The transition. You were down there as an observer for U.S. News and
World Report. But you'd been in three other administrations. What did you
sense about the transition and how this newly elected president was putting
together his team?|
What I sensed was that they had a fantastic public relations machine going
in Little Rock so that he got only 43 percent of the vote in the election but
by the end of the transition he was up to 59 percent approval. But beneath the
public relations machine, a real mess was building up in my judgment.
They did not seize the transition as a way to govern. It became more of an
extension of the campaign with the public relations side of it than it was the
movement from campaigning to governing. And I think that cost them a lot when
they got to the White House.
Ordinarily, in a transition, what you want to do is to make sure you get
your team ready, to make sure you get your program ready and to make sure you
get your president ready so he's physically ready, rested and ready to go. And
they did pick a good economic team but on the rest of it he, he put his White
House team together at the last minute. People didn't know where they were
going to be sitting until the last minute, didn't know what their jobs were
going to be.
He didn't have his program together by the time he hit Washington, and when
he came to Washington he was exhausted. You know, kept running during the
transition. He kept out there, physically out there, and instead of getting a
rest,by the time he got to Washington, he was a very tired guy. And I think
that left him in Washington--a man who is as talented as he is, his judgment
was not as good as it was when he was governor.
The first two problems that hit him as president were the Attorney
General nomination thing, and gays in the military. To what extent were both
of those things a result of sloppiness in the transition?
I think that the continuing bumbles on the attorney general decision came
out of two things. One, they were being so fastidious about filling the slot
with a woman that they weren't looking for merit, they were looking for a
woman. And as a result of that they found one person they hadn't checked out
enough, and they went through another, and that sort of thing and wound up with
a third candidate. But it took a long, long time to get that in place.
You have to give him credit for diversity. This is the first president in
history who appointed the Cabinet where white males were in a minority. That's
something different, that's new. And he got the diversity he was looking for
but in the obsession with diversity, he, it was so slow that he wasn't ready to
And it wasn't just the attorney general slot that was so slow in being
filled. The fact was because they took so much time on the attorney general,
they never got the sub-Cabinet done. So, what you had at the Justice
Department was a shell of a department. You know, Web Hubbell was basically
running the Justice Department for a good long time there at the beginning.
And whatever you may think about Web Hubbell you needed more people there in
place to really run a department. And that was true not only at Justice, it
was true in a lot of different parts.
I think that the problem goes back to the fact that it's a bigger leap from
a place like Little Rock to Washington than people imagine. Bill Clinton, one
of the most talented political figures of his generation, certainly, found it
much tougher. It was much, much tougher than he anticipated coming here and he
did not surround himself with a lot of Washington veterans early on.
But he did that on purpose. I mean there was, as you recall, a
tremendous resentment among the campaign from anyone who had been associated
with the graybeards of Washington. Those sorts of people were specifically not
They were not welcome. And I think that was a terrible mistake. If I can
only suggest two contrasts. One, when Bill Clinton put together his campaign
he reached out far and wide for people of all different backgrounds regardless
of what their loyalties had been before. And as a result he got a crackerjack
team. He had a really first-rate campaign team.
But when it came to governing, he did not use that same sort of net to
bring in the best. If someone had worked for the Carter White House, it was
almost by definition no place for him in the Clinton White House. Let me give
you an example.
Mack McLarty, who is a wonderful gentleman, to come as Chief of Staff,
wanted to have Stu Eizenstat as his deputy. Eizenstat was ready to
come. He had been Jimmy Carter's chief domestic advisor and is just a
first-rate public servant. Eizenstat was vetoed by the high command of the
Clinton team because he worked for Carter.
As a result, McLarty never had the man who would have been so valuable to
him, right from the beginning, who really knew how to run a White House. And,
as it's turned out, of course, Eizenstat went on to work over in the foreign
policy side and, of course, he has distinguished himself at the State
Department, the Treasury Department, because he is so good.
But it was the nixing of people like that. They nixed Eizenstat, they
nixed Mike McCurry from coming into the White House. Mike McCurry could have
come in and he and Dee Dee would have been a terrific team early on. But they
nixed McCurry because he had worked for Bob Kerrey and he'd been for other
Jump ahead to May of 1993, how are you approached to come to the White
House and what is the argument, what is the pitch that you are
It was a bolt out of the blue for me when the calls started coming. I was
working for U.S. News and World Report and writing editorials urging the
administration to pull itself together. I had great hopes that Bill Clinton
would launch a new bipartisan progressive era of reform. I thought that was
really important for the country.
I had been writing pieces about, do this, and do that, please. And finally
Mack McLarty called me and said, "We don't know each other but would you come
over and have lunch with me and talk about some of the things that you've been
writing about? I would like to explore some of these issues with you." So, I
went over to the White House mess and I'm sure Mike had this wired but about
three-quarters of the way through the lunch Bill Clinton came into the mess to
say hello, and we talked for a while. I'd known the president for a long
And we talked for a while about what he was up to. And then the lunch
ended and, and Mack McLarty said to me, "Look, we're really looking for
someone with experience,for a graybeard to come in now. Do you have any
recommendations? Could you think about it?" I said, "Sure, I'll think about
So, he called me that Sunday at home and said, "Have you thought about it?"
And I said yes---one of the people I recommended was Stu Eizenstat. I
recommended all Democrats. But Stu Eizenstat I thought would be a terrific
person to come in. I didn't know the history from before that. And then three
or four days later Mack called back and said, "The president and I have been
talking about this and we'd really like to ask you to consider filling this job
that we have."
That set off a whirlwind of activity over the next 72 hours or so in which
I talked to the president. He made a very strong pitch to me by telephone. I
met with him personally. I met with the first lady personally. I had
extensive conversations with the vice president as well as Mack
Did you tell the president what you thought was going wrong with his
administration at that point?
Well, I didn't need to tell him what was going wrong because he told me.
He was very reflective. He thought that the administration was way out of
position politically. That he had intended to come as a New Democrat and he
was perceived as being way off to the left and he had to get back to the center
and he had to get back to working with Republicans and he thought I could be a
potential bridge to help get back to the center where he wanted to
What did you tell him?
Well, I told him that he was terribly out of position and that he
had lurched to the left when he came in and it sent signals to people like me,
who thought he was going to be a centrist Democrat, that he had lost his
moorings. I also had a private conversation with the first lady saying, it's
widely perceived on the outside that you're the one who's pulled him left and
that he can't govern here.
And then she made a pitch to me about well, that she was misunderstood,
that, in fact, I should remember that she had been a Goldwater girl in her
youth and that she was very much for traditional social values and she thought
he ought to be back to the center. And they also felt that they didn't
understand Washington very well. They didn't understand the dynamics of the
press corps. They were having a hard time figuring out Capitol Hill.
