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Peter Jennings, ABC News (Archival audio): We interrupt your regular program for quite an extraordinary moment in the history of the United States. A short while ago President Clinton's staff came to tell us that he was going to come to the Rose Garden now and make some remarks.
Reporter (archival audio): Peter, the president will make another attempt to say he's sorry about what he's caused.
Narrator: Bill Clinton had come into office with notions of an heroic Presidency -- to inscribe his name in history alongside FDR and JFK.
Bill Clinton (archival): Good afternoon.
Narrator: But on the afternoon of December 11, 1998, he came to the Rose Garden of the White House to apologize to the American people.
Bill Clinton (archival): I am profoundly sorry for all I have done wrong in words and deeds. I never should have misled the country, the congress, my friends or my family. Quite simply, I gave in to my shame.
Joe Klein, Journalist: It's almost as it all of this was just too easy for him. It's almost as if he had to set up these barriers that he could then leap across, or stagger across, but get across in any event, always.
Bill Clinton (archival): I'm going to give you this election back and if you'll give it to me I won't be like George Bush, I'll never forget who gave me a second chance and I'll be there for you till the last dog dies. And I want you to remember that.
Dee Dee Myers, Press Secretary: How many second chances, right? How many second chances does any one person deserve? Clinton's view is as many second chances as a person is willing to try to take. You know, I mean, as many times as you fail, don't you deserve the chance to redeem yourself? Isn't history loaded with people who have fallen and gotten up, and fallen and gotten up, and fallen and gotten up and done great things?
Bill Clinton (archival): We will together build a bridge to the 21st century wide enough and strong enough to take us to America's best days. Will you do that?
Max Brantley, Journalist: There's a stick-to-itiveness about him that's just phenomenal. An abiding belief that if he can just have enough time, he can win over just about anybody.
David Maraniss, Writer: The central repetitive theme of Bill Clinton's life is loss and recovery. Never count him out because, always, he will find his way back.
Bill Clinton (archival): I end tonight where it all began for me. I still believe in a place called Hope.
Dee Dee Myers, Press Secretary: Where does it come from? The unwillingness to quit on himself, on the things he believed in, on the people he cared about. He disappoints them every time on some level, but he always gets up and tries to make it better. You know, what else can you ask from a sinner?
John Harris, Journalist: Success, misjudgment, in some cases catastrophe, followed by comeback: that resilience is central to who he is as a politician. I think it's central to who he is as a man.
Slate: Part One: The Comeback Kid
Narrator: He would emerge from the political backwaters of Arkansas, "like a country tornado," one newspaper wrote: a political natural unlike anyone had seen in a generation. But in the winter of 1992 as Bill Clinton began campaigning for President in New Hampshire he was still a relative unknown, eager to win over voters and his young campaign staff.
James Carville, Campaign Strategist: It was just so clear that he was exceptionally talented politician from the kind of get go.
Bill Clinton (archival): How do you get the ideas we develop in America in the manufacturing jobs here? There are literally --
James Carville, Campaign Strategist: His ability to adapt, his ability to walk into a room, to size up an issue, to understand. I've never seen a candidate, I've never seen a human being who, with the most limited briefing, can understand the dimensions, the parameters, the nuances of everything of any kind of a policy or political problem.
Bill Clinton (archival): If we had a broad-based national health policy, it would never be in anyone's interest not to hire you.
James Carville, Campaign Strategist: He could see six sides to the Pentagon.
Fan (archival): All right, Bill!
Narrator: In a Primary field crowded with Democratic candidates, Clinton's determination and skill quickly distinguished him from his rivals. His aides nicknamed him after a legendary racehorse: Secretariat.
Bill Clinton (archival): You spent $200 on medication?
Woman (archival): Yes.
Joe Klein, Journalist: There was a famous instance just before the New Hampshire primary a woman started talking about that she couldn't afford the drugs that she needed to survive. And she started to cry. And Clinton's reflex action was to get down on his knees, put his arms around her, and he's crying, too!
Bill Clinton (archival): I'm really sorry, it isn't right, it isn't right...
Dee Dee Myers, Press Secretary: The story that I heard from people over and over was, "for that one moment, he looked me in the eye, he touched me on the arms, he listened to my story, and I felt like I was the only person in the world." And he did it over and over and over. And the only way you can have that moment over and over and over if you really are interested.
Narrator: Throughout New Hampshire -- in union halls, truck stops, and diners -- Clinton heard stories of depressed wages and vanishing jobs, as the state and the nation struggled to emerge from a recession.
Bill Clinton (archival): Ten years ago, we had the highest wages in the world now we're tenth, and we're dropping. What else do you think we ought to do?
Harold Ickes, Deputy Chief of Staff: He knew these people, knew what they were thinking, knew their concerns and felt that government in Washington in large measure was just not addressing those concerns.
Narrator: The mostly white working class voters Clinton met in New Hampshire, like those in his own state of Arkansas, had been fleeing the Democratic Party for years.
John Harris, Journalist: Bill Clinton knew that the Democrats were not going to regain the presidency until they re-established a connection with these middle class and lower-middle class voters who had been attracted for various reasons to Republican politicians and to conservative ideas.
Narrator: For nearly a decade, as he rose through the ranks of Democratic politics, Clinton had been honing a message to win back these so-called 'Reagan Democrats'.
Dick Morris, Political Consultant: The entire thrust of the traditional Democratic Party was based on entitlements and endowments. They would bestow money on people. Bill Clinton's incredibly bold idea was to change the grant to a transaction, we'll give you something but we demand something back, the way he would phrase it is 'we'll give you opportunity but you have to take responsibility'.
Bill Clinton (archival): If you want the right to receive welfare benefits, you have to assume the responsibility to get educated to have job training and to go to work if you can do it....
Michael Waldman, Speechwriter: When he went out and said, "We need opportunity for all, but responsibility from all Americans," that was different from what Democrats had been saying.
Narrator: Preaching his "New Democrat" message in New Hampshire, Clinton began to catch fire.
Bill Clinton (archival): People say I'm not a real Democrat and I say I'm against brain dead policies in both parties.
Narrator: By mid-January, he'd pulled ahead of his strongest competitors and into the lead. Then, with just weeks to go, it all seemed to fall apart.
Connie Chung, CBS News (Archival): Democratic Presidential Candidate Bill Clinton is again denying a report of an extra-marital affair. The report is in the Star, the supermarket tabloid.
Joe Klein, Journalist: The first time I heard of Gennifer Flowers was a rumor. I mean the rumors of his messing around were out there. And the stories were out there. And it was something that his handlers talked about. You know, "how are we going to deal with this if it actually happens?"
Lawyer, press release (archival): ...I would like to introduce my client to you, Gennifer Flowers.
Joe Klein, Journalist: At first, no one was really that worried about it. But then, the woman appeared. And not only did the woman appear, but she was a lounge singer. And everybody thought, 'oh yeah, absolutely.' And she had tapes.
Gennifer Flowers (archival audio): I didn't think it would start this quickly... but I think you're being naïve if you think that these other shows, a Current Affair --
Bill Clinton (archival audio): I expect them to come looking into it and interview you and everything, but I think that if everyone is on record denying it, you got no problem.
Man (archival): Hold on just a sec here people.
Bill Clinton (archival): Where'd he go?
Narrator: At first, Clinton's response to the scandal was evasive.
Bill Clinton (archival): She did call me, I never initiated any calls to her, and whenever she called me she basically wanted reassurance....
Joe Klein, Journalist: There was this growing sense and skepticism in the press that this guy was just a big phony. I mean, he was too slick. He was too smooth and he would lawyer answers to questions.
Bill Clinton (archival): I said, that's not true. Even if your name gets used in the absence of proof, nobody can prove you're guilty, don't worry about it, just tell the truth...
Narrator: The press called him 'Slick Willie' -- and it stuck.
Joe Klein, Journalist: The general thinking was that he was dead. Politicians didn't survive this thing.
Narrator: As many began to abandon Clinton, one person rose strongly to his defense.
Carol Willis, Political Advisor: Bill Clinton is a smart guy, a very smart guy. But he will tell you that Hillary is much smarter than he is. She's much tougher than he is. She is more of a pragmatist. If Clinton is a dreamer, Hillary is Miss Reality. She raised him up, and said, 'look, get that pity out of your body, and all that defeatism out of your back. And let's deal with this issue. And let's move on to the next issue.'
Narrator: At the height of the scandal, millions tuned in to see Bill Clinton answer questions on the CBS program 60 Minutes. But it was Hillary who stole the show.
Hillary Clinton (archival): You know, I'm not sitting here, some little woman, standing by my man like Tammy Wynette. I'm sitting here because I love him and I respect him, and I honor what he's been through, and what we've been through together, and you know if that's not enough for people then heck, don't vote for him!
Gail Sheehy, Writer: By praising him, defending him, attacking the press, she brought Clinton back from the dead.
Reporter (archival): How do you think it went, Governor? You think you answered the questions?
Bill Clinton (archival): We did our best. We feel good about it. The American people are the judges now, we're going to let them judge.
Gail Sheehy, Writer: So you can see why he was so attached to her because she had the power to save him.
Narrator: The partnership of Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham began at Yale Law School in 1971. Clinton was fresh from a Rhodes scholarship at Oxford University in England and already planning a career in politics.
Robert Robert Reich, Labor Secretary: Bill loved to discuss issues. He loved to be in the center of discussions. He, in a way, loved to perform. He wasn't a great student. He didn't care about being a student, he was not there for being a student. He was there to make connections. Hillary was so much more obviously intellectual. Her power was so much more disciplined than his. She was a leader. She was a doer.
Narrator: Bill eyed Hillary for weeks before the two finally met during one of his rare visits to the library.
Gail Sheehy, Writer: He was totally blown away by how confident and challenging she was. Here he is this tall, gorgeously handsome hick with Elvis sideburns and high water pants. She's the one who crosses the room, holds out her hand and says 'if you're gonna keep staring at me and I'm gonna keep looking back at you we better get to know each other.'
John Harris, Journalist: Bill Clinton who always had lots of girlfriends, looked at Hillary and said, 'I've never had a girlfriend like that. I can't believe that somebody is as smart and as virtuous as Hillary that she wants to be with me.' Hillary looked at Bill Clinton, outgoing, popular, successful and thinks, 'I can't believe that somebody like that wants to be with me.' And I think they're both kind of mystified that the other person is attracted to them.
Narrator: Hillary graduated from Yale in 1973, and soon landed a coveted job in Washington with the House committee investigating the Watergate scandal.
Bernard Nussbaum, White House Counsel: One night, she said she wanted to introduce me to somebody who's going to come up to visit her the next day, I think. She says, 'His name is Bill Clinton.' I said, 'Oh, you know, what does he do?' She said, 'Well, he graduated Yale Law School and he's from Arkansas -- and he's going back to Arkansas.' I said, 'Oh, well, that's fine. What law firm is he going to?' She said, 'Oh, no, no, he's not going to really go to a law firm. He's thinking of running for office.' I said, 'He just graduated Yale Law School. What's he thinking of running for?' 'He's running for Congress.' I said 'Well it's kind of premature, how old is he, 26, 27?' She said, 'Oh, no, no, he's going to run for Congress and he thinks he's gonna win and I think he's gonna win. In fact, Bernie, he's going to go past Congress. He's going to be a senator or a governor. He's going to be President of the United States.'
Narrator: That Bill Clinton would make politics his life's work had never been in doubt to anyone who knew him.
Carol Willis, Political Advisor: I think he was born with political ambition. And I think that he was using every step of his life as a classroom to build the foundation to where he ultimately wanted to go.
Narrator: William Jefferson Clinton was born in Hope Arkansas on August 19, 1946. His mother Virginia Cassidy was a nurse, outgoing and vivacious; his father, Bill Blythe, a charming traveling salesman whom he would never know.
When Virginia was six months pregnant, her husband's car flipped over on a rain-slicked highway. The accident killed him.
"My father left me with the feeling that I had to live for two people," Clinton would write, "If I did well enough, somehow I could make up for the life he should have had."
David Maraniss, Writer: I think that the notion of the fleeting nature of life was one of the currents of Bill Clinton's ambition from the very beginning. He would intensely focus on how quickly life could go. And I think that much of his urgency comes from that sensibility.
Narrator: Four years after her husband's death, Virginia married a raffish Buick salesman named Roger Clinton. The couple moved with six-year-old Billy to Roger's hometown -- Hot Springs, Arkansas.
If Hope was a sleepy Baptist town, Hot Springs was the opposite: a rollicking resort, attracting people from across the country to its mineral pools and gambling parlors. Virginia took to Hot Springs as if she'd been born to it.
Carolyn Staley, Friend: She was exuberant in her living, she pushed the envelope a little bit in her dramatic make-up and hairstyles and jewelry. She was fun!
Narrator: Outwardly, Clinton enjoyed a happy small town American childhood. But inside his gabled house on Park Avenue, he was leading a far more turbulent life. His parents' relationship had deteriorated into serial affairs, and screaming matches that reverberated through the thin walls. As Roger Clinton descended into alcoholism, he grew more and more violent, beating Virginia in front of Bill and young Roger, Jr.
My life was "full of uncertainty and anger," Clinton would recall, "and a dread of ever-looming violence."
David Maraniss, Writer: Most of his buddies had no clue. They saw Bill Clinton as a happy-go-lucky guy. They didn't see the turmoil that was raging within that family.
Joe Purvis, Friend: As a child of an alcoholic, there's a part of your world that is so shaken, that's filled with so much pain, that you don't want to share it with anybody. If you wallow in it, then you're dealing with self-pity and you ruin yourself. The only way you can really deal with it is to block it off.
Narrator: Bill Clinton became adept at keeping secrets, living, he remembered, 'an external life that takes its natural course and an internal life where the secrets are hidden. No one can live parallel lives with complete success.'
Nigel Hamilton, Writer: He decided to pretend it didn't exist. To pretend that everything was all right. To go to church, you know, with his bible under his arm, and be sunny and energetic, and positive, and simply not accept it.
Narrator: With fierce enthusiasm, Clinton threw himself into his life outside his home. Hot Springs High had never seen anything like him: National merit scholar semi-finalist, first chair in the Arkansas State Band, student government leader. By his senior year, he held so many honors that the principal barred him from running for class president.
William Chafe, Historian: Bill Clinton always found himself trying to redeem and rescue his family. Part of doing that is to sort of put yourself in the position of rescuing not just your family, but everybody, including yourself, by doing good.
Narrator: By the early 1960s, Bill Clinton's generation had a new hero. President John F. Kennedy's youth and charisma reached all the way to Arkansas and sparked the teenager's idealism with a call to public service.
John F. Kennedy (archival): Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.
Carolyn Staley, Friend: We loved living in a time when JFK was president. He was so young, he made public service seem accessible so if we had ever entertained thoughts of a life in public service he made it seem all the more possible.
Narrator: In 1963, Bill Clinton travelled to Washington as a delegate to Boys Nation, a program for aspiring future leaders. During a visit to the White House, he rushed to the front of the line to shake his idol's hand.
Carolyn Staley, Friend: It's a moment that is just emblazoned in your mind. To have a President of the United States look you in the eye, take your hand, speak to you -- the world stops. Bill said to me, "We will never forget that, will we? We will never forget that."
Narrator: A decade later, after leaving Arkansas to study at Georgetown, Oxford, and Yale, Clinton returned home to begin his own long march to the White House.
David Maraniss, Writer: Bill Clinton went back to Arkansas for politics, pure and simple. He knew the people there, and he was of that place. He could see his political future. And that he was destined for something much larger than Hot Springs or Arkansas.
Narrator: In his first political race at age 28, Clinton took on a Conservative Republican Congressman named John Paul Hammerschmidt.
Bill Clinton (archival): I know that I can make a big difference for our district and for our people if I can have the opportunity to serve them in Congress.
Narrator: Few gave Clinton a chance to compete.
Paul Fray, Campaign Manager: People are saying, 'Hey, he's smart, but why does this guy want to be a Congressman? He's too young, he hasn't been elected to anything, he doesn't know what he's really doing.'
Narrator: It wasn't just his inexperience; many worried that in his time away, Clinton had lost touch with Arkansas and its values.
John Brummett, Journalist: There always has been with him a suspicion that this guy is not to be trusted. This guy's too liberal for us. And he encountered that. But, initially in Arkansas he just totally overpowered it with his charm, with his political skill, with his ability to connect and relate. In this small state, politics is art and it's entertainment. And he was the best we had seen.
Man singing (archival): There's a fellow here been talking some, about being our next Congressman, he's a new man Bill Clinton is his name...
Narrator: For weeks on end, Clinton drove the back roads of northwest Arkansas sleeping on couches, waking up at dawn to catch the shift-change at nearby factories.
Man singing (archival): Bill Clinton's ready, he's fed up too. He's a lot like me, he's a lot like you. Bill Clinton wants....
Bobby Roberts, Campaign Aide: He's got an extra battery. After about four or five days with him, I was ready to go home. I had all the fun I could stand and he would just keep going. We might stop at a service station or a restaurant or whatever -- he would want to meet the cooks, he would go back in the kitchen and meet everybody back there. He would not leave a place, I think, where he had not met everyone.
Carol Willis, Political Advisor: Sometimes people say, "Won't this guy go home?" Because we do, we don't want to embarrass him by just leaving. But he won't leave!
Man singing (archival): Bill Clinton's ready, he's fed up too. He's a lot like me, he's a lot like you. Bill Clinton wants to get things done, so we're going to send him to Washington. Make Bill a U.S. Congressman, got to get those food prices down. You remember, and vote for that.
Narrator: As Bill Clinton campaigned for Congress, Hillary Rodham left her high-powered job in Washington and decided to follow him to Arkansas.
Gail Sheehy, Writer: She could have had lots of jobs in Washington instead she elects to go, not even to Little Rock, but Fayetteville, Arkansas? You know, her friends thought she was absolutely mad, 'he's just a country lawyer, what do you see in him?'
Narrator: When Hillary arrived in Arkansas -- a Chicago-born feminist in the Deep South -- she felt unwelcomed by Bill's campaign staff.
Max Brantley, Journalist: She had big glasses and curly hair, she had a Midwestern accent. She just seemed different. There was just something about her that put people off.
