Former US president Bill Clinton has admitted his combative response earlier this week to questions about Monica Lewinsky was not his “finest hour”.
“When I saw the interview … it looked like I was saying that I didn’t apologise and I had no intention to,” Mr Clinton said on Wednesday.
“And I was mad at me – not for the first time.”
He added: “It wasn’t my finest hour but the important thing is, that was a very painful thing that happened 20 years ago and I apologised to my family, to Monica Lewinsky and her family, to the American people.
“I meant it then. I meant it now.”
— The Late Show (@colbertlateshow) June 5, 2018
It was a different answer from the testy one he gave two days earlier in an interview with NBC, where he dismissed suggestions he should have resigned as president over his sexual relationship with the White House intern, and appeared to say he did not owe a private apology to Ms Lewinsky.
“I don’t think it would be an issue because people would be using the facts instead of the imagined facts. If the facts were the same today, I wouldn’t [step down],” Clinton had said.
“I think I did the right thing. The American people, two-thirds of them stayed with me. And I’ve tried to do a good job since then, and with my life and with my work. That’s all I have to say.”
Crucially, that was the first time he had commented on the affair since the beginning of the ‘Me Too’ movement. Many viewers thought his response was tone deaf.
There was some confusion over whether Mr Clinton had refused to apologise to Ms Lewinsky, or whether he had simply stumbled over his answer.
“Do you owe her an apology?” the journalist had asked.
“No. I do not – I have never talked to her. But I did say publicly on more than one occasion that I was sorry. That’s very different. The apology was public.”
Monica Lewinsky appeared to weigh in. “Grateful to the myriad people who have helped me evolve and gain perspective in the past 20 years,” she wrote on Twitter soon after the original program aired.
Clearly responding to the backlash, Mr Clinton said in the subsequent interview two days later that the ‘Me Too’ movement was way overdue and he supported it.
“I’ve had to live with the consequences every day since and I still believe this ‘Me Too’ movement is long overdue, necessary, and should be supported,” he told The Late Show on Wednesday.
When asked if he realised why some Americans were angered by his earlier response, the former president agreed, “It wasn’t my finest hour.”
Mr Clinton was impeached in 1998 for lying to investigators about the relationship. He was eventually acquitted and remained in office.
In an essay she wrote for Vanity Fair earlier this year, Ms Lewinsky said the ‘Me Too’ movement had prompted her to re-evaluate her relationship with Mr Clinton and she now believed it was a “gross abuse of power”.
“As I find myself reflecting on what happened, I’ve come to understand how my trauma has been, in a way, a microcosm of a larger, national one,” she wrote.
“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.”