SOUTH BARRINGTON, Ill., Aug. 11 (AP) -- In his most detailed, candid publicreflection on the Monica Lewinsky scandal, President Clinton said he hadmade a "terrible mistake" and that Al Gore should not be blamed for it. "He doesn't get enough credit for what we did together that is good. Andsurely no fair-minded person would blame him for any mistake that I made,"Clinton said of the vice president in an appearance before 4,500 ministersat a conference in suburban Chicago. Clinton's lengthy confessional on Thursday came during a nearly 90-minutequestion-and-answer session with an evangelical minister Clinton hasconsulted since 1992. And it was made just days before Gore, who is tryingto distance himself from any voter distaste for Clinton's actions in the sexscandal, becomes the Democratic presidential nominee. Gore's choice of a running mate this week is an implicit part of thateffort. In Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Gore has on his ticket the Democrat whofirst rebuked Clinton from the Senate floor and an observant Jew who servesas a model of rectitude in the Senate. White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said Clinton's speech to the Willow CreekAssociation was scheduled six months ago. The discussion with group leader,the Rev. Bill Hybels, was not supposed to focus on the Lewinsky matter, butconservative members insisted Hybels bring it up, Lockhart said. In recent days, Hybels told Clinton to expect Lewinsky questions, Lockhartsaid. Clinton will address the Democratic National Convention on Monday in LosAngeles, and there has been speculation that he would use the speech toformally absolve Gore for the Lewinsky scandal of two years ago that led toClinton's impeachment in the House and acquittal in a Senate trial.Thursday's blunt confessional may serve that purpose. "I'm now in the second year of a process of trying to totally rebuild mylife from a terrible mistake I made," Clinton said without detailing themistake or mentioning Lewinsky, the former White House intern, by name. "I had to come to terms with a lot of things about the fundamentalimportance of character and integrity," Clinton said. Although Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush has treadedlightly on the Lewinsky matter, he gets applause for his stump speechpromise to "restore decency and integrity to the Oval Office." In his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention last week,vice presidential nominee Dick Cheney took that a step further, saying:"Mr. Gore will try to separate himself from his leader's shadow. Butsomehow, we will never see one without thinking of the other."
Asked about the political agenda of Clinton's confessional, Cliff May,communications director for the Republican National Committee, said hethought Clinton was confusing the issues on purpose. "Clinton's personal foibles and failings have nothing to do with the factthat Al Gore went to a Buddhist temple to raise money and that his closestassociates and fund-raisers were convicted of multiple felonies in regard tothat event," May said. The president said he has worked hard to rebuild trust within his family andamong his staff. "It took a lot, a lot of effort that I've never talked about, and probablynever will, because I don't really think it's anybody else's concern,"Clinton said. He also said he feels much more at peace, and does not dwell on the scandal."I wake up everyday, no matter what anybody says or what goes wrong orwhatever, with this overwhelming sense of gratitude," Clinton said."Because it may be that if I hadn't been knocked down in the way I was andforced to come to grips with what I've done, and the consequences of it, insuch an awful way, I might not never ever had to really deal with it 100percent."On other topics, Clinton counted the killing of U.S. forces in Somalia andthe Oklahoma City bombing as dark moments in his two-term tenure, and saidthe decision to send U.S. warplanes to Kosovo last year was among thetoughest calls he made. High points include passage of his hard-fought economic plan in 1993,creation of the AmeriCorps program and the pursuit of peace in NorthernIreland, Clinton said.
"I would like to be remembered as the president that led America from theindustrial era into the information age, into a new global society thatreaffirmed the importance of our mutual responsibility to one another ...and that I was a force for peace and freedom and decency in the world, thattried to bring people together instead of drive people apart."