Your first stint at the White House was under Lloyd Cutler, right before
you came back. Tell us a little bit about what you were doing
your first time around.|
Lloyd had gone over to be the temporary counsel to the president when Bernie
Nussbaum resigned. And if you recall, Bernie resigned at a time when there
were questions about the investigation of Vince Foster's suicide and contacts
that the White House had had with the Treasury Department about the
investigation that the Treasury was doing of the Whitewater matter.
Lloyd came in at a time when there was a perception that those issues had been
mishandled by the White House, that they needed someone to come in who could
restore some confidence, that there was a real grown-up in there who had things
in hand and was going to get everything whipped into shape, and find out what
went wrong and take care of it if something did go wrong.
He went in to conduct an internal investigation of the White House Treasury
contacts issue, as well as the Vince Foster suicide and the aftermath of that,
and I went with him. I have worked for Lloyd for many years, and I went with
him to help him do that.
In that first period, our goal was to conduct an internal inquiry and then
report both to the president and to Congress what we found and recommend any
changes in policies, any disciplinary actions as a result of that.
That was our first encounter with the scandal environment in the Clinton years.
This was in April of 1994.
How would you characterize the scandal management approach at that
When we first came in, it was being handled by people in the West Wing, and it
absorbed very much the attention of the entire West Wing operation. There were
various people involved--John Podesta, who was staff secretary at the time, was
quite involved; Harold Ickes was involved; the press secretary, Dee Dee Myers,
was involved at the time...all of the people who were also involved in the
day-to-day White House operations were involved in the scandal management.
It was a little chaotic in the beginning because Lloyd's role was to come in
and try and manage it all within the counsel's office, all under his direction.
And there is always a tension between political people and lawyers. Political
people assume that lawyers have a tin ear, and they can't possibly understand
what the public needs to hear about whatever is the issue of the day. Lawyers
are worried that if anyone says anything, it can be held against them later or
create problems in some sort of a legal environment...there's always difficulty
in marrying those two.
There was, in those initial days, a tremendous amount of wariness and suspicion
that the lawyers didn't know what they were doing, and the lawyers thought the
political people were being too aggressive, and there was an effort, I think,
made to integrate those teams in a way so that we could actually work together
and accomplish a reasonable investigation that resulted in a report to Congress
that would create some confidence by the American people that this issue had
been looked at carefully and had been fully exhausted and dealt with by this
Were you there for the great debate about whether to turn over the
Whitewater material to the Washington Post? I know that that had been
advocated by David Gergen and others. Were you there for that debate?
I came after that debate. We had similar debates many times about what to
do with that material and whether it should be turned over. But that debate
was after the time that I was there.
You talked about this tension between the political staff and the legal
staff. The political staff argued, I assume, for more public disclosure, and
the legal staff for less; is that accurate?
I'm not so sure it broke down on those lines. Lloyd Cutler has always been an
advocate of full disclosure. Let's [have] full cooperation. We'll waive
privileges. "Open kimono" is what he'd say...that it was more useful to
I think that some of the political people were quite wary of the press and
quite concerned that any information that was put out there would be used
against them; that the press would treat it unfairly; that the Clinton haters
would grab hold of it and exploit it and use it irresponsibly. It didn't
actually break down necessarily along the traditional lines.
In 1994, the Democrats lose both Houses of [Congress]. Gingrich comes in as
Speaker, and there's a famous Gingrich quote which says, "Washington just can't
imagine a world in which Republicans have subpoena power." You are then
brought in again to come back to the White House Counsel's Office. Tell us
about that and the new atmosphere with a Republican Congress.
It was very clear. Gingrich made it clear. I think there was a time when Al
D'Amato had said that by the '96 election every kid over the age of six was
going to know how to spell the word subpoena.
There was an environment that made it perfectly clear that the Republicans
would use that power to try and defeat the president's reelection. And
combined with an independent counsel, this was perceived to be something that
was quite dangerous and needed to be managed carefully.
