President Clinton predicted that the "personal mistake" he made in his Oval Office affair with Monica S. Lewinsky will not damage his administration's long-term reputation, and asserted that historians will salute the way he fought against impeachment "because it preserved the Constitution."
"I think that history will view this much differently," Clinton told ABC News interviewer Carole Simpson. "They will say I made a bad personal mistake, I paid a serious price for it, but that I was right to stand and fight for my country and my Constitution and its principles, and that the American people were very good to stand with me."
In the interview, Clinton also made plain, in bitter language, the grievance he feels toward political opponents, suggesting that they exploited the affair only when their efforts to undermine him over other ethical controversies fell short.
"I made a personal mistake, and they spent $50 million trying to ferret it out and root it out, because they had nothing else to do, because all the other charges were totally false--bogus, made up, and people were persecuted because they wouldn't commit perjury against me," Clinton said. "People were indicted because they wouldn't."
That was an apparent reference to efforts by Whitewater prosecutors to gain damaging testimony against Clinton from such former confidants as Susan McDougal and Webster L. Hubbell.
Clinton's remarks, while echoing comments he has made in the past about the Whitewater probe, were considerably more pointed in describing his resentment, as well as his belief that history will vindicate him.
"I think that over the long run, the fact that we accomplished as much as we did in the face of the most severe, bitter, partisan onslaught, with the tools that were leveled against us and the money that was spent, I think will, in a way, make many of the things we achieve seem all the more impressive."
Moments after excoriating his partisan opponents, Clinton pivoted to say, "Meanwhile, I'll keep reaching out to the Republicans and try to get more done."
Simpson interviewed Clinton last week on a tour highlighting anti-poverty initiatives, but the network did not air his blast against impeachment backers. A small excerpt ran on its Web site yesterday. His blunt language was recorded on a White House transcript of the interview.
The interview was one of a series Clinton has given in recent days. He chafed when Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter, in a piece for this week's edition, asked him whether as ex-president he might seek psychiatric therapy. "This is a crazy question, Jon," Clinton said. "Why are you asking me this question?"
When Alter responded that people are curious about the pastoral counseling the president began receiving after he acknowledged an improper relationship with Lewinsky last year, Clinton said, "Well, why don't you ask me that?"
Clinton went on to say that he continues to meet for pastoral counseling once a week, and that it has been "an incredible and very good experience." But he declined elaboration, saying, "This is a personal thing, and it's not for public consumption."
The issue of Clinton's grievances about his treatment during the Lewinsky controversy was also given prominence this week with an article in the New Yorker. Writer Jeffrey Toobin, who has written a book on the impeachment, reported that during the first weeks of the controversy, Clinton kept in his desk a compilation of news articles called the "Richard Jewell file," named after the former security guard who was wrongly targeted as a suspect in the 1996 Olympics bombing in Atlanta. Clinton purportedly kept articles he regarded as unfair.
Clinton has publicly compared himself to Jewell in the past. He did so in 1996, on a trip to Australia, when pressed about controversies over Democratic fund-raising that year. But White House press secretary Joe Lockhart said he was confident that Clinton did not keep such a file on top of his desk: "I have certainly never heard of or seen such a file."
In another article, this one published yesterday by USA Today, Clinton said that Vice President Gore and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), both presidential aspirants, had gained a "unique perspective" by serving in Vietnam that should be counted as "a plus" in their campaigns.
Clinton, who drew criticism during the 1992 campaign because of his 1960s actions to avoid Vietnam service, said that candidates such as Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R) or former senator Bill Bradley (D) should not be penalized for not serving in Vietnam. "I don't think the absence of it is much of a negative, but I think its presence can be a positive, and frankly, I think that's the way it ought to be," he said.
CAPTION: President Clinton in recent interviews has made plain the grievance he feels toward political opponents who pressed for his impeachment in the Monica Lewinsky scandal.