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jonathan winer

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A lawyer and former State Department official, Jonathan Winer was a counselor to Kerry from 1983 to 1997. In this interview, he talks about what Kerry is like as a manager and politician, and offers details on some of his high-profile Senate investigations, including his inquiries into the Contra movement in Nicaragua, drug smuggling and the corrupt international bank BCCI. Discussing Kerry's controversial 2002 vote on the Iraq war, Winer argues, "He'd been boxed. The Bush administration had chosen to box him and all the other Senate Democrats. …The vote was designed to be an impossible vote for someone like John Kerry." This interview was conducted on May 28, 2004.

As a senator, you're often forced to vote between two ... propositions, neither of which may be attractive. [The Iraq war] vote was designed to be as  damaging as possible for Democrats... .

Can I take you all the way back to the first time you met him?

When I met John Kerry, I was only 17 years old, and he was 27. He was running for Congress. I was the editor of my high school newspaper in Massachusetts. … He relatively recently had come off his Vietnam Veterans speech, which I and everybody else had seen. So it was a pretty big deal to interview him. …

What surprised me about it at the time, a lot, is that he took me very seriously. He listened to the questions, which were all about national security policy, the future of the United States and Vietnam or whatever else -- all the kinds of things that a bright, young 17-year-old high school newspaper editor might ask. He took them very seriously, and answered them one after another, after another. …

This was in the time he was running against--

When he ran ultimately against Paul Cronin, a Republican who wound up winning in that congressional district. That was the race that Charles Colson supposedly did dirty tricks. We were never able to be absolutely certain that happened, but it appeared to have happened. That was the race Richard Nixon was paying attention to until the wee small hours of the morning to make sure John was defeated.

So your article might have been the only positive he had at that time?

The Lowell Sun was, early on, vicious to John and John's brother and friends and everything else. The editor felt very strongly he didn't want John representing that district, and attacked John every single day. Back then, John Kerry had no way of knowing that people believe vicious political attacks which may not be factual; that, no matter how ridiculous they are, if they're repeated often enough, people will believe them. He didn't know that before he lost that election. It's something he's never forgotten since.

 

What kind of a man is he when he's attacked?

Methodical. I mean, first instinct is to defend. Second instinct is to figure out what to do about it. The instinct to defend is not the right instinct, because then you're on the territory the other side wants you to be on. … What you do instead is, you figure out thematically where you want to go. You respond to the attack, maybe with a counterattack, maybe with a finesse. It just depends on the issue. But you need to go back to your territory, not to what they're trying to do to you.

Some people have sort of mentioned that perhaps the greatest weakness he has is he wants everyone to like him.

Well, I think as a human being, to want to be understood is a very profound virtue, not a weakness. John wants people to understand where he's coming from. He wants them to understand him -- not some image of him, not some quick label of him, not a quick snapshot, but where he's coming from, and who he is.

That takes time, and politics doesn't always give you that time. So that virtue can, under certain circumstances, be exploited. But I don't think it's a weakness. It's a virtue.

Talk about that original team that he hired when he was lieutenant governor of Massachusetts. A lot of the people that started with you at that office are now still part of his political strategy team. What was the first task Kerry gave you when you joined at that time, when he was lieutenant governor?

Law enforcement. John had been a prosecutor. He had [been innovative] in the Middlesex district attorney's office. Michael Dukakis gave him vice chairmanship, as lieutenant governor, of the Governor's Anti-Crime Council.

John looked at what was going on in Massachusetts and said, "Let's figure out what we can do to modernize, to bring the state forward. Where are the areas to operate?" Two early assignments he gave me were developing a Racketeer Influenced [and] Corrupt Organizations law, a RICO law, an organized crime law, for Massachusetts, so we can deal with organized crime more comprehensively, including freezing and going after their assets.

That's the same principle we use going after terrorists globally today. Massachusetts didn't have a RICO law, so one of the first things he asked me to do was to help him develop one. We took the laws from all the other states, looked at who had innovated, and what was working, what wasn't, and developed a law and got support, bit by bit.

The other thing that's interesting that he asked me to do is computer crime. We drafted the first comprehensive computer crime law for Massachusetts. …

Can you talk about his management style, in terms of how he dealt with his team?