When I came back in, Leon Panetta had given the primary responsibility for
managing these kinds of issues to Harold Ickes. And I worked with Harold on a
plan for putting together a team that would essentially take the management of
these issues out of the mainstream operations of the West Wing, so that the
press spokesman, who was meeting with the press every day, would not be the
Whitewater spokesman; so that the people who went to the Hill and dealt with
the Congress on this were not the same people who were asking for various
positions and support on the president's initiatives.
We tried to move it out of the mainstream White House and handle it as a
discrete unit so that the primary work of the White House wouldn't bleed into
the scandal work. And I think conceptually that was a terrific idea, and I
think it worked quite well for a while. We did get to a point where, at the
daily press briefings, the press was not asking McCurry about Whitewater. They
were quite content to go and talk to Mark Fabiani to get their answers, who was
the Whitewater press person.
It also worked, I think, quite effectively on the Hill. We had relationships
on the Hill with people who developed confidence in us and the information we
were giving them. And it wasn't tainted by anything else that was going on or
any other initiative that the White House was trying to work with the Hill.
And similarly, with the other work of the Counsel's Office, we weren't involved
in that either.
I think it did succeed in keeping from distracting the people who really were
responsible for developing domestic policy and seeing the president through
that period after the midterm election, to keep their eye focused on the right
When you were hired, you meet with the president, and there's a scene in
Woodward's book where he puts his arm around you and talks to you. Can you
tell us about that meeting, what it was the president said?
Well, I think that encounter was something that was designed mostly to send a
signal to others that I was part of the team. I had come in, everyone knew I
was Harold's person. I had worked closely with Harold in the '94 period on
those investigations. But...sometimes I've thought that in dealing with the
external world to the White House was easier than dealing with the internal
It's very important to your own ability to get things done for other people to
understand what kind of access and what kind of authority you actually have.
And I think that that encounter was really more designed to demonstrate to
others that this was a relationship that was important and that I would have
some ability to execute my brief with a direct line to the president.
My direct line was to Harold. I occasionally dealt with the president, and
that was usually with Harold and sometimes others. But it was still a
demonstration by the president that--
It was a signal to others in the White House that you had some
That's right, and it was in the presence of others. So, at least, that's how I
You went to see Mrs. Clinton, who had some early skepticism about your
mission...or your plans.
I think she had skepticism about the ability to manage the risk that she
understood the White House was confronting. And she also understood that she
was the foil, that a lot of the attacks on the president would actually be
directed against her. And she was very concerned that there be some kind of an
operation in place that was dealing with that in a very smart way. She, too,
was looking to Harold to make sure that he put that together. And Harold, in
turn, was looking to me.
I'd encountered Hillary briefly in the course of the '94 investigation. But in
'95, I had spent quite a bit of time working with Harold to put together this
plan for how we would manage the so-called scandals on an ongoing basis, and
then met with her to lay out the plan and tell her what kind of staffing we
were considering, who we were considering hiring, who had been hired and what
our goals were and how we expected to proceed.
She is a very smart woman, and she asked lots of good questions, and I had lots
of good answers, and we just progressed through the meeting. And I think she
was persuaded that there was an apparatus in place, that we had thought the
issues through, and now we just had to see if it worked.
At the end of the day, I felt that the meeting had been sufficiently positive
that we could go forward with this plan and at least have her support and
confidence that it was the right way to start.
What were her reservations about?
I don't remember that she had reservations about it. One of the issues that
was always a difficult one, I think, for me to deal with was how you develop
the relationship with the outside counsel. The Whitewater issue, as you know,
arose many, many years before Clinton was president. It was something that
really came about in the context of their personal lives, not in an official
capacity when he was president or she was first lady. The relationship
with...the personal counsel, who was really primarily responsible for those
issues that had developed in that pre-inaugural era, was something that I
thought was important to understand and that we needed to develop the
appropriate lines there.
That was a struggle throughout the whole period because those lines cannot be
easily drawn when you're dealing with someone in their official capacity who is
profoundly affected in that capacity by things that happened in his personal
life prior to the time he was president.
It was a very difficult line to walk, and I have a recollection of describing
that to her. But I don't recall a reservation. [The attitude was] let's move
forward with this in place and see how it works
The way it's recounted in one book is that when you went to go see Mrs.
Clinton for that meeting in her West Wing office, that, "Mrs. Clinton could
barely contain her skepticism." Is that how you recall it?