They were asking the right questions. It was just the fact that it was
several months into the Administration and they had paid a fearful price by
that time. I mean he was in a pretty deep hole several months in. I believe
Sam Donaldson had declared him dead politically just a few weeks after he took
And there were widespread feelings in Washington that he was in over his
head. That they had slipped on one banana peel after another. So, the call to
me was emblematic of someone in Washington who understood the press, who knew
something about bipartisan politics, who knew something about the White House
and perhaps could help them right themselves to come out of the ditch.
When you get to the White House, what are your first early impressions
of how it's working?
The thing that struck me the most forcefully when I first got to the White
House was the fact that Bill Clinton, a man I had known for 10 years,
self-confident, optimistic, always a man who, if he made a mistake on Tuesday
and got knocked down Wednesday, he'd bounce right back up and be sunny. And
here was a fellow who had lost his way and most importantly he had lost his
self-confidence. He didn't believe in himself in the same way he did, the man
I'd known. He was a very, very different person.
And what I had learned from other presidents, particularly with Reagan, was
that the best thing a staff can do is don't try to reinvent the person.
Instead try to help the person bring the best out of themselves. We said,
"Let Reagan be Reagan."
And my view was let Clinton be Clinton. He's got it within him. He's got
the resources within him but he'd lost his confidence. And so what we tried to
do more than anything else in my judgment was to create an environment for him
in which he could make his own recovery. To tighten the place up, to get the
organization tightened up, and to give him the opportunity to find himself
You say, "get the organization tightened up." You hear and read these
accounts of endless meetings where the president is engaged by practically
anybody who walked past. That policy discussions go on until 2 - 3 o'clock in
the morning. That there's this sense of a free flowing dorm room almost. I
mean, how would you put it?
Well, early when I got there somebody told me, I think the vice president
had this view--the comparison was have you ever watched 10-year olds play
soccer? And if you have, what you notice is they never hold position. They're
always clustered around the ball. There are tons of them clustered around the
ball. This is what was happening in the White House unfortunately. Bill
Clinton was the ball and wherever he was, there were tons of people clustered
And it was for me, who had come from Republican administrations, which are
very buttoned up, very hierarchical, very orderly, it was stunning. I mean I
realize the Democrats are different in some ways. They like a little chaos.
They think it's more creative. And, hey--who's to say they're wrong.
But in this case, it was totally chaotic. And I think that from the
president's point of view it was unsettling. He had no time for reflection.
He had no time to rest. And I think it was almost like he was in this
never-never land, he was in the fun house. He didn't know how to find his way
out of it. And it took a while to let that sort of settle this down, slow this
down, let him find himself and he'll be fine. And he did. I mean he worked
his way out of the hole. But it took a while.
I will just give you an example. I am used to a White House where normally
the president is in the Oval Office and there is a fairly orderly discussion,
it may be three people, may be four people, but not very many and everybody
sort of waits for somebody else to speak.
And more than once the situation I saw was Bill Clinton was going to go out
to the Rose Garden to do an event and the press would be out there. And
suddenly, ten minutes before the event, people would pour into the office, to
give him advice. And everybody would be milling around as the fellow was
trying to get himself ready to go out there. And somebody would be whispering
in his ear, somebody would stick a piece of paper in his pocket, somebody would
say, "You got to say this," and somebody else would say, "No, no, no, you got
to say that." It bordered on chaos.
And I think that he realized that he needed to stop that and he did. And
over time he became a lot more effective as president over time. I think that
should be emphasized, but in the beginning I think that he suffered a lot. This
cannot be overemphasized enough. He suffered a lot from not bringing in some
people from the Carter administration and from the previous Democratic
administrations who knew Washington, who knew the White House and who knew
what it took to govern.
He would have been a lot better had he integrated the campaign team, very
talented people, George Stephanopoulos, Dee Dee Myers, Paul Begala, James
Carville, Mandy Grunwald, Stan Greenberg. They are all very, very talented.
And he needed those people. They were vital to him. But he also needed a few
of the graybeards. He needed the Bob Strauss types or he needed the Stu
Eizenstats who could come in and say "Okay, that's all great, that's the energy
of the campaign, but now to translate that into governing, you've got to put
together an integrated team."
Once again, I have to go back--I think the best transition in modern times
has been the Reagan transition. Jack Kennedy also had a fantastically good
transition. One of the things that distinguished Reagan was that he brought
his California team with him but then he reached out and got Jim Baker straight
out of the Washington establishment, in effect, to be his chief of staff. And
he blended the Washington folks with the California folks and by that he got a
very strong team.
And what Clinton tried was bringing his campaign team in, but didn't reach
out and get any of these veterans.
You mentioned that you saw the president lacking the confidence that you
had seen him demonstrate before. One of the things that you and Mandy Grunwald
did was look at videos from Clinton as candidate to Clinton as president. What
did you notice in the comparison of those videos and then what did you do about
Yeah. Well, the credit for the videos belongs to Mandy and I didn't have
anything to do with the production of them. I did see them. And the videos
showed that the president when he was campaigning spoke with a vision about
what kind of country we could be. He was thematic and he was sort of
lofty. And he talked about the problems facing us and the solutions facing us
as a people.
When he became president the conversation on the news was all about
process, it was about this committee or that committee and "We've got a group
working on this." It lost that sense of vision, that sense of what drew
people to him. And I remember very well a meeting with him in which he
complained, "I'm becoming the mechanic in chief and I don't want to be there.
That's not who I got elected to be."
You know, Ross Perot had that wonderful metaphor about looking under the
hood of the car and figuring out what's wrong. The president is not supposed
to be the guy under the hood of the car. The president is supposed to be the
person in the driver's seat figuring out what the road map looks like and where
Was part of it Clinton's fault? He was known to be hands-on, he wanted
to be in every decision. In fact, people have told us that he couldn't stand
not being in decisions and discussions.
Bill Clinton, because his mind is so quick and because he's so
comprehensive in what he thinks about, he did want to be in every decision. I think he realized after a while he was getting lost in the trees and
couldn't see the forest and he needed to sort of pull back from that he could
not only think in, in a different way but he could present to the country a
different sense of what his presidency was all about.
He'd never got quite into the detailed hands-on relationship that say,
Jimmy Carter did. Remember Carter got into the point where he was actually
approving who would play on the White House tennis court and he would look at
the schedule. Clinton never got that far. But what instead was happening was
that on policy issues, he would dive in and get deeper and deeper and deeper
and he could get mired down in the details, and it was really hard. There
is such a thing in government as paralysis by analysis.
By the time you got to the White House, relations with the press in this
town were already pretty bad. A couple of things had happened. For one thing,
the hallway had been blocked off to George's office, but generally there was a
lot of enmity there. Where did that come from?