Light. John's a light manager. What I mean by that is: You meet with him at the front end of any assignment of whatever it is you're doing, and talking through what the issues are, talk through what the initiative might be, what the agenda might be. He says, "Yes, try it out, see what's there." Then you're basically free to do your own work on it, and then to come back to him when he needs to pay attention.

He is not a micro-manager. He won't do it. Not important to him. Whole point is, if he hired you, he has to trust you enough to believe you're going to be able to do it when he's not paying attention. Micro-managers are basically saying they don't trust their staff. He's not a micro-manager.

He gets engaged at the front end, when there has to be a particular strategic decision, and then at the very end, when he has to himself engage. He'll get involved in every detail so he knows the inside out, like a trial lawyer preparing for trial, which is what he did before he was lieutenant governor. That's the style. That's consistent over the entire 20 years that I've worked with him and known him.

[Is it the] Socratic method?

Well, Socratic method is part of what you have to do at the front end, and particularly if you want him to go into action himself, which is he'll hit you with every single argument that he could possibly hit you with, that the other side, whoever it might be, might hit him with. So he is thoroughly prepared in the position he's going to take.

Part of that is, he'll let you believe for a period of time that he's not sure where he's going to wind up. Maybe he is, and maybe he isn't. But part of the process is a suspension of the intention to go a particular direction, because you've already intended, the arguments are going to get corrupted. If he's already said, "Well, that's the place I want to go, just give me arguments, I need to go there," he's not going to get the benefit of the authentic, toughest back-and-forth you could get.

So he goes to the other side, the opposite position that you want. "Why should I do this?" He's got the following problems with it. "I might be justifiably attacked for this. Why shouldn't we do that instead? Those kinds of arguments -- it's [an] environmental issue or energy issue or a foreign policy issue or a tax issue, and you have to battle him. He won't just do it with one staffer. You could sort of deal with that one on one. He does it with a whole group, and encourages everybody else to participate in whichever angle of the discussion they want to be.

Then when it's done -- which may be because he's ready to go get some physical exercise; he's a guy who needs physical exercise -- he won't necessarily say, "Now I know where I'm going. I'm going to do this." At that point, it's his. It's not yours; it's his. He owns it. You don't own it. He's the senator. He's lieutenant governor. He's the president. It's his action. He's going to decide and take it from there, and he'll tell you when he thinks it's the right time to tell you. Maybe, as when he's the senator, he'll tell you when he's on the floor, and just does it.

Sometimes it's an unnerving process. But he comes out [in] the right place.

Does this process take too long? I mean, Americans need clear answers clearly.

Well, any process like that is defined by the amount of time you've got. I mean, very often that took place late at night or late in the afternoon. And he'd go exercise, and then he'd go into action.

Do you remember the debate against Rappaport [in 1990, when Kerry was running for re-election to the Senate]?

There was one debate I remember very, very well. Rappaport had been going around Massachusetts saying John Kerry had raised taxes six times, I think. Maybe it was 13 times. Maybe it was 18 times. I can't remember. It was a bunch of times.

I was doing research for John's campaign and research on John's record, which I knew pretty well. I couldn't find any times that John Kerry had voted to raise anybody's income taxes or raising taxes in any normal sense. It was the Reagan era. Nobody was voting to raise them, and he hadn't. But they kept coming back from it.

So eventually, what I figured out is that they must be talking about user fees. There were some tax increases to increase taxes on oil companies that were drilling on federal lands and other resource extraction companies -- coal development on federal lands, that kind of thing.

I figured out that must be what they were talking about. Well, you can defend asking an oil company that's pulling oil out of the ground on the United States to pay a little more in royalties to the United States government. That's not a hard vote to defend.

But it took me so long to figure out what those votes were. I realized that Rappaport couldn't possibly know what the votes were behind the charges. So I talked about it with John. John said "OK, give me the votes that are the good votes that are increasing taxes, but are increasing taxes in ways that people would identify with."

There was a vote on raising revenues from oil companies that were drilling. He said "OK, that's it, there's nothing else, nothing else." So Rappaport made the charge. "John, you voted to raise taxes 13 times," or whatever the number was. John said, "Just tell me what one of those votes was, Jim. Just tell me what vote I voted to raise taxes." Dead silence. Rappaport didn't know. It was the end of the campaign. John had to explain that it was a vote to require oil companies to pay a bit more for drilling in federal lands. That was the end of the race.

