President Clinton said yesterday he may be legally entitled to government reimbursement for some of his legal expenses, but he is inclined not to seek it.
"I may be entitled to it. But my instinct is not to do it," the president said in an interview with CNN's "Larry King Live," scheduled for broadcast tonight. "I've really never had a discussion about it," he told King.
CNN released a transcript of the interview last night.
The Washington Post reported Saturday that Clinton's legal team was seriously considering a request for government reimbursement of several million dollars that the president and his wife owe lawyers stemming from the independent counsel office's investigation of the Whitewater land transaction and Clinton's affair with Monica S. Lewinsky. The law allows targets of such investigations to recoup legal fees if they are not indicted. Clinton's lawyers contend that his impeachment by the House, which resulted in acquittal by the Senate, was not tantamount to an indictment.
The CNN interview marks the first time Clinton has directly addressed the question of whether he might seek reimbursement of his legal costs. White House spokesmen had said earlier this week the question was premature and that they did not know whether the president and Hillary Rodham Clinton would make such a request.
The Clintons would not be permitted to seek reimbursement until independent counsel Robert Ray, who succeeded Kenneth W. Starr, files a final report on the investigations.
In the CNN interview, Clinton said he was reluctant to add to the public expense of conducting the investigations, which have totaled about $47 million. "I think that they've cost the taxpayers enough money already," he said. "The Whitewater thing was a total fraud," he said, referring to the independent counsel's inquiry into complex land transactions and other matters in Arkansas.
Supporters of the president have contributed about $5 million to the couple's legal defense trust fund, enabling the Clintons to retire roughly half of their costs, which once topped $10 million.
"I've been very fortunate," the president told King. "People have helped me pay for my legal fees."
"The travesty in this thing is the way the law is written, you can only get your legal fees [reimbursed] if you're a target of an investigation but you're not charged," Clinton said. He said he would like to find a way to help pay the legal costs of aides and others who hired lawyers when they were subpoenaed by Starr's staff but were not considered targets.
"The thing that I think is just tragic is you have no idea how many completely innocent people that were harassed repeatedly and called into hearings . . . over and over and over again, so that they have these massive legal bills and they're not eligible for any reimbursement at all," Clinton said.
Asked how he held up through the investigations, Clinton cited support from around the world, his family, prayer and his upbringing: "When somebody hit you and knocked you down, you were supposed to get up, not give up."