The press had fallen in love with Bill Clinton for a portion of the
campaign. And then they started falling out of love. That frequently happens
But the Clintons had gone through a just grueling experience with the press
during the campaign, especially in New Hampshire and they came out of that very
banged up, psychologically wounded by it and angry. There was a lot of
hostility deep down about what these people did to us in the campaign. They
didn't treat us fairly.
Mrs. Clinton felt that very strongly. So that when they got to the White
House, there was a sense, "We can't trust these people. Let's put them
somewhere else. Let's take them out of the White House." So, there'd be early
on the discussions were, before I got there, "Let's put them over in the Old
Executive Building across the street, get them out of the White House." Now,
they realized after they looked at it that that was not a good solution. But
the compromise was to close the door between the press and the offices of
George Stephanopoulos and Dee Dee Myers.
Now, it's always been my understanding that both George and Dee Dee wanted
that door open. But it was ordered closed over their objections. And may seem
to the outside world so what? But it's actually quite important to the free
flow of information in the White House.
So when I got there, I had this discussion with Mrs. Clinton as part of my
going in--"Look, if I'm going to come in, I've got to understand how you feel
about going to the center, and how you feel about working with Republicans. I
can't come in here as someone who has worked in three Republican
administrations and have you anti-Republican. I'll never get anything done. I
can't be helpful. And, I've got to talk to you about the press. You know, if
there's really going to be a war with the press, I can't be helpful to you."
And she said, "We want to end this war. This is not where we want to be." And
I said, "How about opening the door?" And she said, "I can't believe it hasn't
been done already." And she opened it. She got it open right away.
And I was really surprised. I didn't know what to think of that. I never
have known what to think of that. But, they then went--and they'd been
planning this long before I got there---they had a series of dinners that
summer with the press and for a while there was a truce. It lasted maybe until
almost the end of the year of 1993, the first year.
You were involved in an episode which sort of illustrated the "us versus
them attitude," when The Wall Street Journal preparing a sort of series
of what were relatively hostile editorials asking questions like, "Who was Vince
Foster?" The Journal calls and they want a picture. What
I thought my role early on for better or for worse, was to see if we
couldn't sort of build a truce with the press and get to a more normal
relationship with the press, with the Congress, with the leaders of Washington.
And so when The Wall Street Journal was looking for pictures, knowing
they were going to do the drawings of these people and knowing that they were
probably going to be critical--I mean The Wall Street Journal
didn't pull any punches about how critical it was of the Clinton
administration--my view was, "Look guys, they don't like you. They're never
going to like you. But you're crazy if you don't sort of act like this is a
professional operation. Of course we'll send you the picture. This is public
information. You are public figures."
And Vince Foster and Bill Kennedy did send their pictures up there and
The Journal did nail them. But it was a lot better. And The
Journal called back and said, you know, at least you guys are talking to
Now, this is the reason I want to go back to the Washington experience.
This is not rocket science. Relationships with the press are a matter of pure
professionalism. They are professionals. They have a job to do. It's not
your job. It's a different job. You've got a job to do and you've got to have
a professional to professional trust, a relationship of trust. Even though
they're going to nail you sometimes.
And my experience from Watergate on has been you're better off acting like
this is an important part of the process and let's open up to it, then you are
to go out hostilely and say we're not going to cooperate with you guys on
To me there was a significant turning point in the relationship with the
press that led to the Whitewater Independent Counsel. And George
Stephanopoulos, and I were both involved with this. There came a time when
The Washington Post was seeking Whitewater documents and this was in the
late Fall, early Winter, 1993. And they sent a letter over asking for the
documents and, and the letter sat there for two weeks without being, without
getting an answer. And then Bob Kaiser of The Post called me and said,
"You're fairly new over there, still--you know this is serious. We feel like
we're getting the run-around."
To make a long story short, Bruce Lindsay, Mark Gearan and I went to The
Post. Mark and I--Mark was then communications director--recommended to
the Clintons that they turn over the documents. We had a climatic meeting with
the president who agreed to turn over all the documents but then told me, you
got to get Mrs. Clinton to agree to this before we do it.
And I couldn't get it on her calendar. They wouldn't let me in to see her.
I got into a stall situation. And eventually a letter went back to The Post
saying, no deal. In fact, it was a lot tougher than that.
What did that tell you about the relationship when it would come to
something like that where Mrs. Clinton obviously was driving the ball
Well, there are a couple of things. Let me finish upon the press story and
then I'll come back on the the Clinton story. The press side of this was--this
was a turning point for The Washington Post. They made a very serious
re-request for documents. And we, in effect, put a stick in their eye. And it
was just as sure as night follows day they then put a large team of
investigators on the situation and they really went after them.
And it was clear it was coming, and the Clintons were told it was coming.
But Len Downey of The Post called me and said, "This is not personal,
this is just business. But I want to tell you something, you folks have made a
horrible mistake and we have no choice now but to look at this very seriously."
And once that started, that's the flagship newspaper of politics in Washington,
everybody else got into this thing. Newsweek was there, everybody else
was there. And it really put the pressure on where are the documents, and
eventually as you recall, the Clintons decided to voluntarily turn the
documents over to the Justice Department and they, themselves, called for an
Independent Counsel. And I think it was very symbolically important that on
January 20, 1994, exactly one year after he'd taken the oath of office, the
Independent Counsel was appointed. And Mr. Fiske came in and said, "There is no
limit to what I'm looking at." And that's exactly where he was going.
I honestly believe that had we turned over the documents to The
Washington Post in late 1993, we would not have had this hunt in the
press for the documents and hunting down the Clintons. We never would have had
an Independent Counsel appointed in 1994. There would never have been a Ken
Starr. And there might have been a Monica Lewinsky in Bill Clinton's life, but
I don't think we ever would have heard about her.
What did that episode tell you about the power of Hillary Rodham
Well, I think to be fair to the president, Bill Clinton is a man who likes
to share power and the spotlight. He doesn't mind other people doing that.
And he was very generous in bringing the vice president into a position of real
authority. I think the vice president had more authority in this
administration than any other one.
But I also think it led him ultimately into creation of what amounted to a
co-presidency in a variety of serious ways. So, that she wasn't making all
the decisions, but she did have veto authority over some important
And that put her in a situation which I think is unprecedented in American
history. You can perhaps go back to the late period of Woodrow Wilson when he
had a stroke and his wife, Edith, was making many decisions. But there's no
other, I think, comparable time when we've had, in effect, a
And as much as I admire Mrs. Clinton's capacity because she truly is a very
talented woman--and she's passionate about the causes she believes in, and I
think she's a well-centered person-- but there is no room in the White House
for a co-presidency. It just does not work.
You cannot have two different camps running the White House. You can't
have a war room that goes off and does a budget and another war room goes off
and does NAFTA and then you have a war room who goes off and does health care.