I hear that a lot of his staff was opposed to him asking that question of Jim Rappaport.

… It was a risk. You ask a question like that, it's a risk. But occasionally, John Kerry will take political risks when his gut says it's the right thing to do, maybe more than occasionally. That was one of those times.

So what was the first thing on your agenda for the Senate? What did Kerry want to do first?

There were equal rights for women. There was some other equal rights legislation. I can't remember when he did his equal rights for gays bill, but it was early. Equal rights for women was early.

It was a lot of that kind of thing. Environmental work, early. Initially it wasn't going to be aggressively foreign policy, because we all sensed, and he felt, that he should be doing other things first. But that didn't last that long. Philippines came; Nicaragua came.

How did the trip to Nicaragua come about with Sen. Tom Harkin?

They did not like the notion of United States funding a civil war; that we're supporting a covert army to attack a government, because they both felt, I believe, that people were going to get killed; that it was going to sow the seeds of further injury to people, further poverty, further disorder; that it was a bad idea, and that there needed to be an alternative. As I recollect, the Reagan administration invited people to go down and find the facts out for themselves … invited Congress to go find facts. So Tom Harkin and John [went].

So he comes back from his trip to Nicaragua, after meeting Daniel Ortega.

Ortega had given John a set of negotiating points, things to take back to the administration to potentially see if they could cut a deal. The Reagan administration didn't want to negotiate anything with Daniel Ortega. They wanted the Contra war. The last thing they wanted was a negotiation. So John got smashed. They immediately went on the attack.

Ortega then went and got a loan from the Soviet Union, which gave them all they needed.

Kerry looked a little nave at that stage.

Kerry was cast as a little nave by the Reagan administration, which had a big megaphone. He was a junior senator. The big megaphone certainly was a lot louder than the voice of a couple of senators.

… John was trying to see if it was possible to avoid and stop a civil war. People were getting killed in that war. The economy down there was getting hurt. People didn't have jobs. They didn't have opportunity, and civil disorder was increasing dramatically. It was not particularly good for Central America, and ultimately not really good for the United States.

The other thing that John found out over time -- and the seeds of that were so very early -- was the drug traffickers were moving dope to the United States under cover of the Contra war, and that the Contra movement, the infrastructure supporting the Contras, was infested by drug traffickers.

In fact, later on, we found one of the drug traffickers who Oliver North and the NSC [National Security Council] was working with to provide support to the Contras -- and we even got money ultimately from the State Department to support the Contras -- was moving marijuana by the ton into the state of Massachusetts, into New Bedford. It wasn't the only place he was moving dope. But it was one of the places.

So the disorder caused by the war was bringing dope into this country. Now, 10 years later, the Central Intelligence Agency inspector general investigated all of this, and found that the particular allegations and things that Kerry had looked at -- there was substantial evidence for every one of them. There was a huge amount of drugs relating to that Contra infrastructure. …

So he's suddenly in the big leagues, traveling to Central America. Where does this sort of instinct come from, to grab these issues? Is it all about Vietnam and the impact that had on him?

You have to remember, this guy's an athlete, and he was a soldier. He is somebody who cares a lot about foreign policy and national security, and thinks about the world. He's somebody who wants to help make the world a better place. Those are all different strands, and they come together in what he's doing as a politician.

He's looking for something where it's going to make a difference to people, that's going to give him action, as well -- physical activity, even -- that's going to allow him to put all that energy he's got into something.

… So as a politician, he's looking for those issues that are going to make a difference, and he can put that enormous energy into. Then it's kind of like being in combat. "We're going to go this way, we're going to take this hill. Come on, guys, let's go."

You consult, and then you make the decision, and you act. There's an awful lot of that military experience in his decision-making style, and in his style of action. But there's an awful lot as well that's innate in who he was before he ever went in the military. He's an action guy. He's an athlete. He likes to move.

So he takes on the issue of Nicaragua, and it ruffles feathers, doesn't it? He doesn't even get to be on the committee.

You mean the Iran-Contra committee? Well, there was a lot of water under the bridge, between his trip to Nicaragua, and Iran-Contra. He had been investigating Oliver North and Contra drug trafficking, and other violations of U.S. law at that point for about a year and a half. He'd been making a lot of charges about what's going on, which the wiser and grayer heads in the Congress said were false, which the Reagan administration said were absolutely false.

