Clinton ducks questions on private life

Click to follow
The Independent Online
PRESIDENT BILL Clinton did his utmost yesterday to banish the shadow of the Monica Lewinsky affair from his White House legacy, insisting that "scores and scores of allegations" had been made against him during his presidency but the vast majority had been proved false. And he expressed his hope for "a higher regard for truth-telling in public life and from those who report on it".

Appearing at his first solo White House press conference for almost a year, Mr Clinton also addressed questions of foreign policy, opening with a statement defending US policy and possible military intervention in the Kosovo crisis. Responding to questions, hedenied charges - first made two weeks ago by the New York Times - that his administration had turned a blind eye to Chinese nuclear espionage in order to foster better trade relations. He said that as far as any security violations were concerned, "no one has reported to me that they suspected such a thing has occurred".

On speculation about whether his wife, Hillary, will run for the New York Senate seat being vacated by the veteran Democrat, Daniel Pat Moynihan, next year, Mr Clinton said: "I literally haven't a clue." But he reiterated his enthusiastic support for her if she decides to run, saying that she would make a "magnificent" Senator.

He dismissed speculation that the couple were embarking on a trial separation, saying of his marriage: "I think we're working hard. We love each other very much, and we're working on it."

Although Mr Clinton was as impressive as ever in the cut and thrust of an unscripted encounter with the Washington media, it was also apparent that the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the impeachment trial that followed had damaged his presidency, despite his acquittal by the Senate in January. He wound up proceedings after exactly an hour, having faced questions that alternated between high policy and personal matters, some of which he left unanswered.

He declined to answer aquestion about his relationship, if any, with Juanita Broaddrick, the Arkansas woman who recently accused him of raping her 20 years ago when he was attorney-general of that state. He referred to the denial of his lawyer on his behalf, and said that all further inquiries would be handled by his lawyers.

It was clear that Mr Clinton's room for manoeuvre with the media is now circumscribed.Just how many potential pitfalls he faces, however, was apparent from the divergent responses to an address he had given at the annual radio and television correspondents' dinner the previous evening.

The atmosphere was cordial, but an award for the ABC television team and its chief reporter, Jackie Judd, forcoverage of the Lewinsky affair provided an awkward moment. But the crunch came in Mr Clinton's address when he tried to satirise not only his experiences but those of others. His suggested spoof film titles for Oscars - "You got subpoenas", "Throw mama in a grand jury" - fell flat, punctured perhaps by the reality that Ms Lewinsky and White House staff were almost bankrupted by their legal fees, and Ms Lewinsky's mother was in emotional collapse after her grand jury appearance.

At these moments, a President renowned for the acuteness of his political antennae, whose delivery on such occasions could qualify him as a professional comedian, seemed to have lost his sureness.