Bill Clinton is likely to be remembered in history as the man who would be king.

While that may sound a bit harsh, the fact is his tenure in the White House has been marked with efforts that, if successful, would have created an imperial presidency.Clinton's claims of privilege on a variety of fronts have gone further than any predecessor in trying to change the nature of the office. Only the courts have prevented him from placing himself and his staff off-limits to the criminal justice system.

Take, for instance, his attempt to win a grant of immunity from testimony by his bodyguards. Had this been sustained, it would have turned the Secret Service into a private police force answerable not to the Constitution but to the man who occupies the presidency.

A similar claim of blanket privilege for his presidential assistants would have permitted the president to use aides employed by the American taxpayers to conduct the public's business for personal matters and to hide any manner of behavior legal or otherwise.

Nowhere in the annals of this highest office have such claims been made, not even from its early occupants, some of whom actually favored a constitutional monarchy.

The next few weeks are fraught with danger for Clinton. As he prepares to become the first president to testify before a federal grand jury, albeit by closed-circuit television, he faces more and more isolation from those around him.

His ability to confide or seek advice in the Monica Lewinsky matter literally has been restricted to his private attorney and his wife by the courts' denial of privilege for chief assistant and confidante Bruce Lindsay. These rulings mean no presidential assistant is immune from testimony in investigations into potentially prosecutable activity.

Hillary Rodham Clinton always has been in the forefront of the president's defense. But she has been remarkably quiet of late, leading to speculation that she is furious at the embarrassment this has caused daughter Chelsea. How much he will confide in her now is anyone's guess.

More importantly, these rulings, while painful to Clinton, mean that those who occupy the Oval Office will remain as answerable as every American to the laws of the nation.

Those who contend that Richard Nixon was allowed to escape prosecution while an average citizen would have gone to jail ignore the fact that the law and justice did prevail in the first resignation of a president. That came about only because of a pardon promised as an inducement. Had it not been agreed to beforehand, he probably would have stayed and fought, precipitating a constitutional and governmental crisis far beyond what already had occurred. No one wanted that. The rule of law for everyone was, for practical purposes, maintained.

Clinton is not likely to resign over this affair; nor does it appear that Congress will be willing to impeach him. There is no real congressional stomach for impeaching and trying a president for lying about a sexual affair.

In fact, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin G. Hatch said Sunday that a clean breast of things and an apology to the American public probably would get the president off the hook. It is something he should have considered early in the game, no matter how personally humiliating. To stay with an increasingly discredited denial in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary not only seems foolish but, again, almost kinglike in its arrogance.

Nowhere in the Constitution does the word "royal" appear.