When his beeper went off that August afternoon, presidential adviser Dick Morris quickly checked for a message. “Star,” it read, and the longtime “friend of Bill” wondered why Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr wanted him.
He didn’t. It was the Star gossip tabloid, calling about Morris’ yearlong affair with a $200-an-hour hooker. In that moment, Morris recalled, “I knew instantly that everything was over and nothing would ever be the same.”
Three months later, in his first extensive interview since the scandal that rocked the Clinton campaign and sent Morris packing, he acknowledged that he had been egotistical and out of control before his precipitous fall from grace. He ignored his wife, ignored his friends, ignored the rules.
“My sense of reality was just altered,” Morris told The Associated Press. “I started out being excited working for the president. Then I became arrogant, then I became grandiose, and then I became self-destructive.”
Morris, President Clinton’s top political adviser, was generally credited with rebuilding the president’s image and paving the way for his re-election. But the Star story revealed that he was so deeply involved with a Washington call girl that he let her listen in on private chats with Clinton.
Now, with the help of two therapists and a self-help group, Morris says he’s trying to put his shattered life and troubled marriage back together. He credits his twice-betrayed wife - Morris also had a child with a Texas woman during their marriage - with helping him emerge from the “total despair” that followed his Aug. 29 resignation at the Democratic convention.
“I’m grateful that my wife stood by me during that period,” the 48-year-old political operative said Friday, sitting uncomfortably in a Manhattan office. “I was as down as you could get.”
Morris said he and wife Eileen McGann “still don’t know” if their 20-year relationship will endure, and the final decision will be hers.
“She’s a magnificent woman, and she didn’t in the slightest, least little bit deserve what happened to her,” Morris said. “I do know I very much want to stay married to her if she’ll let me.”
Morris, who annoyed Clinton last year by boasting that “I’m running the country,” showed none of his once-legendary arrogance during the 35-minute interview.
His hands shook and his voice quavered as Morris struggled for the words to explain what led him to a year of trysts with a call girl and a lengthy relationship and child with a Texas woman - both while married to McGann.
Both relationships were revealed in the tabloids during the presidential campaign.
“It’s too simple to say it was a sexual addiction … saying I was sick like I had pneumonia or the mumps,” Morris said. “It’s not that at all.
“I had, I have and I hope to be getting over a fundamental flaw in my character, a fundamental weakness in my personality, a fundamental sin, if you will. I’m prone to being infatuated with power and believing that the rules don’t apply to me.”
It took Morris years of political campaigns to finally reach the White House, but his demise was “very quick and very sudden,” he recalled. “Like being shot.”
Clinton offered support to his old Arkansas friend in a phone call in early October, a time when Morris said he was in “personal agony.” The president called again two days after the Nov. 5 election to say thank you in a “wonderful, warm chat.”
Does he still consider Clinton a friend? “Yes,” Morris said quietly. “Yes, I do.”
Morris said his arrival in Washington and ascension to the White House - the culmination of his life’s work - only hastened his downfall.
“Man, everybody who turns 40 should read the Greek tragedies,” he said. “They all have within them the same idea: The thing that may have helped you move up then destroys you.
“And I’m a living example of that.”
Morris said he’s not sure about a return to politics; it would require fixing his life and then finding acceptance in his old arena. He paused when asked this question: What if people thought his attempt at rehabilitation was just an old spin doctor working a new client - Dick Morris?
“Hmmm. I have no right to ask anyone to believe me, to ask anyone to trust me,” Morris said. “I have no moral standing for any of that. … (But) I would say, ‘Spend two minutes talking to me and you won’t think that.”’