You joined the campaign in fall of '91. What was it about Clinton that
made you decide to work for him?|
He was espousing a new Democratic philosophy. I had worked for Mayor Daley at
that point, Ed Rendell, mayor in Philadelphia, Mayor Bob Lanier in Houston --
all campaigns and clients of mine. I believe that the proper shift of the
party...was offering a new Democratic philosophy. One that was more focused,
willing to bring the values agenda into the party, not being hesitant about
that issue. A more centrist area on the economic front...
Your job was to raise money. What was like that in the early months of the
Well, I would describe it as probably a start-up in today's terms. [The
governor] had a lot of connections and a lot of people that he knew through
Georgetown, Yale, Oxford, through the National Party Governors. And we tried
to create something that had not really been. All the pieces were there but
nobody had assembled the pieces... [He was an] unknown governor. A few people
knew about what he had, what he was doing, that he was a new voice, a more
Remember, early on until part of December there was still the Cuomo cloud that
hung over, that he was going to enter the field. You had two senators. One
was Bob Kerrey, and his past, specifically his biography as it related to
Vietnam, was kind of the new face of the party. You also had Senator Harkin in
there and former Senator Tsongas. So that combination. I remember my father,
when I said I was going down to Little Rock to work for Governor Clinton's run
for president, he thought maybe somebody needed to check the medication
cabinet. He thought somebody was playing around with it. He had never heard
of him he said. I said, "Well, I think he's going to be the next President of
the United States."...
[The Gennifer Flowers scandal] must have worried you a little bit.
Of course it worried me. I mean, it would worry anybody in addition to
fundraising. You have a burden going into any campaign when you're raising
money to fund that effort because there's always a desire to spend more money
than you have. Then you have this added burden because people remember other
presidential campaigns being knocked out for other information that sidetracked
their candidates. You had this hit come upon you. It absorbs a tremendous
amount of time. You haven't established your identity.... I felt in the
fundraising area you became somewhat of the barometer of whether you can
George Stephanopoulos writes that you came to the realization after
Flowers broke that sometimes the candidate can be your own worst enemy.
...Yes, the candidate can be your own worst enemy. Yet he is your only
asset to get out of that situation. ... There's a heads and tails to that
coin. There's one realization, and there's also another, so they're not
mutually exclusive. And I think everybody agrees that President Clinton was at
that point both the person that [created] this situation. On the other hand
he's the person that is quite capable of leading the campaign out of it, as
Let me also say this, every one of us -- at least I know this for David and
myself -- we had heard stories about the candidate when we moved down there.
So we were quite aware of what we were getting into.... We all went in with
our eyes open....
A lot of people have written that [Hillary] was sort of Clinton's
organizational side, that she was much more organized and a better sense of
that than the candidate did.
...She does think in a more linear fashion. But she was very important to
him in the sense of being his partner in how they thought about the campaign
and what issues were important, et cetera. She was determined to make sure the
campaign was focused....
Give us a sense of the flavor of the war room. What was it like working
There was an intense kind of kinetic energy that circled around James
[Carville] and George [Stephanopoulos] and Stan [Greenberg] in a sense of there
[were] two center forces. One is clearly the airplane where the candidate is
and the apparatus built around the campaign. And then the kind of strategic
nerve center of the campaign has all the information coming in and attempt[s]
to make single piece of information going out. ... Stan, James, Paulie,
myself, Wilhelm, George, Mandy, we all had known each other in one way or
another through campaigns we had all worked on, the national Democratic Party.
And none of us had clearly risen to the level we were at [on] a presidential
campaign. And yet, there was a simpatico of mind and strategy. And it was an
amazing quick link with the candidate.
Outside of James you were really a bunch of kids?
... Yes, we were all a bunch of kids. ... No, we had never done a
presidential [campaign] and that's a fair criticism. But not many candidates
have done a presidential. And, yes, we were young. But I think we all had a
very good familiarity with each other. We were comfortable with our roles.
And we had a strategic coherence with the candidate, which is essential. And I
think that is what served the team as well as the candidate and the campaign
What was your first inkling that you might win in '92?
..I think when the electoral map went up on ABC. But not until election night.
You can think it inside, but you don't [want to] act it out. Clearly I felt
different post-convention and post the set of debates we had. You feel better,
but you never let your foot off the gas pedal.