No. No. I don't recall her being skeptical. She wanted to know what we were
going to do. She asked the right questions...I wouldn't say she heaved a big
sigh of relief and said, "Whew, you know, everything's under control." But we
had something in place, and that if it worked on a going-forward basis, it
would be great. But if it didn't, we'd have to see. She was not going to
embrace the whole plan, until she saw whether it was working. And that was
You worked for, you said, Harold Ickes, although technically you worked for
Abner Mikva, the White House counsel, and there was apparently some dispute
about who you really worked for. At one point Ickes defends you pretty
vigorously. He also, at the same time, apparently tells Mikva, "Hands off.
She works for me," or something like that.
That was a difficult arrangement. The understanding that I had with Harold
when I went to work in the White House was that I would have some control over
what it was we were doing. I felt that this was a very high-risk, for me
professionally, undertaking, and that unless I could actually have the access,
get access to the facts, the witnesses, the people, the documents, touch and
feel it myself, make my own professional judgments, with my own staff that I
had selected and was comfortable with, that I didn't want to do it.
I laid that out to Harold and said, "That's the terms. I want my own operation
here." And that was the understanding that we had on a going-forward basis as
I came to the White House, and I had thought, as Harold had, that that was the
understanding that Abner Mikva had as well. As time went on, and the
relationship with Mikva was one where I would keep him informed of things that
were developing, and certainly he had terrific relationships with Congress and
could be deployed very effectively to be helpful in some of these matters,
[then] we would work together, but [it] was my operation.
As time went on, I think Ab became uncomfortable with that arrangement and
resisted it. And that created some tensions, which have been described in
April 22nd , the Independent Counsel decides to depose the Clintons at
the White House. How did that go? This is three days after the Oklahoma City
It was three days after. We had set up this interview. We had worked with the
president to prepare him and worked with Hillary as well. And the depositions
were set to go forward, and this terrible tragedy occurred, which had diverted
the attention of the White House. That's where the president's attention should
have been. That required some jockeying with the schedule and consultations
with Starr's office about timing and what happens when.
In that particular interview-- in the president's study, which is in the
residential part of the White House. It's a beautiful room. It's not large.
It's got a big desk. It's got all of these artifacts in it that have got great
historical significance. It's an interesting room.
The president went first. Starr came with several deputies, and they sat along
one side of a table, and the lawyers for the president sat along the other
side, and the president sat on the end. There was a court reporter. And Starr
began by asking the first questions.
I was sitting toward the end of the table, and I was sitting close to Mark
Toohey, who was a deputy independent counsel at the time. And all of the
lawyers in the room immediately realized that Ken Starr had failed to swear in
the president. That is a very common first-year lawyer kind of mistake. It's
something that [you do] when you're nervous about a deposition...what you
always say to a kid when you send him off to take their first deposition is,
"Don't forget to swear in the witness."
I can see Mark scratching a little note that he passes down the table to Ken
Starr, and Starr stops and says, "Oh, excuse me. I need to swear in the
witness." It was an amusing moment, and it was an interesting observation just
how experienced Starr was at this kind of a thing. I had heard from someone
that that was his very first deposition that he had ever taken. He was not a
prosecutor by training, and this very first word or words out of his mouth
seemed to establish that.
The deposition proceeded. The president handled himself quite well, as he
always does. He's the kind of witness who really wants to connect with his
questioner. Anyone who's been around the president knows that he has a very
engaging personal style, and he likes to connect in a very direct way with the
people that he's dealing with, and he did that with Ken Starr [and] his
deputies. The deposition proceeded without any particular [trouble]--it was
not a tough series of questions, and no one ever got testy. There was never
any argument. The lawyers weren't objecting. It was quite cordial.
So cordial, in fact, that afterwards the president apparently asked someone
to show Starr the Lincoln Bedroom, and Mrs. Clinton issued sort of opposite
directions. Do you know that story? Were you there?
I do know that story. Afterward, the president was talking to Starr and
his...four or five lawyers there with him, and--he was showing them around the
room and explaining what some of the different artifacts were. And they were
talking some about the Oklahoma City bombing.
Then the president invited me to show this team where the Lincoln Bedroom was.
