WASHINGTON – When President Bill Clinton walked into the Rose Garden more than two decades ago, having avoided removal from office in the nation’s previous impeachment saga, one of his first words was “sorry.”
He followed that with the word “humbled.”
“Now that the Senate has fulfilled its constitutional responsibility bringing this process to a conclusion, I want to say again to the American people how profoundly sorry I am for what I said and did,” Clinton said, reading from prepared remarks.
Calling them “scum” and “evil,” Trump said his opponents supported a “corrupt” impeachment to bring down his presidency.
“We went through hell unfairly,” Trump said in a 63-minute speech, much of which was freewheeling. “They kept it going forever because they wanted to inflict political pain on somebody that had just won an election.”
Trump’s remarks, a day after the Senate voted mostly along party lines to acquit him of charges that he abused his power and obstructed a congressional investigation, were in keeping with the president’s pugilistic approach.
They departed from the remarks of past presidents who found themselves under siege.
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Clinton’s remarks lasted less than two minutes.
Trump appeared to be speaking off the cuff.
Clinton apologized to the nation for what he “said and did to trigger these events and the great burden they have imposed on the Congress and on the American people.”
Trump apologized to his family for having to endure a “phony, rotten deal by some very evil and sick people.” He repeated his assertion that he did nothing wrong and that his phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky last July was “good.”
House Democrats voted to impeach the president in December over allegations that he withheld nearly $400 million in foreign aid to Ukraine to pressure the country to announce an investigation against Democratic rival Joe Biden. Several Senate Republicans said they believed what the president did was “wrong,” but it did not warrant removing him from office.
Clinton, who was in his second term during his impeachment, said he hoped the end of the controversy would bring the nation back together.
“I hope all Americans here in Washington and throughout our land will rededicate ourselves to the work of serving our nation and building our future together,” he said. “This can be and this must be a time of reconciliation and renewal for America.”
As Clinton walked back to the Oval Office, a reporter shouted, “In your heart, sir, can you forgive and forget?”
Clinton responded, “I believe any person who asks for forgiveness has to be prepared to give it.”
Clinton did not respond to another question: whether he felt vindicated.
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When President Richard Nixon resigned from office in 1974 rather than face impeachment, he delivered his farewell speech in the East Room, the same place Trump used Thursday. He told people they should not be bitter over what happened.
“Always give your best. Never get discouraged. Never be petty. Always remember others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them,” Nixon told his staff Aug. 9, 1974. “And then you destroy yourself.”
He called for unity.
“As we look to the future, the first essential is to begin healing the wounds of this nation, to put the bitterness and divisions of the recent past behind us and to rediscover those shared ideals that lie at the heart of our strength and unity as a great and as a free people,” he said.