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Democrat scolds Clinton, calls for ‘public rebuke’

WASHINGTON (BP)–Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman, speaking on the U.S. Senate floor Sept. 3, denounced President Clinton’s behavior with a White House intern and said the country’s leader should receive a “public rebuke.”
Lieberman called Clinton’s sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky “immoral” and said his actions have had a negative impact “on our culture, on our character and on our children.”
The president told reporters Sept. 4 in Ireland he basically agreed with what the Connecticut senator said, adding, “I’m very sorry about it,” according to an Associated Press article on The Washington Post’s Internet site.
Lieberman’s speech came on the same day The Post reported more problems for the president. In its Sept. 3 issue, The Post reported:
— The Justice Department has begun a new probe of whether Clinton violated campaign financing laws in the 1996 election.
— The president testified to the grand jury he tried to help Lewinsky in her search for a job, the first time he has acknowledged such a direct attempt.
Lieberman, who was first elected in 1988, is more of a centrist than many of his liberal Democratic colleagues. He has spoken frequently against the decline of the popular culture, often in tandem with Republican conservative William Bennett. Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew, is cochairman with Republican Sen. Dan Coats of the Center for Jewish and Christian Values, a conservative Washington public-policy organization.
In his speech, Lieberman said his “feelings of disappointment and anger have not dissipated” since Clinton’s Aug. 17 admission of an improper relationship with Lewinsky and of having “misled” the public about it.
Clinton’s behavior with an employee in the White House “is not just inappropriate. It is immoral,” Lieberman said, according to excerpts of a transcript reprinted by The Post. “And it is harmful, for it sends a message of what is acceptable behavior to the larger American family — particularly to our children — which is as influential as the negative messages communicated by the entertainment culture.”
Liberman said he disagrees with Clinton’s contention in his Aug. 17 speech that his behavior is “nobody’s business” but his family’s “and that even presidents have privates lives.”
“Whether he or we think it fair or not, the reality is in 1998 that a president’s private life is public,” the senator said.
“The president is a role model and, because of his prominence in the moral authority that emanates from his office, sets standards of behavior for the people he serves.”
Clinton’s behavior with Lewinsky has “compromised his moral authority,” Lieberman said.
The senator stopped short of calling for a resolution of censure of the president, saying it was premature until the report of Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr and the White House’s response has been received. He also said calls for resignation and impeachment are “unjust and unwise” at this time.
While some in the last three weeks have called for censure or Clinton’s removal from office, a “lesser chorus implores us to move on and get this matter behind us,” Lieberman said. Some in the latter group have been religious leaders.
“Appealing as that latter option may be to many people who are understandably weary of this crisis, the transgressions the president has admitted to are too consequential for us to walk away and leave the impression for our children today and for our posterity tomorrow that what he acknowledges he did within the White House is acceptable behavior for our nation’s leader,” Lieberman said. “On the contrary, as I have said, it is wrong and unacceptable and should be followed by some measure of public rebuke and accountability.”
Democratic Sens. Daniel Moynihan of New York and Bob Kerrey of Nebraska endorsed Lieberman’s speech on the Senate floor. Two female congressional members from Clinton’s party — Rep. Marcy Kaptur of Ohio and Sen. Patty Murray of Washington — also have criticized the president in recent days, according to news reports.
When questioned by a reporter during his trip to Ireland, Clinton said he “can’t disagree with anyone else who wants to be critical of what I’ve already acknowledged was indefensible.”
There is nothing Lieberman or anyone else “could say in a personally critical way that I don’t imagine that I disagree with, since I have said it myself to myself … and I’m very sorry about it, but there’s nothing else I could say.”
It was Clinton’s first time to use the word “sorry” about the Lewinsky scandal and his ensuing cover-up. It came only two days after the president said at a news conference in Russia he had “asked to be forgiven,” even though he also has not used that phrase with the American people.
At a news conference with Russian President Boris Yeltsin Sept. 2 in Moscow, Clinton was asked if he thought he needed to offer an apology and if he believed his Aug. 17 speech had the proper tone.
“I read it the other day again, and I thought it was clear that I was expressing my profound regret to all who were hurt and to all who were involved, and my desire not to see any more people hurt by this process and caught up in it,” Clinton responded.
To an earlier question about his admission, the president said, “I have acknowledged that I made a mistake, said that I regretted it, asked to be forgiven, spent a lot of very valuable time with my family in the last couple of weeks and said I was going back to work.”
At a briefing later in the day, reporters asked White House press secretary Mike McCurry when Clinton asked for forgiveness and when he expressed regret to Lewinsky. McCurry refused to answer.
On Aug. 28, Clinton also talked to civil rights leaders about asking for forgiveness. In comments on the commemoration of the 35th anniversary of the march on Washington led by Martin Luther King Jr., the president said, “All of you know, I’m having to become quite an expert in this business of asking for forgiveness. It gets a little easier the more you do it. And if you have a family, an administration, a Congress and a whole country to ask … you’re going to get a lot of practice.”
Clinton also said it is important “we are able to forgive those we believe have wronged us, even as we ask for forgiveness from people we have wronged.”