I remember Dick Cheney attacking John Kerry in 1986 for things John Kerry was saying about the Contras and the NSC and Oliver North. Every single thing John Kerry said was true. The attacks were aggressive, and were based on hopes, wishes, and politics -- partisan politics, not reality. John Kerry's reality was proven -- and it was proven -- when the plane went down in Nicaragua, and it turned out that that was tied to the National Security Council, and money out of Saudi Arabia, and money from the Iranians, and ultimately, as we showed, related in part to narcotics money, at least in other elements of the Contra infrastructure.

There were a lot of people who were mad at John Kerry for having been right. The Reagan administration was, of course, furious. They didn't want him anywhere near the Iran-Contra investigation, because he knew too much and he was too effective. That's what I believe it was about. …

Several people were convicted. So John got as a consolation prize his own subcommittee for the first time, and subcommittee staff, and the ability to continue the drug investigations, which led to his investigation of Manual Noriega's drug trafficking, where he worked very closely with Jesse Helms.

But was he disappointed? Was this one of the major blows?

No. He wasn't disappointed. His staff was disappointed. His staff couldn't understand it. He understood it. He knew he had been way out there. He'd now been vindicated. He was not going to be rewarded in that way, but he was rewarded in other ways. It was exactly the same time he was given the chairmanship for the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, to elect other Democrats.

So what they were telling him was, in effect, "You now support the party. Be part of the institutional Senate. Do that for a while. Bit by bit, you'll get there. Not so fast, John Kerry. We like you, what you did is a great thing, but not so fast." I think that's what some of the senior Democrats were saying.

The senior Republicans just didn't want him anywhere near it. He was too dangerous. He knew too much, he was too smart, he was too right. They didn't want it. Dick Cheney was wrong; John Kerry was right.

Of all the hearings that were conducted before the Iran-Contra Committee was actually formed, which were the most memorable? Was it the one against Elliot Abrams in 1986?

The Elliot Abrams hearing was a classified hearing. None of us had clearances. We were just personal staff of a junior United States senator. … But in fact, because we didn't have the clearances, we didn't get the misinformation that was being given to Congress in the secret sessions.

Tell me what happened. Those sessions have been declassified since…

Well, the Hasenfus plane had just gone down. There was a real question at that point of whether it was linked to the White House or not. Of course, the Reagan administration and the NSC were saying it wasn't true, none of it was true. Dick Cheney was saying none of it was true.

John Kerry had the chance, at that point, for the first time in a secret session -- and declassified since -- to ask administration officials questions. One of the people he asked questions of was Elliot Abrams, who was the person who was in charge of the Contra policy. Through that hearing -- I read the transcript many months later -- John asked Elliot question after question after question. Very specific questions, one leading to the next, about what he knew and didn't know, about that airplane that went down in Nicaragua, that was moving weapons to the Contras.

It was a long hearing. John asked most of the questions. When that hearing got out, no one said very much to the press. The hearing was in a secret hearing room of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. …

I remember David Durenberger turning to John as they were just getting out of that room, and as I was waiting for him. Durenberger at the time was chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. He was a Republican from Minnesota. He said, "They're not telling the truth. These guys are not telling the truth. Keep going. Don't stop. Stay with it, John. Stay with it, John."

Here's the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, a Republican, telling a junior Democrat, who doesn't have any committee, or any particular jurisdictional rights here, "Keep going." And it was John's questions that caused Eliot Abrams to wind up getting indicted for not telling the truth to Congress. John's a prosecutor. John follows the facts. The facts matter.

Do you recall any conversations he had about Ollie North? This was another Vietnam vet. What was the sort of chit-chatter behind the scenes in that Senate office?

John and his staff had all heard the rumors that Ollie was running the Contra program, and that it was all a big faade that he wasn't. But the House leadership had investigated Oliver North the previous year, and had concluded he wasn't running the program. So the official story in Washington was, he wasn't running the program.

John told us earlier that, if we went directly after North, directly after the White House, we'd get no cooperation whatsoever from anybody. Wasn't going to happen. We had to find things that Republicans and Democrats could agree on. What they could agree on is that nobody should be violating the law. So he did something that he did again several times over the course of his career, but this was the first time I saw it. He went to the Republicans, and said, "This is what I found. This is what needs to be investigated."

