BY MIKE FEINSILBER
The Associated Press
WASHINGTON -- Within 24 hours, two former presidents -- Jimmy Carter
expansively, George Bush most reluctantly -- breached a longstanding custom of the presidency that says once you've occupied the office you don't publicly criticize those who follow.
Neither offered much in the way of aid and comfort to a besieged Bill Clinton, although Mr. Bush said he had no desire "to be out there carping away."
Mr. Clinton's fellow Democrat seemed to feel no such reluctance. In a question-and-answer session with Emory University students in Atlanta, Mr. Carter said Mr. Clinton had lied under oath. He also predicted the House would vote to impeach Mr. Clinton but the Senate would not "marshal the two-thirds vote that will be required to remove the president."
Mr. Carter added he had both "deplored and been deeply embarrassed about" Mr. Clinton's behavior with Monica Lewinsky.
Bush on Today
Mr. Bush, 74, who lost re-election to Mr. Clinton in 1992, was far more circumspect. Throughout an interview Wednesday on NBC's Today, he said he was reluctant to criticize or second-guess Mr. Clinton. "He's got enough critics out there now," Mr. Bush said. Finally, pressed to comment on whether Mr. Clinton had "diminished" the office of president, Mr. Bush said, "I'm afraid, for now, it has been diminished." But he quickly added that the office is strong, "bigger than any one person."
Beyond that, he said, he did not want to say what may be "in my heart" out of fear of putting his sons on the spot. Jeb Bush is running for governor of Florida and George W. Bush is seeking re-election as governor of Texas and may become a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination in 2000.
Former President Ford, 85, who succeeded Richard Nixon when Mr. Nixon resigned in 1974 and who was defeated in 1976 by Mr. Carter, has generally kept his silence about Mr. Clinton.
Indeed, last June, six months after the Lewinsky affair first became public, Mr. Ford used a Washington speech to criticize House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a fellow Republican, as excessively partisan. Mr. Carter, 73, said he did not believe Mr. Clinton told the truth either in his deposition for the Paula Jones sexual harassment lawsuit or during his testimony for the grand jury led by Independent Counsel Kenneth Starr.
At the same time, Mr. Carter criticized "the reaction to it, the overemphasis of it, the matter in which a very serious political and legal issue has been addressed."
Mr. Clinton's 1996 opponent, former Sen. Robert Dole, does not have to abide by the rules of the ex-presidents club since he never made it to the White House. In a radio interview on Tuesday, Mr. Dole was asked if Mr. Clinton was morally fit for his office. "I think it's a close call," he replied.
In July, when the Clinton White House was resisting efforts by Mr. Starr to get Mr. Clinton's Secret Service agents to testify, Mr. Bush sided with Mr. Clinton while Mr. Carter and Mr. Ford said agents should testify in criminal cases.
In his Emory remarks, Mr. Carter predicted the presidency and the country would survive this "embarrassing circumstance." "Nothing fatal has been done," he said. "Our nation is the finest democracy on Earth, and one of the finest aspects of it is that our problems are, in effect, self-healing, or self-correcting when a mistake is made."