You need an integrated process.
And frankly, I think the president would have been better off had he
asserted himself, his own authority, in doing that.
--private residence of the Clintons to talk to them, to make a
case for turning over these documents, what happens?
Well, Mark Gearan and I had requested an opportunity to
talk to the Clintons to persuade them to turn the documents over to the
Washington Post and Mack McLarty, the Chief of Staff, said fine. He set up a
meeting at 7 o'clock on a Friday night for us to go over to the residence and
talk to the Clintons and made it clear that there would be lawyers there
arguing the other side against disclosure because the lawyers were against it.
I knew Bruce Lindsay would be against disclosure.
So, Gearan and I go--Mark's the communications director, and,
and we're over in the residence waiting for the elevator to go up
to the meeting. The elevator comes. Stepping out of the
elevator is Mack McLarty, the chief of staff. And I said, "Mack, what are you
getting out of the elevator for?" And he said, "We're not going to have a
meeting." I said, "What do you mean we're not going to have a meeting?" He said,
"They called the lawyers over early and they heard the lawyers and they decided
they're not turning the documents over."
I said, you know, "You mean we're not going to have a chance to make the
argument?" And he said, "No, you're not going to have the chance to make the
Is that because Mrs. Clinton's view is going to hold there? That
she had held--
I didn't know. It was the first time I was really, really
furious. Because I thought "Listen this is the whole reason you asked me to
come in here was to help you on questions like this. And you don't have to
agree with me, but at least hear my argument." And, and that's when I said to
Mack, "This is unacceptable to me. I can't live this way. We've got tto make the argument to them, Mack. We've
got to talk to them." And Mack agreed. He said, it's only fair that they--and
as a result of that, that was Friday night, as a result of that Mack set up a
coffee that Saturday morning just off the Oval Office after the president had
his radio address to have a chance to talk to the president. And George
Stephanopoulos came to that meeting and he also agreed on the need for
So, George was there. I made a very strong argument to the president why I
felt we had to disclose the documents. George was strong. He was just right
there, saying "You really got to do this." And Mack wanted to do it. And the
president said, "Okay, I agree."
Then he turned to me and said, "Now, you've got to go talk to my wife. You
got to persuade her to do it." I said, "Okay, fine." They let me know what I
was going to be doing, and I said fine. So, that Monday morning I started
calling for an appointment. I never got an appointment. They kept on saying,
"I'm sorry, she's too busy." Too busy.
Which told you what?
It told me she made up her mind, didn't really want to
hear the argument. And it also told me that she had a veto power over this
question. And that, in fact, there were on some issues there
was a co-presidency. Now, frankly--
On what issues? I mean you say that Mrs. Clinton had veto power. She had veto power on
these Whitewater documents--but on what else?
Health care. The biggest single initiative of the first term was very,
very much her--she was driving that. I mean if anything she was the prime
player and he was not as fully engaged as he was on those other issues. And I
think that was one of the reasons that he didn't bring to bear on it his very,
very considerable political skills. I mean she's a great policy analyst, but he
has perfect pitch in politics. He can hear, he can sense, he knows, he's
finely tuned, about the political environment. I don't think that health care
bill would ever have looked the way it did had he been fully engaged, had he
been in charge of the process.
But at the end of the day, I have to say this: the tragedy about the
documents question was there was nothing in those documents that was criminally
When the documents were all revealed, there were embarrassments in there,
but there was nothing that was going to get them into legal trouble. But the
failure to turn over the documents led to the outside Independent Counsel being
brought in. And then led to these huge investigations that consumed much of
Of course, there was a debate within the White House whether the
president, himself, ought to ask for an Independent Counsel. And some of the
political team were strongly in support and, in fact, the president did,
himself, ask for an Independent Counsel.
We got put in a situation where the president had no choice and we had a
long conversation. I was with him in Europe at that time--we were in Eastern
Europe and there was a phone call back to the White House with some people
gathered in the Oval Office and the president, and two or three of us, on the
line in Eastern Europe. And it was a very spirited discussion.
Bernie Nussbaum, who was the general counsel in the White House, argued
very strenuously against calling for an Independent Counsel for a very good
reason. He said, "Once you get an Independent Counsel the guy's going to have
a fishing license. He can go anywhere. It's going to be unending
I happened to agree with that argument. You never want an Independent
Counsel because they're renegades. I mean they're sort of a runaway justice
system in some way. But because we'd backed ourselves into a corner we really
had no remaining choice. We were going to get an Independent Counsel anyway, it
was clearly going to come. So I think the president made the right decision to
say, let's go ahead and voluntarily call for one.
This is a very emotional time for the president because his mother has
died just before this. What was the mood like on that trip?
I know that the president had a great sense of loss when his mother died.
And I think that was one of those moments that you just don't want coming early
in your presidency, because it took so much out of him emotionally. But I found
him sticking pretty much to business. I didn't sense when I was there that he
wasn't paying attention to the various meetings that he was going into. When
we got to Moscow and he met with Yeltsin, he was in good shape there. He
represented the country very, very well in his conversations with
On that trip, the pool reporter gets a couple of questions and they're
Whitewater questions. The president is livid. He jumps up, pulls off his
microphone. Watching that, what was going through your mind?
This is a guy who's very tightly coiled. He's very, very tired. And he
feels he's being hounded by the press. You know, the fact was the fat was in
the fire by then. It was, you know, we were in a situation--that's why I come
back to the notion had we gotten some things right to start with, I don't think
we ever would've been in that situation. And I think that it's,
it's hard to overemphasize how important some decisions are in the White
You may not see them at the time as being that important, but in retrospect
you look back and say, if we'd just done that thing, this never would've
During that same time Ted Koppel is there with a crew kind of
chronicling all this, and he's supposed to talk to Clinton every night. One
night Clinton doesn't come through, and Koppel is not happy about it. And the
next night, the president does sit down with Koppel. But when the conversation
again turns to Whitewater and you
see the president's whole demeanor change.
Yeah. It's important to understand that the president felt on Whitewater
that he was being pursued unfairly. He was just being hounded by the press and
by his enemies. He thought they had been whipped up by his enemies in Arkansas
that there was nothing really to it. And that they were using this just to
bang him over the head and he wanted to go on and be president. And I'm
sympathetic to that. I understand why he felt that.
But I had conversations with him. He said, "They are out there
investigating my friends to within an inch of their lives. They're
turning the lives of my friends in Arkansas upside down over these things and
it's not right." He was morally outraged about it because he thought there was
nothing in the Whitewater documents and the whole Whitewater episode that it
was all that difficult. But he felt he was walking around Europe in one of his
first major international outings, you know, he's got this 50-pound weight tied
to him and he can't get rid of it.
