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The Political Education of George Stephanopoulos

12:00 AM, Apr 5, 1999 • By BRIT HUME
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Indeed, following the failure of the first lady's health-care initiative and the loss of Congress in the 1994 election, very little would be the same in the Clinton White House. For one thing, Dick Morris was recalled from the president's past to become the de facto White House chief of staff through the middle of the 1996 campaign (when Morris's own sense of omnipotence led him into the sexual indiscretions that forced him into exile).

Stephanopoulos's fall from grace was not his first encounter with the first lady's paranoid tendencies. Her secretiveness proved disastrous in the development of the health-care plan. More important, as it turned out, was what happened in late 1993. The Washington Post was seeking answers to questions about the Whitewater real-estate deal, its interest spurred by the suicide of Vince Foster. Stephanopoulos and Gergen, believing the Clintons had done no wrong, wanted them to answer the questions and turn over the requested documents. Mrs. Clinton and the lawyers wanted to stonewall, and it was they who won. Denied the material, the Post, joined by the New York Times, was soon in full cry on Whitewater. The scent of coverup brought the rest of the media into the hunt, and soon the Republicans in Congress were calling for an independent counsel. The issue seized the front pages, and over the first lady's fierce and sometimes tearful objections, the president ultimately agreed to ask for a special prosecutor. That led to the naming of Robert Fiske, who gave way to Kenneth Starr.

"If a genie offered me a chance to turn back time and undo a single decision from my White House tenure," Stephanopoulos writes, "I'd head straight to the Oval Office dining room on Saturday morning December 11, 1993," when the decision was made not to cooperate on Whitewater and the course of events that would lead to Clinton's impeachment was set in motion.

By the time of that impeachment, George Stephanopoulos had been out of the White House for two years, having decided in late 1995 to leave. By then, he was fighting depression and insomnia, seeing a psychiatrist, and had grown a beard to cover the stress induced hives that periodically broke out on his face. Still, he hung on through the campaign, fought to diminish the damage the "triangulation" Dick Morris urged on the president would do liberal causes, and left with Hillary Clinton saying, "I love you, George Stephanopoulos."

He now teaches at Columbia University and holds forth on ABC News. The depression is gone and with it, the hives and the sleeplessness. At the end of All Too Human, he writes, "If only this good president could have been a better man." He recently told Diane Sawyer he now thinks Bill Clinton should not have been elected. The political education of George Stephanopoulos has brought him a long way.

Brit Hume, now Washington managing editor of Fox News, was chief White House correspondent for ABC News from 1989 to 1997.