On Tuesdays Late Show, Stephen Colbert grilled former president Bill Clinton about a recent Today show appearance that prompted angry headlines. When asked to view his affair with Monica Lewinsky through the lens of the #MeToo movement and whether he should have resigned from office, Clinton—who is currently promoting his new book with James Patterson—became defensive, eventually accusing interviewer Craig Melvin of distorting facts.
“Nobody believes I got out of that for free,” Clinton said in the sit-down with Melvin. “This was litigated 20 years ago. Two-thirds of the American people sided with me . . . You are giving one side and omitting facts.” Some of Clintons arguments in his own favor were debatable at best—and though the former president repeatedly said hed apologized publicly to Lewinsky for what happened, he denied that he owes her a private one.
During his interview with Colbert, Clinton—sitting next to Patterson, as he was on Today—walked back some of his previous remarks. But he still stopped short of saying he owes Lewinsky any new form of restitution.
When Colbert asked if Clinton would like a do-over of his Today response—and whether he understands why critics considered his initial response tone deaf—the former president said, in part, that his remarks were made worse because of how they were edited. “When I saw the interview, I thought that because they had to distill it . . . it looked like I was saying I didnt apologize, and I had no intention to. And I was mad at me.” (As Colbert pointed out, the Today clip did, in fact, show Clinton saying hed apologized.)
“Heres what i want to say,” Clinton continued. “It wasnt my finest hour, but the important thing is—that was a very painful thing that happened 20 years ago, and I apologized to my family, to Monica Lewinsky and her family, to the American people. I meant it then, I meant it now. Ive had to live with the consequences every day since. And I still believe this #MeToo movement is long overdue, necessary, and should be supported. And Id like to think that were all getting better as we go along.”
Patterson, who grew testy during the Today sit-down as well, offered a glowing defense of Clinton, saying that the former president “is just a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful human being.” After Patterson lauded the work Clinton has done through the Clinton Foundation, Colbert pushed back a bit, pressing Clinton to consider how it might have looked when he acted surprised to hear the Lewinsky scandal come up during their Today appearance.
As Colbert put it: “It seems like the spirit of the #MeToo movement is that it doesnt matter how long ago it happened; examples of men who were not held accountable for their behavior, especially men in power, with younger women or people who worked for them, is worthy of being re-adjudicating, or adjudicating for the first time, no matter how long ago it happened.”
“It seemed tone deaf to me because you seemed offended to be asked about this thing, when, in all due respect, sir, your behavior was the most famous example of a powerful man sexually misbehaving in the workplace of my lifetime,” Colbert continued. “So it doesnt seem surprising that the question would be asked.”
“The question had been asked,” Clinton replied. When Colbert asked Clinton to clarify if he meant that it had come up recently, the former president said yes. “And I didnt mind at all,” Clinton continued. “But I didnt like this one, because it started with an assertion that, basically, I had never apologized, as if I never tried to come to grips with it, and as if there had been no attempt to hold me accountable, which anybody who lived through that and knew the facts knew wasnt so.”
Clinton added that a lot of people do not seem to remember how he handled the scandal at the time; instead, he said, they simply saw his frustrated response on Today—“and I seemed to be tone deaf, to put it mildly.” Although Clinton did publicly apologize for his actions during his presidency, as he confirmed in the Today interview, he never offered a further, private apology to Lewinsky—and when asked if he thought he owed her one, he replied, “No, I do not,” saying that he has not spoken with Lewinsky since the incident.
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