U.S. President Bill Clinton cut a deal on his last full day in office on Friday to escape criminal indictment in the Monica Lewinsky scandal, admitting he gave “evasive and misleading” testimony about the sexual affair that nearly cost him the presidency.
In return, independent prosecutor Robert Ray concluded his investigation of whether Clinton committed perjury in the Lewinsky case and dropped any plans to indict him after Clinton leaves office on Saturday.
As part of the deal Clinton accepted a five-year suspension of his license to practice law in Arkansas and paid a US$25,000 fine.
Clinton, who owes several million dollars in legal fees, agreed not to seek reimbursement that he might otherwise be entitled to under the Independent Counsel Act.
According to a copy of the agreement reached with Ray, Clinton admitted he “knowingly gave evasive and misleading answers” about his relationship with Lewinsky in sworn testimony about her in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case in early 1998. “I tried to walk a fine line between acting lawfully and testifying falsely, but I now recognize that I did not fully accomplish this goal and that certain of my responses to questions about Ms. Lewinsky were false,” Clinton said in a statement read to reporters by his spokesman.
Ray said, “President Clinton has acknowledged responsibility for his actions … The nation’s interests have been served and therefore I decline prosecution.”
Clinton appeared to accept blame grudgingly. In his statement, he said he had “taken every step I can to end this matter.” He said he settled the Jones case out of court — paying her US$850,000 — “even after it was dismissed as being completely without legal and factual merit.”
And Clinton lawyer David Kendall appeared before reporters outside the White House to insist Clinton was not admitting to having lied, just having made evasive and misleading statements.
“He did not lie, we have not admitted he lied, and he does not do so today,” Kendall said.
Kendall, in a letter to Ray released by the White House, complained that the five-year suspension of Clinton’s legal license was “far harsher than appropriate.”
The move removed a major legal cloud hanging over Clinton as he leaves office after eight years, but served to remind Americans why they held him in low personal regard even while giving him high job approval ratings of about 65 percent.
“Hopefully this will give America the chance to put this particular episode behind them and then move on,” said White House spokesman Jake Siewert.
But the controversy lived on. Linda Tripp, whose recordings of her conversations with Lewinsky fueled the scandal, was dismissed from her US$98,744 Pentagon job. The White House said the firing was routine procedure for political appointees at the end of an administration after she refused to submit the required resignation.
But her lawyer vowed to fight the dismissal in court.
The developments came as Clinton was considering making a number of last minute presidential pardons, including possible pardons for Whitewater scandal figures Susan McDougal and Webster Hubbell.
McDougal was convicted in connection with an improper loan to pay the debts of the Whitewater Development Co., the Arkansas land company in which Clinton and his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, were partners.
McDougal spent 21 months in jail for refusing to testify about Clinton to then-independent counsel Kenneth Starr.
Hubbell, a former top Justice Department official and longtime friend of Clinton, was convicted of defrauding his Little Rock law firm, where he was a partner with Mrs. Clinton.
It was Clinton’s testimony in the Jones case, in which he denied sexual relations with Lewinsky, that triggered the scandal which led to his impeachment by the House of Representatives in December 1998.
The Senate acquitted him in February 1999 but Ray has been leading an investigation into whether Clinton committed perjury and was considering an indictment of him after he leaves office.
In his statement Clinton said he hoped this was the end of the matter and tried to explain how he came to make misleading statements in the Jones case.
“I have apologized for my conduct and I have done my best to atone for it with my family, my administration and the American people. I have paid a high price for it, which I accept because it caused so much pain to so many people. I hope my actions today will help bring closure and finality to the matters.”