Making His Case?
September 21, 1998
Excerpts from Clinton's grand jury testimony. Terence Smith reports.
JIM LEHRER: Several times during the four plus hours of testimony the President went on the offensive. Terry Smith has those excerpts.
TERENCE SMITH: At different points in his testimony President Clinton was alternately defensive, emotional, and even angry, as he made his case. Frequently, he insisted that he simply could not remember dates, conversations, even some of the gifts he apparently gave to Monica Lewinsky. But repeatedly, he tried to explain to the grand jury and to the public that he assumed would eventually see the videotape his state of mind as he endured the legal challenges of the previous seven months. The President reserved some of his harshest comments for the lawyers who were pressing the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I've been subject to quite a lot of illegal leaking. And they had a very determined, deliberate strategy, because their real goal was to hurt me. When they knew they couldn't win the lawsuit, they thought, well. maybe we can pummel him. Maybe they thought I'd settle. Maybe they just thought they would get some political advantage out of it. But that's what was going on here. Now, I'm trying to be honest with you and it hurts me. And I'm trying to tell you the truth about what happened between Ms. Lewinsky and me. But that does not change the fact that the real reason they were zeroing in on anybody was to try to get any person in there, no matter how uninvolved with Paula Jones, no matter how uninvolved with sexual harassment, so they could hurt me politically. That's what was going on, because by then, by this time, this thing had been going on a long time. They knew what our evidence was; they knew what the law was in the circuit in which we were bringing this case. And so they just thought that they would take a wrecking ball to me and see if they could do some damage.
INDEPENDENT COUNSEL LAWYER: Judge Wright had ruled that the attorneys in the Jones case were permitted to ask you certain questions.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: She certainly did, and they asked them, and I did my best to answer them. I'm just trying to tell you what my state of mind was.
INDEPENDENT COUNSEL LAWYER: Was it your responsibility to answer those questions truthfully, Mr. President?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: It was. But it was not my responsibility, in the face of their repeated illegal leaking, it was not my responsibility to volunteer a lot of information.
TERENCE SMITH: In acknowledging that he and Monica Lewinsky discussed the affidavit she would submit in the Paula Jones case, the president was emphatic in denying that he encouraged her to lie.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Did I want this to come out? No. Was I embarrassed about it? Yes. Did I ask her to lie about it? No. Did I believe there could be a truthful affidavit? Absolutely. Now that's all I know to say about this. I will continue to answer your questions as best I can.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: So I will admit this, sir. My goal in this deposition was to be truthful, but not particularly helpful. I did not wish to do the work of the Jones' lawyers. I deplored what they were doing. I deplored the innocent people they were tormenting and traumatizing. I deplored their illegal leaking. I deplored the fact that they knew -- once they knew our evidence, that this was a bogus lawsuit, and that because of the funding they had from my political enemies, they were putting ahead. I deplored it. But I was determined to walk through the minefield of this deposition without violating the law. And I believe I did.
TERENCE SMITH: The president even defended his lapses in memory, arguing that the pressures of his office and the legal assaults on him had taken their toll.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I have been blessed and advantaged in my life with a good memory. I have been shocked and so have members of my family and friends of mine at how many things that I have forgotten in the last six years -- I think because of the pressure and the pace and the volume of events in a president's life, compounded by the pressure of your four-year inquiry, and all the other things that have happened. I'm amazed -- there are lots of times when I literally can't remember last week…my memory is not what it was when I came here because my life is so crowded.
TERENCE SMITH: The president softened a bit when he talked about Monica Lewinsky and seemed almost fatalistic about the prospects of keeping their relationship secret.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: After I terminated the improper contact with her, she wanted to come in more than she did. She got angry when she didn't get in sometimes. I knew that that might make her more likely to speak, and I still did it because I had to limit the contact. And thirdly, let me say, I formed an opinion really in early 1996, and again -- well, let me finish the sentence. I formed an opinion early in 1996, once I got into this unfortunate and wrong conduct, that when I stopped it, which I knew I'd have to do and which I should have done a long time before I did, that she would talk about it. Not because Monica Lewinsky is a bad person. She's basically a good girl. She's a good young woman with a good heart and a good mind. I think she is burdened by some unfortunate conditions of her, her upbringing. But she's basically a good person. But I knew that the minute there was no longer any contact, she would talk about this. She would have to. She couldn't help it. It was, it was a part of her psyche. So, I had put myself at risk, sir. I was not trying to buy her silence or get Vernon Jordan to buy her silence. I thought she was a good person. She had not been involved with me for a long time in any improper way, several months, and I wanted to help her get on with her life. It's just as simple as that.
TERENCE SMITH: Towards the end of his testimony President Clinton said he would have preferred to meet with the grand jury in person at the White House. Instead, he asked them to consider the awkwardness of his predicament.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Now, I know this is somewhat unusual. But I would say to the grand jury, put yourself in my position. This is not a typical grand jury testimony. I, I have to assume a report is going to Congress. There's a videotape being made of this, allegedly because only one member of the grand jury is absent. This is highly unusual. And, in addition to that, I have sustained a breathtaking number of leaks of grand jury proceedings. And, so, I think I am right to answer all the questions about perjury, but not to say things which will be forever in the historic annals of the United States because of this unprecedented videotape and may be leaked at any time. I just think it's a mistake. And so, I'm doing my best to cooperate with the grand jury and still protect myself, my family, and my office.