Former President Clinton came under criticism from members of his own party Monday after the airing of an interview in which he forcefully defended the fact that he has never personally apologized to Monica Lewinsky over his role in the 1998 scandal.
Longtime aides, allies and friends said they were surprised Clinton doubled down in the NBC interview, conducted by Craig Melvin, and defended his actions instead of apologizing in a nod to the “Me Too” movement.
Asked directly by Melvin if he owed Lewinsky an apology, Clinton pointed to the public apology he offered at the time, and replied. “No, I do not.”
“I have never talked to her,” Clinton said. “But I did say publicly on more than one occasion that I was sorry. That’s very different. The apology was public.”
The statement caught a number of Clinton allies off guard and provided fodder for a cable news debate throughout the day. It was a debate where few voices defended the former president, and many said his comments seemed out of tune with the political and social climate of 2018.
“I think it’s safe to say I was a little stunned,” one ally said. “That’s certainly not what I would have expected him to say, particularly at this time with everything going on in the backdrop.”
Joe Lockhart, who served as Clinton’s press secretary, said in an interview with CNN that the remark “highlights the vast difference between what it was like 20 years ago and today.”
“I think in that interview he succumbed to being the victim and feeling victimized and the reason that the president succeeded 20 years ago was he didn’t do it then,” Lockhart told CNN’s Kate Bolduan. “He made it about the country. He did apologize. He did all of those things.”
Lockhart then noted that President TrumpDonald TrumpUkraine's president compares UN to 'a retired superhero' Collins to endorse LePage in Maine governor comeback bid Heller won't say if Biden won election MORE has come under criticism for his treatment of women, and for his reaction to the charges against him.
“I think in that moment you’re seeing Donald Trump a little bit,” he said of Clinton’s remarks, “and I’m not comparing them on any other level beyond the terrible strategy it is to making himself … the issue here and to be victimized. He was not the victim then. Donald Trump is not the victim now.”
Clinton’s comments come after a year of revelations about the way men in Hollywood, the media and politics have abused their power, often with young, powerless women as their victims.
Lewinsky, a 22-year-old intern when her involvement with Clinton began, was trashed in tabloids and in the media when news broke about her sexual relationship with the president. In conversations on Monday, many commentators talked of the public price she paid for the affair. Clinton, who is now a multimillionaire, in the interview with Melvin reflected on how the legal battles emanating from his years in the White House had left him $16 million in debt when he left office.
Clinton said facts about the scandal have been “omitted” in part because of frustration with Trump.
“A lot of the facts have been conveniently omitted to make the story work, I think partly because they’re frustrated that they got all these serious allegations against the current occupant of the Oval Office and his voters don’t seem to care,” he said during the interview, which was intended to promote “The President is Missing,” a thriller he co-authored with James Patterson.
Democrats said Clinton’s handling of the questions could hurt his legacy.
“I think Bill ClintonWilliam (Bill) Jefferson ClintonVirginia governor's race enters new phase as early voting begins Business coalition aims to provide jobs to Afghan refugees Biden nominates ex-State Department official as Export-Import Bank leader MORE hurt Bill Clinton,” Patti Solis Doyle, who served as campaign manager to Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonHeller won't say if Biden won election Whitmer trailing GOP challenger by 6 points in Michigan governor race: poll GOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 MORE in 2008, said of the interview.
One longtime aide to Hillary Clinton called Clinton’s remarks “insane.”
“I’m glad I’m not working for him,” the aide said.
In recent months, Clinton has come under scrutiny by Democrats including Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Gillibrand11 senators urge House to pass .5T package before infrastructure bill Hochul tells Facebook to 'clean up the act' on abortion misinformation after Texas law Democratic senators request probe into Amazon's treatment of pregnant employees MORE (N.Y.) for his behavior in office with women.
In December, Gillibrand said if the Lewinsky scandal had happened today, Clinton would be forced to resign, a statement that angered some in Clinton World.
Last week, when he was asked about Gillibrand’s sentiment, Clinton shot back, “You know, she’s living in a different context. And she did it for different reasons. So, I — but I just disagree with her.”
During the interview, Patterson sought to defend Clinton.
“It’s 20 years ago, come on,” Patterson said. “Let’s talk about JFK. Let’s talk about, you know, LBJ. Stop already.
“You think President Kennedy should resign,” a seemingly agitated Clinton asked Craig Melvin. “Do you believe President Johnson should resign? Someone should ask you these questions because of the way you formulate the questions.”
Clinton added, “I dealt with it 20 years ago, plus, and the American people, two-thirds of them stayed with me. That’s all I have to say to you.”