What do you remember about election night? What was going through your
...I had worked in politics at that point 12 or 10 years. I thought, you know,
I always wanted to do a presidential. I finally got a chance to do a
presidential campaign, do it at a senior level and do it with a candidate I
believe in ... and who I believe would do something great for this country.
And I thought it was a great amount of hope and opportunity. I felt
exhilarated. And given my dad thought I was crazy for moving down, it was
probably the first call I made the next morning....
What was your first impression of Bill Clinton as president? Did things
change? Did your relationship with him change? Did he seem different to
Well, whether he does or doesn't, you treat him different. I think it's
Theodore White's book that mentions the fact that the moment somebody's a
president and you call him "Mr. President," [the person represents] our
culture, our history, our sense as our nation. ... You clearly inevitably
think different about them and you respond to them differently. They are no
longer "governor." It's "Mr. President." And if anybody for any minute
doesn't think that that changes, I don't think they're being honest with
After the inauguration there's a lot on this man's plate. He had a very
ambitious campaign. Expectations were high. Stakes were high. What was he
like there facing all these things that he wanted to do in those first few
As intense as he was through the seven years I worked with him in the White
House. Everything, you know, everything was a priority, most specifically the
economic plan, but moving on the agenda and hitting the ground running. So,
there was an intensity to the campaign. ... Your most important time at the
presidency is your first 18 months....
I remember our first meeting on a Saturday inside the Roosevelt room. I was
trying to decide whether you could wear blue jeans to the White House or you
had to be dressed up. And I remember the parade going by. I'm back at the
White House while the president is watching the parade and I run into Bob Rubin
who is looking to find his office, et cetera. [It's as if] somebody flicks the
microphone on and it's on volume 10, and it's on volume 10 the rest of your
time. You can't cough, you can't breathe, you can't think out loud because the
microphone is on. And you have a full agenda. You have a lot of promises you
want to keep, and all of them are priorities. There's no doubt everybody from
the campaign believed that the economic plan was essential to the presidency.
And that was the priority....
When it comes to appointing the attorney general there is a sense that the
attorney general should be a woman. Zoe Baird is the name that comes up. What
happens with that nomination?
...I think that in a vetting process and in some of the other issues that come
up the political team that handled the campaign were at points excluded or not
included for some very legitimate reasons in very important decisions. ...
Ultimately decisions have a political impact.
Are you saying that the Zoe Baird [situation] was mishandled because the
political team didn't--
I'm not sure. Look, hindsight is more than part of it so we get to say that if
the political people were more integral to some of this, we wouldn't have that
problem. And I think there are a series of decisions early on where the
non-political people are making them without the full impact that we later on
in the administration get, which is an integration between policy and politics
that is essential to any success.
Well, who is making the Zoe Baird [decision]?
I think that at this point it's coming out of the White House counsel's office.
It does have a vetting process, people responsible for it. But ...we somewhat
had a divided rather than integrated [approach]. But that's part of any new
administration. You're just kind of learning that process. And there's that
mistake. And it was a costly mistake....
There were a couple of things in those early weeks that set a tone. I
think you might agree. Most people who worked in the White House sort of said
this already, on the record. The other issue, of course, in that first week is
gays in the military.
...It became a priority. It became a dominant part of our first days of our
administration. It should not have been. It was mishandled. On the other
hand, it is what it is, and that's governing. My point is [the media] brought
it up. We didn't bring it up. It was a question he got asked at a press
conference. He answered it. And then it became our priority. ...
What did that do to the footing of this new administration?
It totally threw it off. If you're trying to keep a rhythm and a tempo, it
totally threw it off. There's no doubt about it. And it was costly. ... And
we had to end up doing it.
...We were trying to [build] a coalition about respecting everybody's
priorities. Specifically within the gay community, even in the campaign it
wasn't a priority. And the president was the first candidate [who] openly
advocated bringing gay Americans into the overall nation and making them feel
part of this country, rather than excluded...
There is a sense in Congress, and a lot of people have spoken and written
about it, that this new president and his White House staff can be rolled.
They're going to cave in to whatever constituency is pressing them at the time.
What is your thought about that? Did this administration cave in too easily
because it had made a lot of promises in those early days?
You know, politics is about mending and tacking and so on, and setting your
priorities. We were a very determined administration. We made a lot of
compromises to get NAFTA passed and a lot of deals to get NAFTA passed. Did we
cave in or not? We got it done. I don't think so.
