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In 1992, Clinton Conceded Marital 'Wrongdoing'

Jan. 26, 1992

In a gamble to shield his presidential candidacy from allegations of marital infidelity, then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton went on TV on Jan. 26, 1992 to deny allegations by Gennifer Flowers, an Arkansas state employee and part-time cabaret singer, that the two had engaged in a 12-year affair.

Clinton also asked the American people to set aside questions about what he called "wrongdoing" in his marriage and not allow the news media to turn the 1992 campaign into "a game of 'gotcha.' "

Following are excerpts from the interview of Clinton and his wife, Hillary, by Steve Kroft of CBS's "60 Minutes."

Kroft: Who is Gennifer Flowers? You know her.

Bill Clinton: Oh, yes.

Kroft: How do you know her? How would you describe your relationship?

Bill Clinton: Very limited, but until this, you know, friendly but limited . . . .

Kroft: Was she a friend, an acquaintance? Does your wife know her?

Hillary Clinton: Oh, sure.

Bill Clinton: Yes. She was an acquaintance, I would say a friendly acquaintance . . . .

Kroft: She is alleging and has described in some detail in the supermarket tabloid what she calls a 12-year affair with you.

Bill Clinton: That allegation is false.

Hillary Clinton: When this woman first got caught up in these charges, I felt as I've felt about all of these women: that they . . . had just been minding their own business and they got hit by a meteor . . . . I felt terrible about what was happening to them. Bill talked to this woman every time she called, distraught, saying her life was going to be ruined, and . . . he'd get off the phone and tell me that she said sort of wacky things, which we thought were attributable to the fact that she was terrified.

Bill Clinton: It was only when money came out, when the tabloid went down there offering people money to say that they had been involved with me, that she changed her story. There's a recession on.

Kroft: I'm assuming from your answer that you're categorically denying that you ever had an affair with Gennifer Flowers.

Bill Clinton: I said that before. And so has she.

Kroft: You've said that your marriage has had problems, that you've had difficulties. What do you mean by that? What does that mean? Is that some kind of – help us break the code. I mean, does that mean that you were separated? Does that mean that you had communication problems? Does that mean you contemplated divorce? Does it mean adultery?

Bill Clinton: I think the American people, at least people that have been married for a long time, know what it means and know the whole range of things it can mean.

Kroft: You've been saying all week that you've got to put this issue behind you. Are you prepared tonight to say that you've never had an extramarital affair?

Bill Clinton: I'm not prepared tonight to say that any married couple should ever discuss that with anyone but themselves. I'm not prepared to say that about anybody. I think that the . . . .

Kroft: . . . That's what you've been saying essentially for the last couple of months.

Bill Clinton: . . . You go back and listen to what I've said. You know, I have acknowledged wrongdoing. I have acknowledged causing pain in my marriage. I have said things to you tonight and to the American people from the beginning that no American politician ever has.

I think most Americans who are watching this tonight, they'll know what we're saying; they'll get it, and they'll feel that we have been more candid. And I think what the press has to decide is: Are we going to engage in a game of "gotcha"? . . . I can remember a time when a divorced person couldn't run for president, and that time, thank goodness, has passed. Nobody's prejudiced against anybody because they're divorced. Are we going to take the reverse position now that if people have problems in their marriage and there are things in their past which they don't want to discuss which are painful to them, that they can't run?

Kroft: You're trying to put this issue behind you, and the problem with the answer is it's not a denial. And people are sitting out there -- voters – and they're saying, "Look, it's really pretty simple. If he's never had an extramarital affair, why doesn't {he} say so?"

Bill Clinton: That may be what they're saying. You know what I think they're saying? I think they're saying, "Here's a guy who's leveling with us." . . . I've told the American {people} more than any other candidate for president. The result of that has been everybody going to my state and spending more time trying to play "gotcha."

Hillary Clinton: There isn't a person watching this who would feel comfortable sitting on this couch detailing everything that ever went on in their life or their marriage. And I think it's real dangerous in this country if we don't have some zone of privacy for everybody . . . .

Kroft: . . . I agree with you that everyone wants to put this behind you. And the reason the problem has not gone away is because your answer is not a denial . . . .

Bill Clinton: Of course it's not. And let's take it from your point of view, that won't make it go away. I mean if you deny, then you have a whole other horde of people going down there offering more money and trying to prove that you lied. And if you say yes, then you have just what I have already said by being open and telling you that we have had problems. You have, "Oh good, now we can go play 'gotcha' and find out who it is."

Now, no matter what I say, to pretend that the press will then let this die, then we are kidding ourselves. I mean, you know, this has become a virtual cottage industry. The only way to put it behind us, I think, is for all of us to agree that this guy has told us about all we need to know. Anybody who is listening gets the drift of it and let's go on and get back to the real problems of this country . . . .

Kroft: . . . {The} question of marital infidelity is an issue with a sizable portion of the electorate. According to the latest CBS News poll . . . 14 percent of the registered voters in America wouldn't vote for a candidate who's had an extramarital affair.

Bill Clinton: I know it's an issue, but what does that mean? That means that 86 percent of the American people either don't think it's relevant to presidential performance or look at whether a person, looking at all the facts, is the best to serve.

Kroft: I think most Americans would agree that it's very admirable that you've stayed together – that you've worked your problems out and that you've seemed to reach some sort of understanding and arrangement.

Bill Clinton: Wait a minute, wait a minute, wait a minute. You're looking at two people who love each other. This is not an arrangement or an understanding. This is a marriage. That's a very different thing.

Hillary Clinton: You know, I'm not sitting here – some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette. I'm sitting here because I love him, and I respect him, and I honor what he's been through and what we've been through together. And you know, if that's not enough for people, then heck, don't vote for him.

Kroft: . . . One of your campaign advisers told us the other day, "Bill Clinton has got to level with the American people tonight, otherwise his candidacy is dead." You feel like you've leveled with the American people?

Bill Clinton: I have absolutely leveled with the American people.

Kroft: . . . You came here tonight to try to put it behind you . . . . Do you think you've succeeded?

Bill Clinton: That's up to the American people and to some extent up to the press. This will test the character of the press. It is not only my character that has been tested.

© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company

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