In January 1998, after Bill Clinton lied publicly about his brief affair with Monica Lewinsky, he also lied privately. He told his lawyer, David Kendall, that he had not suborned perjury or obstructed justice, but as far as coming clean went, that was it. He told the White House staff and his Cabinet secretaries—and his wife—that the affair never happened.

He knew, as he wrote in My Life, that he’d have to confess someday. But he calculated—as it turned out, accurately—that after the initial hysteria subsided, the public would focus more on Ken Starr’s inquisitorial tactics than on his relatively minor transgression, and he’d survive.

Clinton lied to his people for one reason: He knew that if he told the truth, they would abandon him. His support within his party would collapse, he knew, if he acknowledged having sullied the presidency in that way. He’d have faced mass resignations from his staff and Cabinet members, and on Capitol Hill, support among Democrats would have dwindled down to the real diehards. There is no question about it: He would have had to resign. (I’m not defending his lie, just laying out his reasoning for it.)

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