Did we make changes in his overall economic plan? Yeah. That's the art of
sausage baking. That's what passing legislation is about. Did the principles
of his deficit reduction plan get passed and priorities both on where you were
going to spend money get changed within the government? Yeah. ... Did it
change from the beginning? Yeah. Did we make compromises along the way? Darn
right. Do them again. But did the ball get across the end zone line? Did a
budget get passed according to plan? Did NAFTA get passed according to plan?
Did money get shifted to education according to plan? Did we pass a crime bill
according to plan? Did we institute six new education programs that had never
been on the books according to plan? Yes. Did the basic written legislation
change? Yeah. But did the ball get across the goal line? Yup.
What was the argument like early in the administration between those on
the economic team who favored deficit reduction and the others who many of your
colleagues in the political team who thought this president had made specific
social promises that [deserved] to pass?
...I think one of the mistakes we made in selling the economic plan, there's no
doubt about it, is part of the political staff was not comfortable totally with
the deficit package as the dominant priority. We wanted to make it an
investment package and there were clearly investments in there. But you
couldn't vote the deficit and investment. Later on, I think we figured out how
to make the two work together thematically. Early on, to tell you the truth,
we failed at it. There's no doubt about it and the political team failed in
making that calculation....
But wasn't there a fundamental disagreement between whether deficit
reduction ought to come first or--
There's no doubt it. And I think we gave both for the economy and for
political purposes bad advice. And I think it was costly. Because I think, to
tell you the truth, the success later on in the presidency, post-'94, is the
ability that we were no longer going to have these kind of open running
debates. We were going to pick a strategy and all stick to it....
Hillary Clinton, when she becomes first lady moves into the West Wing.
Her chief of staff has an office in the West Wing. Neither of these things had
ever been done before in the White House. What message did that send
That she's going to be an influential player in the administration. I think
that's [how] the press read it. That's how we read it.... I mean, I don't
think there's any ambiguity in there.
Was the staff frightened of her?
You know, she's a very vocal clear. There's very little times that you leave a
conversation not sure where she stands on something. So she's a forceful
A number of people have written that when you went into a conversation with
Hillary, you'd better be prepared. What did that mean?
You had to have your argument down. And if you weren't succinct or had thought
through -- I mean, there's two sides to this. If you were kind of just mealy
mouthed, she didn't respect you. And if you went in forceful but had not
thought through, she didn't respect you. And she respected people even if she
disagreed with them. But you better be good at it and you better know what
you're talking about. That's not an unhelpful attribute in my view. That's no
different than how the president was. He liked good intellectual hard hitting
...What was it like being on the other end of it when the president was mad
It took its toll. ... It was not a lingering resentment or anything like that.
But it can be quite intimidating. And as I'm sure James [Carville] would tell
you, when he would burst out at you and things weren't working right, it kept
you on your toes....
Around the end of '94, before the elections, the president is getting
really concerned. And he starts conferring with Dick Morris sort of on the QT.
What's your reaction when you find out that this fellow from the governor's
past is now becoming a prominent political adviser?
You know, I did not know Dick Morris and I didn't know anything about Dick
Morris. So I didn't have the reaction that other people had. My bigger
problem was ... we had messed up the politics.... You cannot separate the
politics in a process. We had not managed our politics very well. And I think
the president knew that....
[The president] has a tenaciousness about him and an unbelievable
determination. So I think he was taking a sounding at that point before he was
going to charge ahead again. And that's what he's clearly doing. He was
talking to George. He was clearly talking to Dick Morris. He's asking my
views. He's asking James' views. I think he was talking to his friends on the
Hill and colleagues that he wanted to hear from people around the country. And
he was running through the political processes. And he and the vice president
were figuring things out. And we knew we had a big problem on our hands and we
had to figure it out at that point.
He [holds] a news conference where he says, "I'm still relevant." What
was your take there?
Just one of those many moments where you feel you know that it was not the
best choice of words and there's a just a big twist in your stomach and that we
were going to have something to deal with for a while here.
You say it wasn't the choice of words but did it reflect a certain reality
or a certain desperation. Here's the President of the United States saying
he's still relevant?
