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#tbt: Roll Call Interviews Bill Clinton as Lewinsky Scandal Breaks

In a photo printed on the front page of Roll Call on Jan. 29, 1998, Clinton delivers his State of the Union address. (Rebecca Roth/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

As the Monica Lewinsky scandal unfolded on Jan. 21, 1998, President Bill Clinton went ahead that afternoon with three scheduled interviews with PBS, NPR and Roll Call, which were originally set up to boost interest in his upcoming State of the Union address.

Below is the article published above the fold in Roll Call the next day, Jan. 22.

Clinton: Relationship Was ‘Not Sexual’

Intern Allegations Won’t Lead to Impeachment, President Tells Roll Call

By Ed Henry and Morton Kondracke

President Clinton yesterday denied that he had a sexual relationship with a former White House intern in an exclusive print interview with Roll Call.

“The relationship was not sexual,” Clinton said in a telephone interview yesterday afternoon. “And I know what you mean, and the answer is no.”

Clinton said that he did not ask the intern, Monica Lewinsky, “not to tell the truth” about their relationship.

When asked whether the investigation will ultimately lead to his impeachment, Clinton replied, “Well, I don’t believe it will. I’m going to cooperate with this investigation. I’ve made it very clear that the allegations are not true.”

Independent counsel Kenneth Starr reportedly is investigating whether Clinton and his close friend, Vernon Jordan, urged Lewinsky to lie about whether or not she had a sexual affair with the President. Starr is investigating allegations of suborning perjury, false statements, and obstruction of justice.

House Judiciary Chairman Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), whose committee would initiate the impeachment proceedings, said yesterday if Starr verifies the authenticity of these charges, “impeachment might very well be an option.”

But the President insisted to Roll Call that he did not try to cover up anything. “I did not ask anyone not to tell the truth and I’ll cooperate,” Clinton said. “So I think that there will be a lot of stirring and a lot of speculation about how all this was done and what it portends. You all will handle this as you will. I’m just going back to work.”

When asked whether the Lewinsky scandal would overshadow his State of the Union speech next Tuesday, Clinton said, “Well, I hope not. But you guys will have to make that decision. The press will make that decision.”

As for whether it will cloud the President’s ability to work with Congress, Clinton said, “That will be up to them. I don’t think so. It’s an election year — they’ll want to get some things done, too. We’ve got a lot to do.”

Last week, the White House agreed to give Roll Call an Oval Office interview on Wednesday afternoon in order to discuss the state of Clinton’s relationship with Congress as he prepares for his sixth State of the Union address. But on Tuesday evening, with the Lewinsky story set to break the next morning, a White House official called to say that the interview would have to be conducted over the telephone because of a scheduling conflict.

Despite the latest controversy, Clinton went forward with the phone interview, which began at 4:20 p.m. yesterday and lasted for 15 minutes. On Monday, Roll Call will publish the President’s exclusive comments on his Congressional agenda and his relationship with individual leaders, such as House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.).

Earlier yesterday, Clinton had released an official statement saying that he did not have an “improper relationship” with Lewinsky.

When pressed to characterize the nature of the relationship, Clinton told Roll Call, “Let me say, the relationship is not improper and I think that’s important enough to say. But because the investigation is going on, and because I don’t know what is out — what’s going to be asked of me, I think I need to cooperate [and] answer the questions. But I think it’s important for me to make it clear what is not. And then, at the appropriate time, I’ll try to answer what is.”

Throughout the day, the White House tried to portray an image of business as usual for the Administration. Clinton noted that he had been playing during the day with Buddy, his new chocolate Labrador, who could be heard barking periodically during the interview with Roll Call.

But Clinton already has some Congressional Republicans nipping at his heels over the latest revelations. Rep. Bob Barr (R-Ga.), who has been calling for Clinton’s impeachment since November, fired off an explosive press release.

“For those in the House who have been waiting for a smoking gun, both barrels are smoking,” Barr said. “These latest allegations of witness tampering, obstructions of justice, perjury, and improper moral behavior should not be dismissed out of hand as the President would have us do. Rather, they should be investigated by the Judiciary Committee.”

Barr urged the House to immediately take up an inquiry of impeachment, which would lead to proceedings of the House Judiciary Committee’s investigation of the allegations.

Most Republican leaders, however, were reluctant to talk about the latest allegations against Clinton. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.) and Majority Leader Trent Lott (Miss.) both refused to comment on the matter.

Even House Government Reform and Oversight Chairman Dan Burton (R-Ind.), a constant critic of Clinton who reopened his campaign finance hearings yesterday, refused to comment on the sexual allegations.

On the Democratic side, Gephardt and Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (S.D.) also refused to comment.

Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.) said in a brief interview, “It’s kind of sad that as we embark on this New Year that this is what we’ll be talking about.”

Hyde, meanwhile, said that if the allegations are proven true, Congress could begin the impeachment process.

“When we get a report from the independent counsel it would seem to me that if they verify the authenticity of the charges, impeachment might very well be an option,” Hyde said. “He is not immune from impeachment if … these charges are true.”

In November, Barr filed an inquiry of impeachment against Clinton, which is a parliamentary rarity. The inquiry must by approved by a majority of the House Rules Committee and the full House before it takes effect; Barr, however, only has about 20 co-sponsors.

Prior to introducing his inquiry, Barr had urged Hyde to start impeachment hearings, but the respected, cautious chairman said it was too early.

Since Watergate, three impeachment resolutions have been introduced and all of them died a quick death. The late Rep. Ted Weiss (D-N.Y.) filed one against Ronald Reagan on March 19, 1984, for ordering the 1983 invasion of Granada and preventing news coverage of the military strike.

In 1987, Rep. Henry Gonzalez (D-Texas) tried to impeach both Reagan and George Bush in protest of the Iran-Contra sandal [sic]. Then in 1991, he filed one against Bush over the Persian Gulf War.

Jim VandeHei and Francesca Contiguglia contributed to this report.

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