Speaker-Elect Admits Adulterous ‘Indiscretions’
On the eve of the House debate to impeach President Clinton on charges stemming from a sexual affair, Speaker-elect Bob Livingston stunned his Republican colleagues Thursday night by admitting that he had committed adulterous “indiscretions” during his own marriage.
Livingston delivered the news at a closed-door session called to deal with strategy for today’s impeachment debate. According to sources, the Louisiana Republican decided to make the revelation because a publication--apparently Hustler magazine--was preparing a story on his affairs.
Livingston read a statement confessing his indiscretions and then told his fellow Republicans: “My fate is in your hands.”
The GOP House members rose to offer an ovation, and several left the room to tell reporters that Livingston had handled the matter with integrity and deserves to become speaker when the next Congress convenes in early January.
The Republicans willing to talk to reporters insisted that Livingston’s conduct had nothing to do with the allegations against Clinton--perjury, obstruction of justice and abuse of power--and will not affect their support for impeaching the president.
“He never lied under oath,” Rep. James E. Rogan (R-Glendale) said of Livingston.
Still, Livingston’s revelation clearly added an unpredictable element to the impeachment debate.
Most Democrats had dispersed from Capitol Hill when the news broke Thursday night, muting initial reaction. But many Clinton allies repeatedly have dismissed the impeachment case against him as, at its core, a matter of private misconduct and they may point to the Republican reaction to Livingston’s affairs as hypocritical.
Rep. William D. Delahunt (D-Mass.) predicted Livingston’s disclosure will produce “turmoil and chaos on the floor of the House” during the impeachment debate.
The revelation also points to the changing political climate in U.S. politics, in which the wall between lawmakers’ public and private lives continues to erode.
Three other House Republicans--including House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry J. Hyde of Illinois--have been forced to admit past sexual misdeeds since Congress began considering impeaching Clinton because of his efforts to conceal his affair with former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky.
Following Livingston’s admission, many House Republicans emerged from their meeting with grim countenances and refused to utter a word to shouting reporters. Rep. Thomas J. Bliley (R-Va.) said: “Nothing in this Congress shocks me anymore.”
House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) accused unnamed forces of trying to “twist the [impeachment] debate” into an investigation of private lives.
“Previous mudslinging tactics did not distract this House from its constitutional duty,” he said. “And this most recent attempt will not prevent this House from executing its duty to protect and uphold the Constitution.”
Some Republican lawmakers pointed fingers at the White House and Clinton allies, suggesting Livingston is the victim of a smear campaign.
“The people trying to support Bill Clinton have done everything they can to try to intimidate people,” said a fuming Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach). “This is the worst, god-awful tactic I’ve ever seen in the whole planet.”
But Rohrabacher and the other Republicans offered no evidence to back up such allegations, and it appeared Thursday night that the story evolved from a $1-million payment that Larry Flynt--the publisher of Hustler--offered in October to anyone coming forward with evidence of adultery by a member of Congress or other top government official.
Word of Livingston’s plans to reveal his misconduct surfaced Thursday on the Web pages of Roll Call, a twice-weekly publication that reports on Congress. Roll Call editor Lee Horowich said one of his reporters heard from sources that Livingston was telling members of the GOP leadership that another publication was going to print a story about his extramarital affairs.
Livingston gave Roll Call a statement around 6 p.m. “I have decided to inform my colleagues and constituents that during my 33-year marriage to my wife, Bonnie, I have on occasion strayed from my marriage and doing so nearly cost me my marriage and my family,” it read.
On Capitol Hill, word circulated that the publication apparently prompting Livingston’s disclosure was Hustler. Later in the evening, the Los Angeles-based magazine issued a statement from Flynt:
“Bob Livingston is an individual whom we have under investigation as a result of receiving tips from four different women. However, we have not concluded that investigation and therefore cannot comment further at this time. Frankly, we were getting ready to go with the story, and I’m disappointed he scooped us.”
Livingston, in the statement he read at the closed-door GOP meeting, sought to draw a distinction between his case and Clinton’s affair with Lewinsky. Livingston asserted pointedly that his affairs “were not with employees on my staff and I have never been asked to testify under oath about them.”
But he also used some of the verbal gymnastics that have earned Clinton scorn from Republicans. Livingston noted that, when he declared his intention to seek the speaker’s job just over a month ago, he told a reporter that “I’m running for speaker, not sainthood.”
Livingston’s statement then added: “There was a reason for those words.”
Rep. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.), who as a Judiciary Committee member emerged as one of the most outspoken critics of Clinton’s behavior, expressed compassion for Livingston.
“It breaks your heart because we’re all subject to human frailties,” Hutchinson said.
Rogan, another Judiciary Committee member, said Livingston showed character by coming forward with the information and putting his fate in his colleagues’ hands. “When I elected Bob Livingston, I elected a man,” Rogan said. “I didn’t elect a statue or a saint.”
Livingston, 55, said in his statement that “it has suddenly come to my attention that there are individuals working together with the media, who are investigating my personal background in an effort to find indiscretions which may be exploitable against me and my party on the eve of the upcoming historic vote on impeachment.”
Livingston provided no details about his affairs. After undergoing marriage and spiritual counseling, he said in his statement, he “received forgiveness from my wife and family, for which I am eternally grateful.”
The Livingstons have four adult children.
Livingston was unanimously selected to replace Newt Gingrich as speaker following the GOP’s poor showing in the November elections. Livingston initially challenged Gingrich, but the Georgia Republican quickly offered his resignation.
In coalescing behind Livingston, his fellow Republicans touted his legislative efficiency and expressed hope he would bring an end to the tumult that surrounded Gingrich’s tenure.
Livingston is due to be officially elected speaker when Congress convenes Jan. 6.
Aside from Livingston and Hyde, the other House Republicans who in recent months have acknowledged adulterous affairs are Reps. Dan Burton of Indiana and Rep. Helen Chenoweth of Idaho, both harsh Clinton critics.
Longtime friends of Livingston’s in Louisiana knew him as a hard-drinking fraternity boy who straightened up after a stint in the military. They expressed shock at the news that he had been unfaithful to his wife.
“I have no idea what this is all about,” said attorney John Bolles, who has known Livingston since boyhood and was a fraternity brother at Tulane University in New Orleans.
“I didn’t know a thing,” said Hans Jonassen, another fraternity brother. “I’m as surprised as anyone.”
Times staff writer Lisa Getter contributed to this story.
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