I don't remember him mulling about this at that point. I think he was
answering a question. At that point you're dealing with the early stages of
the Gingrich revolution in Congress. And Gingrich is pretending to present
himself as the new prime minister. And you all were all talking about, writing
and reporting that it was a shift of power. And I think he was doing too much
education to a reporter about the separation of powers in our, as embedded in
our constitution. Using the choice of words that"I'm still relevant" reflected
a weakness. And the Chief Executive ultimately is a position about strength,
not about weakness.
...September '93 you had this historic meeting between Yitzhak Rabin and
Chairman Arafat. Stephanopoulos writes in his book about a scene in which you
are actually sitting around in blue jeans practicing the handshake before the
handshake. Tell us about that.
We had 48 to about 72 hours to plan this historic moment. We pulled up all
the tapes [and research files] on Camp David, organized the event, because you
have the foreign ministers, the heads of states, who would walk in, et cetera.
We had it all down. And the handshake is a very important moment, because in
the history of Camp David, as Carter leans to Sadat and Begin and does his
handshake, they put their hands together, which was a symbol that I think came
out of those two weeks leading up to Camp David.
We don't have those two weeks. This is a moment that's literally thrown on the
world out of Oslo. And so we had thought it would be wrong to imitate that
handshake because Oslo and Camp David were not the same, number one. Number
two, then you're just imitating and then you would get questioned on the
imitating. And we knew also that picture would be a picture of memory. And
prior to this Rabin and Arafat had not met unlike Begin and Sadat. So I
proposed when we were meeting that we needed to come up with a handshake that
reflected the spirit of the moment as well as the president's intentions.
And then someone jokingly said, "Well, Rahm, why don't you play Arafat." ...
And John Podesta played Rabin at that point. And so we kind of shook hands and
we were trying to figure out how the president did it. And so what we decided
was the president first do Rabin. He would do Arafat. And rather than turn
from one to the next the right thing for him to do is to lead the introduction,
since they had not met prior to that literally two minutes in the depth room
before they walk out on the red carpet.
And so what he wanted to do was introduce them introducing themselves to the
world. And that's why he ends up standing back with his hands grasped. And
you can see the fingertips beyond the two bodies. And so that was the role and
the moment we were looking for.
It became its own handshake. And the reason it was powerful was that it didn't
try to imitate Camp David. It used the precedent of Camp David, but it gave
its own real meaning and reflected the truth of that moment, which was they had
not met each other. And the president was going to introduce them to each
other as representatives of the two respective peoples and publics. And I
think that's why that picture stands the test of time, because the picture is
honest to the moment.
They were actually asked to shake hands before.
Yeah. I think [Rabin] intellectually knew what he was doing was the right
thing. I think he was physically uncomfortable [and] it reflected also the
ambiguous feeling of the Israeli public. So he could reflect both their
intellectual as well as their physical reactions, which were quite
contradictory. And I think that's what made him a strong leader at that point.
And he was asked before [to shake hands] and he said no. But when the
president stood back, it could have failed because if Rabin said, "No, I'm not
doing this," or Arafat said, "No, I'm not doing this," that moment would have
collapsed of its own weight. And it could have collapsed of its own weight and
it could have succeeded of its own effort. And because they did reach to each
other, it worked. And it reflected they were meeting each other and that we
were embarking on something new. And that's why I think that moment captured
the truth of what was happening....
What were you thoughts at that moment? And the reason I'm asking you is,
George writes that at this moment he thought it was the single most inspiring
thing that he had been part of.
I told people not to clap or high five because there will be a lot of people
in the audience who, as we clearly know, will have ambivalent feelings. And
that if this just looked like a political event or felt like one -- and I think
to everybody's credit, this was something beyond that. And to this day, I feel
tremendous appreciation for the president to allow me to be a small role and
part in that process....
Later that year the big fight is about whether or not to have a balanced
budget. And this is something that the Democratic administration had not
really ever struggled with before. Is there another ideological fight within
the staff about whether this is something that we ought to be doing?
...The president [was] clearly determined that he was going to propose a
balanced budget. And remember, in this process still we're fighting against
the balanced budget amendment, but that we would propose a balanced budget.
There was no ifs, ands or buts between him and the vice president on this. And
[there were] elements of the staff that were opposed to it, said you couldn't
do it. That was the last gasp and he had decided "I'm not having an
intellectual ideological debate inside administration between whether I'm a New
Democrat or an Old. I ran as one, and that is who I am. That is how I
governed as governor. Those are the policies, those are my ideas, those are my
principles and that's how I'm going to govern." And I think once he made that
turn, I don't think there was every again kind of the open review of whether
we're going to be X or Y or where we're going to sit on the kind of ideological
Was there more, even more passion with the welfare reform debate within
the White House?