And so, this is not the way Bill Clinton likes to operate. Bill Clinton is
a free spirit. He likes to be out there, you know, sort of be able to do this
thing. And shape the world, he likes to be able to control his own destiny.
He's one of these kind of people that wakes up every day and thinks "I can shape
the world this way for me today." And suddenly, his world is being controlled
by other people and that was very, very frustrating for him.
Going back to Vince Foster's suicide, which is July of '93, you are at a
party in Georgetown that night. And then you get the call. What happens? How
does that affect Bill and Hillary Clinton?
I happened to be at a dinner over at the home of Sally Quinn and Ben
Bradlee that night. It was a large Washington dinner, one of their classic
dinners. And Vernon Jordan was there and many others. And I got a call from
Mark Gearan at the White House saying what had happened. And telling me that
the president had gone on to the home of the widow. And that was only a few
blocks away from where we were having dinner. I was terribly concerned that
this would knock the stuffing out of him totally. That he would become
terribly embittered about the Washington experience. That he would share the
Vince Foster view expressed in Vince's note that in Washington ruining people
is considered sport. And, you know, I knew that some of that burned in Bill
Clinton already. So, I was very, very worried that losing his friend was going
to knock him over. And that he would find it very difficult to govern
So, Vernon and I went over to the Foster's home and what I found was that,
in fact, he's a very tough fellow, Bill Clinton is. He was not there to get
consolation from the people; he was there to give consolation. He was giving
of himself to Mrs. Foster and to the others. He was going around hugging
people, trying to buck them up.
And we then went back to the residence. Mrs. Clinton was in Arkansas. We
went back to the residence and sat there with him for maybe two or three hours
talking. Mack McLarty was there and Mickey Kantor came in and Vernon was
there, and the president was there. And I guess four or five of us.
And Mrs. Clinton called and he had a long talk with her. I talked to her and found that she was in pretty good shape. She was shaken, but pretty good
shape and was very concerned about him. But I found, in that evening one of
Bill Clinton's great strengths. He's got a resilience, he's got an inner
toughness that sometimes is not appreciated. You know, this is a man of many
talents, and some weaknesses clearly. But resilience has been one of his great strengths. He bounces back
from very tough situations. ... Not since Nixon, have we seen anybody as
pilloried as Bill Clinton was in his early months and, in fact, as he has been
through much of his Presidency.
And he's bounced back better than almost anyone you might imagine. I think
that's one of the reasons he just wears down his opponents. I mean his view of
how you wear down somebody is you show for work every day and you don't let
them get to you. And there were times, of course, when he gets angry and he
What about his, his anger? Carville said it's like a thunderstorm, it
blows in and there's lightening and thunder and then it blows out. Somebody
else called it "the wave." Did you see Clinton get angry and did he ever get
angry at you?
You couldn't be around Bill Clinton very long without seeing him get angry. I
think everybody who worked with him saw him get angry at one time or
Watching Bill Clinton erupt is like watching Mt. Vesuvius. It is
something to behold. He gets very red in the face and it goes very quick and
it leaves. And he does not harbor anger. It's a way to sort of get it out of
But I don't think it's necessarily a healthy thing. I mean I think he sort
of vents. One of the reasons I came to respect George Stephanopoulos was that
frequently the president vented right into George's face. It was like he'd
just be right close and just really red in the face. It was almost as if
George was the son he'd never had. And George was very stoic about it. He knew
it would pass. And he didn't fight. He didn't try to do anything. He just
tried to calm him down and I think he helped him in that regard. But it was an
anger that was something to behold. It was not something I would recommend as
I tell you what, it's important for a president to set standards for his
staff, so they gain admiration for who he is and what he stands for and they
begin acting the way he acts. And so, what you find in our best presidents is
the staffs get very much shaped by the atmosphere in the White House and
the way the staff behave begins to take on the coloration of the person in the
center. And if you've got a president who sort of is a little erratic, you
know, he's very bright, but he's not as steady, the staff can get very
One of the things Bill Clinton did that I find most unfortunate, was he
lied to his own staff about things during the campaign. He lied about Gennifer
Flowers, he lied about the draft. And once you start down that road, what you
find is "Well, if he's going to do it, maybe that's standard operating procedure
around here." And he wasn't--
Was it? Did you find that in the White House? Did you find people were
I think that the vast majority of people who worked with Bill Clinton and
have worked in the Clinton administration are honest, up, straightforward
people. I think there have been some people around him, a few, who have been
willing to engage in a lot of things that are just unethical. I don't think
there's any doubt about that. I don't think you can look at the record over
the last seven years and say there hasn't been a pattern of unethical activity.
Now, it has not amounted to an assault on the Constitution of the kind that we
saw in the Nixon Administration. I was there in the Nixon Administration. The
violations of law, the abuses of power were much more serious but one can't
look at what happened in the Clinton administration and say this has been a
good record. It has not been the most ethical administration in history, I'm
sorry to say.
And I think that some of this starts at the top. I really
think it's important for a president to set standards and say, you know, "This
is the way we're going to be. This is the way I'm going to be and the way I
expect you to be and if you're not, if you don't behave yourself, you're out of
I think it's really important for a president to do that. Our best
presidents have done that. And you know, the
coloration of the person in the center does matter a great deal. And I
think Bill Clinton has done some fantastic things for the country. In many ways he's had a lot of accomplishment, but there have
been some downsides. And you just can't walk away from them and say, it's been
all perfect. It hasn't been.
One of the trademarks has been a tendency to sort of lurch from crisis to
crisis to go up to the brink and pull back. And whether it's legislative
fights or the draft or Gennifer Flowers, there's always been a crisis, where
doom is right around the corner and yet, Clinton pulls out of it.
Is there something about who Bill Clinton is that leads to that kind of
lurching from crisis to crisis?
That's a good question. There is a part of him, because he's so bright,
that becomes easily bored. And I think he enjoys to some extent seeing how
close he can walk to the edge of the envelope and still pull it off and still,
you know, walk right on the edge. And his problem has been as president,
occasionally he's fallen off.
But there's a part of him that sort of likes to dare history, because he's
always been so good and people have always been able to say, "Wow, he did
that." I think it's sort of one of the things he enjoys doing. He likes to
get the ball on his own two-yard line and see if he can score a 98-yard run.
He just enjoys that. And it's part of his psyche.
And so, I think he's willing to accept a certain amount of chaos or a
certain amount of lateness on things and try to pull it out. It's like the guy
who doesn't study until the night before the exam and then reads five books
and goes and gets an A. I mean, that's been his history in life, right? So he
brings that to governing. And he's always succeeded in life doing that.
The presidency is a very, very difficult institution. It's very difficult
to govern this country. It takes a lot of discipline and a lot of thought
about where you're going. And if you lurch around what happens is that you
frequently get some things done, but it leaves the rest of the community
saying, what's going on here?