There was a hearing convened in June 1986 by Sen. Richard Lugar, who is the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee today, and was the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee way back then in 1986. John laid out all the evidence that he and his staff had gathered about criminal activity involving the Contras, and said, "I want the Foreign Relations Committee to investigate it. Not me and my staff. I want the Foreign Relations Committee to take a look at it together, so we'll all see the same facts."

The transcript of that, many years later, was made public. It's available. What was interesting is, in that hearing I think is where Jesse Helms said, "I don't care where this investigation heads, if it relates to drugs. I don't accept drug traffic in the United States."

That was the beginning of Sen. Kerry's relationship with Jesse Helms, Now, Jesse Helms was supposedly the archdevil for Democrats, somebody who is an extreme conservative Republican. John Kerry and Jesse Helms found they could trust one another. … Trafficking narcotics into this country -- both of them felt it was a huge social evil, and something that had to be fought from a law enforcement perspective, and from a foreign policy perspective both at the same time.

I'll go back and start with Ollie North again. We talked about the fact that everybody in town seemed to think that Oliver North was really running the Contra program, and it was a big secret. But official reality said it wasn't true, because the House Intelligence Committee already looked at it, and found that it wasn't true.

The White House took the point of view that it wasn't true. John told us, "Don't go after Oliver North. You do that, I'll get no cooperation from anybody. Let's focus on violations of law. If you focus on violations of law by people associated with the Contra movement, that will help us get at what's really going on. We need to expose whatever reality is."

What we didn't know was, [at] the time that John Kerry made the decision not to go after Oliver North and to go after the other violations of law that we saw, that Oliver North was going after John Kerry. If you look at Oliver North's diaries, North had people calling him up, and giving him detailed information on every aspect of our investigation. Week after week, month after month, in 1986, Oliver North's diaries have references to John Kerry. North understood that the Kerry investigation was a real risk to his ability to continue to engage in the illegal activity he was engaging in.

Was someone in the office leaking this to North?

There were several people leaking this to North, but certainly nobody in John Kerry's office. As I said, we were working with Republicans in good faith, and [in] an effort to get the entire Foreign Relations Committee working with us and with John on this investigation, so everybody would see the same facts. If everybody sees the same facts, you all can agree on the facts. Then you can agree on solutions. First, everybody has to see the same facts. So the goal was to get ready to see the same facts.

But there were Republican staffers on the Foreign Relations Committee -- who left, by the way, almost immediately after the Hasenfus plane went down; they were gone within weeks -- who were leaking all of the information we were providing them directly to Oliver North. At least that's what his personal diaries show. The information about the Kerry investigation then has cites to the names of particular Republican Foreign Relations Committee staffers, who we shared information with at Sen. Lugar's and Sen. Kerry's direction.

The alliance with Helms. Did that surprise you?

Yes. It was not something any of John's staff would have been adult or mature enough or experienced enough to see or to believe possible. What John said to us very early is, "You need friends. Make friends. Give people a chance to work with you. If they feel you can trust you, you may be able to trust them. See if you can build trust. I'm not going to miss the opportunity of working with Jesse Helms. He feels very strongly about these issues."

He chastised us for assuming that because the politics were so different on so many issues, that you couldn't form a close alliance that would work. He was very clear about that. I mean, that's a conversation I remember with precision. "Don't take your enemies for granted. Don't assume that they're enemies." Or, "Don't take people who differ with you for granted as enemies. They can be your friends. They can be your allies."

He was right about Jesse Helms. Jesse Helms was loyal and trustworthy on everything that he made a commitment on to John Kerry. I know that John Kerry tried to be as loyal and trustworthy back to Sen. Helms.

Hearing you talk, I would vote for John Kerry for attorney general any day. But president? What skills does he have, do you think, to be president?

An attorney general is not about alliance building, particularly, for starters. Attorney general is not about trying to get everybody to see the facts the same, so that you can then agree upon what a policy is, having then examined and explored what's actually going on, to try and understand it, and see it. That's not an attorney general. It's not a secretary of state, either. It's a president.

A president has ideas, initiatives, goals, and then leads, and then authorizes and empowers a whole government to try and support those initiatives. A president also listens to other people's initiatives, and tries to empower the ones that make sense.

