By JOHN CHRISTOFFERSEN
Sen. Joe Lieberman defended his reprimand of former President Clinton for his involvement with a White House intern, dismissing rival Ned Lamont’s claim that he turned the 1998 rebuke into a spectacle.
"It was important for someone who was a Democrat to stand up and call on him publicly to accept more responsibility for what he had done," Lieberman said Friday. "In that case, I stood up and did what I believed was right for our country."
In September 1998, as the sex scandal raged, the Connecticut senator was the first prominent Democratic lawmaker to openly criticize Clinton’s conduct with former White House intern Monica Lewinsky. On the Senate floor, Lieberman spoke about being "personally angry because Clinton had, by his disgraceful behavior, jeopardized his administration’s historic record of accomplishment."
The senator said his personal dismay evolved into "a larger, graver sense of loss for our country, a reckoning of the damage that the president’s conduct has done to the proud legacy of his presidency."
Lamont, who defeated Lieberman in the Democratic primary Aug. 8, criticized the incumbent in an interview with The New York Times.
"You don’t go to the floor of the Senate and turn this into a media spectacle," Lamont told reporters and editors from the newspaper during a dinner meeting Wednesday night.
"You go up there, you sit down with one of your oldest friends and say, ‘You’re embarrassing yourself, you’re embarrassing your presidency, you’re embarrassing your family, and it’s got to stop,’" Lamont said.
Lamont, campaigning in Naugatuck on Friday, said he would have told Clinton what he thought before he said anything publicly.
"That’s just the way I am," Lamont told The Associated Press. "I don’t want to get into this issue anymore, though."
Lieberman, who is running as an independent after losing to Lamont, said his speech helped diffuse what had been partisan divisions over the scandal. He called it one of the toughest decisions of his life, but said he has no regrets.
Days before the Connecticut primary, Clinton joined Lieberman at a campaign rally.
"It’s time for Ned to stop running a negative campaign and start talking about what he would do for the people of Connecticut over the next six years," Lieberman said. "He had to go back to 1998. Hey Ned, it’s 2006."
Polls show Lieberman leading Lamont in a three-way race that includes Republican Alan Schlesinger.
Copyright © 2006 The Associated Press