August 10, 2000
Correspondent: George Stephanopolous
Anchor: Ted Koppel
ANNOUNCER: August 10, 2000
BILL CLINTON (From file footage): These allegations are false.
TED KOPPEL, ABC NEWS: At first, he denied it outright.
BILL CLINTON (From file footage): I did not have sexual relations with
that woman, Miss Lewinsky.
TED KOPPEL: Then he waffled.
BILL CLINTON (From file footage): It depends on what the meaning of the
word "is" is.
TED KOPPEL: Two years ago he finally admitted his mistake.
BILL CLINTON (From file footage): Indeed, I did have a relationship with
Miss Lewinsky that was not appropriate. In fact, it was wrong.
TED KOPPEL: Today, he addressed the subject once again.
BILL CLINTON: I'm now in the second year of a process of trying to
totally rebuild my life from a terrible mistake I made.
TED KOPPEL: And he asked that Al Gore get a fair shake.
BILL CLINTON: He doesn't get enough credit for what we did together that
is good. And surely, no fair-minded person would blame him for any mistake that
TED KOPPEL: Tonight, Baring His Soul. The president on the process of
rebuilding his life.
ANNOUNCER: From ABC News, this is NIGHTLINE. Reporting from Washington,
TED KOPPEL: At this late stage in his presidency, how we see Bill
Clinton, how we react to what he says and how he says it may tell us more about
each of us than it does about him. But once again, he has given a nation of
arm-chair analysts and political pundits, plenty to chew on.
Fairly or not, public opinion surveys are indicating that Al Gore is tarnished
in the minds of some voters by his strong public support for the president
during the Lewinsky scandal. There has been some behind the scenes pressure on
the president to do two things. To apologize once again and more explicitly
for his behavior than he has ever done before, and to publicly absolve Al Gore
from any blame. Today, Mr. Clinton did both.
Speaking before thousands of Evangelical ministers in South Barrington,
Illinois, the president spoke at length about the affair and its impact on him,
his family, and his supporters. He was answering questions in a friendly,
low-key interview with a minister who has been one of his own spiritual
advisers since 1992. We're going to play for you the entirety of the
presidential remarks on the subject. We'll be doing it in two segments. In
all, it takes about ten minutes. It is, in all, a remarkable, perhaps even
unprecedented chapter in the American presidency. But coming as it does just
four days before the beginning of the Democratic National Convention, it also
lends itself to a more cynical interpretation. We wanted to give you the
opportunity to make your own judgment based on the entire relevant segment. It
began with this question from the Revered Bill Hybels.
BILL HYBELS, WILLOW CREEK COMMUNITY CHURCH: So if we were having our
regular meeting this would be the time when I would ask the consistent
question, what's the current condition of your spiritual life? Let's describe
right now where you are at spiritually.
BILL CLINTON: Well, I--I feel much more at peace than I used to. And I
think that as awful as what I went through was, humiliating as it was, more to
my others than to me even, sometimes when you think you've got something behind
you and then it is not behind you, this sort of purging process, if it doesn't
destroy you, can bring you to a different place. And I had, you know, I went
through--I'm now in the second year of a process of trying to totally rebuild
my life from a terrible mistake I made. And I now see--I don't think anybody
can say, ´Hey, the state of my spiritual life is great. It's on--it's
constant and it's never going to change.' I think I have learned enough now to
know that's not true. That it's a--it's always a work in progress, and you
just have to hope you're getting better every day. But if your not getting
better, chances are you are getting worse. That this, you know, has to be a
dynamic, ongoing effort. But, you know, I had to--I had to come to terms with a
lot of things about the fundamental importance of character and integrity. And
integrity to me means-it's a literal term. It means the integration of one's
spirit, mind and body. Being in the same place at the same time with
everything, doing what you believe is right, and you believe is consistent with
the will of God.
It's been a--an amazing encounter, you know, trying to rebuild my family life,
which is the most important thing of all. It took a lot--a lot of effort that
I've never talked about and probably never will, because I don't really think
it's anybody else's concern. And then to rebuild the support of the people I
work with and to try to be worthy of the fact that two-thirds of the American
people stuck with me. You know, that's an incredible thing. And so I wake up
every day, no matter what anybody says or what goes wrong or whatever, with
this overwhelming sense of gratitude. Because it may be that if I hadn't been
knocked down in the way I was and forced to come to grips with what I had done
and--and the consequences of it in such an awful way, I might not ever have had
to really deal with it 100 percent.
