Clintons Face American Viewers Move to Answer Marriage Questions Photo BX1
PORTSMOUTH, N.H. (AP) _ Bill and Hillary Clinton told the American people in an extraordinary television interview Sunday that it has been difficult to sustain a marriage in the public eye, but that rumors of infidelity should not disqualify his run for the presidency.
″We’re not going to stand up and pretend we’re something we’re not,″ Mrs. Clinton said in a ″60 Minutes″ interview. ″We’re proud of our marriage, we’ve kept it going, and we hope that’s what we can convey to the American people.″
Three weeks from the critical New Hampshire primary, the Arkansas governor sought to put to rest any lingering questions about whether he had been faithful to his wife of 16 years - and whether such private family matters are relevant to American voters.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Clinton said his message to voters was, ″We’re putting this in your hands - you get to decide.″
Clinton said he felt the Sunday interviews should put an end to the issues raised in blazing headlines of the supermarket tabloid, the Star.
″It is for me. I’m done,″ Clinton said upon arrival back home in Little Rock.
His effort to deal with the tabloid stories centered around the CBS interview on ″60 Minutes″ that aired right after the Super Bowl. He denied, again, the allegations of Gennifer Flowers, a Little Rock woman who said she had a 12-year affair with the governor.
At the same time, Clinton refused to answer repeated questions about whether he had ever been unfaithful.
″I have acknowledged wrongdoing. I have acknowledged causing pain in my marriage,″ Clinton told CBS. The network released a partial transcript of the interview.
″It is hard when you’re in public life to sustain a marriage, to sustain a family,″ said Mrs. Clinton. ″It’s hard in life in America today to do that.″
Mrs. Clinton sat by his side. Punching the air for emphasis, Mrs. Clinton said, ″You know, I’m not sitting here like some little woman, standing by my man like Tammy Wynette. I’m sitting here because I love him, and I respect him and I honor what he’s been through and what we’ve been through together. And you know, if that’s not good enough for people, then heck - don’t vote for him.″
Pressed by CBS newsman Steve Kroft on whether he had ever had an extramarital affair, Clinton said, ″I’m not prepared tonight to say that any married couple should ever discuss that with anyone but themselves.″ The governor said he wasn’t going to engage in a game of ″gotcha″ with the news media.
The governor questioned whether the rules of modern politics are such that ″if people have problems in their marriage and there are things in their past which they don’t want to discuss ... that they can’t run?″
Clinton acknowledged that he was a ″friendly acquaintance″ of Flowers, who was paid for her steamy interview in the Star. But he insisted her allegation of an affair was false.
Mrs. Clinton added, ″There is a zone of privacy within which every marriage has to work and grow if it’s going to grow or last.″
Clinton said past problems of his marriage were not relevant to the significant issues of the campaign.
″We all need to agree that this guy has told us all we need to know, anybody who’s listening gets the drift of it and get back to the real problems of this country. The problems are about what’s going to happen to families in New Hampshire and the rest of this country in the future, not what happened to mine in past.″
Clinton suggested his past personal life would not be such an issue if he were divorced - as is opponent Bob Kerrey - and said people with past marital troubles should not be penalized for fighting to stay together.
Clinton and his wife told the AP they were confident voters would weigh his campaign on its merits.
″People in this country will see that Hillary and I love each other, we’re committed to our child and to our family and that we have something to offer the country, and if they think it is better than what anyone else is offering, I think they’ll vote for me,″ the governor said, holding his wife’s hand.
″Given a choice between having to be single and president or going home to Hillary and Chelsea (their 11-year-old daughter), it would be an easy choice for me ...″ Clinton said.
″The American people get to decide that. If they decide that someone else would be a better president then I will go back to my wonderful life.″ He told voters, ″We’re willing to take the blows if you’re willing to give us a listen.″
Campaign aides acknowledged Sunday’s interviews could determine whether Clinton’s campaign can survive.
Flowers is scheduled to tell her story at a news conference Monday. Mrs. Clinton predicted Flowers would not back down.
″She has a contract with the Star,″ Mrs. Clinton said. ″I’m sure she has to fulfill it. They bought and paid her.″
Clinton said ″there have been a lot of victims in this process and maybe she (Flowers) is one of them.″
Mrs. Clinton retorted: ″Not any more.″
Both said they would no longer discuss allegations about Flowers, or any future allegations that might surface.
Meanwhile, the fired Arkansas state employee who had accused Clinton of marital infidelity issued a statement saying he would drop his lawsuit against the governor, and apologized to the women he named in it. Larry Nichols did not specifically recant his allegations of extramarital affairs.