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Washington Journal: Clinton Appeals, Apologizes Over Affair

Washington, 10 September 1998 (RFE/RL) --President Bill Clinton appealed again for forgiveness publicly to Americans and privately to fellow members of the Democratic Party in Congress for his conduct in a White House sex scandal while congressional leaders met Wednesday to discuss how to handle a sensitive report on the president's behavior.

In contrast to his first public admission last month about a sexual relationship with a former White House employee in which he blamed investigators for prying into his private life, Clinton said on Wednesday that he had no one but himself to blame for his personal and political troubles.

In a speech in the southern state of Florida on behalf of Democratic Party candidates running for political office, Clinton admitted that he failed his family, his party and his country. But, he also said he is determined, "to make it right," and "never let anything like that happen again."

The president asked for understanding and he said he was determined as well to "redeem the trust of all the American people."

"So I ask you for your understanding, for your forgiveness on this journey we're on. I hope this will be a time of reconciliation and healing, and I hope that millions of families all over America are in a way growing stronger because of this."

Earlier Wednesday, Clinton took the unusual step of inviting a small group of influential Democrats from the House of Representatives to his White House office for a 90-minute talk about his problems.

The meeting came as Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr delivered to Congress the report on his four-year investigation of Clinton, particularly the president's relationship with a former unpaid White House assistant named Monica Lewinsky and alleged attempts by Clinton to conceal the affair.

Congressman David Bonior of Michigan, the second-ranking Democrat in the 435-member House, told reporters after the White House meeting that Clinton "wants to carry on with the business of the country but he clearly understands, I think, the deep pain he has caused his family, his colleagues, the people he works with, members of Congress and the country."

Bonior said there was no discussion of impeachment or resignation. The congressman said he thinks "the president will certainly be able to continue in office."

In fact, Bonior said Clinton must continue to serve out his term, which does not expire until January 20, 2001. Said Bonior:

"The president is an important person not only in this country but in world affairs. He is a stable influence in world affairs. The world is looking to the president to lead in so many different ways. We've got an economic situation in Asia and in Russia that is very precarious. The president has led in bringing world peace in many parts of our world. He's been, obviously, a strong leader on the issue in Ireland." Bonior said the meeting was very emotional. He said Clinton felt the pain his actions had caused and he said the president was contrite. The congressman said he told Clinton that he needs to make clear to the American people his contrition and sorrow because "the American people do not want to see this president fail. They want to see him succeed."

Starr began investigating Clinton's personal behavior in December when Lewinsky claimed to a friend that she and Clinton had carried on an affair for 18 months. Clinton at first denied the accusation and the charge that he lied about it and that he convinced Lewinsky to lie about it in sworn legal statements that were taken in connection with a lawsuit that had been filed against Clinton.

However, Clinton conceded on August 17 that he had what he called an inappropriate relationship with Lewinsky and that he, in Clinton's term, misled people about it. Starr was required to report his findings to the Congress. His report could lead the House of Representatives to start impeachment proceedings against the president that, in turn, could lead to his removal if two-thirds of the 100-member Senate votes to convict him after a trial in the upper chamber.

The senior House leaders of the Republican Party, which holds the majority of votes in both the House and Senate, met with Democratic Party leaders to discuss what they will do after receiving Starr's report.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich, (R-Georgia) whose position is something like a parliament's chairman, told reporters that the report should be made available to the public as soon as possible. He said the public "has a right to know."

Congressman Richard Gephardt (D-Missouri), who leads the Democrats, said of the handling of the report: "Next to declaring war, this may be the most important thing we do so we have to do it right. We have to do it objectively, fairly and in a nonpartisan way."

The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Henry Hyde (R-Illinois), said no member of Congress was looking forward to making decisions about the Starr report.

"Well, there's a well-known clich -- this is a lousy job, but somebody has to do it. That applies, unfortunately, to us. No one looks forward to this traumatic journey that we're about to enter on. We did agree this morning and we're going to do our level best as much as humanly possible to work in a bipartisan fashion, because we all agree any impeachment cannot succeed unless it is done in a bipartisan or nonpartisan way. It takes a two-thirds vote in the Senate and that necessarily involves Democrats as well as Republicans. "