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 TIME on politics Congressional Quarterly CNN/AllPolitics CNN/AllPolitics - Storypage, with TIME and Congressional Quarterly
Investigating The President

Clinton apologizes to Cabinet

WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, Sept. 11) -- President Bill Clinton apologized to his Cabinet and Senate Democrats in painful, private meetings Thursday that produced blunt confrontations about how his behavior hurt his standing with female supporters and Congress.

A Cabinet member told CNN the meeting was "extremely emotional" and said at one point the president cried as he pleaded for forgiveness, asking Cabinet members if they could still trust him.

The source says Clinton also spoke of a "rage within him he could not contain." The source did not elaborate on what the president's "rage" comment may have meant.

Transporation Secretary
Rodney Slater

Leaving an extraordinary hour-long session in the president's private quarters, Energy Secretary Bill Richardson told reporters, "He was hurting. He apologized. And we've got to move on."

Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater, borrowing from the book of Galatians, said he told Clinton that "in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart."

"This is a president who has not lost heart," Slater said. "This is a Cabinet ... that has not lost heart. And that will carry us through this."

'We hurt because we're disappointed'

But there were signs that Clinton's relationship with his Cabinet, particularly some female members, suffered when he lied to the top advisers about his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

Health and Human Services
Secretary Donna Shalala

Aida Alvarez, head of the Small Business Administration, and Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala were particularly vocal about their disappointment with Clinton, said participants in the meeting, speaking on condition of anonymity.

"How could you not see how important you were to us?" Alvarez was quoted as saying. One of the participants, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Alvarez and Shalala told Clinton that women feel a special bond with him because of his policies, but they are especially sympathetic toward his wife and daughter.

"We want you to know that we hurt because we're disappointed," Alvarez said.

Shalala listened to Clinton apologize, ask for forgiveness and promise to improve as a person. "To say it is one thing," she was quoted as saying, "to demonstrate it is another."

The exchanges were described as frank, but not hostile, and the Cabinet members all expressed support of Clinton.

Clinton and the Cabinet referred frequently to the Bible, and discussed the value placed on forgiving and forgiveness in the Lord's Prayer. Confronted on his need to forgive his enemies, Clinton said, "I do have to forgive as well," according to one participant.

'A sad and difficult time'

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright "made clear this is a sad and difficult time," said spokesman James Rubin afterward. He said she maintains her confidence in Clinton.

"She believes the president's actions were wrong and his statements were misleading, but the president has apologized and she accepts his apology," Rubin said.

When the allegations against Clinton first surfaced in January, Albright stood before television cameras in the White House driveway with Shalala and Commerce Secretary Bill Daley and said they believed the charges were false -- based on what Clinton had just told them.

Agriculture Secretary
Dan Glickman

Daley had a previous commitment and did not attend the meeting, but two administration officials speaking on condition of anonymity said he is upset with Clinton.

"Nobody was happy with the meeting," Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman told reporters after Thursday's session. "Nobody's coming out of there with anything in their hearts except that the president has extreme anguish about this and is going to work to ensure that his life is going to be lived in a way that this is not repeated, ever."

Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin told NBC Nightly News that Clinton acknowledged making "terrible mistakes" and expressed deep regret. He said he did not feel that Clinton personally betrayed him. "I don't think anybody feels more badly about it than he does," Rubin said.


Friday September 11, 1998

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