WASHINGTON (Reuters)–President Bill Clinton was heading to the vacation haven of Martha’s Vineyard on Tuesday after his televised apology in the Monica Lewinsky affair drew sighs of public relief but failed to silence critics or dispel the legal clouds hanging over his presidency.
Opinion polls showed that Americans–weary of the sex scandal’s sordid details–accepted his admission of a "wrong" relationship with the former White House intern–but also indicated he must work to restore his credibility.
On Tuesday morning–Clinton delayed his departure for a two-week vacation in Massachusetts in order to get on the telephone and mend fences with key Democrats–with his staff and with supporters. He acknowledged in his television address on Monday night that he misled them and the American people about his relationship with Lewinsky.
But Clinton also tried to portray a business-as-usual air–meeting with his national security advisers to discuss the investigation into the Aug. 7 bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
Republicans–whose reaction ranged from grudging acceptance of the president’s apology to outraged calls for his resignation–cautioned that the scandal will not be over until Starr reports to the U.S. Congress on whether he believes Clinton committed perjury or other crimes.
Clinton made his public confession after more than four hours of questioning in the White House by Starr–who is investigating whether the president had a sexual relationshipwith Lewinsky–lied about it under oath in the Paula Jones sexual harassment case–and urged Lewinsky to lie about it.
Monday’s testimony–a first for an American president targeted by a criminal investigation–was viewed by grand jurors via a live video feed to the federal courthouse.
In the court of public opinion – the real audience for Clinton’s later televised remarks – most polls showed that a majority did not want him to resign over the Lewinsky matter nor did they want him impeached by Congress.
Newspaper editorial writers around the United States came down hard on the President after his admission.
The Los Angeles Times said–"Americans have a right to feel disappointed in this president … under the best of conditions–he will be a damaged chief executive–one who demonstrated incredibly bad judgment by having a relationship with a White House intern and then lying to the nation."
The New York Times said Clinton "let slip a vital chance to give a healing report to the nation and to begin the task of rehabilitating his character in the eyes of the public."
It said president’s "blend of minimal confession and contained tantrum" would "not make him a leader who will be missed once he leaves Washington."
The New York Post called the speech "the most mind-boggling presidential address ever delivered … a pack of lies from beginning to end."
The San Francisco Chronicle said "Americans now know the truth. President Clinton lied to them."
But it reminded readers that a "lie about an embarrassing personal indiscretion–in a civil suit that has since been dismissed–is not grounds to remove from office an elected president of the United States."
Europe reacted with dismay and embarrassment on Tuesday to Clinton’s televised confession. But beneath the agonised analysis lurked a lurid fascination with the sexual nature of the U.S. political crisis.
The staid French daily Le Monde carried a front-page cartoon portraying a weeping Clinton apologising to the Statue of Liberty–his hand reassuringly gripping her shoulder.
"Take your hand off me!" Liberty snaps back.
A cartoon in Italy’s best-selling daily Corriere della Sera showed Clinton holding up his hand but looking down his trousers as he said: "I swear on everything I hold most dear."
Corriere said the real tragedy was the confrontation between Clinton and his true self–between the President of the United States and the boy who never knew his father.
But Britain’s Sun tabloid said in an editorial that Clinton had demeaned his high office.
"Maybe it is unrealistic to expect politicians to act like angels. They are human beings like the rest of us after all. One affair–maybe two–might be excusable. But Bill Clinton is a serial philanderer," it said.
"A world that has no respect for the leader of America–has no fear of America either," The Sun said.
Germans on the streets of Bonn expressed distaste at the way Clinton had handled the matter but saw the relationship itself as a private matter.
The French provincial daily Midi Libre focused its anger on the American media and justice system.
"The obscenity of the media-judicial circus is far more disturbing than a presidential womanizer’s lack of sexual control," a Midi Libre editorial said.
The Swedish tabloid Aftonbladet questioned whether the United States could now "wash away the stain" of Monday’s "absurd spectacle."
"(This is) a country where a dual morality–hypocrisy and nonsense have been allowed to dominate politics and the mass media for years–and this doesn’t make it look so reliable as a world policeman," the tabloid said.
French Socialist deputy Jack Lang–reflecting France’s strong distaste for meddling in people’s private lives–volunteered to organise free-thinking artists–intellectuals and politicians into an international support movement for Clinton.
Feelings and desires are no one’s business but one’s own," Lang said in a statement. "Oppressive regimes never hesitate to dive into one’s private life."
But Italy’s right-leaning Il Giornale–accusing the U.S. president of regularly twisting the truth–had some harsh advice for his wife: "Dear Hillary–when the stock markets are shut–you ought to pack your bags."