President sidesteps questions on intern

Associated Press Published:

WASHINGTON _ Facing embarrassing questions about his private life, President Clinton refused to explain his relationship with Monica Lewinsky but gave an unequivocal answer Friday about whether he might resign. "Never," Clinton said resolutely.

"I would never walk away from the people of this country and the trust they've placed in me," the president said, while acknowledging the pain of recent weeks to himself and his family.

For 44 minutes, the president stood with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in the elegant East Room for a news conference that White House officials knew would be focused on allegations that he had sex with Lewinsky and urged her to lie about it.

Indeed, 10 of the 16 reporters who were called upon asked questions related to the controversy. In an expectant atmosphere, television networks broke into normal programming to carry it live. The president avoided calling on television reporters; White House officials have angrily complained about unfounded TV reports.

CNN correspondent Wolf Blitzer commented that Ms. Lewinsky's "life has been changed forever" and asked the president: "I wonder how you feel about that and what, if anything, you'd like to say to Monica Lewinsky at this minute."

Clinton paused for several moments _ as if pondering a comment to the person he recently referred to as "that woman."

"That's good," Clinton said with a chuckle to the reporter. "That's good. But at this minute, I am going to stick with my position of not commenting."

In a veiled slap at Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr, Clinton said he was abiding by the rules of the Lewinsky investigation but suggested "someone else is leaking unlawfully out of the grand jury proceeding." He also said he had not changed his story about denying a 12-year affair with Gennifer Flowers.

While refusing to break new ground, the president handled questions with aplomb, showing no sign of discomfort or tension. Blair offered warm testimonials about Clinton and said voters care more about issues such as jobs, school, crimes and health services than politicians' private lives.

Clinton denied trying to influence his secretary's recollections in the Lewinsky matter. The secretary, Bettie Currie, also denied that the president tried to coach her. Currie was at her desk Friday, officials said, getting sympathetic hugs after being in the media spotlight about her grand jury appearance.

Clinton associated himself with his wife's assertion that he had been targeted by a "right-wing conspiracy" that includes Starr. "Now, you know I've known her a long time, the first lady, and she's very smart," the president said. "And she's hardly ever wrong about anything."

The president declined to discuss his relationship with Ms. Lewinsky in any terms. In the past, he has denied any sexual relationship. On Friday, he said, "I never asked anybody to do anything but tell the truth."

He reversed himself from two weeks ago when he said there were legitimate questions that needed answers and that he wanted to address them sooner rather than later. Now, Clinton said, his answers will have to await the end of Starr's investigation.

"I just think as long as it is going on, I should not comment on a specific question," the president said, "because there's one, then there's another, then there's another." He said it was better to let the investigation take its course and for him to do his job.

Nervous laughter arose in the room when a reporter asked at what point the questions would become so painful for Clinton and his family that he would consider resigning.

"Never," the president said. His voice turned husky as he went on to say that the American people have learned two or three things about him since "the first time this kind of effort was made against me."

"I think they know that I care very much about them, that I care about ordinary people whose voices aren't often heard here. And I think they know I have worked very, very hard for them," Clinton said. Further, he said, Americans recognize that the ideas he fought for had the right consequences.

"And I'm just going to keep showing up for work," Clinton said. He said that "the pain threshold, at least for our side, being in public life has been raised."

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