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CNN Today

The Clinton Presidency: Scandals and Legacy

Aired January 17, 2001 - 1:34 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: While polls show he's been a popular president, William Jefferson Clinton is leaving office under a cloud, as only the second U.S. chief executive to be impeached.

CNN senior White House correspondent John King continues his series on the Clinton legacy with a look at the scandals and investigations that plagued this presidency.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

JOHN KING, CNN SENIOR WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: It was the signature moment of a scandal, and it turns out, a telling snapshot of the nation's 42nd president.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I did not have sexual relations with that woman Miss Lewinsky.

KING: And it turns out, a telling snapshot of the nation's 42nd president. Faced with a choice between the truth and survival, the truth would have to wait.

He would deny it to his wife, to his staff, to his Cabinet, to the Democrats who stood by him, and to his friends summoned to testify under oath.

VERNON JORDAN: I suspect that I will have to answer the same questions over and over and over again, and I am quite prepared to do that.

KING: Had he confessed in those early days, most advisers believe the president would have had no choice but to resign.

(CROSSTALK)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If you have nothing to hide, why are you hiding?

KING: Friends insist it wasn't just about holding onto power.

DALE BUMPERS (D), FORMER ARKANSAS SENATOR: He probably still thought that he could mislead people to the point that would never be revealed, and certainly, he would give his life rather than to have embarrassed his wife and daughter over that affair.

KING: The confession would come seven months after Monica Lewinsky became a household name.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Monica, look over here, Monica.

KING: First under oath...

CLINTON: I do.

KING: ... then to the nation.

CLINTON: Indeed, I did have a relationship with Ms. Lewinsky that was not appropriate.

KING: But by then, the political terrain was very different. The drama had more than one controversial figure, more than one target for the frustration, anger and disbelief.

LINDA TRIPP: I'm you, I'm just like you.

KING: He could say sorry now and survive.

CLINTON: I don't think there is a fancy way to say that I have sinned. It is important to me that everybody who has been hurt know that the sorrow I feel is genuine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Did you come to those conclusions before or after...

KING: Unfamiliar territory for the country, but not for the man at the center of the storm. Flashback to New Hampshire, early 1992. Acknowledging a relationship with Gennifer Flowers likely would have doomed his campaign, so then-Governor Clinton denied it.

CLINTON: It isn't a true story. I read the article. It's not true.

KING: Six years later, in his testimony in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case, Mr. Clinton acknowledged he did have a relationship with flowers.

CLINTON: Save social security first.

KING: Two state of the union addresses delivered under the cloud of scandal. One guaranteed Clinton legacy is resilience.

JOHN PODESTA, WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I thought, what an enormously talented -- the guy, what spine this guy has to get up there and do that, and under those circumstances. But he knew who he was working for.

KING: Some of his ideas were embraced by the Congress. Many others rejected those contentious final three years. Another legacy of the Clinton impeachment is a debate about what might have been.

RON KAUFFMAN, REPUBLICAN CONSULTANT: Tragic failure -- man of great talent, obviously very wise on the policy areas, obviously an enormous political talent, but personally flawed, much like, unfortunately, President Nixon. In that personal inside flaws destroyed what could have been perhaps a very solid presidency.

KING: It was a presidency of so many what ifs. In the debate over the Lewinsky scandal and impeachment, two stand out. What if the president, as some aides argued, had settled the Paula Jones suit early on? If he had, this would have never happened.

CLINTON: I have never had sexual relations with Monica Lewinsky. I've never had an affair with her.

KING: And what became the Lewinsky investigation was a spin-off of Starr's Whitewater investigation. In the end, there were no charges against the Clintons for their financial dealings back in Arkansas. So what if, back in 1993, the Clintons had listened to top advisers and released all their Whitewater records?

DAVID GERGEN, FORMER CLINTON ADVISER: I think you never would have had a special prosecutor, and I think you never would have had Ken Starr, never would have had Monica Lewinsky, and history would have been so different.

KING: Clinton allies say history will record this as a sad chapter, not just for the president, but also for the Congress.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, too.

KING: And the prosecutor who spent more than $50 million in pursuit of the president.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Just a moment, sir?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He had one case and had the United States treasury at his back to try it, do the best he could, to find whatever he could find.

KING: The independent council investigation continues, a decision approaching on whether to seek an indictment against Mr. Clinton. So the debate will continue, too.

But history will forever record this: William Jefferson Clinton was the second president in U.S. history to be impeached.

John King, CNN, the White House.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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