So you didn't have a situation working for John Kerry where every single thing every day had to lead up to him, and he had to micro-manage it. Rather, he'd give direction, guidance, steering. Come up with his own ideas, and then encourage people to go for it. I think it's a wonderful management style. It's a management style where people can flourish, and a lot can get done. People were encouraged to communicate with one another and talk, and let's resolve problems, and share information, rather than hide it.

One of John's big beliefs -- and it's a really important issue, important foundation -- is sunlight's the best disinfectant. You want good government? You better have government that's transparent, that people can see.

His record as a senator -- most liberal record in the Senate -- something like a ranking of 85 out of 100. Talk about that.

John has said for a very long time that labels -- moderate, liberal, conservative -- aren't very meaningful in American politics, as far as he's concerned. People like labels. Journalists, in particular, like labels. I'm not sure, in the end, that voters vote on labels. I'm not sure you can pigeonhole John Kerry very easily as anything. Is it a traditional liberal who chooses to volunteer to fight in a war, even if he has doubts about the war, because he thinks it's the right thing to do? Is that a liberal or conservative position? It's an American position.

Is it a liberal who decides to become a prosecutor in the 1970s to put criminals away, and who's put at least one criminal away who's still in jail to this day, who was an organized crime figure? Is that what a liberal does? Or is it what an American does?

Well, a liberal also votes for gay rights early on, and--

John believes in civil rights. John believes in the equality of human beings. He believes that Americans should all have the same rights, that discrimination is a bad thing. Is that a liberal position, or a conservative position? It's an American position.

The investigation into the bank, BCCI. That was a tough time, as well. Do you remember Jack Blum [who investigated the scandal] at that time?

Sure. Jack and I had to work closely together every day. Had to, because sometimes we wanted to go different directions. But Jack and I worked very closely together.

Of course, it was a hard time. John was taking on corruption in Pakistan; corruption in Saudi Arabia; corruption in the United Arab Emirates; corruption in Colombia, Panama, Peru, France, the United Kingdom; the penetration of BCCI in the United States, and thus improper relations with people in the United States, including some people who were very prominent in the Democratic Party.

So yes, that was hard. People don't like being investigated. They don't like being challenged. They resent it, and they fight back.

How did this investigation come about?

The Iran-Contra investigation led to a recognition that drugs were coming across our borders, and creating tremendous injury to the United States as a result of foreign policy. Our foreign policy in Latin America was not paying attention to the law enforcement consequences.

What John came to realize is that, in a world where the whole planet [has] gotten so much smaller, and globalization was knitting everybody together, we weren't able to defend ourselves very well against threats from outside the United States if other governments weren't governments we could cooperate with. And the narcotics traffickers were corrupting other governments, subverting other governments.

That was essentially the investigation that led to Noriega. BCCI was Noriega's bank. We didn't have a chance to fully investigate BCCI within the two years that he had a subcommittee, and that Jack Blum was there. So we turned it over. At the end, Jack Blum turned it over, with John Kerry's agreement, to District Attorney Morgenthau in New York, who continued his investigation.

But additional things trickled back into the office…. It led to some things that weren't very attractive.

Like?

We found out that Clark Clifford, who was a revered Democratic figure in the Democratic Party, a very wise counselor, had received hidden loans, secret loans from BCCI to fund his acquisition of his interest in First American Bank, which was the biggest bank in Washington, D.C. at the time. All of which was in violation of federal law.

We also found BCCI with relationships with people like [President Carter's budget director] Burt Lance and some other Democrats. One of the most painful things was finding BCCI had flown Jimmy Carter around the world, and while flying Jimmy Carter around the world, had been introduced to various African heads of state, who in turn developed corrupt relationships with BCCI.

Kerry's going after his own establishment, the Democrats. How hard was that for him?

It was hard. But we were looking at drug trafficking, and then we were looking at corruption. We were seeing how money laundering associated with drug corruption was was closely related to people who are engaged in regular political corruption.

So he was seeing this money-laundering bank engaged in corrupt relationships with people around the world. It included illegal conduct in the United States. In some cases, the conduct wasn't illegal; it was just embarrassing.

President Jimmy Carter didn't do anything wrong with BCCI. But BCCI used him to get close to African leaders who did have corrupt relations with the bank. So that was embarrassing. There were a lot of people who would have just as soon that all go away.

