In the ever-increasing roster of powerful men finally forced to answer for creepy and/or illegal sexual misbehavior in the wake of the #MeToo movement, some have at least opted to take responsibility for their behavior and unreservedly apologize to those they’ve wronged. Then there’s former President Bill Clinton who, in a widely derided interview with NBC News’ Craig Melvin on Monday’s Today Show, went more in the “How dare you ask about something that happened so long ago?” and “But what about Donald Trump?” directions. On Tuesday’s Late Show With Stephen Colbert, Clinton—alongside author James Patterson, with whom he’s written the new thriller The President Is Missing—faced the solicitous yet persistent Colbert’s questions about that interview with essentially a judiciously watered-down repetition of it.
Clinton, who walked out with Patterson to an extended standing ovation from Colbert’s audience, attempted to ride that adulation past Colbert’s probing, to no avail. (“Would you like a do-over on that answer?” was how Colbert phrased it.) Asked by Colbert why he appeared both taken aback and petulant when Melvin asked him whether the burgeoning #MeToo movement has made him reevaluate his behavior toward then-22-year-old intern Monica Lewinsky, Clinton responded that his “tone-deaf” answer resulted from irritation at Melvin’s assertion that the former president had never apologized to Lewinsky. (Apparently he has publicly, but never personally.) Clinton went on to blame the way the interview was edited for exacerbating public outrage over his answers, all while asserting that he, of course, thinks the #MeToo movement is “long overdue, necessary, and should be supported.”
When Colbert brought up the fact that, despite his continued influence and popularity as ex-president, few Democratic candidates are seeking his endorsement in the run-up to the all-important-to-the-survival-of-democracy midterms, Clinton dodged there, too. Explaining that he doesn’t usually get involved in the primaries, Clinton (who repeatedly referred to either the Today interview or his in-office philandering as “not my finest hour”), went on to urge people to take on the responsibility for taking the country back from the GOP and Donald Trump, and offered some valuable insight into the possible summit with North Korea. All of which, along with Clinton’s long history of post-presidency good deeds and Patterson’s protestations that Clinton is “a wonderful, wonderful, wonderful human being,” struck at the heart of the nature of Bill Clinton’s legacy—that of a charismatic, effective leader whose accomplishments are ever going to be coupled with his failings. Especially as he continues to deflect questions about his own culpability.