Yes. And there should be. It was a big tough call. Bob Rubin was opposed
to signing the welfare bill. He's not exactly what I call a flaming liberal.
Leon Panetta, who if you remember his early days in the Congress was seen kind
of as a moderate Democrat, he was opposed to it. When you're making a decision
like that -- and I was for it and others were for it -- you should have an
honest debate. And I think that debate served both the decision-making well,
[How was the Oklahoma City bombing a critical moment for the
Because I think the dark side of both America and some of the worst elements in
America were allowed to be given voice to. And I think the public perceived it
as that. ... Early on, remember, people are criticizing him for being a prime
minister, and not a president. Oklahoma is that moment in which he emerges
dogmatically and in his voice as a president. And I think the American people
can see him there. Reagan did it in the Challenger blow up. I think in
Oklahoma this president was a unifier. And it was a critical moment where we
were looking in at ourselves and we saw the enemy. And he was able to bring
out in a very dark moment of revenge I think the better angels of our spirit as
a country. And I think that voice is crucial to a president. And he had found
Moving ahead to the government shutdown. He's got this extra capital,
perhaps because of Oklahoma City. And things are turning around in the
administration. It's a better year for the administration in a lot of ways.
What turns it against the Gingrich Congress when you come down to those
negotiations? When do you know that you get the upper hand?
There were three things. Newt becomes the face of it in the beginning. Two,
he overreaches the role of the Office of the Speaker and tries to make it a
prime minister which the system can't absorb. And third is the president's own
tone of accommodation versus their obstruction. It is that combined picture
that turns the tables....
Did you talk to [Hillary] during this week [she testified before the grand
Yeah. But Mrs. Clinton is not going to show even the closest of confidants any
sense of weakness. And I don't think she would show that around the staff,
because it could have an impact. And so I can't give you an honest answer. I
mean, she was around. It's not like she was hiding. But I couldn't give you
an honest answer of how she [felt.]...
Was there a sense among you and the political staff that at this point
it's war with Ken Starr?
Well, I don't know if I'd use war, but it was clear that this was a battle
to the end, to the finish. There is no doubt about that. Yup.
And the grand jury-
Yeah. Now I may be hanging a lot here, I know, but that moment in which
[Hillary] is called in and around the State of the Union is a critical moment
in changing the way the White House felt it was being treated by the
Independent Counsel and what the intentions were.... [There] was no doubt that
this was not being conducted purely on the level of seeking the truth. That
there were political intentions and motivations of that office. They were
timing things for political impact. And we were going to politically engage,
You say '96 is kind of sweet?
It is a sweet victory. It's a real sense of our accomplishment, his
accomplishment.... I know that sense that a lot of people had written this guy
off a lot of times. The biggest emotion was the victory, the sense of history,
a part of it, and the political accomplishment of it. I'd been involved in
politics. I like politics. And there was a political accomplishment, a
Through this presidency, even from the announcement, there was always a sense
of headwind. People wrote him off through the Gennifer Flowers, through the
draft experience, the gays in the military, the '94 election, and he had defied
the oddsmakers again. And so there was that own sense of personal mission we
were on and then once again being there.
He was the "Comeback Kid" again?
Comeback Kid--there's no doubt about it. One of the great things that the
president has is people underestimate him all the time. I could probably write
a good handbook for his opponents, the unbelievable amount of times they
underestimate him, his determination.... His opponents always miscalculated
the most central element of his being. He's the most determined person I've
ever seen in my life. And I think I'm pretty driven.... I don't think they
make that mistake anymore.
There was also a sense that he lurched from crisis to crisis. That there
was always some kind of near catastrophe, there was kind of a lurching from
moment to moment. Why did this president have a presidency like that? Why was
there so much danger? Is it something about who he is personally?
Well, at one level you can drive it to him. But we're probably coming at
it from different ways because he has fierce political opponents who are
determined to sidetrack him. Second, he isn't a president that lays back. He
throws himself into it. I'm not sure a lot of presidents [after] getting a
trade deal decide they're going to take all their political capital and try to
roll it on the Mideast peace agreement in the eighth year.
