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The Old Clinton Gang's Not All There

Style Showcase By Linton Weeks
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 26, 1998; Page C01

What is George Stephanopoulos up to?

Once one of President Clinton's closest confidants, Stephanopoulos, now an ABC News analyst, has been raising serious questions in the media about his former boss, sounding more foe than friend in the current scandal.

In an essay in the issue of Newsweek that arrives on newsstands today, Stephanopoulos sounds personally betrayed by the president.

"If true, the allegations about the president's relationship with Monica Lewinsky show that he failed to meet the standard of character he set for himself and shattered the promise he made to the public and the people around him," he writes. "Right now, I don't know whether to be angry, sad or both. But if the Lewinsky charges are valid, I know this: I'm livid. It's a terrible waste of years of work by thousands of people with the support of millions more."

And on "Good Morning America" Thursday he sounded as if he were making a case against the president. "It's hard to explain why you're sending a dress to an intern," he said.

That night, on an ABC News special report, he painted a portrait of his former boss as a man who doesn't always give straightforward answers. "You got to ask a lot of questions," he said. "You got to go back and you've got to make sure you ask every question that the press is going to ask in every possible way."

He was even one of the first to raise the specter of an endgame. If someone accused Clinton of lying and of having an affair with Monica Lewinsky, he said last week, and if Congress decided the action was "serious enough," then "I think that would either lead towards the impeachment proceedings or resignation."

His remarks have bewildered some of Stephanopoulos's former campaign and White House colleagues, said one of them. The question they're asking, this onetime Clinton adviser said, is: "What the hell is George doing?"

Of course, he's on the payroll of ABC and Newsweek now, not the White House. He's paid to pontificate. In a telephone interview yesterday, Stephanopoulos maintained he is only doing his job. "I have to let my words on ABC stand for themselves," he said, with a note of exasperation.

Some former colleagues say they understand his current role. "George is in a different position from anyone else" from the '92 War Room, that fabled stable of campaign commandos, says Mandy Grunwald, who directed the campaign's advertising that year. "He's become a commentator."

"George has got his position and his function and he's doing a very professional job of it," said Rahm Emanuel, who succeeded Stephanopoulos as senior adviser to the president.

Yesterday, Stephanopoulos sounded a sympathetic note about the president in his regular appearance on ABC's "This Week." "I pray he's telling the truth," he said. "I'm heartbroken."

But other veterans who engineered Clinton's victory over George Bush in 1992 are returning like swallows to Capistrano.

On NBC's "Meet the Press" yesterday, for instance, 1992 campaign adviser James Carville was as feisty as ever. Wearing a striped tie and striped shirt, Carville lashed out at independent counsel Kenneth Starr, calling his investigation "scuzzy."

"There's going to be a war," Carville said. "Friends of the president are disgusted."

And former administration officials Harold Ickes and Mickey Kantor, and television producer Harry Thomason, are back advising the president, helping craft a damage-control strategy.

The old guard, says Grunwald, believe that "at least, the president deserves the benefit of the doubt."

Stephanopoulos, on the other hand, appears to be taking a hardened stance toward Clinton. It's quite a turnaround. During the 1992 election, and throughout the first Clinton administration, Stephanopoulos and the president were joined at the brain. When difficult situations arose, Clinton would often ask: "What does Georgie think?" They were codependent, binary stars. In many ways, Clinton owes his presidency to Stephanopoulos; Stephanopoulos owes his prominence to Clinton.

Yesterday, Stephanopoulos recalled Super Bowl Sunday six years ago when then-candidate Clinton appeared on "60 Minutes" to deny allegations of an affair with Gennifer Flowers. The current case, Stephanopoulos said, "is far, far more serious. But he does have to do something about it. The idea that he can go to the State of the Union Tuesday night without addressing this before or saying something during the speech is ludicrous."

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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