PRESIDENT'S NEWS CONFERENCE
September 16, 1998
President Clinton fields questions regarding the Starr Report at a joint news confernce with visiting Czech President Vaclav Havel.
JIM LEHRER: It was a joint news conference at the State Department with the president of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel, but the bulk of the questions for President Clinton were about the Starr report. Here's an extended excerpt.
HELEN THOMAS, UPI: What do you say to people who have said that you have lost all the moral authority to lead this nation or to conduct foreign affairs?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I have never stopped leading this country in foreign affairs in this entire year, and I never will. The issues are too important and they affect the way Americans live at home. Just in the last several days, of course, we have taken action against those who killed our people and killed the Kenyans and Tanzanians. We have -- I and my administration have been working for peace in Northern Ireland, for stability in Russia. I have been personally involved in the peace process in the Middle East again, as it reaches another critical phase. I gave a speech Monday, which I think is about the most important subject now facing the world community, how to limit this financial crisis, keep it from spreading, how to develop long-term institutions that will help to promote growth and opportunity for ordinary people around the world in a way that permits America's economic recovery to go on. After that, my objections were embraced by the leaders, the financial leaders of the largest industrial countries in the world. Yesterday, as it happens, I got calls from the Presidents of Mexico, Brazil, and the Prime Minister of Canada, all thanking me for what I said on Monday and saying they wanted to be a part of it. So I feel very good about where I am in relation to the rest of the world. I had a good talk with President Chirac of France, who called me a couple of days ago to talk about some of our common concerns, and the U.N. inspection system in Iraq and other things. So I feel good about that.
HELEN THOMAS: So you think you do have the moral authority to lead this nation?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, you might -- in my view, that is something that you have to demonstrate very day. My opinion is not as important as the opinion of others. What is important is that I do my job. I said last Friday and I'd like to say again, I am seized on two things: I'm trying to do the still quite painful work that I need to do with my family in our own life; and I'm determined to lead this country and to focus on the issues that are before us. It is not an option. There is no option. We have got to deal with these things. And I'm very, very heartened by what world leaders have said to me in the last two weeks about what they want us to do. And there was an enormous positive reaction here in America and around the world to the steps that I outlined on Monday. It was very, very heartening to me.
TERENCE HUNT, Associated Press: Mr. President, from your understanding of events, is Monica Lewinsky's account of your relationship accurate and truthful? And do you still maintain that you did not lie under oath in your testimony?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Mr. Hunt, I have said for a month now that I did something that was wrong. On last Friday at the prayer breakfast, I laid out as carefully and as brutally honestly as I could what I believe the essential truth to be. I also said then, and I will say again, that I think that the right thing for our country and the right thing for all people concerned is not to get mired in all the details here, but to focus -- for me to focus on what I did, to acknowledge it, to atone for it, and then to work on my family -- where I still have a lot of work to do, difficult work -- and to lead this country, to deal with the agenda before us, these huge issues that I was just talking about internationally, plus, with only two weeks left to go in this budget year, a very, very large range of items before the American people here at home -- doing our part to deal with this financial crisis, with funding the International Monetary Fund, saving the Social Security system before we spend the surplus, doing the important work that we can do to help educate our children, dealing with the patients' bill of rights for these people, 160 million of them, in HMOs. These are the things, to me, that I should be talking about as President, without in any way ever trying to obscure my own personal acknowledgement and chagrin about what I did wrong, and my determination to put it right.
REPORTER: Mr. President Havel, you said today that President Clinton is your great friend. I wonder if the discovered misdeeds of President Clinton have anyhow influenced your approach to him, your relations with him.
PRESIDENT HAVEL: I didn't recognize any change. I was speaking some minutes ago about these faces of America which I don't understand.
LAWRENCE McQUILLAN, Reuters: Mr. President, as the Lewinsky matter continues to unfold, can you foresee any circumstance where you might consider resignation -- either because of the personal toll on you or the toll on the country? And do you think it's fair if the House should release these videotapes?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: The personal toll on me is of a no concern except insofar as it affects my personal life. I think -- and I feel the pain better now because I'm working on what I should be working on. I believe the right thing for the country -- and what I believe the people of the country want is, now that they know what happened, they want to put it behind them and they want to go on. And they want me to go on and do my job. In terms of the question you asked about the House, they have to decide that. That's not for me to decide. They have to do their job, and I have to do mine. There are some things, though, we need to do together. And again I would say, it's been quite a long time during this session and there's still only one appropriation bill passed and a lot of other things still out there. So I hope we can work together to do some things for the American people. I think that the time has come to think about the American people and their interests and their future. And that's what I'm going to focus on, and that's what I would hope the Congress would focus on.
REPORTER: Mr. President, you have mentioned in your speech that you appreciate the personal contribution of President Clinton to the NATO enlargement, and you see him also as a personal friend. I'd like to know, how do you think that an eventual resignation or impeachment of President Clinton would influence the American foreign policy and the Czech-American relations.
PRESIDENT HAVEL: Excuse me, I am a little bit tired. I prefer to speak in my language.
PRESIDENT HAVEL: (speaking through interpreter) I believe that this is a matter for the United States and for the American people, who will be their President. When I have made a friendship with someone, I remain that person's friend, no matter which office he or she holds or doesn't hold.
JIM LEHRER: The Clintons will entertain President Havel and his wife at a state dinner tonight at the White House.