I was actually myself quite anxious just to get on with it and get these people
out of the room. I don't like to be discourteous to an opponent, but I
typically don't need to show them my bedroom either. And so this was a little
awkward, but it was something that I would have done after Hillary was deposed,
and she was next.
After she had completed her deposition, I then dutifully took these folks on a
very rapid tour of the Lincoln Bedroom and then got them out of the White
House. Hillary did express some dismay. This was their home. This was an
invasion in their home, and I understood completely. I wanted those folks out
of their home as well. It was an interesting comparison of how the two of them
approached those kinds of situations.
But Hillary wasn't happy about that.
As I said, she was dismayed, and she didn't understand why they couldn't just
be ushered out promptly.
The second interview comes up July 22nd. Anything particular about that
interview that marks it as different from the first one?
I'm trying to remember what the subject matter of that interview was. I know
that with each of these interviews, there was always the question about when
you disclose that it's taking place. If it gets leaked, what happens, how do
you respond, as well as what does it say, and how do we prepare people for the
fact that Starr has said that he wants to conduct several of these
Every time there was an interview like this, it stirred the pot. It made
people think that the scandal issues were coming to a head, that Starr was
about ready to do something or that he had found something that he needed to
question the president about. So it was always important to try and help
people understand that this was a process, that Starr couldn't question the
president and the first lady about everything that he needed to talk to them
about in one sitting, that there would be more, and that this was something
that was completely expected. And those issues surfaced each time we had these
depositions in the White House.
In that first sitting with the Independent Counsel, you said things were
pretty routine and went pretty well. Was there any noticeable difference
between how things went for the president versus Mrs. Clinton? Did the
prosecutor seem more interested in Mrs. Clinton? Did Mrs. Clinton handle it
different than the president?
I don't think the prosecutors were any more interested, but there was a
different tone to the depositions. The president is a very warm, engaging and
outgoing person in almost any situation. And Hillary was an ideal client
because she was very courteous and polite. She answered the questions, but
there wasn't a lot of superfluous talk in the deposition, and it was perfectly
cordial, and she left. Unlike the president, who stood around to chat, and
talk about what was in the room.
I think the attitude on the part of the prosecutors was perhaps somewhat more
aggressive with her. Certainly, I picked up over the course of the time that I
worked with Starr's people a tremendous hostility toward Hillary. I could be
dealing with [Starr's] people on a perfectly benign subject [like], "When are
you going to get us the documents?" and if her name came up, there would be a
whole change in the conversation, and the venom with which they spoke about her
was just startling. I wouldn't say that that came through in that particular
deposition, the venom, but there was a wariness here. She knew these people
were not allies and that they were scouring every inch of her life for
something to harm her with. And so she answered their questions, she went
through it, but it was not friendly.
In August 1995, Joe Klein, who had written very approvingly of the Clintons
early in the campaign, came out with a column which called the Clintons the
"Tom and Daisy Buchanan" of their generation; that they had sort of left this
trail littered with debris, including a lot of people who had gone to bat for
them and suffered enormous legal bills and so on. What was Mrs. Clinton's
reaction to that column? What did she convey to you?
Well, I know when I read that column I fervently hoped that she wouldn't read
it because I knew it would be painful to her, and I also knew that it was
unfair. I had worked with her enough to have seen how deeply troubled she was
about what people close to her were being put through in these investigations.
And to have her analogized to a Daisy Buchanan was really quite hurtful and
There came a time when she and I did talk about that column, and it was hurtful
to her. She didn't want to be perceived that way because she wasn't that way,
she didn't feel that way. She cared deeply about Maggie Williams. She loves
Maggie. And Maggie would do anything for her. And for someone to think that
she was being callous and disregarding what this was doing to Maggie...it
wasn't the case, and it wasn't fair to present that perception of her, and it
Later on that summer, there is a debate about whether or not Mrs. Clinton
herself should be a witness before Congress. What was that debate like, and
where did you stand on it?
...[Senator Al] D'Amato hoped the hearings were building. But, in fact, the
hearings were a dud. They weren't establishing what he wanted to establish.