Forty years ago Richard Neustadt published a book about presidential power
that's now the classic in the field. And he made the observation that you have
to have two things going for you. You have to have public prestige and a
professional reputation. Now, Bill Clinton has been very good at the public
prestige. He's been very, very good at the outside game of politics. Better
than almost anybody we've seen recently.
He's had a much, much harder time on the professional reputation.
Professional reputation is how people feel about you on Capitol Hill, how
people feel about you in the press, how people feel about you in Georgetown,
and some other places around Washington, increasingly it's how people feel
about you in New York and in Silicon Valley and in Redmond and in places like
And his professional reputation has been one of "We're not sure who he is.
And we're not sure he'll be there for us in the end." And there's been a lot
of distrust up on Capitol Hill and I think that's come back to haunt him. I
mean I think he's been much more popular in the country than he is in other
power centers. And that makes a difference in governing.
Foreign policy. One of the great successes was the Rabin-Arafat
handshake, but one of the most difficult times was Somalia when the president
sees the pictures of American Delta Force being dragged through the streets of
Mogadishu. What was it like or what was the president's mood, what was he
saying when that crisis was breaking? And that was on your watch.
He was extremely upset about the loss of life. ... He's been very willing
to use American forces overseas but he's been very reluctant to see them go in
harm's way or be put in a situation where a lot of people get killed. He's
tried to calibrate carefully various U.S. engagements so that a minimal number
of people get killed and it's still an exercise or a demonstration of
Somalia wasn't quite his Bay of Pigs, but it came close. It was a
situation in which I think he in retrospect realized that as president he had
allowed the mission to expand, what's called mission creep, and at the same
time he had been withdrawing down the number of forces who could do it. And he
left his forces in a situation where they were overexposed to danger. And he
knew that. And in retrospect, I think he blamed himself to some extent and I
think to some extent he blamed some of his advisors.
Was there a sense there when you were with him that we were going to get
out of there as soon as we could, that we were going to cut our losses and
I think that Somalia haunted the administration for a while after that.
It was almost like the Vietnam Syndrome. There was a Somalia Syndrome. And
that is, don't ever get yourself in a situation like that again where you put
people in harm's way and they are not fully protected, you don't know what
I was trying to remember whether the Haiti thing came after that.
It did. Yeah. It did. As I recall we had a ship going into Haiti, the
Harlan County, and they got there and there was a mob on the pier. And
to my astonishment, people in the Harlan County were not armed. And I
said, look--and people blame me for some of this, but my argument to the
president was-- "You got one of two choices. You either got to go in with
force and take care of that unruly mob, you can take them in five minutes. Or
you got to get the ship the hell out of there."
The one thing you cannot do is dither. You can't just leave that ship
sitting there while you try to figure out what to do. And he ordered them out
.... And frankly, I don't blame the Harlan County on Bill Clinton so
much. I don't understand why the Pentagon didn't have those people armed going
in. They weren't prepared for what amounted to be like a street mob.
...I want to come back to this. The Somalia Syndrome was playing into the
Harlan County episode. Because nobody wanted to have Americans leave
the Harlan County and go ashore unarmed and get killed by that mob. That would
have been awful, and in the back of people's minds was Somalia. And that
existed in the back of people's minds for a long time.
You got to remember the people who were around Bill Clinton have a real
neuralgia about Vietnam, that Vietnam continues to play through in this
generation. This is the generation that is now in power. They grew up in Vietnam. And
Tony Lake, his National Security Advisor, was in Vietnam. And Tony takes this
very, very seriously, and to his credit.
Tony Lake is one of the kind of people who quietly, as National Security
Advisor, went to the funerals of people from Somalia and took his day of Sunday
and flew to Kentucky, I think it was, to go privately as a citizen to the
funeral. Very quietly and came back. Didn't say anything about it. Didn't
want any publicity. But the loss of life was very, very important to the
president and the people around him, loss of American life.
To what extent during your tenure did Bill Clinton care about foreign
You got to remember when Bill Clinton was elected the country thought
George Bush was spending way too much time on foreign policy and wasn't paying
enough attention on the domestic side. So Bill Clinton came in with the
understanding of the mandate from the country that was pay attention to the
domestic side and forget this foreign policy stuff.
And the truth was it flipped between the Bush administration and the
Clinton administration on the attention to foreign policy. Traditionally where
presidents have spent maybe 60 percent of their time, 65 percent of their time
on foreign policy during the Cold War. With Bush he got up to about 75 percent
sometimes. With Clinton it totally flipped and he went to maybe 25 percent of
his time on foreign policy at most.
Jim Woolsey, the CIA Director, couldn't get on his schedule to see him.
Couldn't get in to see the president?
Couldn't get in. The CIA does a daily briefing with the president. And
that's long been the case. And so, Jim Woolsey would come over with his
briefers thinking, "Well, I'll get a chance to go in there and talk to him."
They had a very hard time getting on his schedule. When the little tiny plane
crashed on the White House lawn, the joke around town was that was Jim Woolsey
trying to get an appointment to see Bill Clinton. And other governments were
having a hard time getting on his schedule.
Now, when he got in trouble over five or six months, Tony Lake and Warren
Christopher and others, Sandy Berger, were able to persuade him, "Look,you're
good at this foreign policy stuff. You know, you went to school at Georgetown
on foreign policy, you enjoy it. But you're not spending sustained attention
on it and you really need to do that." And they began correcting that schedule.
But for the first few months all the emphasis were somewhere else. And I have
to say his attention span on foreign policy remained episodic through much of
his presidency. But I think he was better on foreign policy than he's given
credit for. I think he's had many more accomplishments than he's given credit
Just before Christmas in 1993, the trooper story breaks, first in The American
Spectator, then in The Los Angeles Times. How did Bill and
Hillary take that story?
That was a tough, tough blow. He acted outraged, and she was clearly
outraged; wouldn't say so, but I think she felt a sense of humiliation that
went very deep. No first lady likes to be put in that situation, of course.
So, it was a very tough time for them.
And she in that kind of environment, her first response is to rally the
troops and get people out defending the president. I think that's one of the
great contributions she's made to him over time. She's the one who steadies
things up. She deploys people, gets them out there.
But I think it was privately just very, very difficult for her. Now, I
believe that the Troopergate story was a turning point on the health care
fight. Let me explain why. Up until that time, she had been very, very
involved in sort of the effort to put together the health care plan. It had
been early presentations in the fall of 1993. The Troopergate story came along
in December. I think it put him in a substantially one-down situation, with
her psychologically in the dynamics of a marriage.
