A New Chapter On Clinton's Monitor Meeting

DAVID MARANISS'S carefully researched new biography on Bill Clinton - ``First in His Class'' - confirms what I have long suspected: That Clinton was using the Monitor breakfast he attended in September 1991 to try to put an end to questions about his marital fidelity.

This was shortly before Clinton became an announced presidential candidate and well before the voters even knew about his alleged peccadilloes.

According to Mr. Maraniss, who interviewed nearly 400 of Clinton's closest associates, friends, and relatives, Hillary Clinton was pressing for a way for her husband to put this ``marital problem'' behind him before the campaign got under way.

A top aide told her, it seems, that the answer was to ``admit it early.'' And then, it was decided that his first appearance at a Monitor breakfast would be the right forum in which to try to clear the air on the matter.

It was some time before the question about extramarital affairs came up. Clinton laughed and quipped: ``I thought you would never ask.'' Then he looked down at his wife, and while she nodded her head affirmatively he said: ``What you need to know about Hillary and me is that we've been together nearly 20 years. It has not been perfect or free from problems, but we're committed to our marriage and its obligations - to our child and to each other. We love each other very much.''

But Clinton at our breakfast (and not mentioned in the Maraniss book) said more than he had been counseled to say. He made a reference to ``all those rumors about me during my race for governor that were sparked by a disgruntled state employee who was working for my opponents. These were false and I said so at the time.''

So there was more than an admission: Clinton was going beyond this by calling some of the charges false. This hadn't been part of the plan.

Thus, instead of really dealing with his problem at the breakfast Mr. Clinton stirred up interest in this topic in the Washington press. ``What's all this about state troopers?'' I heard reporters asking as they talked to others on departing the breakfast.

There probably was no way to stop the ``women stories.'' Not too long afterward the Gennifer Flowers allegations were made; Ms. Flowers even supplied a tape that she alleged contained her conversations with Clinton. Clinton then denied that it was his voice but also, bafflingly, apologized for some sharp criticism of Mario Cuomo by a voice on that tape that Clinton had earlier said was not his own.

Candidate Clinton came into a Monitor breakfast eight months later, just before his nomination. After this breakfast Mr. Clinton and I walked out together and this gave me an opportunity to have a few private words with him. I asked him if he thought his answer on his personal problems at the earlier Monitor breakfast had been helpful in dealing with the issue. ``No,'' he said bitterly, ``the press should have been satisfied by that explanation - but it wasn't.''

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