Mr. Clinton's admission in a deal with Independent Counsel Robert Ray brings an apparent end to the legal woes that have plagued his presidency and spare him from a possible criminal indictment after he leaves office.
While observers debated who had conceded more in the deal, there was widespread agreement on Capitol Hill that it is a politically attractive alternative for both Republicans and Democrats, reports CBS News Chief Washington Correspondent Bob Schieffer.
"President Clinton should be applauded for meeting Ray more than halfway" and ending "this long national farce over an extramarital affair," said Rep. John Conyers of Michigan, the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee.
One legal expert suggested Ray may have been the one who went more than halfway.
By ending the possibility of an indictment, "it sounds like Ray is giving a lot - almost giving up," said Georgetown University law professor Paul Rothstein.
With dim prospects that Ray could ever win a criminal case against Mr. Clinton in the heavily Democratic District of Columbia, however, "Ray saw the handwriting on the wall," Rothstein said.
In his statement read by spokesman Jake Siewert, Mr. Clinton stopped short of admitting that he committed perjury in the Lewinsky scandal.
While the president saihe gave false answers in a January 1998 deposition in the Paula Jones case, he insisted he didn't do so knowingly, an important element of the crime of perjury.
"I tried to walk a line between acting lawfully and testifying falsely," but "I now recognize that I did not fully accomplish this goal," Mr. Clinton said.
"He did not lie. We have not admitted he lied and did not do so today," Clinton lawyer David Kendall told a news briefing.
In his sworn testimony in the Jones sexual harassment lawsuit, Mr. Clinton said he couldn't recall being alone with Lewinsky and hadn't had sexual relations with her.
Regarding the suspension of his law license, Mr. Clinton came perilously close to admitting the crime of obstruction. He signed a document filed in court in Little Rock, Ark., stating that "Mr. Clinton admits" he "knowingly gave evasive and misleading answers" in the Jones case and that his conduct was "prejudicial to the administration of justice."
The language prompted Kendall to spell out his concern about the president's legal jeopardy in a letter to Ray hours before the deal was reached.
"Given the steps the president is prepared to take" in Arkansas, "we know he might be legally prejudiced ... if he signed" the order "prior to having an assurance there would be no prosecution," Kendall wrote Ray.
"For that reason, we would need to hear from you prior to proceeding to sign the order" in Arkansas, "which the president is prepared to do immediately," Kendall added.
"I hope my actions today will help bring closure and finality," Mr. Clinton said in a written statement that abruptly ended the wide-ranging investigation that had dogged him for most his time in office.
"The nation's interests have been served," Ray said. "This matter is now concluded."
Some Democrats wondered if the price was too great.
"Is it really justified?" asked Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont. "Seventy-five million dollars or so spent by Kenneth Starr and Mr. Ray and others."
Actually, it was more like $52 million. That is still a sizable sum for investigations that began with a land deal called Whitewater and put the world on a first name basis with Paula and Monica. Eventually hundreds of pounds of sorted testimony about stained dresses and phone sex were delivered to Congress and aired publicly on the floor of the House and Senate.
But Bill Clinton survived it all. And on Mr. Clinton's last full day in office, his main pursuer said that may be just as well.
"I think considering the mood of the country and considering the gravity of the offenses and all the turmoil we've been through, I think this is an appropriate wind up to the entire situation," said Hyde.
Monica Lewinsky, the former White House intern who would have been the star witness in any case against Clinton, breathed a sigh of relief.
"I was terrifed I would have to testify yet again," she said. "I am grateful this sword of Damocles that was hanging over me has finally been removed."
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