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If Clinton Is Repeating His Past, I'm Disappointed

Somehow I feel I have a personal stake in whether or not the president has had an extramarital affair in the White House. In September 1991, Mr. Clinton came to a Monitor breakfast with what I learned later was one main goal: to persuade the Washington press - and thereby the public - that he and his wife had dealt with any affairs he may have been involved in, and they were incidents of the past.

I was persuaded. I wrote afterward that I believed in healing, and that if the Clintons had been able to deal with what they called their "problems" and put them behind them, I was willing to give Clinton a clean slate. What helped me to believe Clinton's testimony was the verification from Hillary Rodham Clinton, sitting at his side. She kept nodding her head as he spoke.

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One personally troubling aspect of the alleged affair with Monica Lewinsky is that, if true, it took place since that breakfast. Again, if the allegations are true, Clinton has let me down. He convinced me that morning that he was through with that sort of thing.

Pulitzer Prize winner David Maraniss, in his superb biography of Clinton - "First in His Class" - discloses how, in a strategy session, the Clintons decided to use the Monitor breakfast as a forum to try to deal with questions about Clinton's alleged infidelities - the kinds of questions that had knocked Gary Hart out of his quest for the presidency.

Indeed, at that time, Mrs. Clinton was opposed to her husband running, being convinced he carried too much "baggage" of this sexual nature. But she was willing to find out, at the breakfast, whether the two of them could defuse the potentially explosive issue. They dealt with the reporters' questions effectively, and Clinton soon entered the presidential race.

Later, candidate Clinton went on "60 Minutes" and repeated his assertion that he and Hillary had dealt with these problems. I couldn't imagine that as president he might wander again, particularly in the people's house, the White House. Also, as I had listened to him at our breakfast I thought I heard the repentant voice of someone who had strayed and then found his way back to the right path.

In referring to the alleged Lewinsky incident I must in fairness always say, "If true." But the president's failure to provide an explanation for his nearly 40 get togethers with the young intern has raised much of the public's suspicions, according to polls. I hope he can supply a credible reason for these frequent private meetings with a then-21-year-old. If he can't, I feel he has let the country down. And, because of that breakfast, I feel he has let me down, too.

I will never forget that memorable 1991 Monitor breakfast. The "Have you ever?" question did not come up until late in the hour session. "I thought you would never ask," Clinton quipped. He said "all those rumors about me during my race for governor were sparked by a disgruntled state employee who was working for my opponent. Those were false, and I said so at the time."

Clinton spoke of his relationship with his wife: "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."

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I found him so very convincing on that sunny, autumn morning.

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