They weren't the sensation that he hoped they would be. And so the only card
he had left was Hillary. He didn't dare subpoena her. And so the question
was, would she make herself available and go up and say, "All right. Here I
am. I'll tell you anything you want to know," and put herself forward in that
I thought it was a tough call, actually. She's a terrific witness. She's very
compelling. She would have, I thought, been quite effective. But it would
have been completely sensational. It would have been a total diversion from
the president's agenda, and I thought, ultimately, unnecessary because I didn't
think D'Amato would pull that subpoena trigger. And if he didn't have the guts
to do that, I didn't think she should go up there.
We played this game of chicken for a while with D'Amato--he would send a letter
saying, "We would welcome her if she would like to come." She'd send a letter
or we would send a letter from the White House saying, "If you want to ask her
to come, go ahead and ask her." It was this game of chicken that we played.
Ultimately he never did pull the trigger, and she didn't go. I think that was
the right judgment, ultimately.
In December, there is an event which is tied to some other events. It
starts with this David Watkins' memo that's discovered about the Travel Office.
Why did that cause such consternation at the White House when it was discovered
that Watkins had, in fact, written this memo where he sort of blames Mrs.
Clinton for pulling the strings?
The Watkins memo, which at the time seemed, when we found it, as if the sky was
falling, was a problem for a couple of reasons. One, the travel office matter,
was being investigated, and investigations of investigations were being
undertaken, but it was a big nothing. There was no clear connection, although
there were allegations, to Hillary really having been involved directly in any
of the decisions that were made with the firing of the travel office
Watkins' memo...was sort of a soul-cleansing memo. He was frustrated with the
way this had happened in the White House. He felt like he'd taken the fall for
decisions that he didn't make by himself. And he wrote in the memo that he
understood from another White House staffer that Hillary was the one who had
ordered the firings. Now, he never said that she told him that. He doesn't
say that, and she doesn't say that. But the memo was sufficiently relevant to
all of the inquiries that had been taking place and was sufficiently
inflammatory about her role that we knew it would be significant.
The fact that it was discovered late [was significant]...these were documents
that had been subpoenaed before, there had been many investigations, and we
knew it would have some key significance to any of these investigations, and
that the Republicans were going to use it...[they'd say] we'd been hiding this,
[and] why hadn't we produced it sooner? I always wondered, [about] those
arguments...because why would we produce it in December or January all of a
sudden if we were going to hide it? Why wouldn't we have hidden it
permanently? Those arguments just rang so hollow to me. But we did produce
it, and it was the source of a tremendous amount of controversy.
How was it produced in the first place? Where had it been?
Let me start by saying it was produced as the result of our great diligence in
trying to respond to subpoenas. We had not looked at all of the archive
We discovered fairly late in the process that some files were archived with the
White House Records Office and some were archived with the Federal Records
Center, and that records at the Federal Record Center hadn't been reviewed, and
that, in fact, Patsy Thomasson, who worked in the White House at the time and
had been involved in the travel office matter, had shipped some documents to
the Federal Records Center. We thought we better go and look at them.
We retrieved those documents, and when going through them, discovered this memo
that she had her in her files. Apparently, David Watkins had given her a copy
to review, and she had kept it. We found it, and we produced it. We produced
it to Congressman Clinger, who was chairman of the Government Reform Committee
in the House at the time and conducting an investigation on the travel office.
Later, I think the next day, [we] produced it to Ken Starr, who had also called
for travel office documents and subpoenas.
At this time, did Starr give you trouble about this document appearing late
or seeming to appear late or was it later that Starr starts getting testy about
We produced it to Clinger on January 3rd. One of the lawyers who had worked
for me had said to me either earlier in the day or the day before, "Remember,
we've got to get this to Ken Starr."
We had gotten these documents up to the Hill, had managed this whole thing. It
had been a crazy, chaotic day. It also happened to be my birthday, and my
children, who were relatively young at the time, had worked to prepare a dinner
for me at home. It was 9 o'clock at night; you know, it was bedtime, a school
[night]. I raced out the door to get home for their dinner. And about 2:00 or
3:00 in the morning I woke up and realized that we hadn't sent the document to
Starr at the same time we sent it to Clinger.
