Former President Bill Clinton never apologized privately to Monica Lewinsky, and he doesn’t think he should have resigned for having an affair with an intern — even as the #MeToo movement has put a bigger spotlight on sexual harassment and power dynamics.
On the Today show on Monday, where Clinton was promoting his new thriller co-written with James Patterson, the former president chafed against questions about how he handled the affair, maintaining that he had made the right decision to stay in office and ultimately admitting that he had never apologized to her directly about the scandal.
“I have never talked to her, but I did say publicly on more than one occasion that I was sorry,” he said, in the interview. “That’s very different. The apology was public.”
Clinton became defensive as he fielded questions about the affair and whether his perspective on it had changed as the #MeToo movement continues to unfold. He maintained that it had not.
“If the facts were the same today, I wouldn’t ... I did the right thing,” he said, when pressed about whether he would resign from the presidency had the events taken place today.
Lewinsky published an essay in Vanity Fair this past spring detailing how her perspective on the scandal had shifted. “He was my boss. He was the most powerful man on the planet. He was 27 years my senior, with enough life experience to know better,” she wrote.
Clinton seemed to suggest that his perspective hadn’t. “I felt terrible then. And I came to grips with it,” he said.
He also said that the broader framing of the scandal has failed to acknowledge his efforts to promote gender equality and added that the #MeToo movement was “way overdue.” “I had a sexual harassment policy when I was governor in the ’80s. I had two women chiefs of staff when I was governor,” he said. “I’ve had nothing but women leaders in my office since I left. You are giving one side and omitting facts.”
His prickly response to the questions about his behavior as president underscores an ongoing challenge as Democrats and Republicans grapple with how to address the issue of sexual misconduct: Both parties say they aim to do better moving forward, but doing so will likely mean having to reckon with a messy past.