You know, I--because this kind of thing happens to--not maybe this kind of
thing, but all kinds of problems come up in people's lives all the time. And
usually they're not played out with several billion dollars of publicity on the
neon lights before people. But they still have to be dealt with. And in a
funny way, when you realize there's nothing left to hide, then you--it's sort
of frees you up to what you should be doing anyway. I don't know if that makes
any sense. But to me, I feel this overwhelming sense of gratitude.
I also learned a lot about forgiveness. I have always thought I was sort of a
forgiving, generous person, you know, nonjudgmental in a negative sense. Not
that I don't have opinions. But I realized once you've actually had to stand
up and ask for forgiveness before the whole wide world, it makes it a little
harder to be as hard as I think I once was on other people. And that's meant
something to me too. I think I've learned something about that.
TED KOPPEL: When we come back, the rest of that interview. And later in
the broadcast, some analysis from George Stephanopoulos and David Gergen.
ANNOUNCER: This is ABC NEWS: NIGHTLINE, brought to you by...
TED KOPPEL: In this next segment, the president is asked whether he
feels that he has ever before apologized fully for his behavior.
BILL HYBELS: You know, a lot of people, when I--when they learned that I
was going to interview you, and a lot of people who know we have been meeting,
have said to me, ´The guy never really apologized. The guy never really
owned it and came clean about his mistakes. Tried to hide it, said it didn't
happen. He never came clean.' That's a little surprising to me. I'm not
going to ask for a hand raise or anything. But there's a whole bunch of people
here who think you never really said it.
BILL CLINTON: No, I don't know why. I just, you know, to me I had to
come--there's a lot of things going on at the time, that you remember, that
were unrelated, I think, to the fact that I did something wrong that I needed
to acknowledge and apologize for and then begin a process of atonement for. And
there were a few days when I basically was thinking more about what my
adversaries were trying to do than what I should be trying to do. And finally,
you know, this breakfast we had--we're about to have it, actually, you know.
We're coming up on the second anniversary of the prayer breakfast I have every
year for people of all different faiths in the White House, that we sort of do
at the start of school. Because it's kind of a rededication period, you
And I've done it for eight years over and above the president's prayer
breakfast which is a--you know there's a whole committee that does that. This
is just--Hillary and I just invite people to the White House. And we have
breakfast and we talk about whatever we're talking about that year. We pray
together. And people get up and say whatever they want to say. But I--I think
I gave a clear, unambiguous, brutally frank and frankly personally painful
statement to me because I had to do it. I mean, I finally realized that I
was--you know, it would never be all right unless I stood up there and said
what I did that--said it was wrong and apologized for it.
BILL HYBELS: But...
BILL CLINTON: What I think happened was--I think anybody who was there
thought so. I think anybody who read it thought so. I don't know what was
covered by television really, because I don't watch the TV news much, or what
was written in the newspaper or who heard it. But I think anyone who saw that
and who observed what happened afterward would not doubt that there had been
a--a full and adequate apology.
BILL HYBELS: Well you sent me the text of it right then. And I mean, I
read it. And it was, I mean, I'm an elder at this church as well as a pastor.
And we have had many times people where they have had to make confessions. And
this was as clean, you said, not only am I--you said, ´There's no fancy
way--there's not a fancy way to say it. I have sinned.' It was about as clean
as I have ever read something like that. And it must have been terribly
frustrating for you to live on in the future with a sense that there's a whole
bunch of people who just continue to believe you never came clean.