Paul Fray, Campaign Manager: I said 'Look, you know, we got enough problems here as it is.' She comes in here and I say, 'I don't mind her being on the inside doing everything she does cause she's sharp as a tack,' but I said 'Taking her out on the road,' I said 'That's going to create a little bit of a question.' And he said 'Why?' And I said, 'Well she's got outcroppings of where she grew up in Chicago and her parents all came from Pennsylvania.' I said, 'You know, she's never really overcome all of that to get involved in what we're doing here in Arkansas.'
Narrator: To make matters worse, Hillary had to deal with Bill's constant womanizing.
Paul Fray, Campaign Manager: I mean you got to understand at one time there was at least 25 women per day coming through there trying to find him, and I'd tell them he's out on the road, you know and they'd get out the door, but lord it was bad. Bad, bad, bad, bad, bad.
Marla Crider, Campaign Aide: He draws women in and they are literally mesmerized by this man. It was absolutely like fly to honey. And he needed that. He needed that kind of adoration. I don't think there's any question that Hillary was hurt, whether it was me or anyone else.
Narrator: Despite Bill's infidelities, Hillary decided to stay in Arkansas and dedicate herself to their mutual goals.
William Chafe, Historian: A common sense of commitment to social justice, of working on improving the lives of families, of being concerned about the disenfranchised. But ultimately all along, thinking about going to the top. That there's no question that there's a sense of the possibilities being unlimited. The highest you can achieve, obviously, is to be president and first lady.
Narrator: On October 11, 1975 the couple wed in a simple ceremony in their living room.
John Harris, Journalist: Most of the people I know who have been around the Clintons for a long time come to the conclusion that I've come to: The two of them are in love. Walter Lippmann, the great columnist, said 'Love endures when the lovers love not just each other, but love many things together.' That, I think, is the essence of Bill and Hillary Clinton. They had a common love, which is for politics, for the game. They love it. It's their life.
Narrator: With Hillary firmly behind him, there was no stopping Bill Clinton. Though he narrowly lost his Congressional bid, he had positioned himself as a rising star.
David Maraniss, Writer: The morning after he lost that Congressional race in 1974 he was out in the town square, shaking hands again. Every Democratic figure in the state knew that he was the next big figure in Arkansas politics.
Narrator: Two years later, he was easily elected Attorney General. Two years after that, he ran for Governor, brimming with youthful confidence and ambition.
Bill Clinton (archival): I'm Bill Clinton and one of the reasons I want to be governor is to make sure that every child in this State has a chance to go to kindergarten.
Narrator: Clinton won with more than 60% of the vote.
Bill Clinton (archival): I believe that if you and I together can practice what we preach about government, I know that you and I together want to do what is right for our people...
Narrator: In the late 1970s, most of Arkansas was poor and undeveloped. Bill Clinton was determined to turn that around.
David Maraniss, Writer: He did love his state. And he knew, growing up there, how many troubles it had. The saying in Arkansas was, 'Thank God for Mississippi.' Because Mississippi ranked 50th in everything, and Arkansas 49th.
Ernie Dumas, Journalist: Not much had been done for 150 years in Arkansas. Spending on education, per capita income, our highway system was one of the worst in the country. So Bill Clinton comes in and he has all these ideas. He's gonna transform the state at once.
Narrator: Feeling, as he recalled, 'an urgent sense to do everything,' Clinton and his staff took on entrenched interests in Arkansas. He created new regulations, revamped rural health care, reorganized school districts, and took on utilities.
Max Brantley, Journalist: They were young and they were full of themselves, and they thought they could change the world. Well you know, and they could stop clear-cutting of timber, and clean up poultry practices and those sorts of things. And that was, that was perhaps a little overly optimistic.
Narrator: Most ambitious of all was a project to fix Arkansas roads. It was paid for by a steep hike in taxes on car licenses and was a political disaster.
Ernie Dumas, Journalist: And so every month 1/12 of the people of Arkansas went down to the courthouse to get their, renew their license plates for the following year and instead of being $19 it was $36. That became extremely unpopular, and he realized that late in the election of 1980, he's go early in the morning to a factory gate and all these guys refused to shake his hand and they said "no you raised my truck tag and I'm not going to vote for you."
Narrator: After one term, Clinton ran for reelection against an obscure Republican businessman named Frank White, who pounded away at Clinton's youth and arrogance.
Frank White (archival): He tells you he can create jobs; he's never had a job!
Narrator: To Clinton's dismay, White's tactic worked.
Bill Clinton (archival): I regret that I will not have two more years to serve as Governor because I have loved it. I have probably loved it as much as any person who's ever held this office.
Narrator: Since he was a teenager, Bill Clinton had prepared himself to be president. Now, just 34, with his new baby Chelsea to support, he feared his political career might already be over.
John Brummett, Journalist: He took it incredibly hard. He knew those folks and he thought they loved him and it turned out they didn't. He was totally out of sorts.
And when you see him, he wants to talk about one thing. 'What'd I do wrong?' That's... you see him at the Forest Height's track where he's jogging. 'Hey, lemme talk to you. What did I do wrong?' See him at the aisle in the grocery store, 'What'd I do wrong?' One day, I'm driving to the state capitol back to the Arkansas Gazette to pass him walking along the street, and I rolled down the window, and I said, 'Where you going?' And he said, 'Car is in the shop down here at Bale Chevrolet' and I said, 'I'll give you a ride.' He hops in. We drive three blocks, but then we just park in front of there and we talk for 45 minutes, about what? 'What'd I do wrong?'
David Maraniss, Writer: Hillary was as devastated by that defeat as Bill was, and as determined to make amends and figure out a way back. I mean, here she had devoted her life and given up a lot to go out to Arkansas for their rise together. And at this very early age, it seemed like it was all vulnerable. So she was not going to allow that to happen.
Narrator: Hlllary traded in her thick glasses for contact lenses and her unkempt hair for a fashionable blonde bob. To quiet some of her critics, she took her husband's last name.
Hillary Clinton (archival): And just to put it to rest, I will forever be known as Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Narrator: Frustrated by what she regarded as poor advice, she took over her husband's reelection campaign.
Ernie Dumas, Journalist: Hillary was the mastermind of that comeback. Most of his people advised him at the time, 'Don't run again, wait two years.' Hillary says, 'You can come back and you can do it again.' He didn't trust himself as much as he trusted her.
Narrator: Determined never to lose again, Clinton studied the results of his defeat precinct by precinct. He resolved to win back every single one.
Bill Clinton (archival): How are you? Congratulations.
John Brummett, Journalist: I remember one day, we leave Fayetteville in a little plane and a storm is coming in. And he said, 'Fly fast,' cause we can see the cloud coming behind us. By the time we get 20 minutes away to the mountain town of Harrison, the pilot says, 'Can't put it down. The fog is too thick.' 'Got to,' says Clinton, 'I understand from the office that I got 150 people there. I've got a chance to get some votes here.' I'm sitting across from him thinking, 'This is it. I'm gonna die, and I'm gonna be the last paragraph of the obituary, after all about him.' He says, 'This is gonna get hairy. I'm going to sleep.' And he leans back and appears to go to sleep, and the third time we made it.
And before the plane stops taxing, he opens the door and jumps out, cause he's already an hour late. That's madness.
Newscaster (archival): The crowd has waited, they're ready to celebrate. It's been a long two years.
Bill Clinton (archival): If victory is ours tonight I have been given something that few people get in life: a second chance to serve the people of Arkansas.
Narrator: Clinton had learned from his mistakes. Rather than take on every problem in Arkansas in his second term, he narrowed his focus to a single issue that he knew would serve the people and his political future: education.
Bill Clinton (archival): I still believe that until we have a system which guarantees competence in basic learning skills we will never be able to prepare our people for higher level of achievements, I don't care what else we do.
John Brummett, Journalist: It's a winning issue. The people are willing to go that way. And it's something we can get done if we focus on that. He has settled on the strategy. Now, who's the right person? Who's my point person? Hillary.
Hillary Clinton (archival): We know it's a huge task, but we're very optimistic that we're going to be able to make a substantial improvement in what our students receive.
Max Brantley, Journalist: She went from town to town all over Arkansas, and met with civic groups and PTAs and school groups, and talked about what they wanted to do about improving schools in Arkansas. By the time it was over, I think she was one of the most popular people in the state.
Ernie Dumas, Journalist: One legislator popped up at a hearing one day and said 'We elected the wrong Clinton.'
Bobby Roberts, Campaign Aide: It just resurrected him. He needed a success and it made him the education governor at a time when education was a vital issue in the country, and he was able to use that to open all kinds of doors for him.
Narrator: Over the next few years, Clinton began to catch the attention of the media and national Democratic leaders desperate to find a candidate who could loosen Republicans' grip on the Presidency.
Dick Morris, Political Consultant: He would spend a huge amount of time meeting with impressing and charming his fellow Governors and other elected officials, and after a day and a night with him talking about philosophy and politics, you came away with the impression this was the smartest guy in the class, and that essentially if you were going to have a President, it probably should be this guy.
Narrator: In 1987, during his fourth term as Arkansas governor, Bill Clinton was finally ready to leap onto the national stage with a long-shot run for the presidency. In July, he summoned the national media to Little Rock for the big announcement.
Then, abruptly, he sent them home with hardly an explanation.
Bill Clinton (archival): I need some family time, I need some personal time.
Narrator: Behind the scenes, an old weakness had come back to haunt him.
Gail Sheehy, Writer: Just the day before the press conference when he was going to announce that he was going to run, Betsey Wright, his ferociously protective campaign manager, sat him down with a list of names of women and went through one after the other: how many times, where did you meet her, how likely is she to talk?
Nigel Hamilton, Writer: For each name he said, 'Oh, she'll never say anything.' And Betsey Wright said, 'But you don't know that. You don't understand on a national scale, people will investigate -- your opponents will investigate it. The media will investigate it. And the problem is, we're not just talking about you. We're talking about your wife, Hillary; we're talking about your child, Chelsea.' She said, 'I don't think you can run.'
Betsey Wright, Chief of Staff: I mean, it just became clear that night it was not the time for him to do it. It just was not the time. He felt for quite a while that, that probably was the last real chance he would ever have to run for president. That was it, it was over. You know, where would he go now that he wasn't gonna run for president? What could he do in the future? I think that over the next few months that became a tough time for them.
Narrator: With Hillary and Bill's mutual dream in tatters thanks to his extra-marital affairs, their relationship hit rock bottom.
Gail Sheehy, Writer: It did put into question their whole marriage. And it was very unnerving to Hillary because she had put everything on the line for him to pursue the presidency, and if he had too much of a record of reckless behavior to do that, than what had she been doing for the last 15 years?
Man (archival): It is now time to place the name in nomination for President of the United States, Michael Dukakis.
Narrator: Just when it seemed things couldn't get worse, Clinton was asked to give the speech nominating Michael Dukakis at the 1988 Democratic convention.
Bill Clinton (archival): I'm honored to be here tonight to nominate my friend Michael Dukakis for President of the United States.
Harry Thomason, Friend: That piece was supposed to be the set piece to launch him on the national stage and it turned out to be something that almost killed his career before it got started.
Bill Clinton (archival): I'd like to talk a little about Mike Dukakis, the man....
Carol Willis, Political Advisor: The speech was going on and on and on.
Bill Clinton (archival): Mike's old fashioned, all right. He's the kind of man who plays it straight, who keeps his word.
Carol Willis, Political Advisor: The crowd was just getting restless. And we said, 'Oh, man, we dead.' Right? He is going by the script that the Dukakis folks has approved. And he has to carry it out.
Bill Clinton (archival): Now, I want you all to calm down so I can tell the rest of the country why they should want Mike.
Max Brantley, Journalist: Of course, the famous thing is when he said "in conclusion..." he got a round of applause, finally.
Bill Clinton (archival): In Closing...
Harry Thomason, Friend: Linda my wife and I are at our house and we're looking on in disbelief. Sometime in the wee hours Linda wakes me up, and she says 'Look, he's got to go on the Carson show to make this right.'
Johnny Carson, (archival): My first question is, 'How are you?' Fine. I watched the speech and as a performer, I kind of felt for you in a way. What happened?
Bill Clinton (archival): It just didn't work, I mean, I dunno, what can I tell you? I really, my sole goal was achieved, however. I wanted so badly to make Michael Dukakis look great and I succeeded beyond my wildest expectations.
Harry Thomason, Friend: In an instant, he had turned it around, because the next day papers were full of good things and had kind things to say about him and so it erased almost all of it in one day and made him more visible than he had ever been.
Johnny Carson, (archival): It's tenor sax you play?
Bill Clinton (archival): We're going to play a short song...
Betsey Wright, Chief of Staff: He recovers better than anybody I have ever known. It's extraordinary. I mean he can have horrible things crash down upon his head, but he crawls out from under it and keeps on going.
Narrator: Bill and Hillary Clinton were back on the map. Having faced a crossroads in their personal and political lives, they decided that whatever the costs, they would stay together and continue to pursue the goal they'd shared for 20 years: the presidency of the United States.
Four years later, in the snows of New Hampshire, Clinton held a comfortable lead in the Democratic primary. With the Gennifer Flowers scandal behind him, he was campaigning with the confidence of a front-runner. 'Unless a second shoe drops to indicate he's a liar,' declared the New York Times, 'Clinton has emerged more clearly as the Democrats' likely nominee.'
But just 12 days before the primary, the second shoe not only dropped, it nearly shattered the campaign. An old letter had surfaced, written by Bill Clinton more than 20 years earlier when facing the possibility of being drafted to fight in Vietnam. In the letter, Clinton thanked his local ROTC commander, Col. Eugene Holmes, for 'saving me from the draft.' Though he never took the ROTC deferment offered him by Col. Holmes, Clinton's letter sounded to many like the confession of a draft dodger, and sparked a second round of attacks against his character.
James Carville, Campaign Strategist: The Friday story in the Wall Street Journal appears about the ROTC and Colonel Holmes and the polling numbers just started collapsing.
Reporter (archival): Governor, are you a draft dodger? Did you burn your draft card?
Bill Clinton (archival): No, I had a lock-cinch four-year deferment. I gave it up after less than two months because I didn't think it was right. I went back into the draft, then this lottery came along. I got a high number and I wasn't called.
Dee Dee Myers, Press Secretary: Stan Greenberg, our pollster, came in and said, 'The bottom's fallen out.' You know, we dropped 18 points in a weekend and we didn't have that many points to start with.
Bill Clinton (archival): Of course I've had some problems in the polls. All I've been asked about in the press are a woman I didn't sleep with and a draft I didn't dodge...
Dee Dee Myers, Press Secretary: I think a lot of us thought, you know, 'This is over.' But I mean, Clinton, Clinton, he never flinched. You know, he willed himself back into that race.
Bill Clinton (archival): How you doing? I need your help!
Narrator: For the next week, Clinton campaigned 20 hours a day, pushing himself to the limits of his endurance.
Bill Clinton (archival): I don't have another speech in me. I can barely talk.
We have to reject the political philosophy that gripped this country in the 1980s...
Narrator: With only days left, his voice ragged, Clinton spoke at an Elks Lodge in Dover, New Hampshire.
Jonathan Alter, Journalist: These were Yankees who had been really beaten down by the loss of manufacturing jobs in that part of the country, and they didn't seem to have other opportunities.
Bill Clinton (archival): I'll tell you something, I'm going to give you this election back, and if you'll give it to me I won't be like George Bush, I'll never forget who game me a second chance and I'll be there for you till the last dog dies. And I want you to remember that.
Jonathan Alter, Journalist: "I'll be there for you until the last dog dies." And we knew we'd seen one of those astonishing political performances.
Bill Clinton (archival): I don't promise you a miracle, I promise you a movement. Lets take our country back, and see this country win again. Thank you very much! And God bless you!
Dee Dee Myers, Press Secretary: How many second chances, right? How many second chances does any one person deserve? Clinton's view is as many second chances as a person is willing to try to take. As many times as you fail, don't you deserve the chance to redeem yourself? Uh, isn't history loaded with people who have fallen and gotten up, and fallen and gotten up, and fallen and gotten up and done great things? You know, who's to say?
Bill Clinton (archival): Thank you. I need you tomorrow, thank you.
Narrator: On Feb. 18, the voters of New Hampshire went to the polls. Despite the one-two punch of Gennifer Flowers and the draft, Clinton finished a strong second behind former Massachusetts senator Paul Tsongas.
Bill Clinton (archival): Let me say that while the evening is young and we don't know yet what the final tally will be, I think we know enough to say with some certainty that New Hampshire tonight has made Bill Clinton "The Comeback Kid."
Narrator: In the weeks to come, Clinton rolled up primary victory after primary victory.
Bill Clinton (archival): In Florida, in Tennessee, in Mississippi....
Narrator: In early June, he surpassed the number of delegates needed for the Democratic nomination by winning the California primary.
Bill Clinton (archival): The election for America's future begins tomorrow. It is not about me, it's about all of you.
Stanley Greenberg, Political Strategist: Even though he's winning voters over, and winning these primaries with bigger and bigger margins, the news coverage, you know, for the general electorate, is one of a politician you would never make president of the United States. You could not possibly trust this guy.
The polls would ask the question whether he has the honesty and the character to be president and the numbers got worse and worse and worse. We reached a point where we said, 'We can't just allow that to be the narrative, the route to the convention. Let's restore a sense of trust.'
Narrator: A team of top campaign aides planned a complete overhaul of Clinton's image, culminating in a nostalgic film shown during the Democratic National Convention in New York. It was called "A Man From Hope."
Bill Clinton (archival film): I was born in a little town called Hope, Arkansas, three months after my father died.
I remember living in that old two-story house where I lived with my grandparents....
Harold Ickes, Deputy Chief of Staff: The film, I think brought people back, 'Okay, here's who this guy is, here's what we're really about and we really have a strong candidate.'
Bill Clinton (archival): My fellow Americans, I end tonight where it all began for me. I still believe in a place called hope. God bless you, and God bless America.
Narrator: With a rock anthem from the 1970s as the campaign theme song, Clinton staffers positioned their candidate as the young, dynamic face of a new generation.
To complete the image, Clinton chose as his running mate the youthful senator from Tennessee, Al Gore.
Dee Dee Myers, Press Secretary: It turned the conventional wisdom on its head. He believed you don't dilute your message, you put a big underline and exclamation point and this is a new generation, new ideas, a new Democratic party. Totally energized the general election campaign.
Narrator: Heading into the fall, Clinton had surged ahead of President George H. W. Bush and third-party candidate Ross Perot. With the economy still faltering, Clinton had found his issue and his voice.
Bill Clinton (archival): The crowd that's running Washington today has had 12 years to test their economic theory and it's failed.
