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Clinton Staff Take Defensive Role

President Clinton's announcement Monday night that he had "misled people, including my wife," about his affair with Monica Lewinsky shook the nation, and left a long line of politicians who had declared the president's innocence in an embarrassing position. CBS News Correspondent Eric Engberg reports.
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Despite the televised speech, in which he admitted that he had an "inappropriate" relationship with Lewinsky, the president's staff has stood firm in their support and sympathy for Mr. Clinton.

"I don't feel betrayed, because I saw a human being humiliated in a way no president has ever been put though this before," former White House attorney Lanny Davis told CBS This Morning.

The reaction of White House Communications Director Ann Lewis was similar:

"The people listening last night, most of us were responding in very human ways," Lewis said. "I'm not sure there was as much of a party line on that kind of admission when you hear someone talk about 'I take responsibility, I was trying to save myself from embarrassment, I was trying to save my family from embarrassment'."

Mr. Clinton's admission Monday to independent counsel Kenneth Starr is not the end of the criminal investigation. Although the president told the grand jury the affair did happen, he refused to answer all of Starr's questions.

Seven months ago, in the Paula Jones lawsuit, the president denied having sexual relations with Lewinsky. He told the Cabinet that there was nothing to the Lewinsky charges.

At the time, his administration spoke out on the president's behalf in an outraged chorus.

"I believe the allegations are completely untrue," said Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.

"I'll second that," said Secretary of Commerce Bill Daley.

"I'll third it," Donna Shalala, Secretary of Health and Human Services, said.

But on Monday, Mr. Clinton's televised admitted to the nation that he "did have a relationship with Ms. Lewinsky that was not appropriate. In fact, it was wrong. It constituted a critical lapse in judgment and a personal failure on my part for which I am solely and completely responsible."

Although Mr. Clinton was careful to cushion his apparent reversal of testimony by saying that his original deposition to Starr was "legally accurate," the claim left many - especially those in his administration - understandably uneasy.

Secretary Shalala says she doesn't want to talk about it now. Albright, who has been investigating the deadly terrorist attacks against U.S. embassies in east Africa, would not answer whetheshe feels betrayed.

"I have complete confidence in the president," Albright said.

And Daley, one of those who once stood before the cameras to deny the charges, admitted that it has been a painful time for the president's denial squad.

"I do continue to have enormous respect for him in the many public matters and the tremendous job he has done," Daley said.

The impact of Monday's speech may have profound repercussions among Mr. Clinton's international counterparts.
"I have found him throughout someone I could trust, someone I could rely upon," British Prime Minister Tony Blair said in February.

The president's clear defiance of Starr's prolonged investigation drew the most fire from his critics.

"Wasn't that pathetic? I tell you, what a jerk," the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, was overheard saying Monday night to his entourage, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

However, Hatch has also said that Mr. Clinton's speech may be enough to stave off any possible impeachment inquiry, unless prosecutors find evidence of obstruction of justice.


Lanny Davis

Perhaps the worst political damage has been done to Mr. Clinton's own core staff, who must continue to endure his battle alongside him.

"Am I disappointed and do I feel bad for all of us who have been out there for him? Absolutely," Davis said.

Despite the way that Mr. Clinton has handled the situation, many backers point out that it his leadership they continue to support.

"I don't take this personally. I did what I did because I believed in his presidency. I still believe in his presidency," said Davis.

Nevertheless, the recent revelation is said to have clouded the mood at the White House in a way that is reminiscent of the Watergate era.

"The White House is a very demoralized place today," CBS News Consultant Carl Bernstein, who covered the Watergate scandal as a Washington Post reporter, said Monday.