If you're doing this purely by where and when and how you spend your political
capital, he has gone to the table a lot more times than where people would have
said,"take your chips and go." ... And some people say he's just doing it for
his legacy. He's got enough [in] my view. This guy goes back to the table and
plays a lot more times where other people are taking their chips off the table.
So your sense of going from crisis to crisis -- there are crises, but there's
determination to spend. And part of it is we create our own. Because he
decided to not take the political easy course. There are other crises....
In January of '98 the [Lewinsky] story first breaks on "Drudge" and then in
the Washington Post. When it first breaks, what is your sense?
...Twice a week [I] bike 12 miles on a stationary bike. I think that was the
fastest Wednesday morning bike ride I ever had in my 12 miles. Because I got
up about 5:30 in the morning and read the paper. And I'm reading, and I read
the headline in the Post. And I think I pedaled pretty quickly that
day. So that was my first reaction. I don't remember Tuesday night knowing
that it was going to break Wednesday morning....
Did you believe it when you read it?
No. I didn't believe it.... I'll cite everywhere I believe what I said then
which is I couldn't quite get the relationship between researching a 24
year-old real estate deal plus researching a 24 year-old woman. I said that
outside of the fact that both of them were 24 years old, I didn't understand
the correlation between the two. And I always thought [Ken Starr] was doing a
real estate deal, at least that's what I was being told for the last five
years. ... That's how I thought then which is kind of not different than what
I think now....
What did the president tell you?
Well, he came over to the Oval. This is how I remember that morning. And
Nancy said, "The president wants to see you." And I said to him, "Is this
true?" And he said it wasn't true. And I said, "If this isn't true, you
better get your head in the game. We have a fight here." And I said, "Because
a lot of people are counting on us."
When you found out it was true what was your feeling?
Well, you act like there's a moment you find out it's true.
Well, there must have been a moment when you did.
Well, yeah, I mean, I think there's different aspects of this story. To
this day I don't believe he ever told anybody to lie. I don't think he ever
advocated to her or told her to lie. That's not the person I know....
McCurry said, and I think it's kind of an accurate way to phrase it, "If it
wasn't complicated, we would have had the answer early on." So, I mean, I kind
of knew that. If it wasn't complicated, you would have known the answer. It's
clear it was not a yes or no. It was a more complicated question and it was a
more complicated answer....
You've been serving this man for many years. The president tells you
it's not true. In fact, it is true. The president lies to you. What were you
thinking then when you found out the president had not told you the
Well, what did I think then when I realized he hadn't told me the truth?
I'm not parsing words, but my view is probably when I asked him "Is this true?"
he was probably answering the question about -- because if you remember the
headline, it was about the suborning perjury.
Oh, come on, Rahm. I mean --
Give me a second. I'm not giving him any grace period here, okay? I think
this is the nuttiest, dumbest thing to do, okay. And I said that. He took an
amazing amount of risk with his presidency and with all of us. There is no
doubt. I have said it to him. He's said it. I'm not saying anything to you
he hasn't said. It's a foolish thing.
...In retrospect I know exactly what he was doing when he was answering me.
I'm not just saying I'm happy, disappointed, I was mad or upset. I'm not just
giving you a rationalization. I'm thinking through. You asked me "What was he
doing?" I'm sure what he thought is he was answering the question I asked him
about the subjugation of perjury truthfully, knowing full well my question
asked about the entire story. I'm not giving it any grace. I'm just telling
you I'm sure that's what he was doing. And I'm guessing, but I'm positive
that's how he could say to me in a clean way.
You're telling me you don't believe the president lied to you?
I think I'm being pretty clear. No, that's not what I'm saying. I know he
wasn't being honest with me. And I know when he said that, he wasn't being
honest with me. And I'm not trying to rationalize what he said. I think I'm
being quite clear about all that.
I guess what I'm asking you is what effect did this have on you? I mean,
you're a loyal staff member.
... I'm more angry about involving himself with her and putting the
presidency at risk than telling me the truth about it.... I'm more upset about
the being voracious and being honest with me. I'm more upset about having
taken the risk and the foolishness behind that.