Narrator: The decisive event came in mid-October, at the second Presidential debate in Richmond, Virginia, when Clinton turned a question from the audience into a defining political moment.
Michael Waldman, Speechwriter: A woman stood up and asked a question that was on a lot of people's minds.
Woman (archival): How has the national debt personally affected each of your lives? And if it hasn't, how can you honestly find a cure for the economic problems of the common people if you have no experience in what's ailing them?
Michael Waldman, Speechwriter: And President Bush said, 'I don't get it, I don't get the question.'
George H.W. Bush (archival): Are you suggesting that if a person has means that the national debt doesn't affect them? I'm not sure I get it. Help me with the question and I'll try to answer it.
Joe Klein, Journalist: Clinton understood that she wasn't talking about the deficit or the debt. What she was talking about was the economy. And the recession. And the body language was absolutely crucial at that point. He took two steps toward her.
Bill Clinton (archival): Tell me how it's affected you again? You know people who've lost their jobs and lost their homes.
Woman (archival): Uh huh.
Bill Clinton (archival): Well I tell you how it's affected me. I've seen people in my state, middle class people, their taxes have gone up in Washington and their services have gone down while the wealthy have gotten tax cuts. I have seen what's happened in these last four years when, in my state, when people lose their jobs, there's a good chance I'll know them by their names....
Joe Klein, Journalist: That was giving the American public precisely what they wanted at that point. They had this brilliant foreign policy president. What they needed was someone who cared about them and who were as scared about the economy as they were. And in that moment, he encapsulated that.
Bill Clinton (archival): I think what we have to do is invest in American jobs, American education.
Joe Klein, Journalist: He was on his way to winning. But that was the deal-closer. He closed the deal.
Narrator: Like a marathon runner nearing the finish line, Clinton spent the final 24 hours of the campaign in an all-out sprint, touching down in nine states. His voice gone, he could only wave at adoring crowds.
Tom Brokaw, NBC News (archival): Sometime during the course of this half hour the man who likes to call himself the Comeback Kid, Bill Clinton of a town called Hope in Arkansas will be projected the winner of the presidential candidacy of 1992.
Man (archival): Ladies and gentleman, Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton!
Carolyn Staley, Friend: It was just unbelievable, such a moment of pride, happiness. It felt like we had a new opportunity to seize the day for America with fresh ideas from a man who had the right heart, the right spirit, loved service, and could face anything that life was about to throw at him
Bill Clinton (archival): My fellow Americans, on this day, with high hopes and brave hearts and in massive numbers, the America people have voted to make a new beginning.
David Gergen, Adviser: There was this joy and buoyancy and he had so much promise about him. Those of us who believed in Bill Clinton, and I did, had a sense of, 'Wow, this is going to be really, really good for the country.'
Narrator: After 20 years of thrilling highs and gut-wrenching falls, Bill and Hillary had at last achieved their highest goal. But, if they had won the Presidency, the Clintons had yet to win over the country. And in this moment of triumph, few could imagine the turmoil that lay ahead.
Michael Waldman, Speechwriter: He got 43% of the vote but none of us thought about that. To us, it felt like a landslide. Clinton believed in a strong government; he wanted to be a big president. He revered Kennedy, he revered Roosevelt, he thought about the heroic presidents and he wanted to use the presidency that way. But the country was turning away from government, it was skeptical that government could work, and there were these roiling undercurrents of anger, that we knew were there but we didn't realize how they could quickly consume even us.
Man (archival): Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of the United States of America, William Jefferson Clinton.
Narrator: On a crisp January morning in 1993, Bill Clinton took the oath of office as the 42nd President of the United States. Promising a new start, he sounded the themes of change and optimism that had won him the White House.
Bill Clinton (archival): Our democracy must be not only the envy of the world, but the engine of our own renewal. There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.
David Gergen, Adviser: He did have heroic visions of what he might do as president. He felt that the winds of change were blowing heavily at his back and that he could ride them to great, magnificent victories. The harder reality was that he only won with 43% of the vote in a three-man race and that's not exactly a heady mandate for governing.
Narrator: Clinton's victory had come despite a deep divide in the country. Millions had responded to his campaign message of change. But millions of others feared where the country was heading, and did not trust their inexperienced new president to lead them through uncertain times.
John Harris, Journalist: There was a group of people who had a visceral dislike for Bill Clinton. They felt that he had stayed just one step ahead of the posse with his personal problems, they thought that he represented a 1960s generation that was always trying to pull a fast one and not playing by traditional rules. They despised him and thought there was something illegitimate about his presidency.
Lucianne Goldberg, Literary Agent: There's a sense of him being a used car salesman, there's a sense of a guy being a charming hick. He was loathed because, in the first place I think we've all known somebody like Bill Clinton and we don't want them to be president of our country. And the wife was terrifying as well. She was pushy, she was humorless, she couldn't get her hair figured out. There were just so many things about Hillary that we didn't like.
Narrator: Despite all their education and experience, the Clintons were unprepared for their reception in Washington.
Mike McCurry, Press Secretary: He still labored under the assumption that he could bring people together under powers of persuasion. It was stunning to him that Republicans would just very blatantly tell him that we're not here to cooperate with you and this is going to be open warfare from the very beginning.
David Gergen, Adviser: It's a big leap, from the state capital to the nation's capital and to the world's capital, and I think the Clintons, found that Washington was a shock for them, the rules were very different, people weren't as friendly, people had other agendas, a lot of knives were out, people played behind curtains, you just never knew what was going to come out and strike you.
Bill Clinton (archival): Is there a teleprompter? What are we going to do about the teleprompter?
Lawrence O'Donnell, Senate Aide: He had no comprehension of the rules of the road in Washington; no governor ever elected to the presidency has ever understood what they were getting into. And he looked more unprepared than most.
Bill Clinton (archival): Wait a minute, how long are you going to have to wait...
Lawrence O'Donnell, Senate Aide: His first address from the Oval Office, sitting behind the desk, it looked like a big mistake had happened, some little kid had been allowed in there with his $12 digital watch. Everything about him suggested he was not up to this.
Narrator: Clinton ran his White House as if it were an extension of the campaign, filling his staff with 30-year-olds with little Washington experience. He wanted to be part of the hurly burly -- to hear every opinion, weigh in on every decision.
Robert Reich, Labor Secretary: The atmosphere in the White House in that first year was chaos. He wanted to do everything. He wanted to deal with every problem. He was in the middle of every conflict.
Jonathan Alter, Journalist: They would have these college bull sessions that would go on, you know, late into the night.
Harold Ickes, Deputy Chief of Staff: The meetings were endless, especially if Clinton was in the meeting, it would go on and on and on.
John Harris, Journalist: He was often thinking out loud, making decisions on the fly, making a decision tentatively at midnight and then waking up the next morning and saying, 'let's rethink this.'
Narrator: The West Wing was littered with pizza boxes and Coke cans, as staffers wandered freely in and out of meetings.
Joe Klein, Journalist: It wasn't the kind of orderly process that Republicans brought to the table. It was all these discordant voices, informal voices, people who didn't even wear ties and jackets when they went into the Oval Office, my God!
Dee Dee Myers, Press Secretary: You gotta be a little grand. Because the American people want it, it's the biggest job in the world, and I think we underestimated that. People felt like, 'What is it a fraternity house over there?'
Narrator: As Clinton took office in the winter of 1993, the economic crisis that had propelled him into office showed few signs of abating.
Robert Rubin, Treasury Secretary: We had had a recession. We had high unemployment. And it was a lot of uncertainty about whether the United States was going to get on its feet again or whether we could be in for a prolonged period of real difficulty. So he came into a very difficult environment.
Narrator: During the transition, Clinton had promised to focus on the economy "like a laser beam." But he quickly discovered how easily his focus could be deflected by an unscripted comment to a reporter.
Reporter (archival): Do you intend to keep your commitment to lift the ban on gays in the military?
Bill Clinton (archival): Yes. I want to -- I have -- You know what my issue on this is: number one, we've got a study that says that a lot of gays have performed with great distinction in the military. I don't think status alone in the absence of some destructive behavior should disqualify people.
Joe Klein, Journalist: Now, Bill Clinton, with his wits about him, would have said, 'Oh, yes, I'm going to stick to my campaign pledge and in furtherance of that, we're going to appoint a blue-ribbon commission that will report back to my successor 100 years from now,' but he didn't. He just said the first part. You know, 'I'm going to keep my campaign pledge.' And all of a sudden, the laser-like focus on the economy was derailed to a, you know, a lurid issue in the minds of many people.
Reporter (archival): Mr. President, would you consider backing down on your ban on gays in the Military?
Bill Clinton (archival): We haven't -- We're not here to discuss that. We're here to discuss the economy, which is all I discussed yesterday with congressional leadership contrary to the press reports.
Reporter (archival): But would you consider --
Bill Clinton (archival): We're here to discuss the economy.
Narrator: Trapped by his own promise, Clinton attempted to lift the ban, but ran into heavy resistance from two allies: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Colin Powell and Democratic Senator Sam Nunn.
Dee Dee Myers, Press Secretary: So, you have the military leadership bucking him, the Democratic Congressional leaders, led by, you know, Chairman of the Armed Services Committee saying no, and the president is powerless to do anything about it. And so he's now put into a position where he has to try to negotiate some kind of a resolution to this that will save face.
Bill Clinton (archival): Therefore, the practice now six months old....
Narrator: After weeks of fruitless wrangling, Clinton announced a compromise -- "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" -- that few could even understand.
Bill Clinton (archival): An open statement by a service member that he or she is a homosexual will create a rebuttable presumption that he or she intends to engage in prohibited conduct, but the service member will be given an opportunity to refute that presumption...
Dee Dee Myers, Press Secretary: Nobody was particularly happy with 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell', but it was the best you could do to get it off the table so you could move on.
Narrator: Other capitulations quickly followed. He dropped a stimulus bill, and campaign finance reform in the face of Congressional opposition.
Robert Reich, Labor Secretary: It became very apparent very soon that Bill Clinton as President was not going to be an LBJ. He was not going to assert his authority, make deals, crack heads, push his weight around, say to any members of Congress in the leadership that if you don't follow me, you're going to pay for this, because I'm going to remember it. You're not going to get this, you're not going to get that. You know, LBJ knew how to use power. Bill Clinton knew much of that, but he also wanted to be liked.
Narrator: When Attorney General nominee Zoe Baird got into hot water over her failure to pay taxes for household help, Clinton hardly put up a fight.
Bernard Nussbaum, White House Counsel: The first day I was in the White House the President said to me, 'We're having problems with Zoe Baird.'
Senator (archival): To me this is a big deal, personally, and I suspect it is to a lot of Americans....
Bernard Nussbaum, White House Counsel: He says, 'well, I'm hearing from Democratic senators that it's really going to be a problem, and the press is on my back.' My position was, look you've already nominated her, she's an excellent person we should stick with Zoe Baird,' and he decided: 'No!'
Bill Clinton (archival): I feel very badly about it, but I'm responsible for it and I'm going to start this afternoon looking for an Attorney General.
Bernard Nussbaum, White House Counsel: In order to placate the opposing party's criticisms and media criticisms, which began on day one, the Clinton administration kept folding, kept giving in. I think that undermined his presidency, it showed he could be rolled.
Narrator: The media, which had embraced Clinton during the campaign, now began to turn on him. When his nomination of Judge Ruth Bader Ginsberg to the Supreme Court took a tortuous course, reporters pounced.
Brit Hume, Reporter (archival): Your turn late it seems to Judge Ginsberg may have created an impression, perhaps unfair, of a certain zig-zag quality in the decision-making process here. I wonder, sir, if you could walk us through it and kind of disabuse us of any notions we might have along those lines. Thank you.
Bill Clinton (archival): I have long since given up the thought that I could disabuse some of you of turning any substantive decision into anything but political process. How you can ask that question after the statement she just made is beyond me.
John Harris, Journalist: What he wanted people to do is just look at the result, 'Did I make a good decision or not?' But as president every decision that Bill Clinton makes, and not just the decisions, but how he makes these decisions, is receiving merciless scrutiny. The messiness of the process became part of the story and Bill Clinton found it maddening.
Narrator: The Clintons arrived in Washington in the midst of a media revolution. The advent of cable television, and the 24-hour news cycle, created an insatiable appetite for colorful coverage of Washington.
Joe Klein, Journalist: Cable television was beginning to become a force. And the competition among cable news became a vicious fact of Bill Clinton's life. Sex sold. Corruption sold.
Narrator: Throughout the spring of 1993, a series of scandals, including "Travelgate" and "Hairgate," flared in the press.
Hillary found it hard to shrug off the negative press. Stories -- like the one alleging that she broke a lamp during a heated argument with the President -- embarrassed and humiliated her. "I've always believed in a zone of privacy," she said, "but I guess I've been rezoned."
Gail Sheehy, Writer: She had an agenda, changes in the country, in the world, that she wanted to see done. She couldn't understand why the media was focusing constantly on their private life, but the more she fought it the more she drew attention to it.
Narrator: The lawyer chosen to lead the Clintons' defense was their close friend and deputy White House Counsel, Vince Foster.
Bernard Nussbaum, White House Counsel: Vince, he got very upset with the attacks. He felt we couldn't stop these attacks -- and yes, no, we couldn't stop these attacks. You know, this is the nature of the game down here. This is the partisan game down here. And I kept trying to calm him down but I did see him getting sadder and sadder. And then, then that day came when he took his own life.
Narrator: On the afternoon of July 20, Vince Foster told an assistant that he was going out for a few minutes. That evening, his body was found in a secluded park 10 miles from the White House, a bullet hole through his head.
A torn-up note was found a few days later at the bottom of Foster's briefcase. "I was not meant for the job or the spotlight of public life in Washington," it read. "Here, ruining people is considered sport."
David Gergen, Adviser: I was very concerned that knowing how close that Vince Foster was to both Bill and Hillary, that it would be sort of the final straw for Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton in Washington. They would just think, 'This town's impossible,' you know, 'We've lost one of our best friends, he's taken his life in the midst of this melee,' and that something very intangible would be lost.
Bill Clinton's one of the most resilient people I've ever met. The pain goes deeper with Hillary, and it can stay there longer. She's strong but she's also vulnerable.
Narrator: Far from destroying the Clintons, Foster's death steeled them against their adversaries. For Hillary, there could be no more illusions: this would be a war with only one winner.
Bernard Nussbaum, White House Counsel: They were toughening up by this time. They were seeing now that we're in a blood sport, that people are trying to kill you and nothing is going to make them happy.
Narrator: Foster's suicide only fueled the media's fascination with scandal. Within days of the discovery of his body, there was speculation about the "real cause" of his death.
Ken Gormley, Legal Scholar: The immediate reaction to Vince Foster's death was, 'What happened here and were the Clintons involved? Were they covering something up?' There begins bubbling up this notion that there's a conspiracy. That Vince Foster's been murdered. You know, on one account, his body rolled up in a rug, he's having an affair with Hillary, all of these terrible things.
Narrator: Attention focused mostly on some files mysteriously removed from Foster's office after his death, including documents related to an old Arkansas land deal: Whitewater.
Whitewater -- the scandal that would haunt Clinton's presidency longer than any other -- had its roots in the late 1970s. At the time, Bill Clinton was a young Attorney General making just over $25,000 a year. Hillary, an associate at the Rose law firm in Little Rock, was the family's main breadwinner. When an old friend named Jim McDougal approached her with a plan to build vacation homes along the White River, Hillary decided to invest.
Joe Purvis, Friend: Here's a guy, McDougal, that comes to him and says, 'Put a little money into this thing.' He said, 'Boy, you'll be rich and you'll make money, and this is going to be great.' Well, I guess in hindsight, every person promoting any sort of land scheme thinks it's going to be a world-beater and we're going to be rich as Midas by the time it's over.
Narrator: Like many of McDougal's real estate projects, Whitewater went belly-up. To prop up his scheme, he made illegal transfers from his own Savings and Loan, Madison Guaranty. McDougal was charged with fraud.
Reporter (archival): President Clinton, you just mentioned James McDougal, your former business partner. A lot of questions have been raised about his business practices. Can you tell us....
Narrator: Fifteen years later, President Clinton was asked by reporters what he and Hillary knew about McDougal's illegal activities.
Bill Clinton (archival): To the best of my knowledge he was honest in his dealings with me and that's all I can comment on...
Harold Ickes, Deputy Chief of Staff: The White House was totally unprepared for it. There was no memo on it, there was no defense group.
Bill Clinton (archival): I had nothing to do with the management of Whitewater. Hillary had nothing to do with it. We didn't keep the books or the records...
Harold Ickes, Deputy Chief of Staff: There were some of us who said, 'Keep the walls up, keep it back, you know, it's none of their business, uh, nothing happened. It's a little deal down in Arkansas, it's nothing to do with the presidency uh and it'll go away.'
It didn't go away but that built up a suspicion, and as new things leaked out, as inconsequential as they might be, the press would say, 'Oh the Clintons have been hiding stuff.' And there was built up relatively quickly that the Clintons were just stonewalling.
Narrator: The emergence of the Whitewater scandal couldn't have come at a worse time for President Clinton. In the late summer of 1993, he needed broad political support, as his first major piece of legislation -- the federal budget -- was headed for a showdown in Congress.
Robert Reich, Labor Secretary: We knew that if Bill Clinton lost that vote, the signal would be he can't get the Democrats in the House and the Senate to go along with him. That means he doesn't have power. That's the definition of lacking power. And if this early in the administration our new President lacks power, where do we go next?
Narrator: Abandoning his campaign promise to cut taxes and invest in the middle class, Clinton instead took the advice of the administration's deficit hawks to reduce spending and raise taxes.
Joe Klein, Journalist: Bill Clinton's first big decision was an intellectual act of faith.
Bill Clinton (archival): We're on the eve of historic action. Without deficit reduction, we can't have sustained economic growth.
Joe Klein, Journalist: He gambled in the midst of a recession that he'd get more economic growth if he was fiscally conservative, and if he began to reduce the deficit, that would convince the bond market to start reducing interest rates, and the economy would grow. That was just a theory. No one knew it would work.
Narrator: More than anything, Clinton had wanted to invest in the middle class. The realization that he couldn't, left him deeply disappointed.
John Harris, Journalist: He didn't become president to say no. He didn't become president to administer pain. He didn't become president because he wanted to placate Wall Street. But in fact, his agenda did require to some extent doing all those things.