I called one of the lawyers who worked for me [and] she met me at the White
House early in the morning. We got the document, sent it over to Starr, and
Starr issued a press release complaining that we had withheld this document
from him when we had produced it to the Hill and that we were being
intransigent and started throwing around allegations about our failure to
cooperate and that this was an intolerable way to deal with the prosecutor.
You called one of Starr's deputies and let him have it.
I did. I did. Well, I had a good relationship with this guy, John Bates. We
actually worked through a lot of the subpoena issues pretty well. And as
Starr's people go, he was a professional and someone I could deal with pretty
easily. I called him and said, "What kind of nonsense is this?"
He has five kids, and I knew that he would appreciate my story, and you know
we're all human. And working in a job like that in the White House doesn't
permit you to be human. You can't have to race out home for your kid's dinner
that they prepared for your birthday. That's not an excuse. And, you know, it
ought to be. But in that environment, it just isn't, and you shouldn't take
the job if you can't deal with it.
The trouble is for the White House on the next day, January 4th--
Boy, that was a bad month. On January 4th, we learned that the billing records
were in the White House--[compared to that] the Watkins memo looked
The billing records were records of the work that Hillary had done for Madison
Guaranty in 1985.
When she was with the Rose Law Firm.
When she was with the Rose Law Firm, that's right. And they had been the
subject of some speculation and questioning in the course of Ken Starr's
examination, in the course of the Treasury review of the Whitewater issue and
the course of the Pillsbury Madison study that was commissioned by Treasury on
the Whitewater matter, in the course of D'Amato's hearings, Leach's hearings.
All of those entities investigating Whitewater had asked, at one time or
another, "Well, where are Mrs. Clinton's billing records?" And no one could
So this day in January I get a phone call from David Kendall, who was a
personal counsel to the Clintons, who said, "We have to go over to the East
Wing, where Caroline Huber's office is. She says she's found something that we
need to take a look at."
So David came by, and we walked over there to Caroline's office. Caroline was
the personal secretary or personal assistant to the Clintons. She had worked
with them in the governor's mansion in Arkansas and had come with them to the
White House, and she organized and managed a lot of their personal papers,
prepared things for archiving and had a role like that. She also handled some
She had an office in the East Wing. She also had had an office in the
residence on the third floor, in what people called the Book Room. And she
reported to us that she had found these records in the Book Room one day when
she was cleaning up.
You know this is going to be a problem.
I saw these documents, she handed them to me, I saw them, I saw Vince Foster's
handwriting all over them, which by now I recognized, and just realized
immediately that this was going to be a problem. You could see the conspiracy
theorists going. I saw the next 6 months of my life spin out in front of me
and knew what the allegations would be. There was always some sense that
something was removed from Vince Foster's office after his suicide. I knew
that there would be allegations that this must have been it. It was going to
be a problem.
In fact, it turned out to be a big nothing. But at the time looking at these
records, you couldn't tell immediately what they showed. It was something that
I remember going out in the hallway with David and another lawyer, Caroline's
lawyer--nobody ever did anything without their lawyer--and said, from this
moment forward, we have to make completely sure that we are confident in all of
the judgments we are taking here because we're all going to be questioned.
Every minute from this moment forward on how we handle this is going to be
second-guessed. So let's be careful. Let's think coolly about this.
And I was absolutely right. We all testified in the grand jury. David and I
testified before D'Amato, and it was true that every decision we made going
forward on how to deal with those records was absolutely questioned and
The next day you go to see the president about these records and how the
information ought to be released.
Harold and I went. And this was after we had had an opportunity to look
through them and figure out whether there was anything in them that was
inconsistent with anything that had been said. Hillary had been questioned
about her work, but she had been questioned 15 years, probably, after the work
had been done...in fact, the records were completely consistent with what her
recollection had been. And we had that information by the time we were able to
tell the president. When we told the president, we were also able to explain
that and then talk about the significance of these records and how we
anticipated they would be used.
What was his concern?
Well, it's the usual frustration. When you look at these records and you know
that they essentially exonerate, but that they are still going to be somehow
twisted and used against you, it's frustrating. You know, this is a good thing
that the records are found. This is a useful thing because they corroborate
what she said. How can this be a problem? The answer is they were just found.
