Colbert Grills Clinton About Monica Lewinsky: 'Why Were You Surprised?'

The former president's comments about the #MeToo movement are no less tone deaf than they were on Monday

The first two days of Bill Clinton's book tour with James Patterson haven't exactly gone according to plan. On the Today show Monday morning to promote the spy thriller they co-authored, Clinton was grilled by Craig Melvin about Monica Lewinsky and the #MeToo movement. The former president went on the defensive, and his response was criticized as tone deaf. He tried to explain himself while speaking at an event in Harlem that night, but didn't express any more contrition than he did on the Today show. On Tuesday, Clinton and Patterson stopped by the Late Show, and guess what Stephen Colbert wanted to talk about? (Hint: It wasn't espionage literature.)

"Well, it’s been an eventful two days so far!” the host said as Clinton and his new sidekick took their seats. "I noticed on the Today show yesterday morning that you didn’t enjoy that entire interview. I want you to enjoy this one, but I do want to ask you something."

The first thing Colbert asked Clinton was if he wanted a do-over. "Do you understand why some people thought that was a tone-deaf response to his questions about the #MeToo movement and how you might reflect on your behavior 20 years ago, and how that reflection may change based on what you've learned through the #MeToo movement?"

Clinton responded by noting that the interview made it seem as if he didn't apologize and had no intention of apologizing to Lewinsky. Both on the Today show and while speaking in Harlem Monday night, Clinton said he believed his public apology was sufficient. A night's rest didn't change his opinion. "It wasn’t my finest hour but the important thing is that that was a very painful thing that happened 20 years ago," he said. "I apologized to my family, to Monica Lewinksy and her family, and to the American people. I meant it then and I meant it now. I've had to live with the consequences every day since. I still believe this #MeToo movement is long overdue and necessary and should be supported."


The audience applauded. Patterson chimed in with a comment about how Clinton is a great guy. The audience applauded again. Colbert wasn't through, though. "It seemed tone deaf to me because you seemed offended to be asked this thing when, with all due respect, sir, your behavior was the most famous example of a powerful man sexually misbehaving in the workplace of my lifetime," Colbert said. "It doesn’t seem surprising that the question would be asked. Why were you surprised?"

Clinton explained that he has been asked previously about his affair with Lewinsky in light of the #MeToo movement, and that his objection was with Melvin's line of questioning, which Clinton believes implied that there was no apology and that he had not adequately been held accountable. "Nobody believes I got out of that for free," Clinton said to Melvin. "I left the White House $16 million in debt."

Melvin's questions to Clinton did not seem out of line or lacking in factual basis, as Clinton claimed, although it's impossible to know how the footage may have been edited. Viewers saw Melvin ask Clinton if he thinks differently or "feels more responsibility" for the affair in light of the #MeToo movement, and if Clinton feels the need to offer Lewinsky a private apology in addition to the public one he gave as the scandal unfolded. Clinton clearly doesn't.

Despite chances to correct himself on Monday night and then again on the Late Show, Clinton doesn't seem any less tone deaf than he did on the Today show, mainly because at no point has he acknowledged the affair's impact on Lewinsky. Getting Clinton to do so appears to have been part of Melvin's intention, as prior to asking the former president whether he has reconsidered his perspective on the affair, he referenced a piece Lewinsky wrote for Vanity Fair in which she detailed how she has suffered from PTSD. Clinton seems to believe he has paid an adequate price – which he even put a monetary figure on – and thus the issue is resolved. Supporters of the #MeToo movement are not likely to agree, which means the book tour isn't likely to get any easier for Clinton and Patterson.