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Bill Clinton: Monica Lewinsky ‘paid quite a price’ for relationship

Former President Bill Clinton said Thursday he thought Monica Lewinsky “paid quite a price” for their affair in the 1990s and was glad the former White House intern has gone on to build a successful career.

“I’m glad to see she went back to school, made a career,” Clinton said of Lewinsky in an interview with PBS NewsHour managing editor and anchor Judy Woodruff. Clinton added that he had been “afraid she would be frozen in the public mind for the rest of her life in what happened, and I didn’t want that for her. And I think she’s tried to build a bigger, different, broader life, and I hope she has.”

Lewinsky is now a prominent public speaker and anti-bullying advocate after spending years avoiding the spotlight following her affair with Clinton, which led to his impeachment by the House in 1998.

The affair has received fresh attention in the #MeToo era, amid news of sex scandals involving powerful men in politics, entertainment, media and sports. Clinton has faced questions about it this week while on tour promoting his new book “The President is Missing,” a thriller he co-wrote with James Patterson. He was criticized Monday for seeming angry and defensive in speaking about Lewinsky in an interview with NBC.

But in the NewsHour interview, Clinton struck a gentler tone, speaking in personal terms about the impact the affair had on Lewinsky as well as on himself and his family.

“The price that I paid mostly was the pain that I caused to my wife and daughter,” Clinton said, referring to former Secretary of State and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, and their daughter, Chelsea.

Clinton added that he’s spent the last two decades “living with what happened.”

Also in the interview:

  • Comey letter ‘flipped’ the 2016 election:Clinton blasted former FBI Director James Comey’s decision to release a letter 11 days before the 2016 election announcing the FBI had reopened its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server. The decision by Comey caused Hillary Clinton to lose several points in the polls overnight, Clinton argued. If Comey hadn’t released the letter, “the Electoral College would have flipped. That’s what I think would happen,” Clinton said.

Former President Bill Clinton will discuss North Korea, NAFTA and his new novel in part two of his interview with PBS NewsHour managing editor and anchor Judy Woodruff, which will air Friday.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Former President Bill Clinton and bestselling author James Patterson have teamed up to write a political thriller, “The President Is Missing,” about a president slipping away from his Secret Service detail to save the country from a possible cyber-attack.

    Tonight, in the first of two parts, we begin our conversation on the subject of former FBI Director James Comey.

    There are several credible news reports today that what’s going to come out in the next day or so is a report, an interim report, Department of Justice, from the inspector general being very critical of James Comey as FBI director, that he took steps that he shouldn’t have taken in investigating Secretary Clinton’s e-mails.

    When I interviewed your wife, Secretary Clinton, last fall, she said that James Comey was the proximate cause of her defeat because of the way he handled that investigation.

    Do you agree?

  • President Bill Clinton:

    Oh, absolutely.

    I mean, I agree for factual reasons. I was there looking at the results coming in. And you could see — I mean, when — 11 days before the election, when he had not told us that he was investigating whether President Putin was trying to interfere on behalf of Donald Trump.

    And we now know he talked to one of the major newspapers, who knew it also, out of running a story on that. We know that from them. When he had done that, for him to violate for the second time in an election cycle decades of bipartisan policy and dropping that e-mail thing, it was, like, a five-point drop overnight.

    I have never seen anything like it. And so, no, I don’t think there’s any question about it. I think what it’s going to be, instead of a 2.8 percent race, it would have been somewhere between 2 and 3 more points, and the Electoral College would have flipped. That’s what I would think happened.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Another subject you have been asked about a lot this week, the MeToo movement, it all began with revelations around Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood producer.

    He was a good friend of yours and Mrs. Clinton’s. He gave a lot of money to your campaigns. I guess he also contributed to your defense effort during the impeachment period.

    There were so many accusations by women against him. You never had any sense, never heard anything or saw anything about him that gave you…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • President Bill Clinton:

    I didn’t.

    You know — and it’s funny. I think every time — I have thought about this a lot, but every time we were together, I believe, over those years was either at charity event or a political event, if he was alone, or when his family was around.

    He was, over this period, married twice, and his family was there. And so I didn’t know. No one ever said anything to me.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Sensitive questions.

  • James Patterson:

    And where was the media? I mean, Charlie Rose, I mean, did anybody know about Charlie? I don’t know.

    And also, to me, in terms of just media being the kind of investigators they should be, people have been talking about the casting couch out in Hollywood for 40 years, 50 years, whatever the heck it is.

    Why no investigations? Why does it take this to all of a sudden get, to me, what should have been done 30 years ago? The MeToo thing should have happened a long time ago, a long time ago.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Sensitive question, President Clinton.

    Your relationship with Monica Lewinsky, you have said your impeachment was inappropriate, was wrong. You have also said that you paid a price, that you left office $16 million or so in debt.

    Today, you’re a…

    (CROSSTALK)

  • President Bill Clinton:

    That was the least of it.

    I mean, the price that I paid mostly was the pain I caused to my wife and daughter and feeling terrible about the exposure she had, and the way I let me staff down, the Cabinet. I mean, it was awful.

    But I had to live with this. I had always prided myself on treating people right and trying to help lift people up. And I have spent the last however many years it’s been since I have been gone trying to model that and make a difference and living with what happened, yes.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You paid a price. Do you think Ms. Lewinsky paid a higher price, a harder price?

  • President Bill Clinton:

    Oh, I don’t know. I think she paid quite a price.

    But the price that — that I used to worry about all the time for her — and I was glad to see when she went back to school and made another career, had a television show, gave a really compelling TED Talk, you know, did other things — is that I was afraid that, you know, she would be frozen in the public mind for the rest of her life and what happened.

    And I didn’t want that for her. And I think she’s tried to build a bigger, different, broader life. And I hope she has.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I assume you think that what happened with you was more serious than what happened with Senator — former Senator Al Franken.

    He was driven from office, from the U.S. Senate. So, norms have changed. Do you think that’s a good thing?

  • President Bill Clinton:

    Well, in general, I think it’s a good thing, yes.

    I think it’s a good thing that we should all have higher standards. I think the norms have really changed in terms of, what you can do to somebody against their will, how much you can crowd their space, make them miserable at work.

    You don’t have to physically assault somebody to make them, you know, uncomfortable at work or at home or in their other — just walking around. That, I think, is good.

    I think that — I will be honest — the Franken case, for me, was a difficult case, a hard case. There may be things I don’t know. But I — maybe I’m just an old-fashioned person, but it seemed to me that there were 29 women on “Saturday Night Live” that put out a statement for him, and that the first and most fantastic story was called, I believe, into question.

    Too late to wade into it now. I mean, I think it’s a grievous thing to take away from the people a decision they have made, especially when there is an election coming up again. But it’s done now.

    And I think that all of us should just be focusing on how to do better and how to go forward.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we will have more of my conversation with former President Clinton and author James Patterson tomorrow, when they talk about the book and why they decided to work together.

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