Narrator: As the budget reached congress, Clinton knew it was on a knife-edge. With Republicans unanimously opposed, the President needed nearly every Democratic vote to pass the bill, but the Party -- like the administration -- was in disarray. Liberal Democrats complained about the cuts in spending, while conservatives opposed the tax hikes.
David Boren (archival): I think that the President will fail, the Party will fail, and the country will fail if we enact this budget.
Narrator: Faced with the possibility of a catastrophic defeat, Clinton got down to work. "I knew if I didn't get the economy going," he said, "nothing else would matter."
Sen. Tom Daschle, (D) South Dakota: There wasn't anything he wasn't willing to do. He would call, he would meet. He would grovel, he would strong-arm. He would use every tactic any leader has at his disposal to try to get this thing done.
Narrator: But the days when a president could command votes, even from members of his own party, were long over.
Leon Panetta, Chief of Staff: Bill Clinton was used to Arkansas. You know, he knew the good old boys, he knew who he had to go to. He could walk on the floor of the legislature and basically, you know, with a smile and a pat on the back he could get any vote he wanted. That wasn't true, here in Washington. In many ways it was frustrating for him because he really felt that he knew what was best for the country and that by the sheer power of his personality and his words and his smile, that somehow he could make it work.
Narrator: The budget wended its way through a series of committee and floor votes in the House and Senate.
Stanley Greenberg, Political Strategist: We went to some of these votes not having the votes. Getting calls during the voting process that someone had turned, someone had moved, these things are being won by one vote. Imagine that. This is the budget, this is like his entire presidency goes down if he fails, and you're up to one vote each time.
Narrator: In early August, the final budget bill reached the floor of the House. With the vote still in doubt, all eyes turned to a freshman Democratic from a historically Republican district, Marjorie Margolis Mezvinsky.
Leon Panetta, Chief of Staff: We had her down as voting yes, and she votes no, early on. And so we said, 'Go in there, find out what the hell's going on, try to turn her vote around.' First of all, as a former member, if you're going to vote against the leadership, vote and get the hell out of there. She didn't do that, she stayed there. So suddenly these guys are all pouring on her, and she's standing there, and they're saying, 'Come on, you've got to change your vote, this is important to the administration.'
She then says something like, 'I'll do this, but the president has to come into my district.' So they call me, back in the office, and they say, 'Will the president come into her district to do-' And I say, 'Absolutely! Whatever it takes, we're gonna do it.'
Narrator: With the vote, and his presidency on the line, Clinton paced nervously in a small office in the West Wing.
Robert Rubin, Treasury Secretary: We're all crowded around this little television set, really with quite a high level of uncertainty.
Narrator: Finally, Mezvinsky cast her vote 'yes' and the budget passed.
With an equally narrow victory in the Senate, Clinton's final budget became law. Not even he foresaw the economic boom it would set off.
Robert Rubin, Treasury Secretary: It contributed enormously to what turned out to be the longest economic expansion in the nation's history. Twenty two million new jobs were created, productivity went up. Incomes rose at all levels. And, for the first time in 30 years, we had a federal surplus.
Narrator: By the fall of 1993, there were glimmers of a turn-around in Clinton's fortunes. After passing his budget, Congress approved the North American Free Trade Agreement with overwhelming Republican support. The same month, he signed the Brady Bill, instituting background checks for anyone purchasing a firearm.
NAFTA and Brady culminated 10 months of intense focus on domestic affairs, but beyond America's shores, a troubled world would wait no longer for the president's attention.
Richard A. Clarke, National Security Coordinator: The Cold War had kept a lot of tensions quiet and a lot of groups quiet. And now with that over, all of the old animosities, all of the old hatreds -- ethnic hatreds, regional tensions that had been under that iceberg of the Cold War were now popping-out, and were real problems.
Joe Klein, Journalist: How much did the United States want to get involved in problems in the rest of the world, which tended to be localized problems? Were those worthy of our time and attention? This was uncharted territory.
Richard Clarke, National Security Coordinator: We were all reaching for, all searching for some new grand unifying theory. Give us a new way of looking at the world.
Narrator: Clinton had little to offer in the realm of foreign affairs. The first president since World War II who had not worn a military uniform, he lacked confidence as a Commander in Chief.
Joe Klein, Journalist: Clinton came to the White House with very little knowledge of the U.S. military. Famously, he didn't even know how to salute. To a great many people in this country, that was legitimately something to be worried about.
Narrator: Clinton's first major foreign policy crisis came in the African nation of Somalia, where a warlord named Mohamed Farah Aidid was terrorizing the local population in an effort to suppress his opponents in a civil war.
Clinton inserted U.S. Special Forces into Somalia to capture Aidid. During a mission on October 3rd, two Blackhawk helicopters were shot down. American forces sent in to assist, were pinned down by overwhelming firepower. Before they could be extracted, 18 U.S. soldiers were killed with 84 more wounded.
Around the world, images of a dead American soldier being dragged through the streets enflamed public opinion.
John Harris, Journalist: Although George H.W. Bush had initiated that intervention, it had expanded on Bill Clinton's watch, so when things turned bad it was hugely unpopular, and Bill Clinton bore the brunt of that.
Kofi Annan, U. N. Secretary-General: You need to understand the average citizen. In their minds, we have gone there on a humanitarian mission to offer a helping hand, and we get attacked and humiliated. 'Why are we there? Why should we continue to help? Why are you keeping the boys there? Bring the boys home' -- that sort of political pressure that President Clinton and his team had to deal with.
Narrator: The backlash in public opinion contained what seemed a clear lesson for the young president: military intervention, without a compelling national interest, came with unforeseeable risks and costs.
John Harris, Journalist: It sent a chill through the administration and made them much more reluctant to intervene in other parts of the world, and where that came home in the most profound way and one that Bill Clinton came to deeply, deeply regret was in Rwanda.
Narrator: Rwanda, an African nation 1,000 miles to the west of Somalia, was suffering through its own civil war between two tribes -- Hutus and Tutsis. In early April, 1994, the Rwandan president's plane was shot down. The Hutu government blamed Tutsi rebels.
Kofi Annan, U. N. Secretary-General: When the plane was shot down, all hell broke loose and that became the trigger which set off this mass killing
Narrator: The killing caught the Clinton administration entirely by surprise.
Gen. Wesley K. Clark, Military Advisor: That night, I was leaving the office and I noticed on CNN, on the television screen there was shooting going on. And I, and I said to my assistant, 'What's going on? What is that?' He said, 'Oh, it's a, it's a, it's R-wanda, it's there's some kind of operation going on over there.' I said, 'Is that real? Is that on time?' He said, 'Yes, sir.'
Narrator: Ultimately, some 800,000 Tutsis would be killed. But with the Black Hawk Down incident still fresh, the Clinton administration did virtually nothing to stop the slaughter.
Kofi Annan, U. N. Secretary-General: We needed international support in Rwanda, but the will to intervene was not there. They knew what was happening, but they were not about to take the risks. Rwanda lived in the shadow of Somalia, and paid the price for what had happened in Somalia.
Narrator: Clinton's foreign policy was trapped in a kind of no man's land. If Somalia had demonstrated the risks of military intervention, Rwanda proved the costs of doing nothing.
Gen. Wesley Clark, Military Advisor: I know the president felt awful afterwards. Awful. As it came out, and we understood the scale, the enormity, we realized that there are sins of omission, as well as sins of commission. This was a horrible omission.
Hillary Clinton (archival): Here we go.
Bill Clinton (archival): Alright, flip it Chelse...
Narrator: Battered by a year Hillary described as "hellish," the Clintons were looking forward to their first Christmas in Washington. Escaping the White House, they visited close friends and even shopped at a local mall.
Bill and Hillary had always been doting parents to Chelsea, trying to keep her life as normal as possible.
Gail Sheehy, Writer: Both Hillary and Bill in their own way were fabulous parents -- very protective of Chelsea and managed to keep a cordon of privacy around her, let her grow up more or less naturally.
Narrator: For the most part, the press respected Chelsea's privacy, but showed no such consideration for her parents.
In mid-December, the first Family's hopes for a quiet Christmas were dashed when a call from the Washington Post once again plunged them into the roiling currents of the Whitewater scandal.
David Gergen, Adviser: I got a call from Bob Kaiser, who was then the number two editor at the Washington Post. And he said, 'David, you know, we've known each other a long time, and we've made numerous requests to the White House for some Whitewater-related documents, that we're getting stonewalled, and we're about to go on the attack.'
Narrator: Many on his staff counseled the President to turn over his private papers on Whitewater to the Post.
David Gergen, Adviser: I said, 'Mr. President, this is a flagship newspaper, they're gonna put a team of investigative reporters on this if you don't give these documents over and no one, no one knows where that's gonna go, why don't we just do it now and just, you know, do the fair and square thing.' He said, 'I agree, let's do it,' he said, 'but there's one problem,' he said, 'I'm in this with Hillary. You've got to go convince Hillary'.
Gail Sheehy, Writer: Hillary's attitude toward the press and thus towards the Washington Post was to pull back, to reveal nothing, to keep the media or anybody else who's asked questions about their inside life at bay, so she's locked down.
David Gergen, Adviser: Finally after about two weeks, I got a call from the counsel's office saying, 'By the way David, we have now sent a letter to the Washington Post and we'll read it to you' and I said, 'Fine, let me hear the letter,' and basically it said: 'Dear Washington Post, screw you. No documents.'
Narrator: Clinton's refusal to turn over his private Whitewater records was a red flag to many of his political enemies. In early January, Republican Senator Robert Dole demanded the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate Whitewater.
Bob Dole (archival): If there's nothing to hide, why not lay it all out there, but every day there's another little drip coming from somewhere.
Narrator: Dole's demand reignited the argument inside the White House. Most of Clinton's advisors urged him to appoint a special prosecutor, but Hillary and White House counsel Bernie Nussbaum argued against it.
Bernard Nussbaum, White House Counsel: I said to the President they'll investigate you - and they won't find anything because you did nothing in Whitewater - but they'll investigate. Somebody did something in Arkansas in the last 20 years. They will try to find that person. Then they will try to get that person to save their neck -- to remember something that you did in Arkansas in the last 20 years which was illegal. This will last, Mr. President, as long as you're president and beyond.
Harold Ickes, Deputy Chief of Staff: The contrary argument was, we're trying to run a presidency and a White House here, this is not going to go away. Yes, you can stave it off for a while, but at some point everything is going to come out.
Bernard Nussbaum, White House Counsel: And that's when Clinton said, 'I can't take it anymore. Tell me what to do. You got to, got to give me -- tell me what to do,' he screams at me.
Harold Ickes, Deputy Chief of Staff: We finally persuaded Hillary much against her better instincts, to call the President and say that we wanted him to authorize Attorney General Reno to appoint a special counsel.
Narrator: Exhausted and heartsick over the recent death of his mother, Clinton did not put up a fight. On January 20, 1994, Attorney General Janet Reno, acting on Clinton's authorization, appointed lawyer Robert Fiske as special counsel in the Whitewater matter.
Bill Clinton (archival): Most of the newspapers in the country asked me to have a special counsel appointed. That's what I have done. I did it so that I could go on with my work. I want a full investigation. I want this thing to be done, fully, clearly and to be over with.
Narrator: Years later, Clinton would say, "It was the worst mistake of my presidency..."
By the spring of 1994, Bill Clinton had endured 18 months of attacks by his political enemies, the press, and even other Democrats. Tired of playing defense, he set out to reclaim his Presidency with one grand gesture.
Joe Klein, Journalist: Clinton understood that very few presidents create their own greatness. Greatness is usually thrust upon them by a crisis. Abe Lincoln had the Civil War, Franklin Roosevelt had the Depression and World War II. And so that was a challenge for Clinton. 'What am I going to do that's going to make me remembered?'
Bill Clinton (archival): For 60 years, this country has tried to reform health care. President Roosevelt tried, President Truman tried, President Nixon tried, President Carter tried. Every time, the special interests were powerful enough to defeat them, but not this time.
Lawrence O'Donnell, Senate Aide: Healthcare was to be the giant monument of the Clinton presidency.
Bill Clinton (archival): Under our plan every American would receive a healthcare security card.
Lawrence O'Donnell, Senate Aide: Bill Clinton held up this healthcare card that we were all gonna get, every one of us were gonna get this card from the government, you know, certifying that we had healthcare coverage, and we were all certain that we were absolutely going to get this done.
Narrator: To lead the signature initiative of his presidency, Clinton turned as he always did, to the person he trusted most.
Hillary Clinton (archival): This is a crucial moment in the fight for healthcare reform in our nation. We all know our nation needs health security that's decent, affordable for every American.
Joe Klein, Journalist: There are those who would cynically say that he owed her for standing by her man, despite Gennifer Flowers and all the rest during the campaign. But I think it was something else. Clinton adores her. And he especially adores her mind.
Hillary Clinton (archival): We cannot provide primary preventive health care in America if we don't make better use of our nurses.
Joe Klein, Journalist: Bill Clinton really believed that if anybody was going to come up with the answer to the most vexing public policy problem out there, it was going to be Hillary. It was one of the stupidest political decisions that Bill Clinton ever made.
Hillary Clinton (archival): And now it's time for everybody to board their buses. We're going....
Narrator: Hillary Clinton took to her new job with all the energy and determination pent up during the previous year. In forums and town meetings across the country, she heard stories of insurance abuse, exorbitant health care bills and poor quality care.
But once back in Washington, she shut out nearly every outside voice, relying on a tight circle of advisors to write a 1,300-page plan that would radically reshape the nation's health care system.
Harold Ickes, Deputy Chief of Staff: There was a rigidity and an unwillingness to really listen. The mark of a good politician is to listen and to be able to understand what's really being said. The frailty of Hillary was it was too cloistered, too walled off, and she really thought what she perceived as the public opinion in favor of healthcare would override the resistance in Congress and of the special interests and it was a big mistake.
Harry and Louise (archival commercial): This was covered under our old plan... Oh, yeah, that was a good one wasn't it?
Narrator: By the summer, Hillary's plan was being pilloried by the health insurance industry as a big government take-over of health care.
Lawrence O'Donnell, Senate Aide: We spent more than a year trying to legislate something the country didn't want.
Harry and Louise (archival commercial): Having choices we don't like is no choice at all. They choose. We lose.
Lawrence O'Donnell, Senate Aide: We scared people by saying, 'the healthcare system isn't working, and here comes the government to fix it.' And Ronald Regan had been schooling this public for many years now that the government is the problem. People didn't think, 'Oh great, here comes the government.' Reagan had won that argument.
Narrator: Clinton did nothing to hedge Hillary's "all or nothing" bet or avert the looming political catastrophe.
Harold Ickes, Deputy Chief of Staff: In the President's mind this was something that he had given to Hillary and he was very, very reluctant to override her. I think that because of the husband-wife relationship that it was not something that he was willing to take on.
John Harris, Journalist: It inhibited Bill Clinton from following his own independent judgment, his own best instincts of when to compromise. He found it difficult to defy her very powerful wishes and that's not a position a president wants to be in.
Group at rally (archival): Socialized medicine makes me sick. Socialized medicine makes me sick.
Narrator: Throughout the summer of 1994, as lawmakers heard from their frightened constituents, Hillary's health care bill lost support.
By Labor Day, before it even came up for a vote in Congress, the Clinton health care bill was dead.
Robert Reich, Labor Secretary: The defeat of healthcare was a huge defeat. It was the number-one objective, and to have it defeated was a repudiation in a sense. Or at least felt like a repudiation of the Clinton administration.
Narrator: By the fall of 1994, the Clinton presidency was at its lowest ebb. Weakened by scandal and the defeat of health care, Clinton was about to be challenged by a new and formidable rival.
Newt Gingrich (archival): I am a genuine revolutionary, they are the genuine reactionaries, we are going to change their world they will do anything to stop us.
Narrator: Brimming with self-confidence, Georgia Congressman Newt Gingrich had spent more than a decade planning his assault on the Democratic Party.
Sen. Trent Lott, (R) Mississippi: He was a giant personality. He was one of the best policy wonks and thinkers of new ideas around, but his style was very different from mine. His personality and approach was -- if it's not arrogance at least it's overconfidence.
Joe Klein, Journalist: You know, Clausewitz said that 'war is politics by other means.' Newt thought the reverse was true. That politics was war by other means.
Narrator: Gingrich's ultimate goal was nothing less than a dismantling of what he called the "liberal welfare state." He would begin by trying to break the Democrats' 40-year stranglehold on the House of Representatives in the upcoming mid-term elections.
Sen. Trent Lott, (R) Mississippi: We had some people that were not satisfied to just passively go along with being an abused, mistreated minority. And there were a lot of republicans that had been in the minority for so long they thought, 'This is where we belong and this is ok, if they'll just give us a crumb or two.' Newt started rockin' the boat.
Narrator: Gingrich decided that the best way to achieve a Republican victory in the mid-terms was to run against Clinton. Republican candidates across the country morphed their Democratic opponents into the President.
Television commercial (archival): Look at congressman Tim Johnson's voting record. It looks just like Bill Clinton's liberal agenda.
Tony Blankley, Republican strategist: The plan was to nationalize the election. Newt saw fundamental flaws in the Democratic Party's relationship with the American electorate. And he wanted to develop and exploit those, and run a campaign based on that.
Narrator: As the elections approached, Clinton hit the campaign trail, hoping that his old magic could hold back the Republican tide.
Max Brantley, Journalist: Part of Bill Clinton's persona is an abiding belief that if he can just have enough time, he can win over just about anybody.
Narrator: Clinton was sure his record could yet win over the American people. By the fall of 1994, the economy was growing again. In September, he added a new ban on assault weapons to his list of accomplishments. But scandals, the failure of health care, and foreign policy missteps weighed heavily on public opinion.
Harold Ickes, Deputy Chief of Staff: I remember him saying to me on God knows how many speeches, 'Harold if I can just communicate to enough Americans what we have done and where we want to take the country, we'll win this.'
Woman (archival): I now declare the polls open.
Peter Jennings, ABC News (archival): One of the big questions of the day is whether the Republicans have been successful in turning this election into a referendum on Bill Clinton as they had wanted.
Connie Chung, CBS News (archival): Our Exit polls are turning up bad news all over the country for President Clinton and his Party.
Tony Blankley, Republican strategist: I had called a friend at NBC to find out what the 1:30 exit polls looked like and she told me, 'Well, Tony, I actually haven't seen the exit-- the 1:30 exit polls, they're holding them back. Apparently you guys are doing so well that there must be something wrong with the polling and that was the beginning of a hopeful evening that turned into a glorious one.