On the other hand I'll tell you this. I said it then and I'll say it now and
I'll say it the rest of my life. I do not believe the government has the right
to investigate somebody's private life. And so when you ask me what I feel,
and it's not a single moment, but through that entire twelve months when on the
worst of days for me, I believed I was fighting against the right of using the
most powerful law enforcement agency in this country to investigate somebody's
private life. And if you can do it to a president, you can do it to any
American. And I will tell you my grandfather did not come to this country, nor
did my father come to this country to see that happen. And so, yes, I made a
lot of rationalizations....
As this dragged on and it was clear the president was going to be
impeached, was there a point when you thought "This is it. This presidency is
on the precipice."
Well, I mean, the first five weeks, the first five months, the first five
minutes, you know, sure.
You thought it was over for Clinton?
Well, yeah. I mean, yes. I didn't think you could topple a government for a
personal act to be honest. ... And thank God for the American people. Because
in the end they kind of had a sinking suspicion that ultimately you were not
throwing a president out, no matter how foolish the act was, for sex....
What about the day the president testified before the grand jury from the
private residence? James tells us that he runs into Mrs. Clinton. Mrs.
Clinton asked James to help. What's your mood at that point and feeling among
the staff with whom you were close on that day?
I don't want to dress up anything. The fact is you're in that moment.
We're all very driven people. And you have a job to do. And so it's not like
you get these moments that you step outside your body. I mean, you got a
speech to write, a decision to make on whether we should, in fact, address the
country. You've got a huge amount of testimony, his testimony. You have the
event. And you're not naive or absentminded to history. There's a few of us,
you know, Erskine, Doug, Paul, John, myself, on the kind of political side, on
the legal side who are essential to holding the place together and keeping the
agenda going as well as managing this other issue.... It was a decision
internally, Erskine, the political operation and the lawyers, [that] Paul would
be the designated writer if we were going to give a speech. The decision was
up to the president after the testimony whether he wanted to give one....
The late afternoon, early evening after that grand jury testimony in the
private residence, you see the president and Mrs. Clinton. What's their
demeanor? What do they say?
...I think he seems relieved that it's over. Nobody quite believes this
when you say it, but she's not withdrawn. She's quite out there. She's making
jokes about certain questions that they asked and what [the lawyers] were
There's a point when he takes a break and after about 45 minutes or an hour of
this, he wants to take a break. He will give a speech. We make that decision,
but he needs some time. Now, a few of us knew [that] the time he takes is
basically to deal with bin Laden.... And what we really were doing was giving
him some downtime to meet with some of the national security people.
James Carville tells us that when he sees Mrs. Clinton in the solarium
it's obvious that she's been quite upset, that she's been crying and she asks
James for his help. Was there a sense that that was a very difficult moment
for Mrs. Clinton?
James may have the right memory. But as far as I remember Mrs. Clinton was
talking about -- I think they asked ridiculous questions about the sunglasses
and stuff like that. So I remember her and the lawyers telling us about that
whole exchange. So I don't see that part of Mrs. Clinton. But that's not a
part of Mrs. Clinton's going to show in a wider audience....
Let me say this. If that was her mood in the solarium, we all would have felt
that. That's not the mood I remember in the solarium. Doug, Paul, Erskine,
John and I are up there, plus the lawyers, her, and James. I'm probably
leaving some people out, but that's not the mood I remember. But she may have
been just like that when she probably saw James on another floor where other
people were not around.
Is there heated discussion or debate about how conciliatory the president
should be or what his tone should be?
The draft that was presented at that point, I think by Mickey, had a much more
confrontational tone to being subjugated to this. Not exactly an irrational
reaction. On the other hand, I think the draft that Paul was asked to write
struck the tone of both the responsibility, the apology, and accountability
--it had a strength to it in that area. And then there was a discussion and a
debate and an argument about what was the right one. And then, you know, kind
of compromised and balance those out, et cetera....
I remember Doug and I looking at each other and said, "Well, there's something
screwy. The lawyers are back there working on the draft with the president,
and the political people and the communications people are the ones leaving."
Well, you guys lost that argument.
Right. We did lose that argument. [The speech] was true to what the
president wanted to say. I just think that it had some of what Paul said, but
not enough of the draft that Paul had. But, you know, hindsight is
The Starr report comes out and then all the lawyers come out. Is the
reason that the lawyers were out and not you guys because you didn't want to
have to defend that behavior that was documented in the Starr report?
Well, not defend. I think there's also a sense [that] after a certain point
we had lost some credibility. This was now more legal. The questions were
going to be more in the legal arena and [the lawyers] needed to, you know, show
up and put some time out there....
