WASHINGTON — David Brock, a reporter and author who established himself as one of America's most influential conservative voices, has publicly apologized to President Clinton for his role in breaking the story that helped create the crisis that now grips Clinton's presidency.
In an extraordinary mea culpa, Brock said his version of the 1993 'Troopergate' expose, which featured sensational allegations by Arkansas state troopers of womanizing by Clinton when he was Arkansas governor, was the product of a political, anti-Clinton agenda.
He stopped short of saying that the troopers' allegations were untrue, although he confessed to "occasional pangs of doubt."
"The troopers were greedy and had slimy motives," Brock asserted in his apology to Clinton in the April issue of Esquire magazine. "I wasn't hot for this story in the interest of good government or serious journalism. I wanted to pop you right between the eyes."
He added: "I've asked myself over and over: What the hell was I doing investigating your private life in the first place?"
For the White House, the open letter to Clinton represents a belated if welcome change of heart from the writer who brought out the Paula Corbin Jones case and helped pave the way for the Monica S. Lewinsky controversy. For the conservative movement, Brock's conversion remains another puzzling step.
"He's gone from being a conservative hit man to a Clinton apologist," said William Kristol, editor of the conservative Weekly Standard. "And neither one, perhaps, is an entirely admirable position to be in."
While taking the form of a "letter to the president," Brock's apology is a magazine-length chronicle of his experience in reporting for the American Spectator the state troopers' charges that they helped procure women for Clinton, and the misgivings that the author now harbors.
In particular, he dwells on what he views as its disastrous consequences for the presidency and laments what he now sees as the cynicism of some of Clinton's enemies.
Brock was not alone in chasing the lurid allegations brought by the troopers. A Los Angeles Times version of Troopergate, also based in part on interviews with the troopers, cited documents that corroborated key elements of the troopers' stories.
The Times version also disclosed that Clinton discussed federal job offers for at least two troopers soon after they began talking to Brock and The Times. The Times story ran the day after the American Spectator story appeared.
Brock's public apology to Clinton represents further progress on a U-turn for the onetime "road warrior of the right."
In 1993, Brock rose to prominence as the iconoclastic author of "The Real Anita Hill," a sharply critical account of the woman whose charges of sexual harassment turned the Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Clarence Thomas into a media frenzy.
Later that year, his Troopergate coverage raised him to heroic status among many conservatives.
Conservatives had great expectations for his 1996 biography of Hillary Rodham Clinton, but instead the book proved a turning point for Brock. "The Seduction of Hillary Rodham" painted a more nuanced and even sympathetic portrait of the first lady than her detractors had expected.
"In concluding that Hillary was not the corrupt, power-mad shrew of conservative demonology . . . I ran up against the same intellectual intolerance and smug groupthink that had sent me on a conservative trajectory more than a decade before," he wrote later. "Looking at my friends, I now saw the other side."
Brock, 35, also alienated his erstwhile friends by criticizing Gary H. Aldrich, the former FBI agent, for reporting as fact Brock's own unconfirmed tip that the president had sneaked out of the White House for meetings with women at a nearby hotel. Recounting the criticism in Esquire last July, Brock said that "for the first time since I'd come out in 1994, I learned that my [gay] sexual orientation was being used by some conservatives to discredit me. . . . "
The warm bond between writer and movement was falling apart. "David Brock, the Road Warrior of the right, is dead," he wrote. "I'm not comfortable in either partisan camp, and both camps seem uncomfortable with me. My side turned out to be as dirty as theirs."
By the time Brock prepared his next piece for the magazine, which turned out to be the apology to Clinton, White House officials had reason to believe the former conservative soldier had a gentle treatment in mind for the besieged president. Clinton's personal attorney, David E. Kendall, quietly signaled administration officials that it might make sense to cooperate with Brock on the Esquire piece.
"Kendall passed word: 'Don't think of David Brock as being Darth Vader--he may not have horns and a spiked tail anymore," one official recalled Monday.