Newt Gingrich (archival): This is a truly a wildly historic night. I mean, this is just --
Dan Rather, CBS News (archival): The Republican Revolution of election '94 shook capitol hill like an earthquake today. Its reverberations went into state houses and moved the whole political landscape sharply to the right.
Narrator: By the end of the night, Republicans had picked up 54 seats in the House and eight in the Senate, winning control of both chambers of Congress.
Harold Ickes, Deputy Chief of Staff: The longest walk I took in my life was from my, I was still in the basement in the West Wing, over to the second floor of the residence to tell him what he already knew, that we had lost the House and the Senate.
Narrator: That Christmas was another dismal one. Clinton wandered the corridors of the White House obsessing about his defeat. The old question haunted him: what did I do wrong?
Leon Panetta, Chief of Staff: Politics is about wanting to be loved. And suddenly there's a message that maybe they don't love you. And how do, how do you deal with that? He really went through a lot of, you know, of kind of internal conflicts. But again, typical Bill Clinton, you know he was angry, he was mad, he was you know, kind of, what went wrong? But at the same time, he was asking himself, 'How do I fix it?'
Robert Reich, Labor Secretary: There was no doubt in my mind that Bill Clinton could come back or would come back. He always came back. Bill Clinton was constitutionally incapable of not coming back. The real question was, how? In what form?
Slate: Part Two: The Survivor
Bill Clinton (archival): Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, my fellow Americans. Again, we are here in the sanctuary of democracy and once again our democracy has spoken.
Narrator: On January 24, 1995, President Bill Clinton addressed Congress and the American people. Two years into his presidency and just months after suffering the worst mid-term election defeat in modern history, he was chastened and humble.
Bill Clinton (archival): Now all of us, Democrats and Republicans alike, must say, 'We hear you. We will work together to earn the jobs you have given us.'
Mark Penn, Pollster: After the mid-terms, the President I think felt that he was almost a hostage in his own White House. He was unhappy with the White House staff, he was unhappy with the policy direction, and so he actually began a very quiet operation to begin to change his administration.
Narrator: Beginning in early 1995, White House staffers began to notice a change in the president: his speeches contained unfamiliar language and cadences. In meetings, he'd get up abruptly and leave the room. Many aides felt he was no longer listening to them.
Robert Reich, Labor Secretary: I recall a meeting that the President's economic advisors and political advisors were having about how he was going to spend the next three weeks. What themes he was going to emphasize and I remember somebody from the back of the room, I think it was Erskine Bowles, then the President's Chief of Staff, saying, 'This is all irrelevant.'
Irrelevant? We're the staff. We are the people who help the President. Why are we irrelevant? And he didn't exactly say. He said there was some other force in the White House. And again and again there seemed to be instances, it was almost like in astronomy, there's a black hole and you can only tell it's there because planets begin moving into its gravitational orbit. But you look, and there's nothing there. That was Dick Morris. Dick Morris was the black hole.
Bill Clinton (archival): Dick Morris, an abrasive political consultant from New York had a history with the Clintons that went all the way back to Arkansas.
John Harris, Journalist: Other than Hillary Clinton, he was the most important political advisor that Bill Clinton had had over the course of his career. He was there for the very first election to governor in 1978, and had been with Bill Clinton for most of the Arkansas gubernatorial years.
Narrator: Morris set up shop in the White House and began to chair weekly strategy meetings that were attended by most of the president's senior staff.
Harold Ickes, Deputy Chief of Staff: Clinton typically dominates any group or discussion that he's in. In the meetings on the second floor of the residence, which we had every week, Clinton would literally sit there for an hour sometimes hardly saying a word, listening to Morris.
Dick Morris, Political Consultant: When I first started to work for Clinton in the White House he had two big negatives, a third of the country thought he was immoral and a third of the country thought he was weak, and I basically went to him and I said I can't do much about the immoral, but we sure can solve the weak. And therefore we embarked on a conscious strategy of making sure people saw Clinton as strong.
Narrator: The heart of Morris' operation was his polling, which he used to diagnose where Clintons' weaknesses lay and how he could correct them.
John Harris, Journalist: Polling became absolutely central. How do we present ourselves as an alternative to Newt Gingrich? How are people seeing the president? What sort of policies would make them feel better about Bill Clinton?
Joe Klein, Journalist: They polled everything. They polled every last word that came out of his mouth. They polled where he should go on vacation! Instead of going to Martha's Vineyard, that elite island off the coast of Massachusetts, they had him riding a horse in Wyoming. I mean, I think Bill Clinton's allergic to horses. But that's what the focus group said would be a more acceptable vacation.
Dick Morris, Political Consultant: One of the big problems was the relationship between Bill and Hillary. Voters thought that it was a zero sum game, that for Hillary to be strong Bill would have to be weak, and as a result the perception of Hillary's strength became a perception of Bill's weakness. The polling made me understand that, and when I came back to work for Clinton, one of the first things I did was to tell Hillary you can be as influential as you want to be but do it in private. Don't sit in on the strategy meetings, don't make the appointments, don't make everybody be cleared with you. At the bedroom at night tell him what to do but don't let it be seen in public.
Narrator: Morris' advice hit home. After the stunning defeat in the mid-term elections, Hillary had received a large share of the blame.
Harold Ickes, Deputy Chief of Staff: She was outspoken, she was smart, she was hard driving, and some people resented her. Remember during the campaign, it was two for the price of one, well people aren't electing two for the price of one. They're electing the president.
Gail Sheehy, Writer: She had been caught out trying to be a co-President. That just wasn't gonna fly, and that's when she had to begin to really reexamine, again as she did as Governor's wife, what does the public want from me in this role and to take on gradually a little bit more of the traditional role of First Lady.
Hillary Clinton (archival): Well, Welcome to the White House and the beginning of the Christmas Season, here.
Narrator: Unsatisfied by her ceremonial role as first lady, Hillary began working on issues important to her, but not alarming to the public.
She began writing a book about children and traveled abroad with Chelsea to advocate for women's rights. She wrote a weekly syndicated column, and even consulted a psychic in the White House. But, it wasn't enough.
Gail Sheehy, Writer: She felt for one of the rare times in her life completely depressed. She said everything that she was doing wasn't working, she just didn't know what to do anymore, 'cause she really wanted to be in there right at Bill Clinton's side, fighting all the political battles that he was doing.
Newt Gingrich (archival): The president wants to defend Washington bureaucracy, Washington red tape, and Washington spending, and higher taxes to pay for less out of Washington!
Narrator: While the Clintons struggled to find their way back from the political wilderness, their rival, Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, was dominating politics in Washington.
Sen. Trent Lott, (R) Mississippi: I think Newt felt like he had led a great revolution and led the House and the Senate for that matter to victory, and that he could, we could be the, you know, the driving force in this city, and that he was, in effect, comparable or equal to the President.
Narrator: Gingrich and his newly elected army of Republican representatives, quickly passed bill after bill from their "Contract with America." Sensing his strength, Gingrich was intent on drawing Clinton into a political showdown that would determine -- once and for all -- who was in charge.
In the Spring of 1995, Gingrich picked his battleground.
Tony Blankley, Republican Strategist: I think the central issue that we challenged the Clinton administration on was the budget. We wanted to balance the budget. We thought that was the most important domestic policy issue that existed in the country, and it was gonna be ugly, as all deficit fights inevitably are.
Newt Gingrich (archival): What you currently have is a system designed to be a centralized bureaucracy.
Narrator: In May, Gingrich unveiled a plan to eliminate the federal budget deficit in seven years through huge cuts in government spending. Most of the cuts would be concentrated in two government health insurance programs: Medicare and Medicaid.
Gingrich had managed to shift the focus of power and media attention from Clinton to himself.
Chris Jennings, Health Care Advisor: Washington and the media is all about the new flavor of the month. And the new flavor of the month was not the Clinton administration. I mean, you had Newt Gingrich. I mean, he was a powerful, charismatic figure who had an answer to every question.
Newt Gingrich (archival): There are three themes that define where we are right now.
Chris Jennings, Health Care Advisor: And he not only wasn't afraid to talk, he longed to talk. His problem was, over time he talked too much.
Narrator: With Gingrich in the spotlight, Clinton seemed increasingly peripheral.
Joe Klein, Journalist: April 18th, 1995. Bill Clinton gives a press conference, and we're all over him about his lack of power. Newt's running the town! Newt's in control!
Bill Clinton (archival): Yes, Jean.
Jean, Reporter (archival): President Clinton, Republicans have dominated political debate in this country since they took over Congress in January, and even tonight two of the major television networks declined to broadcast this event live. Do you worry about making sure that your voice is heard in the coming months?
Joe Klein, Journalist: Clinton is forced to say that the President is still relevant here.
Bill Clinton (archival): The Constitution gives me relevance, the power of our ideas give me relevance, the record we have built up over the last two years and the things we are trying to implement it give it relevance. The President is relevant here.
Dee Dee Myers, Press Secretary: It was awful. You know, 'The President is still relevant.' Just the fact that he felt compelled to say those words says everything?
Bill Clinton (archival): I am willing to work with Republicans. The question is, what happens now?
Newscaster (archival): About a third of the building has been blown away.
Sidney Blumenthal, Advisor: The next day, on April 19th, the bomb went off at Oklahoma City. It was the largest domestic terrorist event in American history. That changed everything.
Bill Clinton (archival): The bombing in Oklahoma City was an attack on innocent children and defenseless citizens. It was an act of cowardice and it was evil. The United States will not tolerate it, and I will not allow the people of this country to be intimidated by evil cowards.
Narrator: Within 48 hours of the incident, the FBI arrested 26-year-old Timothy McVeigh, a former soldier with a burning hatred for the government. His massive truck bomb, detonated outside the Murrah Federal Building, killed 149 workers, along with 19 children.
Four days after the bombing, Clinton traveled to Oklahoma City to console the mourners.
Don Baer, Speechwriter: I went with him down to Oklahoma City for that Sunday morning on the flight, we worked on the speech some more. He was very focused on what to say. I remember we went into what I think they call the Cow Palace, and I've never been in a setting that was as eerily silent as that one was except for the sound of sobbing.
Robert McNeely: He stood there for hours and met with every single person and talked to everybody. It's kind of a throwaway line now, I feel your pain, but he literally could. I mean he could take people and just hug them and connect to them in a way and really listen to them.
Bill Clinton (archival): You have lost too much, but you have not lost everything. And you have certainly not lost America, for we will stand with you.
Peter Baker, Journalist: He really found a way to embrace the country to help them channel their grief, their confusion. It gets him out of the mode of reacting to Congress and into the mode of being a national leader, the person that the country can look to for assurance and reliance and strength.
Bill Clinton (archival): To all my fellow Americans beyond this hall, I say, one thing we owe those who have sacrificed is the duty to purge ourselves of the dark forces which gave rise to this evil.
Michael Waldman, Speechwriter: He spoke to the country as a unifying, a healing figure. But, very subtly and appropriately, he also drew attention to the fact that the rhetoric Timothy McVeigh was using was not all that different from the rhetoric that the talk show hosts and the militias and even some of the members of congress were using.
Bill Clinton (archival): Let us teach our children that the God of comfort is also the God of righteousness: Those who trouble their own house will inherit the wind.
Don Baer, Speechwriter: Here was a President who had been by many people deemed not to be strong, who suddenly was being viewed as both sensitive and strong which was a great and very powerful combination. At that moment, perhaps for the first moment, he inhabited the presidency.
Narrator: Bill Clinton had begun to find his voice at home, but he commanded little respect on the international stage.
For two years, Clinton had stumbled through a series of foreign policy mishaps. An ill-considered action in Somalia had cost the lives of 18 U.S. soldiers and deterred the President from asserting American military power around the world.
Without strong U.S. leadership, the world's problems were reaching a critical state. In central Europe, Bosnian Serbs had begun wiping out the largely Muslim population in their own country.
Christiane Amanpour, Journalist: In 1995, the massacres in Bosnia were in full swing -- daily rivers of blood. Really, it was appalling.
After two years of this kind of savagery, Bill Clinton had a disaster on his hands. This was genocide in Europe.
Narrator: Since becoming president, Clinton had deferred to European countries with soldiers in Bosnia as part of the United Nations peacekeeping operation.
Kofi Annan, U.N. Secretary-General: One has to understand that when you are in a peace-keeping operation, which is an international effort, one president cannot call the shots. One president cannot take the decision. Particularly when the president's country has no troops on the ground.
Narrator: Clinton's reluctance to send American soldiers to Bosnia collided with growing calls for U.S. intervention.
Elie Wiesel (archival): Mr. President, I cannot not tell you something. I have been in the former Yugoslavia. You must do something to stop the bloodshed in that country!
Dick Morris, Political Consultant: The ongoing scenes of this horrific genocidal slaughter going on by the Serbs against the Muslims was just undermining Clinton's image day after day. Clinton would complain, 'The media's trying to force me into a war and I don't want it, I'm not going to go into my own Vietnam.' And every night these images came on the screen.
Narrator: The violence in Bosnia reached a climax in the summer of 1995. A new set of European leaders implored Clinton to act. "The position of leader of the free world," complained French President Jacques Chirac "is vacant."
Privately, Clinton had begun to rethink his policy. Haunted by his failure to stop a genocide in Rwanda the previous year, he could no longer stand idly by.
Dick Morris, Political Consultant: Finally the President set up a trip wire where if the Bosnian Serbs attacked it would trigger a massive NATO military response.
Narrator: On July 11, 1995, Bosnian Serb soldiers overran the city of Srebrenica and murdered more than 8,000 defenseless men and boys.
Kofi Annan, U.N. Secretary-General: That was a real shock for everyone. And for that to happen in Europe, many decades after World War II, was something that nobody could sit back and swallow.
Narrator: For Clinton, the wire had been tripped. On August 30th, fighter planes from NATO bases across Europe, acting on the president's go-ahead, launched a massive attack against Serbs in Bosnia called "Operation Deliberate Force."
Richard A. Clarke, National Security Coordinator: He didn't blink. And there wasn't tension on him, there wasn't pressure on him, he wasn't sweating and worrying about did I do the right thing? And we knew then, we knew that day, that we had a commander-in-chief who was rational and comfortable with the use of force.
Narrator: For the next two weeks, NATO pilots flew 3,500 sorties, as millions around the world watched the air war unfold on television.
Reporter (archival audio): The NATO action began early this morning, the harsh light of fires and explosions coloring the night sky. Some people watched the bombardment from their houses, but after more than 10,000 deaths here in the last few years most Sarajevans had given up any hope of outside intervention. Last night it came on a scale, which could yet change the course of this war.
Narrator: On September 14, Serbian guns ringing Sarajevo fell silent. Two months later, Clinton convened the warring parties in Dayton, Ohio to negotiate an end to hostilities.
Bill Clinton (archival): The parties have agreed to put down their arms and roll up their sleeves and work for peace...
Christiane Amanpour, Journalist: Finally when you got tough and you said, "enough already, we don't accept genocide at the end of the 20th century in our backyard," they got serious and it stopped, and then the United States, not the Europeans led the Dayton Peace Process. And to this day, imperfect as it may be, it has held.
Narrator: The Dayton Peace Accords were a triumph for Clinton's foreign policy and restored his standing as leader of the free world.
The same month, he visited the troubled country of Northern Ireland where crowds hailed him as a peacemaker.
Bill Clinton (archival): The young people of Northern Ireland -- Catholic and Protestant alike -- made it clear to me not only with their words, but by the expressions on their faces that they want peace.
Narrator: After three years as president, he had developed a new vision of America's interests abroad. It would come to be known as "The Clinton Doctrine."
Bill Clinton (archival): It's easy to say that we really have no interests in who lives in this or that valley in Bosnia, or who owns a strip of brush land in the Horn of Africa, or some piece of parched earth by the Jordan River. But the true measure of our interests lies not in how small or distant these places are, or in whether we have trouble pronouncing their names. The question we must ask is, what are the consequences to our security of letting conflicts fester and spread? We cannot, indeed, we should not, do everything or be everywhere. But where our values and our interests are at stake, and where we can make a difference, we must be prepared to do so.
Gen. Wesley K. Clark, Military Advisor: There was a Clinton Doctrine, but it wasn't purely a military doctrine: it was a national security doctrine. President Clinton thought the United States is an indispensible nation. You can't do things without the United States. It may not be only the United States, and it's certainly not doing it alone. But it's the United States that brings the decisive edge in being able to get things done. And, that where you can make a difference, you should.
Newt Gingrich (archival): In the latest poll I saw, 86 percent of the American people said, 'Balance the budget now: don't wait, don't postpone, don't give us promises.'
Narrator: Even as Clinton brought peace to Europe, the ideological war at home was heating up: Speaker Newt Gingrich was standing by his balanced budget proposal, daring the president to veto it.
Once again, Clinton hoped to use his powers of persuasion to end the impasse.
Leon Panetta, Chief of Staff: He was thinking, 'What I'm gonna do, is I'm gonna capture these guys. Because A, I'm smarter than they are, and B, that's my whole life's learning, is how to capture people. And I'm gonna do it through sheer force of personality. I can sit down with Newt Gingrich, I can sit down with the devil himself, and I can cut a deal.'
Narrator: Gingrich would not yield to Clinton's charms. Unless the president agreed to huge cuts in Medicare and Medicaid, Congress would refuse to appropriate money for the federal government, shutting it down.
Tony Blankley, Republican Strategist: The one thing that the House of Representatives has is the power of the purse. We can deny money. It is the only thing that the House of Representatives alone can do, can refuse to vote an appropriation. So inevitably, whatever the fight was going to be, it was going to come down to us denying the White House money.
Narrator: Clinton seemed caught between two toxic political choices: if he opposed Gingrich's balanced budget plan, he would be portrayed as a defender of big government deficits; if he gave in, he would effectively cede control of the government to Gingrich and the Republicans.
But there was a third option. Dick Morris had been polling the Republicans' proposed budget cuts and believed he had found an opening.
Dick Morris, Political Consultant: I did a poll for Clinton where I tested each of those cuts and its impact, and I said to him, 'Do you want the four hour briefing or the one word briefing?' And he said start with the one word, I said 'Medicare.' I said you, none of the other cuts are nearly as important as the cut they're proposing in Medicare.
Narrator: The public supported a balanced budget, Morris argued, but not at the expense of their most cherished federal program.
