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The BBC's Stephen Sackur
"It was intensely personal and almost painful to watch"
 real 56k

Friday, 11 August, 2000, 05:51 GMT 06:51 UK
Clinton: Lewinsky affair a 'terrible mistake'
Clinton at evangelical meeting
President Clinton ponders a question from the editors
President Clinton has revisited the Monica Lewinsky affair by telling a meeting of evangelical Christian ministers he was in the second year of rebuilding his life after what he called the "terrible mistake" he had made.

Apparently close to tears at times, he said he now felt much more at peace than he used to. He was speaking at a gathering of 4,500 ministers at South Barrington, Illinois.

Mr Clinton tried to distance Vice-President Al Gore, the Democratic Party presidential candidate, from the scandal, saying no fair-minded person could link Mr Gore to what he himself had done.

Monica Lewinsky
Monica Lewinsky: Affair with the president

Mr Gore, a week away from the formal Democratic Party nomination, has suffered in opinion polls from being tied to a president whose ethics have been widely deplored despite support for his record in policy areas.

"I'm trying to rebuild my family life, which is the most important thing of all," said Mr Clinton, whose affair with the White House intern nearly toppled his presidency.

"It's always a work in progress ... this has to be a dynamic ongoing effort. I had to come to terms with a lot of things, the fundamental importance of character and integrity," he added.

President Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives in 1998 on perjury and obstruction of justice charges relating to the affair, but last year the Senate declined to have him removed from office.

'Gratitude'

He also admitted to the ministers that had he not been found out he may never have fully confronted his actions.

"It may be that if I hadn't been knocked down in the way I was and forced to come to grips with what I'd done and the consequences of it, in such an awful way, I might not ever have had to really deal with it 100%," he said.

Bill Clinton
Bill Clinton: "It's always a work in progress"

"In a funny way, when you feel there is nothing left to hide, it sort of frees you up to do what you ought to be doing anyway. I feel this overwhelming sense of gratitude. I also learned a lot about forgiveness."

Our correspondent in Washington, Paul Reynolds, says President Clinton has had a habit of reserving his most solemn thoughts on the affair for an evangelical audience.

Shortly after admitting to the affair with Ms Lewinsky in August 1998, Mr Clinton received counselling from three ministers, who agreed not to reveal what they discussed with him.

Not everyone will be convinced of Mr Clinton's sincerity in making this latest confession, but he does seem to be preparing the way for what he hopes will be a graceful exit from the presidency, the BBC correspondent says.

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06 May 00 | Americas
Linda Tripp loses plea against trial
13 Apr 00 | Americas
Clinton will not seek pardon
16 Feb 99 | Timeline
Timeline: The Clinton investigation
17 Mar 00 | Americas
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01 Jul 99 | Americas
End of the special prosecutor
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