BILL CLINTON: Oh, it--it was for a little bit. But, you know, I think
one of the things you learn is that even a president, all you can do is be
responsible for what you do, you know. And--and what other people say about it
or whether it gets out there--you have to work hard to get it out there--but I
suppose there was a time when I was upset about it. But then I realized that
that was another form of defensiveness. That if I really thought about that,
that was just another excuse not to be doing what I should be doing, which is
to work on--work on my life, work on my marriage, work on my parenthood, work
on my work with the White House and the administration, and work on serving the
So, you know, believe it or not, I hadn't thought about it in a long, long time
now. I thought about it a little bit now because you asked me to do this and I
said yes. And here we are in the soup together. But--but I--I don't think
about it now, because I realize that any time you are supposed to be doing
something with your life and you get off thinking about what somebody else is
saying or doing about it or to you or whatever, it's just a crutch for not
dealing with what you are supposed to be dealing with. So I finally just let
it go. And I hope people can see that it's different. You know, you just have
to hope that and go on.
TED KOPPEL: It was near the end of the interview, after a number of
other subjects had been discussed, that the President Clinton almost as an
afterthought, turned to the impact that the impeachment scandal has had on his
BILL CLINTON: Last thing I want to say is, I used to say this about Al
Gore all the time. I used to say when I was being criticized, you know, he
doesn't get enough credit for what we did together that is good. And surely,
no fair-minded person would blame him for any mistake that I made.
TED KOPPEL: When we come back, we'll talk about President Clinton's
words and their impact with George Stephanopoulos and David Gergen.
TED KOPPEL: And joining us now from our Los Angeles bureau, ABC News
political analyst George Stephanopoulos and from Boston, US News and World
Report editor at large, David Gergen.
How cynical should we be George?
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, ABC NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I don't know if
we should be cynical about--about the words themselves. They are actually
words Clinton has used many times before, especially some in that first
segment: gratitude, integrity, forgiveness. These are words Clinton has used
several times. And I don't think that this was necessarily something that the
Gore campaign and the Clinton White House cooked up together. I think the Gore
campaign would have just as easily been just as happy had this not happened
today. Finally, though, I do think that there was some need at some point for
the president to try to separate himself, his personal problems from Gore's.
And this was an attempt at that. He probably just went a little too far.
TED KOPPEL: When I raise questions about cynicism, David, I guess what
I'm saying is timing. Everything is timing. If he'd--if he'd done this a
couple of months ago, it would have had a different impact than doing it just
four days before the Democratic convention gets under way. So your take on
DAVID GERGEN, US NEWS & WORLD REPORT: Well, I think George is right,
he is sincere about his--his sense of contriteness. He is--he is genuinely
contrite. He is seeking personal integrity, integrating his mind, body and
soul as he said in the talk. But I do--but I do think coming two days after
Joe Lieberman was--was chosen in such an obvious effort by Vice President Gore
to distance himself and just a few days before the LA convention begins,
there--there is reason to ask whether this wasn't done for political purposes
right now. And, you know, I think that he has been, as you said at the top, he
has been under pressure from the Gore campaign to apologize and to try to
absolve the vice president from any wrongdoing here. And I--there was some
talk in the Gore campaign that he would do it Monday night, opening night of
the convention. I think from his point of view, this is a much more
comfortable venue in which to talk.
TED KOPPEL: Is that--is that, George, what you think the Gore folks are
going to see as being sort of adequate compensation here?
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: I--I got to say, I don't think the Gore folks
were all that happy that the president did this today. I mean that's why I
guess I--I--if there was a political mastermind behind this, I think you have
to question that mastermind's judgment. This is going to eat up the whole day
of the news cycle just as Gore is trying to have this rollout into the
convention. So--so I don't think that this is something they would have
necessarily wanted, even though they do want this absolution almost from the
president's personal problems.
TED KOPPEL: I mean, forget about the absolution for a moment. Why in
heaven's name would the president agree to do this kind of interview knowing
full well that the subject would come up when A, some of the folks at that
Evangelical conference have been lobbying to keep the president out of there.
They didn't necessarily want him there. What possible advantage does he gain
from it, if it--if it isn't seen as an effort to say, all right, one more time,
I apologize. I get it. I--I--I did wrong. I hurt a lot of people. And
incidentally, none of this was Al Gore's fault. If he hasn't done that to help
Al Gore, why did he do it?
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, you have to question whether he can
necessarily help himself, if he can stop himself. There was a clue in--in the
excerpts there. The president said, ´Now you and I are both in the soup,'
when he's talking to Bill Hybels. He realizes halfway through that this might
not be the most helpful discussion to have as the Gore campaign is trying to
get into its--into its convention. But he made the commitment and couldn't get
out of it.