Dick Morris, Political Consultant: I said that's what's important is that you take away from the Republicans the balanced budget issue. If you can show how you can balance the budget without cutting Medicare but by cutting everything else then you can call their bluff, and then all of a sudden it becomes a question of what do we cut not do we cut.
Narrator: Morris called his strategy: "triangulation." Clinton seized on it as a way to regain the initiative from the Republicans. In June, over the strong objections of liberals on his staff, he announced his own balanced budget plan, protecting Medicare and Medicaid.
Bill Clinton (archival): There is an alternative, a way to balance this budget. It's not that we shouldn't balance the budget. We should balance the budget. I strongly support it. We ought to do that. I believe we're going to do that. But we don't have to do it in a draconian way that hurts the American people.
Dee Dee Myers, Press Secretary: You know whether or not to balance the budget, we can't win that fight. We're going to lose, but once you accept that we're going to balance the budget now let's have a fight about what we're going to cut and what we're going to protect. That's a fight we can win. Are you going to protect Medicare? Are you going to protect Social Security? You want to shut down the government over that? Let's go.
Narrator: In mid-November, with the issue of Medicare cuts still dividing the two sides, the federal government ran out of money and shut down.
Nearly a million federal employees were instantly furloughed; government offices closed; all but the most essential services ground to a halt.
Voice recordings (archival audio): The Washington passport agency is closed for lack of funding... social security... Library of Congress... the National Park Service is closed indefinitely.
Reporter (archival): If it ends soon the shutdown will have been a temporary inconvenience, but if prolonged it could cost the country a lot of anguish and many millions of dollars.
Peter Baker, Journalist: Clinton took a gamble, the biggest gamble of his presidency to that point in saying, 'No, I'm going to let the government shut down rather than accept the cuts that you're proposing here.'
Peter Jennings, NBC News (archival audio): Day three and nobody moves, least of all the 800,000 federal workers forced to stay home.
Bill Clinton (archival): The American people should not be held hostage any more to the Republican budget priorities.
Protest (archival): Work, work, put the government back to work.
Narrator: Through a first shutdown in November and then a longer one in December, neither Clinton nor Gingrich blinked. It was high-stakes poker: whichever side was blamed for the shutdown would probably lose the next presidential election.
Tony Blankley, Republican Strategist: Our conviction was, ultimately, a president is held responsible for his government. And that if we didn't blink, at some point the public would say, 'the president needs to get this government functioning.'
Narrator: The pressure on the president was enormous. Every day, the political damage mounted: almost a billion dollars in lost wages, new Medicare and Social Security claims going unprocessed; the federal government unable to discharge even its most basic functions. And the confrontation played out on television every night.
Jane Pauley, NBC News (archival): Day 13 of the federal budget crisis and the shutdown that's brought parts of the government to a dead stop. The major players were all assembled in Washington today, and they were talking, but not to each other.
Newt Gingrich (archival): Now, one of the major problems we have in America is we have a President who doesn't mind playing, he doesn't mind talking, but he seems to hate working. We're working.
Harold Ickes, Deputy Chief of Staff: This was all sui generis, this was completely new, nobody knew the temperament of the country, how it was going to play out. And it was literally hour by hour, certainly day by day.
Chris Jennings, Health Care Advisor: There was a fear by many Democrats, even some within the White House, who just thought, 'You know, he's not going to be able to say 'no' to them. He wants to get along with them. He thinks that's the way to save his Presidency.'
Narrator: With the government closed, Clinton prowled the empty halls of the White House, deprived of the human contact that he craved. Among the few people permitted to come to work were the White House interns, including a 22-year-old named Monica Lewinsky.
The daughter of a Beverly Hills doctor and his socialite wife, Lewinsky was a graduate of Oregon's Lewis and Clarke College. She had an air of confidence, even boldness that set her apart from her fellow interns.
On November 15th, the second day of the shut down, Clinton and Lewinsky struck up a conversation, in which Lewinsky confessed, "I have a huge crush on you."
Ken Gormley, Legal Scholar: There were, almost these sparks flying between them from that first moment when they saw each other, and as Monica said, 'He gave me the full Bill Clinton and undressed me with his eyes.'
Narrator: Hours later, the two had their first sexual encounter.
William Chafe, Historian: It's almost as if there was a part of Bill Clinton that he had no control over. That whenever it had the opportunity to come out, was gonna come out. And with no forethought, with no calculation, with no sense of the consequences, it was simply gonna happen. And that's terrifying.
Newscaster (archival): At this hour, U.S. President Bill Clinton is meeting with top Congressional leaders in another attempt to resolve their budget stand-off.
Narrator: As Clinton recklessly pursued his affair with Lewinsky, he and Gingrich were locked in their own high-wire embrace.
The president compromise after compromise, but Gingrich would not budge. Unless, Clinton agreed to his formula of budget and tax cuts, he would keep the government closed.
Sidney Blumenthal, Adviser: They believed that he was soft, that he could be pushed around, and that they could have their way. They believed that he lacked the confidence to stand up to them. They believed they understood his psychology, and they thought that they had the political upper hand.
Narrator: Clinton sensed that his political enemies had overreached and were out of step with the American people.
Mark Penn, Pollster: It was our theory that we were gonna win if it got to this point. The polling showed it, we felt confident about it, we thought we had a winning hand. People don't really hate the government; they just don't want the government spending too much money. They want the government doing the right things. And they don't want the government shutdown.
Bill Clinton (archival): As long as they insist on plunging ahead with a budget that violates our values, in a process that is characterized more by pressure than constitutional practice, I will fight it. I am fighting it today, I will fight it tomorrow. I will fight it next week, and next month. I will fight it until we get a budget that is fair to all Americans.
Leon Panetta, Chief of Staff: There is a moment I will never forget in the Oval Office. We had been going through negotiations on the budget. And there were some of us that were nervous that. President Clinton might go too far. That he might want to go so far in compromising that he might hurt himself politically. And so we kept putting different offers on the table, and they kept coming back and saying, 'Not good enough, not good enough.'
And we finally reached a day where he wanted to do one more compromise, one more step. And Newt Gingrich said, 'No.' And Bill Clinton basically looked at them and said, 'You know, Newt, I can't do what you want me to do. I don't believe it's right for the country. And it may cost me the election, but I can't do it.'
And my first reaction was: he's drawn a line that he had to draw. He understood that he would have to take a risk of not winning, and winning was what he was always about. From that moment I think in many ways it became a renewal of Bill Clinton, in terms of who he was, both within himself and with the American people.
Peter Jennings, NBC News (archival): As of last night, the public appeared to be more sympathetic to Mr. Clinton's position -- 46% blamed the Republicans, 27% Mr. Clinton.
Rep. Peter King, (R) New York: Many traditional Americans, including some Republicans were outraged that a Speaker of the House would shut down the government. You know, Newt Gingrich is not the president, he shouldn't be acting like he's the president.
Suddenly, Bill Clinton became the embodiment of traditional America. He's the president of the United States. Whether you agree with him or not, no one had the right to shut down the government when he's the president.
Narrator: Finally, Senator Bob Dole -- worried that the shutdown would hurt his presidential campaign -- corralled the necessary votes in the Senate to reopen the government. Clinton had won.
In the weeks that followed, Clinton staked out a middle ground between the two parties with a vision of government that was neither enemy, nor savior.
Bill Clinton (archival): The era of big government is over. But we cannot go back to the time when our citizens were left to fend for themselves.
Michael Waldman, Speechwriter: It was a real change in his vision of how the presidency could work. He had started with this heroic notion of the presidency -- passing big laws, doing grand things, and then the public just rejected it. It hit a brick wall of what the public thought of government. And he realized that he had to change how he was president, and he had to re-build that public trust in government.
Narrator: Capitalizing on his momentum, Clinton announced a stream of initiatives designed to show middle-class Americans that he understood -- and could improve -- their lives.
Dick Morris, Political Consultant: After the government shutdown we adopted a political strategy based on one word, 'values,' and our concept was that we would help you raise your child better.
Bill Clinton (archival): We have worked very hard to help communities fight crime.
Dick Morris, Political Consultant: I'll provide you with drug free school zones, school uniforms, medical leave for your children.
Bill Clinton (archival): Reduce teen smoking by raising the price of cigarettes, putting into place tough restrictions on advertising.
Dick Morris, Political Consultant: I'll give you all of these weapons to raise better children.
Bill Clinton (archival): This is a v-chip, and it will be required to be put in all new television sets.
Narrator: Not even the Republicans could stand in Clinton's way.
Sen. Trent Lott, (R) Mississippi: After trying to move heaven and earth, big swaths in his first two years, he started feeding us up small pieces of bills, and he'd get into our knickers with ideas that we really could not vote against: a hundred thousand cops on the street. A Republican gonna' vote against more law enforcement officers?
Narrator: It was a politics of the possible, not the things he dreamed of doing, but the things he could do.
Dick Morris, Political Consultant: He crafted a whole new view in American politics, literally a third way, a moderate way, and achieved the results the American people wanted.
Narrator: Three years into his first term, Clinton had pulled one of the greatest Houdini Acts in presidential history. With approval ratings on the rise, he could once again call himself "The Comeback Kid."
But as with nearly every Bill Clinton comeback it was soon followed by yet another scandal.
Newscaster (archival): Yesterday a trove of documents from Mrs. Clinton's old law firm that various investigators issued subpoenas for months ago were suddenly discovered in the office of one of the Clinton's aides.
Narrator: In January, 1996, a sheaf of Hillary's old billing records was discovered in the private residence of the White House. The documents showed that she had done legal work for her old friend Jim McDougal while he was engaged in fraudulent real estate deals in Arkansas.
The Whitewater inquiry, which had receded from the front pages, suddenly came roaring back.
Reporter (archival): There is the issue of why it took the White House so long to turn up the billing records.
Man (archival): This is a pattern: delay, deception, withhold.
Ken Gormley, Legal Scholar: The discovery of the billing records for Hillary Clinton's work for Jim McDougal and Madison Guaranty, was explosive. Everyone had been looking for those billing records. There were subpoenas all over the place to turn those over. And then all of a sudden, they just show up.
Ken Starr (archival): Our job is to get at the truth and the truth will speak for itself so thank you very much.
Narrator: The Whitewater inquiry was now in the hands of a new independent counsel. Kenneth Starr had been appointed by a panel of conservative judges to replace Robert Fiske.
Starr was a respected jurist and former official in the Bush Administration. At first, his appointment caused little consternation in the White House.
Harold Ickes, Deputy Chief of Staff: The jury was out initially because Starr had quite a sterling reputation. He was well known in judicial circles. He was not rabid. He was considered a very good conservative but very good court of appeals justice, so people were hopeful.
Narrator: In fact, however, Starr would prove to be a far more aggressive independent counsel than his predecessor. Unlike Fiske, who determined to finish his work quickly, Starr would follow his investigation wherever it led, no matter the cost in time or money.
Max Brantley, Journalist: I came to believe it was a persecution, not a prosecution. It was an investigation in search of a crime, which is not how investigations are supposed to work. They were not investigating an allegation of a crime. They were looking for a crime.
Narrator: To Starr, the sudden appearance of Hillary's billing records seemed anything but accidental.
Ken Starr, Independent Counsel: The discovery of the Rose Law Firm Records was a very significant event. It was a significant event because there had been a subpoena outstanding for those law firm records for a long, long time, and the Rose Law Firm said we don't have them, and they were taken away, and there were issues as to, well why would law firm records leave the law firm? They weren't individual records. They were law firm records. So, why wouldn't they be there? Where are they?
Reporter (archival): Mrs. Clinton!
Hillary Clinton (archival): How are you all?
Reporter (archival): Mrs. Clinton, how important is this week in terms of turning your image around?
Hillary Clinton (archival): Oh, I think it's important to talk about the book I've written about America's children, and that's what I'm going to try to do. Plus answer all the questions on children!
Narrator: The discovery of her missing billing records undermined Hillary's efforts to recede from the public spotlight.
Man (archival audio): The Rose Law Firm records were found in the living quarters of the White House in August.
Narrator: As she set out on a national tour to promote her book on children, she could not escape questions about Whitewater.
Man (archival audio): It's an important question, Mrs Clinton, because Republicans on the....
Gail Sheehy, Writer: She was totally under siege, and so was the President, but he allows this kind of thing much more easily to roll off his back. Hillary becomes obsessed. She has an enemy, the enemy is the Special Prosecutor, and one or the other is going to be killed.
Narrator: In Ken Starr, though, Hillary had met her match. Behind his avuncular smile, he was relentless and implacable.
On January 19, Starr subpoenaed Hillary, the only First Lady ever to have been forced to testify before a grand jury. Rather than take her testimony in the White House, he insisted that she come to the federal courthouse in downtown Washington.
John Podesta, Chief of Staff: I think the idea that they would make her come to the courthouse and to the grand jury was intended to humiliate her.
Reporter (archival): Would you rather have been somewhere else today?
Hillary Clinton (archival): Oh, about a million other places today indeed.
Narrator: In the end, Hillary's billing records proved little. They showed that she had represented Jim McDougal, but didn't prove she'd known he had used fraudulent loans to prop up the failing Whitewater development.
Though many urged him to drop the investigation, Starr redoubled his efforts.
John Podesta, Chief of Staff: He re-opened all the files that Fiske had closed; he chased down and challenged every privilege that had been afforded not just to President Clinton but to previous presidents, he decided to re-interview everybody, bring 'em all back to the grand jury.
Narrator: The independent counsel focused much of his energy on finding witnesses in Arkansas who could testify to the Clintons' participation in fraudulent real estate deals 15 years before.
Max Brantley, Journalist: People at the lowest level were hurt. People's lives were ruined. People were left in debt that they took years to get out of. They broke people. I mean, investigators invaded high school campuses to put the thumb-screws on high school kids for information.
Narrator: In May, Starr was able to convict Jim McDougal of loan fraud. Under the threat of imprisonment, McDougal agreed to cooperate. Suddenly, he claimed that Bill Clinton had known about his illegal loans.
Ken Gormley, Legal Scholar: After Jim McDougal is convicted, everything changes. Up until that point, he never pointed the finger at the Clintons. He never indicated that they were involved in wrong doing. But once he's convicted all of a sudden he begins coming up with stories that implicate the Clintons.
Narrator: McDougals testimony was confused and contradictory; few believed him.
Unable to find other credible evidence, Starr felt stymied and increasingly determined to find something that would stick to the President.
Ken Gormley, Legal Scholar: There's no question at all that at this point the Starr prosecutors believe that the Clintons are hiding evidence and lying when they deny that they had involvement in some of McDougal's enterprises. And conversely, the White House believes that these Starr prosecutors have shifted, and now all they're doing is a president hunt.
Narrator: As Starr scoured the President's past for evidence of crimes, Clinton's prospects for the future were looking brighter than ever.
Peter Baker, Journalist: By the time that he is heading into summer, looking toward the fall for his reelection, President Clinton is a new man again. He's no longer the figure of ridicule -- the weak figure he had become in 1994. He's standing strong again with the public. And his opponents are looking weak.
Narrator: Clinton's Republican opponent in the presidential election that fall was Kansas Senator Robert Dole. With the economy strong, and Clinton resurgent, Dole could do little but characterize the president as a free-spending liberal.
Bob Dole (archival): The federal government is too big and spends too much of your money, your money.
Narrator: To force the issue, the Republican Congress in August sent Clinton a welfare reform bill he had already vetoed twice.
Welfare reform had been a key part of Clinton's "New Democrat" philosophy, but he was aware of how much liberals in his own Party hated the bill.
John Harris, Journalist: Bill Clinton authentically believed in welfare reform: that's welfare reform in the abstract. He wasn't being asked to sign welfare reform in the abstract, and so the question was, do you sign it, and proclaim a victory knowing that to do so, is to leave many in your own party's base hugely demoralized? Or do you veto it and accept the consequences of vetoing popular legislation just a few months before the election? It was an agonizing choice for Bill Clinton.
Narrator: In August, the President signed the welfare reofrm bill.
Bill Clinton (archival): When I ran for President four years ago, I pledged to 'end welfare as we know it.' I have worked very hard for four years to do just that. Today, the Congress will vote on legislation that gives us a chance to live up to that promise.
Narrator: Clinton's decision was the last straw for many on the left. Several of his closest political allies resigned in protest.
Lawrence O'Donnell, Senate Aide: It made him someone who was capable of anything. And it no longer mattered what party he was in. You couldn't tell what he would do, and what he would be willing to go along with.
Narrator: With welfare reform behind him, Clinton solidified his grip on the race.
Deprived of his last best campaign issue, Bob Dole waged an anemic race. Clinton, meanwhile, campaigned with gusto.
Bill Clinton (archival): We will together build a bridge to the 21st century wide enough and strong enough to take us to America's best days. Will you do that?
Harold Ickes, Deputy Chief of Staff: He was in his element. He was sort of shorn of this great burden that had been over him in '94. He was out making the case in the best, most positive and toughest way he could, and he was loving it.
Rep. Peter King, (R) New York: Clinton was no longer the issue. People were not asking, how he became President, or 'this guy's illegitimate.' He was now looked upon as the president.
Narrator: In November, Clinton won by a margin that had once seemed inconceivable, taking 31 states and 70% of the electoral votes.
Bill Clinton (archival): I, William Jefferson Clinton do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States.
Peter Baker, Journalist: The re-election in 1996 is obviously one of the great comebacks in American politics. A president who had been written off as, as road kill just two years earlier, managed to come back to a very convincing re-election in 1996, the first Democrat to win a second term since Franklin Roosevelt.
Narrator: Clinton had survived. Some believed by selling his soul; others, by finding it again.
As he gave his second inaugural address, Bill Clinton sought to turn the page on the ugly partisan battles of the last four years.
Bill Clinton (archival): The American people returned to office a President of one party and a Congress of another. Surely they did not do this to advance the politics of petty bickering and extreme partisanship they plainly deplore.
Don Baer, Speechwriter: The one part of that speech that I think mattered more to him than any other was his reference to this scriptural phrase, to be the 'repairer of the breech,' from Isaiah.
Bill Clinton (archival): They call on us instead to be repairers of the breach.
Don Baer, Speechwriter: He really felt like he had come through this trial by fire and storm and that the country had too and that now we could repair the breach and move forward together, he felt, he really believed that he had this chance to build this bridge to the 21st century, and that we had to do certain things that would help all people to get there.