There was a phone call from Jackie Kennedy to the senator's office, correct? Do you remember that incident?

I remember John talking to us after it happened. He felt badly. He thought the world of Jackie Kennedy, thought she was a wonderful human being. He admired her. He had affection and respect for her, and all those all those things. To have her say, "Why are you doing this to my friend Clark Clifford?" was painful. You know, he shook his head. It wasn't a location he particularly wanted to be in.

But he didn't tell us to stop. He said, "You do what you have to do." The hearings continued, and the investigations continued until we'd found out as much as we possibly could. That's what happened.

Do you remember that particular moment interrogating Clark Clifford? Were you there?

Yes. When he interrogated Clark Clifford, Clifford had appeared a couple of days previously in the House, which had put together their own hearings very rapidly. When BCCI collapsed, it was a huge scandal. … Clark Clifford had been brutalized -- attacked opening statement after opening statement after opening statement for almost two hours. Just vituperative, nasty, vicious personal assaults, and he'd sat there.

Kerry had watched a little bit of it and said, "We're not going to do it like that." Throughout the hearings, Sen. Kerry was polite and courteous to every witness, including Clark Clifford. He was criticized for being too courteous. He didn't give him soft questions. What he did was a matter of tone and style. He treated him with respect.

Some staffers were mad that he didn't push enough.

The report that we wrote on BCCI that John Kerry and Hank Brown sent to the United States Senate, as a whole, the end of that investigation remained the bible for investigations of BCCI for the following decade. There's a huge amount of information he uncovered, and it tells the entire story. For anybody who wants to read it, it's still online.

… On Clark Clifford, you've asked me why did John go easy on Clark Clifford. He didn't go easy on him in terms of substance. But he didn't humiliate him, either. He made a conscious choice that he wasn't going to do that, and it was the right call. He didn't need to humiliate Clark Clifford. He got the story told, and the report that he wrote is still used. It's the bible when it come to what happened in BCCI.

[In] 1992, [Sen. Kerry gave] a speech at Yale against affirmative action. Do you remember that speech?

I do remember the speech. … John had heard from white males all over the country, and certainly all over Massachusetts, about their frustration about affirmative action, their sense of being left out, and being discriminated against as a result of affirmative action. These were not white males who were millionaires. These were white males who were salt-of-the-earth people, who worked for a living, who need to work for a living, and have pretty much done the right thing all their lives, who are feeling discriminated against. Middle-income, working white males.

He said, "You know, we're leaving them out. We're not paying attention to how they look at this. This cannot just be about African-Americans and Hispanics and women. It's got to be about everybody." So he was grappling with, how you could come up with a policy that would be inclusive, and address the concerns of that group as well? Very treacherous territory.

Now, there wasn't a single person on his staff who said, "Yes, John, go for it. Let's go get every constituency of the Democratic Party other than working-class white males angry at you. This is terrific territory." Nobody said that.

We all said, "Don't do this. It's not worth it. It's a very important issue. How you think about opportunity and creating opportunity for people without setting them against one another is a really important thing. But affirmative action has made a difference. You think affirmative action has made a difference. So by raising this, you're just going to create political difficulties." He said he didn't care. He wanted to talk about it. It was something he wanted to do. So he did it.

…That was his decision. He decides. His staff doesn't decide. His wife doesn't decide. His political consultant doesn't decide. His family doesn't decide. In the end, he decides. I can't tell you why another human being makes all the decisions they do. I can't tell you why John Kerry makes all the decisions he does. He decides, not somebody else. That, I can tell you, is a core.

Sept. 11 -- a few days afterwards, I hear you went to visit him, and he opened his heart up to you a bit at that stage.

It was a very wild time after Sept. 11 for a lot of people. I was up visiting John and Teresa at their house in Boston, because he wanted to talk about what we do next to fight terrorism. It's an area that he and I had worked on together.

What I encountered when I got up there was that he was pacing. He was so angry about what these people had done to the United States, what the terrorists had done to Americans, that there was this pent-up energy that needed release, and couldn't be released, because there wasn't action to take as a senator, as opposed to as a president, at that moment.