What was the tension between the legal and the political team during that
scandal? What was the sort of cause of that? You had different jobs, I
We had different jobs, different responsibilities. I mean, we thought we
had a public opinion, political battle. Not that they didn't think they had
that as well. But they also had a client and a legal mind frame. And it was
making the political and the legal world work together. Or when they weren't
working together, which one was the priority....
You know, maybe I'm naive. I don't think [the lawyers] were being malicious in
an attempt to deceive, or whatever. But they had their own balance and
understood that we were all trying to balance competing needs here.
How would you characterize the relationship between the administration
and the press? Not during just this period, but--
...As an institution, bad. With individuals, good. That's how I
Did that carry over from the campaign? Were relations bad because the
campaign had been, to a certain extent, defined by scandal? Was there an "us"
Oh, it was bad. Some people note the mistake -- and it was clearly a
mistake -- of banning the press from upstairs as stupid and wrong. I put it
farther back. You guys kept writing him off, and he won. And we wanted to
take a victory lap in the end zone and, you know, and pound the ball. Big
If you want to capsulize this president, what is his legacy to you?
I'm sure a lot of people talked about the economy. So I don't want to.
There's no doubt the economy stands as a major accomplishment both from deficit
I think if you look at his presidency, there's three to four areas, and I'll
try to tick them off. One, his follow-through in ending welfare as we know
it. He changed an entitlement. And the early on prognosis of that is it's
been very successful. I think we'll have good and bad days ahead of it. But
he changed a way the government dealt with a part of American people. I think
he's instilled the right values. He put work back at the center of it. And
even parts of the bill that he didn't like, he changed them in form. And I
think it was one of the most major domestic changes that will be felt -- as we
did when we created the welfare system -- it will be felt equally for the 60
The second major change is higher education in America.... Pre-president
Clinton, the only commitment the federal government ever had to higher
education directly was to poor and low income people. And through the tax
code, $10,000 and the Hope Scholarship, he created a new middle class
entitlement for higher education. And no Democratic president, no Republican
president, no Democrat or Republican Congress will ever take that away. They
will never dare the political wrath that will have. And we have more Americans
now going to education -- both junior college and four-year college and beyond
-- than ever before. And I think the reform to making the financial cost not
the prohibitive factor is instrumental in that. Ending an entitlement and
creating a whole new one.
The third piece I would say is in the area of civil rights. I don't think it's
a coincidence that African-Americans refer to this president as the first black
[president]. I think they have felt [a] more integral part of this community.
And I extend that to gay and lesbians. If you think back in the '80s, how we
treated AIDS and [those] who had AIDS, to today where gay Americans are part of
the political system, part of our culture. That is both in the tone and the
temperament of this president. He has made a whole part of this country not
feel outside, but inside. It was not easy, but I think his temperament and his
sense of justice permeated that debate.
And then lastly, you know, a lot of people are going to talk about Russia,
China, the Mideast, Bosnia, Ireland. We are the dominant country both
economically, culturally, and politically.... And I think if you look at our
relationships to our allies and to the third world countries, that we have
accomplished a great deal without stoking those fires of resentment that are
just sitting there because we are the dominant country economically,
militarily, and culturally. And managing both that resentment and that
dominant enigmatic power position is not easy. Regardless of whether you talk
about China, Russia, whatever area of the world, how you deal with that
resentment and that power is the most central force. And I think the
president, because of his political skills, handled it unbelievably well.
If you ask me ... the four areas I said: in the area of foreign policy, in
America's power and its resentment in the world for that power; his sense of
civil rights, of making a part of America who was excluded included; welfare
reform; and higher education -- those are my areas of where I think his lasting
legacy will be remembered for. It's not to say that it's not the economy. If
I said that, it just doesn't hold up to the test of water. I think those are
the really the forgotten areas...
What is the biggest change you've noticed about him in the eight years,
the most striking thing to you?
You know, I think his ability to laugh at his opponent, not take their
criticism personal, but able to kind of laugh at them.... I don't know if the
president early on could enjoy that. And I think it took him a while to
realize they were his political opponents and they opposed him for a reason.
And I mean, those were real disagreements and he was quite comfortable where he
was and he was quite comfortable not to be where they were. And I think the
biggest change is not making that a personal thing that he had to win them over.