July 13, 2020

A claim of innocence

Events around President Clinton’s alleged adulterous affair continue to grow more complicated as news surfaces about what cabinet members may have known and who might be granted immunity in exchange for testimony. But one thing got simpler yesterday when the president, properly, clearly, finally went on record to deny the charges.

“I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky,” he said. “I never told anybody to lie — not a single time, never. These allegations are false and I need to go back to work for the American people.” Whether the charges are true will be determined in the coming weeks, but at least the president has declared his innocence shorn of previous qualifiers and verb-tense changes that made his earlier statements so open to speculation.

In the same way, former White House chief of staff Leon Panetta clearly denied Sunday that he had been notified by a White House aide or Secret Service agent about “certain sexual activities between the president and Ms. Monica Lewinsky.” The two statements are the administration’s first coordinated remarks made since it began sputtering in reaction to the reports of tape recordings on which Ms. Lewinsky allegedly says she began an 18-month affair with the president after she began to work at the White House in the summer of 1995.

Americans watching their leader tonight at his State of the Union address want to know whether they can trust him. He now apparently admits having an affair with Gennifer Flowers, something he denied when it mattered back in 1992. The Paula Jones case remains to be concluded. The past five years is littered with administration officials and nominees willing to serve the president but hung out to dry by him when they become potential political liabilities.

Can the president expect more merciful treatment from the public?

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