DAVID GERGEN: I--I disagree with that. I--I--George knows him very
well. Let me put that up front. But--but I think that Bill Clinton rarely
does anything that he hasn't thought through a little bit in advance before he
makes it--before he speaks. And to put himself into this place, I think he
knew what he was doing. I do agree with George that from the Gore camps point
of view, they really wanted this to be a ramp up week all about Joe Lieberman.
And this does--this is a diversion, but they wanted it sometime. It's very
unclear when the best time was. It really truly would have been better to have
done this before the Republican convention.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: David, I guess you and I don't disagree as much
as maybe it sounds like. I think president probably thinks it helps Gore.
DAVID GERGEN: Right.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: The Gore people don't necessarily agree. Just
the same thing as last week, when he--he was doing the discussions of George W.
Bush. And in--in his mind he probably believes he sucked President Bush into
the debate and it stepped on the Republican convention story, even if the Gore
people don't think it was necessarily all that helpful.
TED KOPPEL: Well, since you're--since you're raising the broader issue,
let me pick up on the--the story that our friends over at The New York Times
had this morning, and that is the story of huge fund-raising events, both for
Bill and Hillary Clinton, taking place this weekend. Sopping up, not only
attention, but a lot of money. I mean is it just that they can't let go? Or
do they not believe that this is going to be hurtful to Al Gore?
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I think it's two separate issues, Ted. On
the one hand, the Gore campaign needs the president to raise money for Al Gore.
That is his number one benefit to the campaign right now, and they freely say
that we definitely need him to do this. What they can't stop is all of the
enthusiasm and, you know, it's not too strong a word, kind of love among the
Democratic based, particularly the donor base, for President Clinton. And they
want to celebrate President Clinton, and the only way they're going to get the
money is if you also have the celebration.
TED KOPPEL: No, that's fine. You can do that with him. But can't
they--I mean, isn't there enough sensitivity there to realize that doing it for
Mrs. Clinton Senate campaign is not the most helpful thing that you can do just
before the--the Democratic convention where Al Gore after all is supposed to be
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: I probably asked the same question that they're
asking sometimes in the Gore campaign. Who's going to tell her?
DAVID GERGEN: Well, this is the problem with the campaign in general,
though, Ted. They've had a very, very hard time coordinating with the president
where it makes both sides happy. Surprisingly hard. It almost goes back to
the Eisenhower/Nixon hand off in--in the--in 1960 when there was such an
awkward hand off between Eisenhower and Nixon. And here the Gore people really
do want the president to get off the stage. They would like to have their own
man come--come out and--and be himself.
And the kind of story that was in The New York Times today, lead story, it was
two columns about all this fund-raising, is definitely not in the interest
of--of the vice president to have this big splashy weekend. The president's
going to be spending more time in Los Angeles than the vice president is at
this point. And I--I think that is very, very awkward for the Gore campaign,
particularly when they want the story this week to be about their vice
presidential pick and about Al Gore's agenda for the future.
TED KOPPEL: All right, George, last word. You've got 15 seconds. More
helpful than hurtful to Al Gore, what happened today?
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Oh, today--today, in the long run, is probably
helpful. But it really hurts the run-up to the convention. I think all things
being equal it would have been better if it hadn't happen.
TED KOPPEL: George, David, thanks again very much.
When we come back, we want to show you one last excerpt from President
TED KOPPEL: There's one more segment we would like you to hear from the
president's remarkable appearance, an exchange that took place just before what
you have already heard.
BILL HYBEL: Now, you and Hillary have been churchgoers all the time in
your public service. And some people think that's just an act. How would you
BILL CLINTON: Well, at least it's a consistent act. I--well I think I
have given evidence that I need to be in church.
TED KOPPEL: Once again, and down to the very last days of his
administration, Bill Clinton has shown this remarkable ability to command
Tomorrow on "Good Morning America," Jack Ford interviews George W. Bush on the
campaign train in California. That's our report for tonight. I'm Ted Koppel
in Washington. For all of us here at ABC News, good night.