In this portion of the interview, President Clinton and Jim Lehrer touch on the Dick Morris scandal and its impact on the image, as well as the strategy, of his re-election campaign.
A RealAudio version of of this Newsmaker interview is available.
In his Newsmaker interview with Jim Lehrer, President Clinton discusses:
- re-election and his first term
- negative politics and Whitewater
- the differences between himself and Bob Dole
- his stake in the Congressional elections
- Dick Morris and the role of consultants
- his move to the center
Sept. 20, 1996:
Three senior political reporters discuss the resignation of Dick Morris, the scandal, and the consultant's importance to the President.
August 29, 1996:
Does Dick Morris' resignation reflect poorly on the character of the President? Three senior Democrats discuss.
August 29, 1996:
Dick Morris' career has certainly been derailed. Has Bill Clinton's? Kwame Holman talks to delegates in Chicago.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. President, why have you remained so silent on the Dick Morris situation?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, what is there to say?
JIM LEHRER: Well--
PRESIDENT CLINTON: He worked for me, and was in my campaign, and he's not in may campaign anymore. He and his wife went through a wrenching personal trauma, and, uh, I don't see that anything that I say, except to wish them both well as human beings and to hope that they go on and have, that they work through this and have good successful lives, I don't see that there's anything else for me to say.
JIM LEHRER: Well, a lot of newspaper editorials have raised the issue that here you had--you had the allegation--it has not been denied--that he allowed an outsider to listen in on confidential phone calls with you, the President of the United States. The question that's being asked is: Have you ascertained whether or not that is true, and, if not, why not?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Because I think now it obviously doesn't matter anymore. I mean, we've gone on. We've got a good campaign team. We're going forward. If it did happen--let's just say it happened, if it did happen--it was obviously part of a much larger personal crisis. And we serve each other well by--it doesn't make a lot of sense when you're rational, and it doesn't make any sense at all for people when they're in personal crisis, when they're not particularly rational, and so I would say again, you know, he worked hard for me in every election he ever worked for me in, he worked hard, he did the best he could--uh, we had an unusual relationship and we were free to disagree vigorously, which we often did, but I can't forget that either, and I know that if, if all this has occurred, that there's a--that this is a personal problem more than anything else.
And I think now that our relationship, our political relationship is not--you know, he's not working for me anymore, I, I just hope that for him and for his wife that, that they can put their lives together and go on. That's just the way I feel about it. I mean, maybe I--you know, I know that other people think I should have a different view but I think that the best thing to do here is to focus on that for him, and for me I've just got to go on with this campaign.
JIM LEHRER: Sure. But just for perspective purposes, he, he suggested before he resigned that he, that he may have been the most influential presidential adviser in history. Does that jive with your recollection?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: I don't know. You know, you've got Harry Hopkins, Louie Howe--
JIM LEHRER: Was he in that class?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: There's lots of folks there and they were basically working in the White House all the time. But he's a very gifted man and a very brilliant man, and he had some very good ideas, and when he came to me in late ‘94, he said, I think that you have been portrayed in a way that doesn't reflect the person I know, and I would like to help you because I think if people knew you and knew what you were trying to do, and if you can--
JIM LEHRER: He came to you. You didn't go to him?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: He called me.
JIM LEHRER: I see.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: He called me. He said, I think if that happened, you could recover your momentum, and he did that at considerable cost to himself because that by time I think virtually all of his clients were Republicans. So it was a high-risk strategy for him. He had no way of knowing whether I would be able to enjoy the success as President or recover the political position that it appears that I have, at least at this moment, although a lot of things can happen in 43 days. And you know, I appreciated that, and I just think that again I view this largely in personal terms--if something like this happens, you have to, I think, just say to people you hope that their lives work out all right. You know, this is just beyond politics to me.
JIM LEHRER: I know it's beyond politics but--for you--but does he deserve credit for your showing in the polls now? In other words, when he called you in ‘94 and he advised you, is he largely responsible--
PRESIDENT CLINTON: First of all, no one person is largely responsible for that. All the critical decisions were decisions I had to make. The most important personal adviser and supporter I had during this whole period was the Vice President, by far, and he has had a huge impact on a lot of what we did, for example, the work we did to get the V-chip in the telecommunications bill so parents could keep their kids from watching inappropriate material and the work we did to try to stop the advertising and marketing of tobacco to minors.
That's something else that Sen. Dole opposed me on. He thought it was the wrong thing for us to be doing. That's just the difference between us, you know. So, there were a lot of people who were involved in that, but everybody--he played a major role. So did, so did others. We have a good team, and I would always say that he was entitled to some credit--some significant credit for what was done. I always think it a mistake for anyone, including me--uh, and I made the final decision in every case--to claim too much credit in life. There's enough credit to go around if you succeed. What did President Kennedy say--that victory has a thousand fathers and defeat is an orphan--so I'd be happy to give him a fair share of the credit for it, but others deserve a lot of credit as well, beginning with the Vice President.
MR. LEHRER: You've been in politics all your professional life. Do you believe that the role of political consultants that has been dramatized by his case as well as the Ed Rollins case, has gotten out of hand, and that something ought to be done about it?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, I think the--I think it's different--I think that it's different in every case. It depends on what the role is, what the case is. First of all, I don't think anybody in public life in a public office ought to do something that he or she does not believe in, does not agree with. I think that the--secondly, I think everybody should be free to consult with people about how best to communicate what it is you want to do.
JIM LEHRER: That's a legitimate function.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Legitimate, absolutely legitimate, how to best communicate it, No. 1. No 2., I also think it's a good thing to have a lot of tentacles out there, particularly when you're President, about ideas for what can be done consistent with your philosophy of what you're trying to do, to get new ideas about how to--interesting thing about Morris was that a lot of people saw him as somebody was always just giving me political advice, you know, how to tack to the right, or tack to the center, or, you know--but what I found most interesting and often most helpful is that he would frequently come up with new ideas and about half of them I didn't agree with, and didn't like, but a lot of them were perfectly consistent with what I wanted to do, so he was interested in issues; he wasn't just a political person in a purely political sense.
So all these people are different, but I think that people should be free to consult people, to get their help. I just think that the voters are entitled to know that the person in public office is making the decision and doing what he or she believes. That's what I think is really important. And, by the way, I think if you try to do something you don't believe in, sooner or later it shows up. It's awful hard to just--if there's any length of time involved, it's awful hard to ride a horse that you wish you weren't on.