They were under subpoena for years. This was we're going to look like we were
But it's hard for a rational person to understand why people would think you
would hide something that was actually helpful to you. So explaining that, and
it's not as if he didn't understand completely the political reality here, but
there's still the frustration because the logic of it is so compelling, and
logic doesn't control.
For the Independent Counsel and some of those on the Hill, this is sort of a
one-two punch, though; there's the Watkins memo, which comes up late, in their
eyes, then the billing records which had been under subpoena for a long time.
And the Independent Counsel takes this very seriously.
Oh, they were in heaven. The Hill hearings were completely anemic before the
Watkins memo and the billing records, and this breathed new life into D'Amato's
efforts and it certainly gave the independent counsel a lot to work with as
The Independent Counsel decides that he's going to now subpoena Mrs.
Clinton. Did you try to negotiate with them to avoid that?
Well, as I said, there was this sequence of questioning that they had said
that they were going to do. There was every expectation that the next
installment of the sequence would be at a time that was in a similar context,
as the earlier ones. We had every expectation that she would be deposed in the
White House with the president at the moment that they thought they needed the
next segment of questioning.
With the billing records, they did something quite extraordinary. They
subpoenaed her to come down and testify before the grand jury and actually
leave the White House and do it in a very public kind of way, not discrete and
not befitting of the office and totally sensationalizing the significance of
these billing records.
It was something that concerned us. There were a number of us who did go and
meet with Ken Starr...[to] try and persuade them that this was wholly
unnecessary, it was just a political stunt and couldn't be justified. It was a
very tough meeting.
And even Sam Dash, a prominent Democrat, who was serving as ethics advisor,
recommended to Starr, and I assume in that meeting even argued, that it
wouldn't be such a big deal for the first lady to testify before the grand
Well, indeed, we saw how untrue that was. It was a complete circus. The place
was mobbed. It was the focus of a tremendous amount of attention, and it was
exactly what I believe they wanted it to be, which was focusing a lot of
attention, trying to attach great significance to these billing records, which
were completely helpful to Mrs. Clinton. She didn't know how they got into the
White House, and if she had had them earlier, she certainly would have produced
them because they were useful.
Starr recognized that it was a moment to demonize her and that people wouldn't
understand the nuances, they wouldn't understand the details of 22 hours of
billing in 1985 were confirmed on these records.
They would see the picture.
They would see the picture and that's what he wanted, and that's what he
Was that humiliating for Mrs. Clinton to have to do that?
I don't think so. I think that, once we recognized that this is what he was
going to insist that she do, she just did it, and she did it with all of the
grace and style that she has. She faced it squarely. She went in
there...answered the questions, and told the truth, and came back out, met the
press, said, "Here I am. Yes, I did it. I answered the questions, and I'm
going home because I'm tired."
She couldn't be humiliated by it. It was too obviously a political ploy to
actually be humiliated.
Can you characterize what Mrs. Clinton's concerns were?
January of 1996, this was the month that she had planned to go on her book
tour, releasing her wonderful book, It Takes a Village.
And she was excited about that. It was something she had put a lot of energy
into, and she had really been looking forward to it. And suddenly there was
this complete total absorbing distraction of the billing records, the grand
jury subpoena, the Watkins memo, all of these things were developing all at the
time that she was getting ready to go on her book tour.
She wanted to talk about kids, and all anybody else wanted to talk about was
the billing records--where had they been, why weren't they found sooner. And
it was enormously disheartening to her because she saw this book, at the time,
as a culmination of an interest of hers that she's had throughout her
professional life, and it was being completely destroyed by these
politically-motivated investigations, and it was enormously frustrating and
disheartening to her.
Mrs. Clinton is on the book tour. At the same time, back in the White House,
you're dealing with this subpoena. How did that go, that tension between the
face Mrs. Clinton had to show the public and what was really going on back at
the White House? How much did the subpoena take up her concern?
She was on the road, so she wasn't there to be confronting it, although she was
confronted with it wherever she went. Consistent with the way I approach my
job, I thought the less contact I had with the principals, the better job I was
doing. The less they were diverted from the book tour or from whatever else
was on the agenda, the better off we were managing the problem. And so we
tried very hard to let her do the book tour, but to keep her informed along the
way of any new developments and anything that she might be asked because she
was putting herself out there. She was being interviewed.
