party heads to Boston for its presidential nominating convention. . . .
"Gay marriage strikes me as a lose-lose proposition for both parties, but in the end I suspect Republicans have more to lose than Democrats when it comes to banning it via constitutional amendment.
"Basically, I figure that voting for the amendment doesn't do that much for the GOP. It solidifies their support with the Christian Right, but Rove & Co. have been focusing on them so much for the past few years that I think they're mostly in the bag already. On the other hand, the GOP has the potential to lose a fair amount of the centrist vote from 2000 that bought into the whole 'compassionate conservatism' thing and really doesn't think that amending the constitution in the service of gay bashing was what they were signing up for.
"For Democrats, I suspect the downside is much smaller. After all, even in conservative areas they can easily justify a negative vote on principled grounds of not wanting to mess with the constitution.
"So bring it on. This seems like a great chance for Democrats to paint Republicans as hopelessly in hock to the Christian Right and painting themselves as simple moderates who think the constitution shouldn't be revised every time some special interest group needs to be bought off. If John Kerry plays his cards right -- and yes, I know that's a big if -- this is a great chance to make the Republican party look awfully scary to some important voters."
At the Buzz Machine, Jeff Jarvis is disgusted by Michael Moore:
"On a clip from a Dateline interview just shown on Today, Matt Lauer confronted Michael Moore about why he did not release images of abuse at Abu Ghraib that he had long before the photos from the prison came out. Moore ducked and deflected as nimbly as an out-of-shape fat man can, which is to say, not at all.
"Moore said that when the photos did come out, it was being treated in a 'tabloid' and 's&m' way and so he said he decided to release the images he had in his 'context,' which is to say, in his movie. Lauer asked why he didn't release the images earlier -- the implication being that he could have stopped further abuse against the Iraqi prisoners. Moore said, to whom? Lauer said, to the government. Moore shook his head. OK, Lauer said, then why didn't you break the story? How, asked Moore, I don't have a TV show. You could have come to us, Lauer said, and we would have shown the story. Moore said he doesn't trust big media. He said he would have been accused of pulling a publicity stunt for his movie.
"Oh, no one would ever accuse Moore of that!
" . . . If he really cared about the Iraqi people, Moore would have done something. But he didn't. He cares about his box office."
This sort of thing could get Roger Simon banned in Boston:
"The Democratic Convention is $5 million over budget and it hasn't even begun yet. And we're supposed to trust these people with the economy? Three suggestions: One, cut the first day when nobody is paying attention anyway. Two, charge speakers $25,000 for every minute their speeches go long. Three, auction off the vice presidency."
The LAT has a huge piece on Vanity Fair Editor Graydon Carter, his Hollywood connections and the company's new ethics code.
Finally, Newt has been moonlighting, according to the Weekly Standard's Katherine Mangu-Ward:
"Newt Gingrich has been leading a secret life. Night after night for years he's been slipping out of the headquarters of the vast right-wing conspiracy, wolfing down spy novels and then reviewing them for Amazon.com. So prolific and proficient has he been at this pursuit that he has attained the coveted title Amazon Top 500 Reviewer. Newt is number 488.
"To earn this honor, Gingrich wrote 137 reviews, which were deemed 'helpful' by 2,002 people. 'Newt Gingrich,' we learn from his extensive About Me page, 'is an avid reader. He does not review all of the books he reads. You will not find any bad reviews here, just the books he thinks you might enjoy.' From the same page, we learn that in addition to being called an 'exceptional leader' by Time magazine (which made him its Man of the Year in 1995), Newt Gingrich is 'credited with the idea of a Homeland Security agency,' 'widely recognized for his commitment to a better system of health,' and that he was the March of Dimes 1995 Georgia Citizen of the Year."
Not to get too self-promotional or anything.
"Certainly no one could fault Gingrich for less-than-full disclosure about himself. But you can also tell a lot about a man by the company he keeps.
"Gingrich shares the rank of Amazon reviewer #488 with 'boudica' who describes herself as 'Witch and Editor of the ZodiacBistro.com and a free lance reviewer.'"
Hey, a few more reviews and he'll leave her and her cauldron in the dust.
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