Narrator: As Clinton strode triumphantly down Pennsylvania Avenue flush with victory, there was no hint that he had already set in motion events that would soon divide the country as never before and nearly destroy his Presidency.
Buoyed by his convincing reelection, Bill Clinton sailed confidently into his second term. The economy was booming, lifting millions of people into better jobs, better homes, and better lives.
Bill Clinton (archival): We have much to be thankful for. With four years of growth, we have won back the basic strength of our economy. With crime and welfare rolls declining, we are winning back our optimism -- the enduring faith that we can master any difficulty.
Narrator: Around the world, American prestige and power had never been higher. Even Clinton's longing to "repair the breach" with Republicans seemed possible.
Rep. Peter King, (R) New York: It was two different worlds: 1997, beginning Bill Clinton's second term was totally different from the first term. It was American politics the way it should be. A Republican Congress working with the Democratic president, trying to find areas they would agree on, the hatred toward Bill Clinton was gone, the hatred toward Hillary Clinton was gone. Things had finally quieted down. But in Bill Clinton's life things never stay quiet for long.
Narrator: By early 1997, at great risk to himself and his presidency, Bill Clinton had been carrying on his affair with Monica Lewinsky for over a year.
Robert Reich, Labor Secretary: I've asked myself a number of times why he put himself and his presidency in jeopardy in such a careless way. The presidency is probably the loneliest office in America. Regardless of your friends, regardless of how good your marriage is, regardless of anything, you are alone there at the top. And maybe Bill Clinton, who so much needed and wanted to be loved, couldn't say no to someone who was going to give him affection and wanted affection back.
Marla Crider, Campaign Aide: There is something in his being that needs that adoration, and she was forthcoming with it, and she, Monica Lewinsky just gave him something that he needed at that time. To be adored.
Narrator: The previous spring, Lewinsky's superiors in the White House had begun to notice her attraction to the president. Quietly, she was transferred to a job across town at the Pentagon.
There, Lewinsky befriended a career civil servant named Linda Tripp.
Like Lewinsky, Tripp had come to the Pentagon after years working at the White House, first in the Bush administration and then -- less happily -- in Clinton's.
Jeffrey Toobin, Journalist: Linda Tripp didn't like the Clinton people. She didn't like their politics, she didn't like their personalities, she didn't like their social lives, and she simmered with resentments. And she finds this young woman, a couple cubicles away, Monica Lewinsky, who decides to cry on her shoulder.
Lucianne Goldberg, Literary Agent: It was very much a big sister-little sister, mother-daughter relationship. Monica would tell her everything. Linda genuinely cared about Monica, but there was one overriding emotion and that was what Bill Clinton was doing and I'm telling you, this was an angry woman.
Narrator: Shortly before meeting Lewinsky, Tripp had approached conservative literary agent Lucianne Goldberg about writing a tell-all book on the Clinton White House, but the project had gone nowhere.
In the fall of 1997, she contacted Goldberg with a new project: the true story of an ongoing affair between a White House intern and the President of the United States.
Lucianne Goldberg, Literary Agent: She called me and she said he's having an affair with a girl who's 23 years old. And I said, 'Yeah, yeah.' You know the kind of agenting that I did I heard a lot of wild stuff and people have to prove things. So she said, 'No I'm not kidding you he's having an affair with a -- and I know the girl and I talk to her every day.'
And I said, 'Well can you prove this, do you have pictures, is she willing to step forward, is she willing to go on the Today Show and say...?' And she said, 'Well no, I'm sure she wouldn't. This is a big secret.' I said, 'Well you got to, you got to do something to prove to me so I can prove to a publisher that this, this wild story was true.' And I said, 'You say you talk to her every day, how about taping your phone conversations?' And she agreed that that would be a cool idea and she went to Radio Shack and bought a tape recorder and plugged it into her phone.
Monica Lewinsky (archival audio): Linda, I don't know why I have these feelings for him. I never expected to feel this way about him. And the first time I ever looked into his eyes close up and was with him alone, I saw someone totally different than I had expected to see. And that's the person I fell in love with.
Lucianne Goldberg, Literary Agent: Linda wanted the world to know about this, and I think the motivation was no, you know, no deeper no more shallow than that. That was it. She wanted the world to know about this relationship.
Ken Gormley, Legal Scholar: She came to believe that fate did call her to expose these defects in this president to the country. On the other hand, she becomes entwined in a scandal that she helped to create.
Monica Lewinsky (archival audio): He was supposed to call me again, but I wasn't home and I was afraid to call.
Linda Tripp (archival audio): What happened?
Monica Lewinsky (archival audio): I don't know. I saw him for 60 seconds?
Linda Tripp (archival audio): So how was it?
Monica Lewinsky (archival audio): I mean we hug, and I gave him the paperweight.
Linda Tripp (archival audio): So, what did you wear?
Lucianne Goldberg, Literary Agent: I knew if the story broke huge that people would start calling Linda, and Linda would say, "Call my agent.' And they would call her agent, and her agent would make a book deal, and then would make some money, and she would get a little money and I would get 10 percent of it and that's the way the world works.
Narrator: Goldberg suggested Tripp reach out to Newsweek's Michael Isikoff. Before long, the two were having regular conversations.
Michael Isikoff, Journalist: She would kind of tease me and she told me early on that there was a woman, who had been an intern. And that she was having an ongoing affair with Bill Clinton. I was taken aback as anybody would be. So, I wanted to get Linda Tripp to tell me as much as she could. And, so, I kept talking to her.
Narrator: Linda Tripp was not just talking to Isikoff. She had also begun sharing her story with the independent counsel investigating the Clintons.
By 1997, after more than two years, Kenneth Starr's investigation into Whitewater had stalled. Short on evidence or reliable witnesses, he had too little to bring charges against the president or first lady.
Max Brantley, Journalist: We know that they were running out of gas, and running out of rope, and had just about completely failed, until Monica came along.
Narrator: In early January, 1998, Starr's office received a phone call from Tripp. She revealed the existence of her tape recordings of Monica Lewinsky.
At first, Starr saw little value in the tapes -- a presidential affair, no matter how sordid, was not illegal. But there was something in Tripp's story that caught Starr's attention: the president had asked his friend Vernon Jordan to help find Lewinsky a job in the private sector. Could this be an attempt, Starr wondered, to buy Lewinsky's silence?
Monica Lewinsky (archival audio): I'm just-- I'm starting to get a little nervous about Vernon.
Linda Tripp (archival audio): Why?
Monica Lewinsky (archival audio): I just want everything to be easy. I want him to call me and say, "You know, how does this amount of money, doing this here sound?" And I say, "That sounds great." He says, "Okay. Consider it a done deal."
Narrator: Clinton had good reason to worry about whether Lewinsky would keep their affair secret. She had just been supboenaed to testify in court in a sexual harassment lawsuit against the president brought by a former Arkansas state worker named Paula Jones.
Tipped off to the affair, Jones' lawyers believed the president's relationship with Lewinsky would demonstrate a pattern of behavior.
James Fisher, Attorney: I thought it showed President Clinton's proclivity to make sexual advances to extremely young, low-level employees, and President Clinton had obtained jobs for Monica Lewinsky as part of his effort to control her. Highly relevant to Paula Jones' case
Narrator: Ken Starr was watching the Jones' lawsuit with great interest. If Clinton was trying to influence Lewinsky's testimony, he would be committing a major crime.
Suddenly, Starr glimpsed a bridge from Whitewater to a potentially more fruitful area of investigation.
Ken Gormley, Legal Scholar: The bridge is that the president and those close to him may be encouraging Monica to lie in the Paula Jones case and therefore suborning perjury. That's the little connection they make, it's tenuous at this point, but they go for it.
Narrator: With Starr's determined efforts, three seemingly unrelated threads from Clinton's past and present -- Whitewater, Paula Jones, and Monica Lewinsky -- had suddenly come together in one potentially devastating investigation.
And a single reporter threatened to upend the whole thing.
Michael Isikoff, Journalist: I knew we had a blockbuster of a story. And, of course, I had to call Starr's team. And fair to say that when I did, they freaked out. Because they realized that were I to publish a story, it would blow their investigation wide open.
Narrator: Starr hoped to convince Lewinsky to secretly tape record the president before Isikoff's story tipped him off.
Jeffrey Toobin, Journalist: The FBI grabs Monica in front of the Cinnabon and takes her upstairs in the Ritz-Carlton, and tries to get her to flip. But Monica basically just drives 'em crazy with her histrionics, with her refusal to talk.
Ken Gormley, Legal Scholar: They felt like one of these scenes in a movie where a bunch of grown men are trying to change the diapers of a baby and don't know how to do it. Monica's crying, she's kind of wailing out loud. What they weren't counting on, what they hadn't figured out was, 'So what to do we do when Monica is not going to tell us whether she had an affair with Bill Clinton?'
Narrator: Unable to secure Lewinsky's cooperation against the president, Starr still had a card to play. The next day, January 17, 1998, Clinton was scheduled to give his deposition under oath in the Paula Jones lawsuit: If he lied about his affair with Lewinsky, Starr would be able to bring a charge of perjury.
Lucianne Goldberg, Literary Agent: He was about to testify, and they knew he was going to lie about Monica and that was, if you want to call it, the trap.
Bernard Nussbaum, White House Counsel: And when a man is asked about this, when a married man is asked about this, he's going to lie. and once he lies, we got him. We got him! The whole purpose is to get the President. If you're not out to get the President, you should say to the President, 'You know, you're going to testify in this lawsuit. You know, we know about your relationship with Monica Lewinsky.' They're trying to trap him into committing perjury.
Woman (archival audio): You may show the witness the definition number 1.
Narrator: Barred from questioning the president himself, Starr had to rely on Paula Jones' lawyers. Lead attorney Jim Fisher began the deposition by introducing a definition of sexual relations taken from a federal statute.
James Fisher, Attorney: In an effort to avoid ambiguity, I thought I would use a definition that was well grounded in federal law. So I thought that there could be no doubt that these were unambiguous definitions for which the law had a well-recognized meaning.
Narrator: Fisher's efforts to avoid ambiguity had the opposite effect, leaving Clinton a loophole through which to escape.
James Fisher, Attorney (archival audio): Lawyer: so the record is completely clear, have you ever had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky as that term is defined in deposition Exhibit 1?
Bill Clinton (archival): I have never had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky. I never had an affair with her.
Jeffrey Toobin, Journalist: If they had simply asked him, 'Did Monica Lewinsky ever perform oral sex on you?' The gig would have been up. Instead, they gave him this ridiculously complicated, hard to understand definition of sex, which allowed him to parse.
James Fisher, Attorney: If I could have done it over again, I would have just asked the salacious questions. I would have let him have it. I was trying to be respectful, and I paid a price for it. Having said that, he clearly didn't answer the questions honestly.
James Fisher, Attorney (archival audio): If she told someone that she had a sexual affair with you beginning in November of 1995, would that be a lie?
Bill Clinton (archival): It's certainly not the truth. It would not be the truth.
James Fisher, Attorney: The turning point was when I started asking about gifts that he had given to her and she had given to him. And I described some of them quite specifically. There was a book of poetry by Walt Whitman for example. I thought his mood changed visibly at that point. His face became bright red, there was tension in his face.
Ken Gormley, Legal Scholar: He knew at this point there was a mole. There was a rat in the woodpile. Someone has given all of this damning information to these people. He was in trouble.
Narrator: Clinton's secret affair with Monica Lewinsky was now hurtling toward public exposure. The very day that the President was deposed in the Jones lawsuit, Michael Isikoff filed his story on the Lewinsky affair. But at the last minute, his editors at Newsweek backtracked and decided to kill the story.
Michael Isikoff, Journalist: Obviously, we had an enormous scoop here that was going to shake Washington. Some of my colleagues and some of the editors agreed, but at the end of the day the brass at Newsweek just were not willing to pull the trigger.
Lucianne Goldberg, Literary Agent: Michael told me. He said, 'They aren't gonna run with it. They're afraid of it, they don't like it. Nasty stuff, they don't want to do it.' And I said, 'Well what am I gonna do, I'm sitting on this thing.'
Narrator: In her frustration, Goldberg turned to an internet gossip columnist named Matt Drudge.
Lucianne Goldberg, Literary Agent: A couple of people said, 'Call that Drudge.' Or, I said, 'Well tell him to call me.' So at 11:00 that night he called me and that was it. It went kaboom!
Tom Brokaw, NBC News (archival): The President, the intern, the accusations and the denials.
Reporter, NBC News (archival): The allegations that the President had an illicit affair with a 21-year-old intern and then attempted to cover it up blasted through the White House today. This scandal could unravel the administration.
Narrator: Over the next 72 hours, the story made its way around the world.
Caught unawares, Clinton's cabinet members rushed to his defense.
Madeline Albright (archival): I believe that the allegations are completely untrue.
Man (archival): I'll second that...
Peter Baker, Journalist: Aides who had worked for him for 5-6 years at this point are just on the floor. They, they can't figure out what there's supposed to think about this, much less what they're supposed to do about this.
Robert Reich, Labor Secretary: I was convinced that Bill Clinton had been set up. He's got all these enemies who are out to get him. He wouldn't be so stupid as to jeopardize his entire Presidency. For what? No, that was not the Bill Clinton I knew.
Narrator: Clinton did confide in the one person he knew would not judge him.
Dick Morris, Political Consultant: When the Lewinsky scandal broke the President paged me and I returned the call. And he said, 'Ever since I got here to the White House I've had to shut my body down sexually I mean, but I screwed up with this girl. I didn't do what they said I did, but I may have done so much that I can't prove my innocence.'
And I said to him, 'The problem that Presidents have is not the sin, it's the cover up and you should explore just telling the American people the truth.' He said, 'Really, do you think I could do that?' And I said, 'Let me test it, let me run a poll.'
So I took a poll and I tested popular attitudes on that and I called him back and I said, 'They will forgive the adultery, but they won't easily forgive that you lied.'
Jim Lehrer, PBS News Hour (archival): Mr. President, Welcome.
Bill Clinton (archival): Thank you, Jim.
Narrator: Clinton disregarded Morris' advice. In interviews days after the story broke, he continued to hide his relationship with Lewinsky.
Jim Lehrer, PBS News Hour (archival): The news of this day is that Kenneth Starr, the independent counsel, is investigating allegations that you suborned perjury by encouraging a 24-year-old woman, a former White House intern, to lie under oath in a civil deposition about her having had an affair with you.
Mr. President, is that true?
Bill Clinton (archival): That is not true. That is not true. I did not ask anyone to tell anything other than the truth. There is no improper relationship. And I intend to cooperate with this inquiry. But that is not true.
Peter Baker, Journalist: He says, quite indignantly, 'There is no relationship with Monica Lewinsky.' And people begin to focus on the words. He said 'is,' didn't he? He didn't say was. What is he trying to say? Is he parsing here?
Mike McCurry, Press Secretary: I didn't notice the peculiar tense issue until later. But I did think to myself, I said, 'Boy, there's got to be a stronger denial of this. And I think some group of us said, 'Look you're denying this, you've gotta be strong. You've gotta get out there and say, you know, how outrageous this is.' And of course, I think that was dreadful advice in retrospect.
Bill Clinton (archival): I want you to listen to me: I'm gonna say this again. I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky. 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. Thank you.
Lucianne Goldberg, Literary Agent: I was watching with a friend in my office and I said, 'That is it, this man is dead meat. That is it, because I know that he's lying and if I know that he's lying then the rest of the world is gonna know he's lying.'
James Fisher, Attorney: When he went on the air and shook his finger and said, 'I never had sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky,' and we knew he had, we realized then that this had the potential to literally change the course of American history.
Kenneth Starr, Independent Counsel: The one thing that we can't deal with are lies. Lies are impossible to deal with, so please, simply tell us the truth. The truth has a very powerful way of coming out, so let's get it out. But clearly that was not the road that we were on.
Narrator: Having set off on a course of deception, there was no turning back. Clinton continued to press his lie, even to Hillary.
Peter Baker, Journalist: He tells her it's not true. He tells her that Monica Lewinsky was a troubled young woman, that he had just tried to be nice to her, to mentor her in some ways, and that's a story that Hillary Clinton hangs onto like a life raft.
Narrator: The day after Clinton's denial, Hillary appeared on national television.
Hillary Clinton (archival): I just think that a lot of this is deliberately designed to sensationalize charges against my husband because everything else they've tried has failed.
Peter Baker, Journalist: She focused her energy and her anger and her ire at the external enemies. At Ken Starr, at the press, at the Republicans in Congress. They were the ones who were doing this, not her husband.
Hillary Clinton (archival): The great story here for anybody willing to find it and write about it and explain it is this vast right-wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband since the day he announced for president.
Peter Baker, Journalist: She says, 'this is all about the vast right-wing conspiracy,' and in that moment sort of sets the tone for the defense of the president against these charges.
Narrator: To the Clintons, the Lewinsky scandal was just the latest front in a war waged by their political enemies to destroy them.
Mark Penn, Pollster: The Lewinsky scandal was not really the Lewinsky scandal. It was really an attempt by the Republican Party to have a coup d'etat based on having discovered the president's personal behavior.
Narrator: This time, however, even some allies of the Clintons found their protestations hollow.
Lawrence O'Donnell, Senate Aide: You can never blame your enemies for doing what your enemies will predictably do. You can only blame yourself for what you have given to your enemies. If you've given them absolutely nothing, guess what they're gonna be able to do? Nothing.
Narrator: As the scandal raged around him, Clinton did his best to focus, he said, "On the job the American people hired me to do."
Peter Baker, Journalist: He's coming to work every day, he says, and he's going to do the job that's in front of him. Privately, behind the scenes, it's a completely different story. Of course he's obsessed by this. Of course he's consumed by this. Of course he's distracted. He has a meeting with the President of the World Bank for instance, who goes back to his office, calls Clinton's chief of staff, and says, 'It's like he wasn't even there.'
Narrator: The president swung wildly between emotional extremes, from fear to fury.
Joe Klein, Journalist: I think that there was always a part of him that wondered about the dark side. And about whether he was really a bad person and whether he was going to be taken down. But he also had, and it's possible to have these two feelings simultaneously, an overpowering sense of his own righteousness.
Narrator: "I feel like a character in the novel Darkness at Noon," Clinton told an aide. "I am surrounded by an oppressive force that is creating a lie about me and I can't get the truth out."
In fact, the truth was closing in.
Peter Baker, Journalist: All he can do is buy time. All he can do is hope Starr doesn't have the goods, doesn't have the evidence, that there is no physical evidence that could prove it.
