Sun, Jul 25, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Commission says Lewinsky scandal didn't motivate Clinton's airstrikes

AP , WASHINGTON

The final report of the Sept. 11 commission says there's no evidence suggesting former US president Bill Clinton ordered airstrikes on targets associated with Osama bin Laden to distract attention from his affair with Monica Lewinsky.

But the report says the affair, coupled with other issues, likely affected later discussions about using force against the terrorist leader.

Following US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, the Clinton administration planned and launched cruise missile strikes on alleged terrorist assets of bin Laden in Sudan and Afghanistan. The report said reaction to the Aug. 20, 1998, strikes included "scalding criticism" that the action was "too aggressive."

"At the time, President Clinton was embroiled in the Lewinsky scandal, which continued to consume public attention for the rest of that year and the first months of 1999," the report said.

"As it happened, a popular 1997 movie, Wag the Dog, features a president who fakes a war to distract public attention from a domestic scandal. Some Republicans in Congress raised questions about the timing of the strikes."

In testimony, Clinton aides told the commissioners that their advice to Clinton about the airstrikes was based solely on national security considerations.

"We have found no reason to question their statements," the commissioners said.

The commission's final report treads lightly on Clinton's affair with the one-time White House intern, which led to his impeachment and later acquittal by the Senate.

Although only tiny sections of the report refer to the affair, the commissioners spent a lot of time discussing how and whether to discuss it in the report, deciding, in the end, that it was important to do so.

"The language was carefully chosen," Philip Zelikow, the commission's executive director, said Friday.

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