The author of his own misfortune: Clinton gets confessional

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The Independent US

When Bill Clinton confesses that he was "in the doghouse" with his wife, Hillary, after she learned of his sexual dalliances with the White House intern Monica Lewinsky, he is not being glib. His state of domestic disgrace, we now learn, lasted a whole, miserable, year and the First Lady seriously pondered ditching him.

For anyone who wants to know more about how a sitting president manages so spectacularly to muck up his marriage and what he does to salvage it, next Tuesday is an important day. For it is then that the Clinton memoir comes out. The author has already suggested that the book is a "pretty good story". Its plot promises more twists than a whole season of The West Wing. Except none of it is make-believe.

The launch process for Mr Clinton's 957-page biography is already under way and bookshops in several US cities will stay open beyond midnight on Monday to accommodate the first rush of buyers. In New York, the author will brave mobs to sign copies.

But for those who just cannot wait, the internet service America Online will play snippets read by Clinton himself this evening. The publishers, Alfred Knopf, have not negotiated serialisation rights with any publication, but a first print interview with the author will appear in America's weekly magazine, Time, which hits news stands on Monday.

Before then, Mr Clinton will be the sole subject of this week's edition of 60 Minutes, the weekly current affairs programme on the CBS network. It features an hour-long interview with the former president, in which he bares his soul on the Lewinsky debacle. Making its own contribution to the symphonic build-up to the book's release, CBS has already released a few morsels to tantalise us.

"I think I did something for the worst possible reason - just because I could," Mr Clinton acknowledges when the interviewer, Dan Rather, broaches the Lewinsky scandal. "I think that's just about the most morally indefensible reason that anybody could have for doing anything. There are lots of sophisticated explanations, more complicated psychological explanations, but none of them are an excuse."

What he does not offer, however, is any concession to his political opponents who drove the effort to impeach him in the wake of the Lewinsky revelations. Mr Clinton was only the second president in American history to face impeachment and only survived when he was acquitted by the Senate. It was a scandal that essentially ruined his second term in office.

"I didn't quit, I never thought of resigning and I stood up to it and beat it back," Mr Clinton tells Rather of the impeachment process, which he describes as "an abuse of power".

He goes on: "The whole battle was a badge of honour. I don't see it as a stain, because it was illegitimate."

The former president was similarly robust when appearing as a guest at a special screening in New York on Wednesday night of a new documentary film about his endless battles with conservative critics and the investigations that dogged him through both presidential terms.

His role in the failed Whitewater land deal came under scrutiny, after sexual allegations made by Paula Jones - an employee of Arkansas state when Mr Clinton was the governor. Then came the Lewinsky affair and impeachment proceedings. Speaking to a 1,000-strong audience at a New York University screening room on Wednesday night, Mr Clinton singled out Kenneth Starr, the independent prosecutor chosen to lead the investigation into the multiple allegations.

Mr Starr, the former president said, was "the instrument of a grand design" to disgrace him. And the design was the work of the conservatives who wanted him brought down.

"When the Berlin Wall fell, the perpetual right in America, which always needs an enemy, didn't have an enemy any more, so I had to serve as the next best thing," Mr Clinton said, after the screening of The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year campaign to Destroy Bill Clinton. The film recreates the reporting of a book of the same name by the journalists Joe Conason and Gene Lyons.

On the subject of his marital woes, Mr Clinton was more forthcoming in his CBS interview. In the 60 Minutes interview, he confesses to Rather that the domestic consequences of the Lewinsky affair were at least as long-lasting and apparently just as gruelling inside the White House as they were outside on the political landscape. More, we can expect, will be laid out in the book, which has a first print-run of 1.5 million and in pre-orders to retailers is outstripping the memoir of Hillary, Living History, by seven to one.

What saved the Clinton family from meltdown was a full year of soul-searching and counselling, undertaken individually and collectively by Bill, Hillary and by their daughter Chelsea. "We did it together. We did it individually. We did family work," he told CBS. "We'd take a day a week and we did - a whole day a week every week for a year, maybe a little more - and did counselling." Most tellingly, he revealed that Hillary took much of that time to decide whether she wanted to stay married to him.

Clinton, who was reportedly paid an advance of $10m (£5.5m), has described the book as essentially having two parts - the first deals with his upbringing in circumstances of poverty in Arkansas, the blooming of his political consciousness and his rise to become governor of that state. The second portion - where the pages are likely to become more dog-eared - deals with his White House years. And that section is not just about scandal. It deals with his policy battles too.

You can expect a certain amount of trumpet-blowing and he started the tune with Rather. He singles out, for example, the satisfaction he felt on the day that Nato successfully expelled the then leader of Serbia, Slobodan Milosevic, from Kosovo. "The day that Kosovar war ended and I knew Milosevic's days were numbered was a great day. I had a lot of great days," he says.

He similarly expressed pride in his administration's handling of the economy. "I kept score, how many people's lives were better off," he suggests. "People actually had the ability to do more things than ever before."

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