Narrator: Before long, Starr had his physical evidence.
In July, Monica Lewinsky reached a deal to give her testimony in exchange for immunity from prosecution. As part of the deal, she turned over a blue dress stained with Clinton's semen.
The next day, seeing no way out, Clinton himself agreed to answer questions before Starr's grand jury. Before the president faced Starr, however, he had to face Hillary. That morning, Clinton awoke the first lady from a deep sleep. Pacing the room, he finally confessed he had lied.
Gail Sheehy, Writer: It was probably the most shattering moment in her life. He'd lied to her and he'd used her, he let her go out and essentially make alibis for him. And it not only jeopardized everything they'd worked for all their lives but totally humiliated her and Chelsea and she couldn't trust him anymore.
Narrator: Later that day, Clinton's deposition was scheduled to take place in the Map Room of the White House. The President's lawyers had won an important concession from Ken Starr: the interrogation could not last longer than four hours.
Man (archival audio): Good afternoon, Mr. President.
Bill Clinton (archival): Good afternoon.
Man (archival audio): Could you please state your full name for the record, sir.
Bill Clinton (archival): William Jefferson Clinton.
Ken Gormley, Legal Scholar: Bill Clinton's strategy was to run out the clock. And so, he would start talking about little stories from Arkansas, he would, you know, take an aside and give a lecture about justice and the American Dream. And all along, the clock is ticking out.
Bill Clinton (archival): Let me begin with the correct answer -- I don't know for sure.... Well it would depend upon the facts. I think on the whole people in the uniformed secret service.... If we circle number one -- this is my circle here. I remember doing it so I could focus only on those two lines.... It depends upon what the meaning of the word 'is' is.
Ken Gormley, Legal Scholar: The Starr prosecutors walked out of that grand jury testimony totally demoralized. They knew they had been clobbered by President Clinton. And even though it was just, obvious what he was doing, it was a masterful performance on Clinton's part.
Narrator: If Clinton could finagle his way out of Starr's legal trap, he could not, he knew, escape the judgment of the American people.
Man (archival): And we've got about 45.
Narrator: That night, President Bill Clinton addressed the nation in one of the most unusual and anticipated broadcasts in American history.
Man (archival): Standby... 5 seconds....
Bill Clinton (archival): Good evening. This afternoon in this room, from this chair, I testified before the Office of Independent Counsel and the grand jury. I answered their questions truthfully, including questions about my private life, questions no American citizen would ever want to answer.
Still, I must take complete responsibility for all my actions, both public and private. And that is why I am speaking to you tonight. Indeed I did have a relationship with Ms. Lewinsky that was not appropriate. In fact it was wrong.
Narrator: For many of those closest to Clinton, this was the first time they'd heard him admit the affair and they were deeply hurt.
Harold Ickes, Deputy Chief of Staff: People just shook their heads, they couldn't believe it. They literally could not believe it. What a squandering of talent and promise and possibility.
Betsey Wright, Chief of Staff, Arkansas: Yes, I felt betrayed. He lied to me, yeah. He lied to a lot of people about that, not least of whom was himself.
Peter Baker, Journalist: The morning after his grand jury testimony and his speech to the nation, he and Hillary and Chelsea head off to Martha's Vineyard for their annual vacation. It may be the worst timed family vacation in the history of the world, but there they are, heading out to the helicopter on the South Lawn. And the staff is sitting in the White House thinking, 'What are we going to do about the walk to the helicopter?' They decided they can't do anything. They can't orchestrate it, they can't spin it; they are powerless to affect it.
And in the end it falls to Chelsea Clinton, a teenager, to take both of their hands, on her own initiative, take her father's hand in one and her mother's hand in the other and walk across the lawn, literally the bridge between her parents at this moment of crisis between them.
Narrator: As the Clintons spent a tense vacation on Martha's Vineyard, Washington was abuzz with talk of resignation or even impeachment.
Ken Gormley, Legal Scholar: At this moment he was in maximum peril. Clinton's advisors, were acutely aware that President Nixon was driven out of office not by the opposing party, but by his own party, when the Republicans came to him, and said, 'Enough, you have to leave.' That's when President Nixon resigned. And so there was real concern that Democrats were going to begin bolting and they were not returning President Clinton's calls. They were not happy with this. There was a real concern that that -- this could be the beginning of the end.
Narrator: It had been a quarter of a century since Richard Nixon had resigned the presidency rather than endure an impeachment. Now, many were urging Clinton to do the same. But Clinton had no such intentions.
Michael Isikoff, Journalist: There were the inevitable comparisons between Nixon and Clinton. I always thought there was a fundamental difference. Both Nixon and Clinton were convinced that it was their political enemies that were responsible for all their troubles. The difference is that Nixon always suspected that his political enemies were better than him. Clinton hated his political enemies and were convinced they were beneath him. And, that was the reason, at the end of the day, Clinton was never going to do what Richard Nixon did, which was to give into them and resign.
Bill Clinton (archival): Yes, go ahead.
Reporter (archival): Mr. President, all these questions about your personal life have to be painful to you and your family. At what point do you consider that it's just not worth it and you consider resigning from office?
Bill Clinton (archival): Never. You know, I was elected to do a job. I think the American people know two or three things about me now that they didn't know the first time this kind of effort was made against me. I think they know that I care very much about them, that I care about ordinary people whose voices aren't often heard here. And I think they know I have worked very very hard for them.
Narrator: Hard work had always been Clinton's salvation in moments of vulnerability. Now, as he sought to show the American people he could still function, he bore down on a suddenly violent foreign policy crisis.
Early on the morning of August 7, 1998, two truck bombs exploded simultaneously outside U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. The death toll reached 200 with another 5,000 injured. Within hours, the FBI had pegged responsibility to a little known terrorist organization called Al Qaeda.
Clinton soon ordered his national security team to hunt down and destroy Al Qaeda and its elusive leader Osama Bin Laden.
Richard Clarke, National Security Coordinator: CIA had information, it thought it was reliable information, that Bin Laden and the Al Qaeda leadership were going to come together at a certain camp, in Afghanistan, at a certain date, at a certain time. We went to the president and said, 'We want to be able to land cruise missiles at that camp while they're there.'
Narrator: The order would have huge political risks. Clinton knew that it would be widely seen as an attempt to distract the public from his own personal problems.
Richard Clarke, National Security Coordinator: Somebody said something about, 'Well, you know, we have to take into account the political realities in the United States at the moment.' Which was sort of code words for, 'You've got this Monica Lewinsky scandal going on.' And he snapped. He just very quickly and sharply said, 'You don't think about that. You think about national security. You give me the national security advice you would give me if this were not going on. You let me worry about that.'
Narrator: On August 20, Clinton ordered a series of missile strikes against Al Qaeda, targeting training camps in Afghanistan and a plant in Sudan that the administration claimed was involved in making chemical weapons.
The missiles narrowly missed their main target.
Richard Clarke, National Security Coordinator: We didn't kill Bin Laden, we didn't have that to show for the attack. And people, frankly, a lot of people in the Congress, and in the media, said this was just an attempt to 'wag the dog.'
Rep. Bob Barr, (R) Georgia (archival): The timing of all of this is more than coincidental and I think it may very well run the risk -- the President may run a risk of an even more cynical view of his behavior.
Richard Clarke, National Security Coordinator: He knew that. He knew that was going to happen. He knew that would make it worse for him to do this. But he launched the attack because he thought it was the right national security thing to do, that's what we told him. And he said, 'I'll do it anyway, even though it makes it worse for me.'
Narrator: Things were deteriorating quickly for the President. On September 9th, Kenneth Starr finally delivered to Congress the long-awaited results of his investigation.
In 450 pages of sometimes salacious detail, Starr laid out his case against Clinton for perjury, obstruction of justice, and abuse of office in the Lewinsky affair, while dropping almost all reference to his original investigation of Whitewater.
Ken Starr, Independent Counsel: Lawyers are thorough. Good lawyers are thorough. There could be absolutely no gap whatsoever between the facts and then a reasonable conclusion to be drawn from the facts. The case had to be proven.
News Report (archival): The House Sergeant at Arms officially unsealed the document at mid-afternoon. It had been advertised as steamy, and you could almost see the steam rising as the boxes came open.
News Report (archival): According to the sources, the report focuses almost entirely on the President's relationship with Lewinsky.
Peter Jennings, NBC News (archival): However this turns out, it is a turning point in Mr. Clinton's Presidency. It is not an exaggeration to say that he has less control of his destiny than at any time since he was elected.
Narrator: The Starr report was a turning point, but not in the way the independent counsel or his Republican supporters had expected. Polls showed that after four years and $40 million, most Americans believed the investigations against Clinton were more persecution than prosecution.
Harold Ickes, Deputy Chief of Staff: The Republicans had so undercut their own credibility in the way they were going after him that people, although they deplored what he had done and thought it was stupid and it demeaned the office of the presidency and tarnished the presidency, tarnished him and had been a devastating blow to Hillary and Chelsea and all those things that went through people's minds, they looked at the Republicans and they had enough already.
Narrator: After the release of Starr's report, Clinton appeared in the Rose Garden to offer his first full-throated apology to the American people.
Bill Clinton (archival): I am profoundly sorry for all I have done wrong in words and deeds. I never should have misled the country, the Congress, my friends or my family. Quite simply, I gave into my shame. I have been condemned by my accusers with harsh words, and while it's hard to hear yourself called deceitful and manipulative, I remember Ben Franklin's admonition that our critics are our friends, for they do show us our faults.
Narrator: If Clinton was willing at last to take responsibility, the American people were willing to forgive him.
Dee Dee Myers, Press Secretary: He disappoints them every time on some level, but he always gets up and tries to make it better. You know, what else can you ask from a sinner, right? And that's how he would define himself, 'I'm a sinner. And I try to be better every time, and I learn from my mistakes and I go forward.' And I think the American public is pretty forgiving of a guy who sees himself as a sinner.
Narrator: Weary of the attacks on Clinton, Americans punished Republican candidates in the Congressional elections in November. Upsetting precedent, Democrats actually gained seats in Congress.
Bill Clinton (archival): I think the message the American people sent was loud and clear: we want progress over partisanship and unity over division.
Narrator: Blamed for the defeat, Newt Gingrich resigned his post as Speaker of the House of Representatives.
To the frustration of his Republican opponents, Clinton seemed to have won over the American people again.
Sen. Trent Lott, (R) Mississippi: There are two or three things that I have witnessed in my political career that I never could figure out. The fact that a lot of people didn't think that that was a serious problem that he, you know, perjured himself, in his testimony, and that he'd had a relationship with that woman Monica Lewinsky, that did shock me and I've never quite figured out how in the world could that be that he'd come out the back end of it pretty much where he was at the beginning. It's just one of those things I've never quite figured out.
Tony Blankley, Republican Strategist: We should have seen that, 'Ok, we're personally offended, that's our condition.' But if the public isn't, and clearly they weren't, then get over it. And we never got over it. We never got over it. We still haven't got over it.
Narrator: Determined to punish the President, House Republicans led by Texas Congressman Tom Delay, played their last card: impeachment.
Man (archival): A resolution impeaching president William Jefferson Clinton, president of the United States, for high crimes and misdemeanors....
Jonathan Alter, Journalist: The Republicans were gripped by just unreasoning hatred of Bill Clinton. They just despised the man and could not stand that he was going to get away with this.
Man (archival): Article One: In his conduct as president of the United States, we find William Jefferson Clinton, in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States, has willfully corrupted and manipulated the judicial process of the United States....
Narrator: On Saturday, December 19th, the House of Representatives voted along party lines to impeach the president on two of four counts involving obstruction of justice and perjury.
Speaker Pro Tem (archival): On this vote, the yeas are 228, the nays are 206. Article one is adopted.
Narrator: Bill Clinton had become only the second president in American history, and the first in more than a century, to be impeached by the House.
Republican Leader (archival): The American people, I call them to my side here at the podium to verify to you that the President committed falsehoods under oath.
Narrator: Republican leaders moved the proceedings to the Senate where a two-thirds majority was required to convict the President and remove him from office.
Judge (archival): The Senate will convene as a court of impeachment.
Rep. James Sensenbrenner, Jr. (R) Wisconsin (archival): We are here today because president William Jefferson Clinton decided to put himself above the law.
Rep. Bill McCollum, (R) Florida (archival): This is not about sex, this is about obstruction of justice. This is about a pattern. This is about a scheme. This is about a lot of lies...
Narrator: For three long weeks, with little hope of success, 13 Republican Congressmen pressed the case against Clinton.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, (R) Illinois (archival): This is not about sexual misconduct any more than Watergate was a about a third-rate burglary.
Narrator: Finally, Arkansas Democratic Senator Dale Bumpers rose to express the sentiments felt by many in the chamber and the country as a whole:
Sen. Dale Bumpers, (D) Arkansas (archival): We are here today because the president suffered a terrible moral lapse, a marital infidelity -- not a breach of the public trust, not a crime against society. It is a sex scandal. H. L. Mencken said one time, 'When you hear somebody say, 'This is not about money' -- it's about money.' And when you hear somebody say, 'This is not about sex' -- it's about sex.
Judge (archival): The Senate adjudges that the respondent, President William Jefferson Clinton, president of the United States, is not guilty as charged in the first article of impeachment.
Narrator: What had begun with a sexual indiscretion more than three years earlier, and mushroomed into a full-scale constitutional crisis, was finally over.
This time, however, there was no triumph, no crowing about "The Comeback Kid." Bill Clinton knew that this time, both he and the country had paid a heavy price.
John Harris, Journalist: Bill Clinton in his second inaugural address said it was his ambition during the second term to be, quoting scripture, 'a repairer of the breech.' That ambition was not realized in his second term and it effectively died in 1998, the year of scandal.
Dee Dee Myers, Press Secretary: The fact that the president was impeached will always be part of his story, part of his legacy. It consumed a tremendous amount of energy. It undercut his standing. And, I think limited his ability to accomplish anything outside of surviving for almost two years. And you know that's tragic.
David Maraniss, Writer: Clinton created many of his own problems, but his enemies exaggerated, enhanced, mythologized, lied, were utterly hypocritical in their attacks on him. You know, to the extent that I believe that every human being is responsible for their own lives, he holds the responsibility for it. To the extent that context shapes a life, his enemies have a lot to answer for.
Narrator: Clinton had survived, but the impeachment ordeal seemed to have sapped much of his drive and ambition.
Peter Baker, Journalist: President Clinton has more than 700 days left in office after he's acquitted by the Senate, and he promises to use every single one of them to its fullest. But the constraints were enormous at that point. The big aspirations were gone. The chances of re-inventing Social Security or re-inventing Medicare just proved too elusive. He had a Congress, which had just, literally put him on trial, and was not willing to do a lot of business with him.
Narrator: In 2000, Clinton came tantalizingly close to the great historical achievement for which he had yearned, but a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in the eleventh hour.
The same year, after decades of budget deficits, the federal budget had a surplus of nearly $240 billion, an accomplishment for which Clinton was given much credit.
It was only as her husband was preparing to leave the stage, that Hillary finally stepped front and center, ready at last to take her star turn.
Peter Baker, Journalist: The day the Senate votes to acquit President Clinton on impeachment charges, Hillary Clinton is meeting in the White House residence with Harold Ickes to plot a campaign for the very same United States Senate. Literally the end of his crisis is the birth of her new phase.
Gail Sheehy, Writer: She said, 'I want to be independent. I want to be judged on my own merits.' And she finally released herself from, you know, the shadow of Bill Clinton over her and began making her own decisions. He then came to her support, and there was nobody more of a champion for her Senate race than Bill Clinton. He was behind her all the way.
Bill Clinton (archival): So even if I didn't know her better than anyone in this room, I'd be for her.
Narrator: That November, as Vice-President Al Gore lost the closest presidential election in American history, Hillary Clinton easily won the Senate seat in New York.
Hillary Clinton (archival): I am profoundly grateful to all of you for giving me the chance to serve you.
Narrator: In his final round of goodbye speeches, Bill Clinton even bid farewell to the Washington Press corps.
Bill Clinton (archival): You know I read in the history books how other presidents say the White House is like a penitentiary, and every motive they have is suspect. Even George Washington complained he was treated like a common thief. And they all say they can't get away -- can't wait to get away. I don't know what the heck they're talking about. I've had a wonderful time. It's been an honor to serve and fun to laugh. I only wish that we'd even laughed more these last eight years because power's not the most important thing in life and only counts for what you use it.
Peter Baker, Journalist: Bill Clinton loved being president. He had to literally be dragged out of there clawing the floors to get him out of there on January 20th, 2001. In fact, when the Bushes show up, the movers are still desperately trying to move everything; literally, they're taking drawers from the cabinets and just dumping them into boxes because Bill Clinton has wanted to milk every last minute of his presidency right up to the end.
Harry Thomason, Friend: Listen, this guy loved being President. He even loved being President when it was tough. A lot of times I would say, 'How does he smile? How does he keep laughing? How does he keep going through this?' But it was because he got the energy back from the people. Whatever you think of the man, he wanted to do the right thing for the people of his county, his state, his country, and that never changed about him.
Narrator: Clinton departed the White House for the last time on Saturday, January 20th, 2001. In the end, he left much as he had come: a man loved by his friends, and loathed by his enemies. A politician who had achieved a great deal, yet left behind a curious sense of unfulfilled promise.
John Harris, Journalist: I believe he's an argument without end -- that there will be people discussing and debating the significance of Bill Clinton for a long time.
William Chafe, Historian: Bill Clinton will be remembered as one of our best presidents in the 20th century who accomplished an enormous amount, and he will be remembered because of his personal recklessness. And that is tragic. Because so much more could have happened.
Robert Reich, Labor Secretary: Did Bill Clinton help the country and was the country better for having him as president? I think, unquestionably, yes. But, are there elements of tragedy here as well? Huge elements of tragedy in terms of failures and opportunities lost, and risks made that didn't have to be made? Undoubtedly.
Joe Klein, Journalist: I know a lot of people think that Clinton's presidency was a wasted opportunity. But he came to office in 1992 and left a stronger country in 2000. I don't know if you can say of a president who served us well and improved our material good that it was a wasted opportunity. And it was sure a lot of fun to watch.
My American Experience
Who is your favorite 20th-century American president? Was it FDR? Reagan? Clinton? Or one of the other 14 men who helped usher the United Sates through the 1900s? Who do you think was the most influential?