I can't prove this. My sense has been they are on a see-saw in their
relationship. When that relationship works, they're very good partners. But
when she goes up and he goes down, or he goes up and she goes down, there, the
balance gets out of whack. On health care, what happened was that that
Troopergate story put that see-saw up so that she went way up and he went way
down. And I never saw him challenge her on health care in the weeks that
followed. On the politics of what was going on, on sort of how to get it
presented to the Congress properly. How to get it through the Congress. I
really think that it sealed her position. It put her firmly in charge of how
to get health care done.
Is this because he's in the dog house? Is that what you're saying
Absolutely. Watching him in that time, it was very much like watching a
golden retriever that has pooped on the rug and just curls up and keeps his
head down. And it put him in a situation where he was in her dog house. And I
think it put him in a situation where on health care he never challenged it in
a way he ordinarily would have, had he been under different psychological
And, of course, the Troopergate story set off the Paula Jones case. Paula
was mentioned in The American Spectator story and that led to the
lawsuit. So it had other consequences. But it had a real change in the
dynamics I sensed, at least in the White House, and it couldn't have come at a
worse time. It was really very, very damaging.
I don't want to put the blame on her on health care. I don't think that's
fair. I don't think she ever should have been asked to put the health care
thing together. I think Donna Shalala should have been asked to put that
together and I think Mrs. Clinton could have led the crusade to get it passed.
But ultimately this was Bill Clinton's White House. He was the guy elected
president. Ultimately if your wife gets assigned health care that's his
And so, you have to say Mr. President, you did a lot of really good things
as president but turning the health care program over to Mrs. Clinton, who had
never really worked in Washington before and asking her to do something that
massive was like giving her a mission impossible. It just was more than she
should have been asked to do. And I do think that the dynamics of the
relationship had something to do with it.
You mention Troopergate leads to Paula Jones. She gives this press
conference and there's a sort of interesting strategy that develops from the
The president's lawyer had a good line on the lawsuit, this was "tabloid
trash" with a legal caption on it. You also had a not-too-subtle attack on
Paula Jones herself. You have James Carville out on the talk show saying,
"Drag a hundred dollar bill through a trailer park, no telling what you're
going to find."
So, here you have the White House attacking the press again, shaming the
press, and attacking the integrity of the woman bringing the charges. What was
your view about the strategy?
I'm the wrong person to ask. I was not there for that. I had left by then,
but I think the record is pretty clear that by attacking Paula Jones personally
that the prospects for getting a settlement went down the drain. That she felt
insulted and pushed on. I think they were very, very close to getting a
settlement from everything I've understood about it. And by attacking her it
really went down the other way. And James Carville has been a first-rate
political strategist and helper for Bill Clinton over a long period of time and
a big, big defender of his. But it's up to the president to determine how he
wants the people who are loyal to him to support him. If you took a Franklin
Roosevelt in that situation he would not have allowed somebody to go after
Paula Jones in the way they went after her. He would've understood "Let's cut
our losses. Let's get this behind us. Let's get a settlement done and get
this woman out of the headlines. We don't need this."
And, instead, by going out and attacking, I think you you get her into a
situation where it goes the other way. Now, I want to contrast that--and this
is a very interesting point and it may seem like a stretch.
Contrast that to the way Bob Rubin worked with Bill Clinton on the Alan
Greenspan relationship. Bill Clinton's tendency was to go out early on in his
presidency and go out and attack Alan Greenspan on interest rates. He thought
they were way too tight and thought they were holding back the economy and he
wanted to go out there and attack him. And Bob Rubin came to him and said,
"Mr. President, you can't do that. If you attack him, you'll challenge his
manhood and if you challenge his manhood he's going to tighten some more just
to show you that he's independent."
And Bob Rubin understood and as a result the president listened to that,
decided that is right, that's wise, didn't attack him. And lo and behold
Greenspan got us through this thing and they've had a fabulous relationship
since, and Bill Clinton has twice reappointed Alan Greenspan. And it's been a
terrific economy, partly because of that relationship. I think if they had the
same kind of restraint with regard to Paula Jones that they had toward the Fed,
there would have been a very different outcome.
By the end of '94, I mean you've been brought in as you say largely to
bring this president back to the center. There was a profile problem he had
after his early couple of years. He had gone way to the left and Hillary was
blamed for part of that.
I think it was partly to get him sort of righted, to help get him out of
the ditch. His presidency had gone into a ditch and my job was to help him get
out of the ditch.
One of the things that you were arguing for strenuously to do was NAFTA.
Why was that such a critical moment for Clinton at that time?
NAFTA, in my judgment, was one of the finest hours of Bill Clinton's
presidency. And people like Bill Daley and Rahm Emanuel, and others--Mickey
Kantor--deserve a great deal of credit for. What was really important about
NAFTA was, first of all, it was good policy. Secondly, and very, very
importantly, it was courageous of Bill Clinton to go out for NAFTA because he
had the labor unions all on the other side. His entire political base was
saying, "don't do this." He had a lot of people in the White House saying,
"Don't do this. This is a loser. You're going to lose this thing and you're
going to really tee-off your base and they're going to leave you."
And he said, "No, no, it's good for the country" and he went out and fought
for something. And he showed people that he had some guts. He showed people
that when it came to sort of, "I'll do something because if the country's
interest is at stake I'll fight for it." And I think that was a terrific
moment for him. I think NAFTA, passing NAFTA and getting the budget bill
passed the first year were like two of the most important moments of his
presidency. And they sent a signal to an awful lot of people, but particularly
NAFTA sent a signal that at the end of the day Bill Clinton was not driven
entirely by polls and by politics, he had some guts and he had a sense of what
The tragedy that came later was that after he lost the 1994 elections and
the Republicans took over--that Dick Morris who was the master strategist and I
think one of the cleverest people who's ever been around Bill Clinton and has
the best insights into Bill Clinton as a politician--the tragedy was that Dick
Morris persuaded him he had to get away from that kind of thing and he had to
go very political in order to survive. And he moved away from those kind of
I think if he'd stuck to his guns as he did on NAFTA, I think he would have
sent a lot of signals to people that this is a gutsy guy.
You were still around at the election of '94?
I was over at the State Department by that time.
By this point Clinton is sort of upset with his whole team. There are
big, big changes in the White House. What was his feeling? I mean why did you
get moved to the State Department? Did he tell you?
I asked to leave. I wanted to get out before the '94 elections. I had
told him when I came in I didn't want to be around for elections. I could help
him with the governing but I thought it was inappropriate for me to be there
for an election period when inevitably it was going to get partisan and I had
worked for Republicans. I just didn't feel comfortable about that...
Did you talk to him after the elections? I mean did you get a sense
Yes, I talked to him. He went through another downward spiral. This
presidency has been on a roller coaster from day one. And what you find is in
year one he starts high coming off the transition, 59 percent, he goes way down
the first six months, he brings himself back up, and then he gets health care
and he goes down and then he gets the defeat in '94 and he goes way down. And
with Dick Morris there he picks himself back up again. And then, of course, he
goes down after the Monica business and he has never fully--
Did he take any responsibility, himself, for losing the Congress in '94?
