After misleading his family and friends, his aides and Cabinet, his political allies and fellow Americans, President Clinton is casting himself as the victim of the Monica Lewinsky saga.
In a nationally televised address Monday night, Clinton acknowledged an inappropriate relationship with a woman half his age. But he didn't say he lied - he "misled people." He didn't apologize - he expressed "regret."Clinton didn't hedge his comments about Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr, whose four-year investigation "moved on to my staff and my friends, then into my private life," he said. "This has gone on too long, cost too much and hurt too many innocent people."
Republicans bristled. The president "has never taken the blame for anything," said an agitated Senate Judiciary Chairman Orrin Hatch of Utah. Sen. John Ashcroft of Missouri complained that with Clinton, "the buck stops at the independent counsel's office."
And it's not over.
There will be more grand jury witnesses - maybe including a return appearance by Lewinsky. Then Starr's report. Then a congressional decision on whether to hold impeachment hearings.
The grand jury is scheduled to meet Tuesday and Thursday, as it ordinarily does. Presidential confidant Bruce Lindsey is still expected to testify, since the White House lost a court battle to invoke attorney-client privilege to shield him from answering questions.
Still, the prosecutors' focus is on wrapping up their four-year investigation.
Starr has one trial coming up - that of the Clintons' former Whitewater partner, Susan McDougal, on criminal contempt charges for refusing to testify. In addition, Starr could move again against longtime Clinton friend Webster Hubbell, whose failure to recall key events hampered the White-water inquiry. Eventually, Starr must file a final report on his investigation with the court that appointed him.
If the Lewinsky matter moves to Congress, the House Judiciary Committee will replace the federal courthouse as the central location for the inquiry.
Leaders of the committee, including Chairman Henry Hyde, R-Ill., have already made preliminary plans for handling a report from Starr, including asking the House to change its rules to narrow access to the report to protect the confidentiality of sensitive evidence.
And Hyde has already hired a team of new investigators that includes several well-seasoned former prosecutors.
But leaders have signaled that if such a report comes in the next month or so, the committee will likely begin a preliminary review of the evidence and leave the momentous decisions about whether to begin impeachment proceedings until after the fall election.
Wearing a dark business suit and standing in the same Map Room where he had testified via video camera hours earlier, Clinton said in his TV address that he disputed the most serious charges against him.
"I told the grand jury today and I say to you now that at no time did I ask anyone to lie, to hide or destroy evidence or to take any other unlawful action," the president said.
Seven months ago in the Paula Jones lawsuit, Clinton denied having sexual relations with Lewinsky. "My answers were legally accurate," Clinton said in Monday's TV address.
But now he says 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."
He continued, "This has gone on too long, cost too much and hurt too many innocent people.
"Now, this matter is between me, the two people I love most - my wife and our daughter - and our God. I must put it right, and I am prepared to do whatever it takes to do so.
"Nothing is more important to me personally. But it is private, and I intend to reclaim my family life for my family. It's nobody's business but ours. Even presidents have private lives."
For the president's defenders, the job will be to convince the American public and lawmakers that Clinton's historic testimony should put an end to the investigation, to argue against impeachment proceedings and to try to change the subject for the president's final two years of office.
Former White House chief of staff Leon Panetta sounded that rallying cry.
"We've been through seven months of hell," Panetta said. "It's weakened the presidency. It's undermined confidence in our judicial system. It's bankrupted a lot of staff people who've had to testify. I think it's challenged families with their kids. And it's produced gridlock in the Congress. The time for healing has come."