He was very, very angry, and looking for a place to put the anger. That was one of the things. But the other thing that happened at the same time, it was later on, he'd been playing guitar in the room all the way closest to the attic of the house, an unfurnished room, basically. After playing guitar, and after we talked through these issues with a bunch of other people at a dinner that night, he said, "You know, one of the things I've learned a long time ago, is that people rebuild. It doesn't matter how bad the thing is that happens to human beings, they rebuild. This is something that we do. We rebuild."

Did he talk to you about what should be done at that stage?

Oh, we had to find the terrorists. We had to end the safe havens. These are the basic things that this country did, was pretty clear in the first days. We talked about the need to go after terrorist financing, go after the people who funded the attack.

You always knew he wanted to be president?

I always felt he should run for president. The times that I talked about it, he would change the subject. When we raised it with him over the years, he would change the subject. He wasn't ready.

In 1998, I was at John's house in Washington for some Kerry family event. … Several of us put the arm on John, encouraging him to do a run against Al Gore, really as a way of getting practice, to make the race more stimulating, to provide an alternative, and because John was the right age and he should do it.

He basically just shook his head. He waved us off. He wasn't going to do it. He wasn't ready. He wasn't ready. So in the 20 years that I've known him, I never heard him talk about it much.

How did you find out he wanted to run? Did he call you and said, "I'm finally going to do it?"

It was clear we all knew this was the time. Everybody knew this was the time.

Because he wanted to change the course of the country under a Bush administration?

There was no heir apparent. There was no one with a greater claim. …This year, after Gore had lost -- a sitting vice president -- there was no one else who really had a better right to run. He probably had as much right as anybody else, and the experience.

A different direction from Bush, a very different direction. I think John feels that he can correct some of the injuries the Bush presidency has inflicted on our country, in both foreign policy and on our economy, and the impact of those things on people. So he decided to do it. But we all knew he was going to do it.

The vote for the resolution to go to war in Iraq -- did you ever discuss this with him?

A few times. I was not on a staff at that point, and so I wouldn't participate unless he called me in for what was a group meeting. I participated in a couple of them by telephone from my office. … It was a very hard vote, because he could see the arguments, both directions, as to whether you vote yes or no on the resolution.

He would have preferred, like a lot of other people, the resolution that Joe Biden and Richard Lugar had come up with, which would have slowed the rush to war while putting the authority behind the president to get U.N. inspectors back in, to make sure Saddam Hussein couldn't use WMD. That was the point of the resolution.

The Bush administration wanted something more than that. They wanted something without any strings attached, so they could just go to war. John was [not] comfortable with it. Democrats were not comfortable with that, because they didn't want Bush just going to war unilaterally. They felt that was risky. John definitely was unhappy with that, and expressed it.

He'd been boxed. The Bush administration had chosen to box him and all the other Senate Democrats. "You either vote with us, in which case, you're responsible for it, too -- and we're going to do whatever the heck we please -- or you vote against us, and allow Saddam Hussein to be not held accountable. The president's position will be weakened, the United States' authority will be weaker in dealing with the rest of the world, and you not having stood up for American strength." …

The vote was designed to be an impossible vote for someone like John Kerry. That's why the Bush administration insisted on making the vote that way. It's a vote either to support the president, or undermine the president as the president's trying to deal with weapons of mass destruction that may be in the hands of an evil dictator.

John Kerry was not going to vote to undermine the president when the president was being directed to go the U.N. Remember, President Bush didn't even want to go to the U.N. There was a question of even going back to the U.N. to get inspectors back in. So it was a way of pushing it in the right direction, and hoping that the Bush administration would then do the right thing.

You're not given the choice of being 100 percent on these issues. You're not given the choice of doing exactly the way you would want to do it when you're a senator. You may not even be given the choice of doing exactly what you'd want to do when you're president, but you have a lot more power to shape the world.

As a senator, you're often forced to vote between two very difficult propositions, neither of which may be attractive. This vote was designed to be as unattractive, ugly, unpleasant, difficult, horrible, and damaging as possible by the Bush administration for Democrats, and in particular, any Democrat running for president. That was the point. That was the intention. It was designed to be a wedge vote, separating a John Kerry, for instance, from his natural constituents.

It actually worked very, very well for them. Remember, after that vote, they got the Senate back, and they increased the number of seats they had in the House. That's because the Democrats' base were depressed, were made miserable by that vote. It was designed to do that. It was a wedge vote. It was a brilliant move by Karl Rove. …

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posted oct. 12, 2004

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