Did he ever face that he was partly responsible for that?
He was really, really angry at just a variety of things. He was angry at
the Republicans, he was angry at the consultants. And he felt that if this the
way that politics is going to be played in Washington, by God, he'd play it
this way. His view was the Republicans have been cynical all along about
politics, "They come in here and they don't stick to their guns, they just do
the things that are political so they can get reelected. I came in the first
two years and tried to do the right thing for the country, got my head handed
to me. And by God, I'm not going to do that again. I'll do what basically I
need to do."
He was very much fighting back to get elected. And that's why I think
Dick Morris understands that. Dick Morris said--he's written in his book he
wrote--"You got to understand that there are two sides to Bill Clinton.
There's the good government Bill Clinton, and then there's the guy who's the
politician. And if his survival is challenged he's going to turn into a
politician." But that's what happened after the '94 election.
Why did he get rid of his political team?
He thought they had let him down. He thought that they had misjudged the
tenor of the times. I think he blamed them in part for health care that they
had been deeply involved in. I frankly think that they paid a bigger price
than they should have. I think these were very talented people. And they had
served him well over a long period of time. But hey, look, it's, like a losing
baseball team, you fire the manager, get a new manager. That's where he
Looking back now, what do you consider his legacy to be, his historical
I think historians are always going to be ambivalent about Bill Clinton,
just as they are about Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. And that's because
there is a bright side of Bill Clinton who has accomplished enormous things for
the country. The country is clearly better off than it was the day he was first
The 1990s are going to be remembered as one of the brightest decades of the
20th Century. And he was one of the prime movers in that decade. Many of the
steps he took were small, to be sure, but the decade turned out very well.
We're better off economically, we're at peace, and a lot of cultural indicators
like divorce rates, teenage crime, teenage pregnancy, are moving in the right
And he has something to do with that. And, yet, at the same time, there is
this other side, the downside, the negative side. He goes in the history as
the first elected president to be impeached. He goes into history as the first
president who's had his whole sexual life thoroughly opened up in the press.
He goes into history with an administration that has a very tainted ethical
record, just whole episodes that have bedeviled him.
Nothing as serious as Watergate. But the whole conjure of things we call
Whitewater, you know, have left a definite stain on it, and I think historians
are going to have a hard time with it. I think they are going to have a hard
time sort of juggling how you weigh those two things in the end.
And Lyndon Johnson's always faced this. Now, what's happening with Lyndon
Johnson is that he paid a heavy price in the beginning on Vietnam and now he's
being recognized for what he did in civil rights and his reputation is getting
better. I think Bill Clinton over time will fare better in the history books
than he will immediately. I think he's going to look better over time. I also
think that the country is better prepared for the 21st Century than we think we
are. We are in better shape as a people than we think we are. And I think
people will look back and say, "You know, Bill Clinton told us about this
bridge and we never understood what the hell it was, but it turned out he
prepared the country." Over the time he was president a lot of things happened
that made us better prepared for the 21st Century. And I think he'll get some
credit for that.
And this gets a little esoteric, but let me just put this over. Bill
Clinton has introduced a different kind of leadership to the presidency. We
traditionally like leaders who are very strong and have a sense of direction
and go right this way and here, "Follow me." He has almost a feminine kind of
style. It's more like "Bring this in, get this viewpoint, get this viewpoint,
and we'll sort of synthesize everything and we'll try this and we'll move
And I think we're seeing more and more of leadership like that in the
corporate sector and in other kinds of organizations, in which there are many
more voices at the table--the diversity that he's introduced, and looking for
additional voices, trying to bring other voices in. I am a traditionalist. I
prefer, "Let's go this direction." But I think there is an argument to be said
for someone who has a 360 degree vision and draws the best from various
traditions to put it together. And I think we're going to see more and more of
that in the future.
In May, I had the opportunity to go to the White House and hear Bill
Clinton speak extemporaneously and he was like the best I'd heard him in a
long, long time. I couldn't believe it. I went to some of his people and said
"Has he been speaking like this recently?" And they said, "He's entered a zone
in the last few weeks that nobody quite understands, but its like a baseball
player who's on a hitting streak. And the baseball player gets in that zone and
he sees the ball coming toward him from the pitcher bigger than it really is
and can hit it more easily."
And somehow he has been liberated. And over the course of his last year,
he's willing to talk about things he would never talk about in a way. He's
willing to talk more about himself. I think he's coming to grips with sort of
his own place in history, who he is as a person. I think he's a much more
mature man now than he was when he was first elected.
In my judgment he went on this roller coaster ride that was in his
presidency. It was the first four, five, six months when he went straight down
and then over the next several months he pulled himself straight back up again.
And he was the prime architect of his recovery.
And then the Troopergate thing hit and then health care went down the early
next year and then he lost the Congress and then he went right back down again
on the roller coaster. But to some extent what you have to understand about
the presidency is, you don't have long to make your big accomplishments. When
Lyndon Johnson was elected in 1964, he went to his people and said, "We've got
about a year to get things done." Because power slips away in this office, it
evaporates very quickly. And the problem with coming in with those big early
losses and going down on the roller coaster those first six months, he's lost
That first six to nine months in the presidency are the most important time
you have as president of the whole eight years. That's when you can get more
done with the Congress, that's when you're fresh, when the country's with you,
things haven't hit from the outside. And inevitably, in every presidency,
you're going to have some things that come in from the outside that come
banging on you which you can't expect. And so things that happened to him late
in the first year--Vince Foster happened in the middle of the year, he couldn't
help that, or The Los Angeles Times and the Troopergate story. Those
outside things come up and banging up against you. And if you don't get it
early, you don't get it. It's really hard.
I think the strength of Bill Clinton is that he could overcome. Most
people in that job would never have been able to pull out of that first
tailspin that he went into. But he did. And that's the remarkable thing about
Bill Clinton--how good he is at pulling himself out of the tailspins. He is
"the Comeback Kid." The other remarkable thing about Bill Clinton is how he
gets himself into trouble so he goes in those tailspins. And that's what's
been hard to reconcile.
As you were saying before, there is a part of his character that seems
to enjoy living dangerously.
Yes. He likes to live dangerously. It's the eight years of living
dangerously. Some really high points, some very strong things, but he likes to
live life right at the edge. And there's something about him psychologically
that has thrived on that all his life, Now, I happen to believe that he's
coming out of it. I sense a man who is coming more into his own than he has
been any time in his life. That he's coming to grips with himself in ways that
he has not before and it's healthy. You know, as a person, I think he has
always believed, as a Southern Baptist, in the powers of redemption and I think
he's in the process of sort of pulling himself together.