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Jewish World Review Jan. 24, 2000 / 29 Teves, 5761

Roger Simon

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Summing up Clinton's presidency in a single word -- THROUGHOUT his career, three words have characterized Bill Clinton's formidable political resiliency: deny, deny, deny.

Whether about Gennifer Flowers, smoking marijuana, dodging the draft or Monica Lewinsky, Clinton found that hanging tough can get you through tough times.

On one audiotape made of Lewinsky, she quotes the president as saying, "There is no evidence, so you can deny, deny, deny."

In telephone conversations with Flowers, Clinton was taped telling her, "If everybody's on record denying it, you've got no problem," and, "If everybody kind of hangs tough, they're just not gonna do anything," and, "They can't run a story like this unless somebody said, 'Yeah, I did it with him.'"

The problem for Clinton turned out to be that Flowers said yeah, she did do it with him, but Clinton denied it. When the story broke during the critical New Hampshire primary of 1992, Clinton repeatedly said there had been no affair between Flowers and him.

Clinton, appearing in a televised forum from Claremont, N.H., stage-managed by his TV producer friend Harry Thomason, said, "The affair did not happen." A few days later, appearing on "60 Minutes," Clinton said Flowers was just a "friendly acquaintance."

Interviewer Steve Kroft said, "I'm assuming from your answer that you're categorically denying that you ever had an affair with Gennifer Flowers?"

"I said that before," Clinton said. "And so has she."

"You feel like you've leveled with the American people?" Kroft asked.

"I have absolutely leveled with the American people," Clinton replied.

Two years later, on Jan. 17, 1998, Clinton admitted in a sworn deposition in the Paula Jones sexual harassment suit that he had sex on one occasion with Gennifer Flowers. So was he lying to the American people at a crucial time in his 1992 election campaign?

A reporter asked White House spokesman Mike McCurry, "Mike, why should the American people believe the president's denial with regard to this (the Lewinsky accusations) when in 1992 he told us that he did not have an affair with Gennifer Flowers and apparently has now testified under oath that he did?"

McCurry gave the official response, one that had been carefully crafted earlier that day: "The president knows that he told the truth in 1992 when he was asked about that relationship; and he knows that he testified truthfully on Saturday; and he knows his answers are not at odds."

The press persisted. "Mike, you're saying there was no affair with Gennifer Flowers?" a reporter asked.

"I just gave the answer that I gave," McCurry said.

After the public briefing was over, reporters were privately told what Clinton meant in 1992: He did not have an "affair" with Flowers because he had sex with her on only one occasion.

(Though that, in itself, seemed quite likely to be another lie.)

Whether sex on one occasion is the definition of a "friendly acquaintance" and whether Clinton was "leveling with the American people," as he told Steve Kroft, seemed very much in the eye and ear of the beholder.

McCurry later went to Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government to appear at a seminar. After he made a presentation and had answered several questions, one student asked, "How do you reconcile Gennifer Flowers?"

"I would never attempt to do anything with Gennifer Flowers," McCurry replied.

Everybody laughed.

It is fitting, I guess, that Clinton should leave office as he came in: With a non-denial denial and the truth in tatters.

On his last day in office, Clinton signed an agreement "admitting that he made false statements under oath about his affair with" Monica Lewinsky. He agreed to lose his law license for five years and pay a fine. In return, he would not be indicted upon leaving office. (It has never been tested, but it is widely assumed that a president cannot be indicted while in office.)

And most Americans thought that was that. Clinton finally admitted he was a liar.

But then the president's lawyer, David Kendall, came out of the West Wing and stood before reporters and said, "There's no acknowledgement of lying because there was none."

That's right. Clinton, to this day, still maintains he never lied. He says he knowingly gave "evasive and misleading testimony that that was prejudicial to the administration of justice," but he did not lie.


Here, let Clinton explain it: "I tried to walk a fine line between acting lawfully and testifying falsely, but I now recognize that I did not fully accomplish this goal and that certain of my responses to questions about Ms. Lewinsky were false."

But, he says, he never lied.

I don't know what you can say about all this, except what President Bush said on Monday: "It's finally over with. It's now time to move on. I think the country is pleased that it's time to move on, and that's exactly what we're going to do."

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