At one point on the book tour, she gave an interview to Diane Rehm, on the
"Diane Rehm Show." In the course of that interview, she was hoping to talk
about her book and was asked questions about the billing records. And Diane
Rehm asked her a question [like], "why didn't you just get all of the documents
out there when this issue first came up," and Hillary had said, at that point,
something like, "Well, we did. We went up and showed the New York Times
In fact, it turned out that that wasn't the case, and the New York Times
was going to write a story the next day saying that she had misrepresented that
fact in her interview with Diane Rehm, and they were going to feature it...
It would have come at an incredibly [bad] time for the White House.
It would have come at a very bad time...[it] also happened on the same day that
the subpoena to testify before the grand jury arrived. It was a very bad
day...[we had] to try and understand what happened with the New York Times,
what documents were given, who managed that process, who actually had the
answer, so we could correct the story and get her to acknowledge that perhaps
she hadn't been fully informed about what was actually provided and not
And, indeed, we learned that the people who had managed that process hadn't
given all of the documents. And somewhere along the way, there had been a
change in the plan, and Hillary had not been aware of it. So she had been
operating under this misimpression, which then she repeated publicly on the
"Diane Rehm Show. " So it was necessary then to get her in a position where she
would say publicly that she had been mistaken when she said that on the "Diane
Rehm Show,"and then get that to the New York Times and see if that
wouldn't affect the way they handled this story.
It worked, right?
It worked. It was a very hard day because it came in the midst of
receiving the subpoena, which created a whole host of other issues. That
wasn't public yet, and it was a bombshell, that the Independent counsel was
demanding, was hauling the first lady down to the grand jury...[it] was
stunning that he would have the audacity to do that and was going to require
careful handling, and we didn't know how quickly public knowledge of that would
Was this a low point for her?
I would say the entire month. That, I know, was a bad day. It was a bad day
for her. It was enormously frustrating because it was clear that she was going
to have to go through the rest of this book tour and just accept the fact that
she was going to have to answer these questions, and it wasn't going to be what
she had hoped.
You accompanied Mrs. Clinton to the grand jury. What do you recall about
I remember decisions about whether she would go in through the garage and get
snuck up through the back elevators and so forth, and deciding that that was
the wrong way to do this; that she was going to get out in front of the
courthouse and walk up there and deal with the press and not look like she was
sneaking in anywhere. She didn't have anything to hide, and that she was just
going to go and handle it and answer questions.
We got to the courthouse and got up to the grand jury room, and there's the
grand jury room, and then on a hallway alongside of the room there were witness
We were in a witness room for a little while waiting for the grand jurors to
get ready to convene and got told that it was time. I remember standing in a
doorway of one of these witness rooms with her and watching the grand jurors
file by, and then the prosecutors started going by, and it was one, two,
three--there were nine, I believe, prosecutors. They were all white males.
Nine prosecutors is a ridiculous number of prosecutors for a grand jury
session. But it was quite remarkable, just the impact of watching those nine
white males file past us into the grand jury. And she just took a deep breath
and followed them in.
It was interesting because of the juxtaposition with the grand
The grand jurors, as I recall, were [primarily] African American. I'm actually
not sure of what the gender breakdown was...
How did Mrs. Clinton do? I mean, you're not in the grand jury, obviously,
but what was the sense of how she had done before the grand jury?
She felt very comfortable with the questions. She was completely familiar with
what the subjects were that they were going to question her about and seemed to
be completely at ease. It was a little unnerving. I've since had the pleasure
of being in the grand jury; it is unnerving in that kind of a situation. But
she seemed to be as comfortable as one can be under those kinds of
Inside your office, inside the White House, indeed, this appearance is a
major turning point in terms of how the Independent Counsel is viewed--a
certain line had been crossed.
That was the event for me. The meeting that we had [with] Ken Starr about [it
really being] necessary to do this grandstanding by calling her into the grand
jury--that was the turning point for me. That was when I concluded, having
really tried to give the benefit of the doubt for many months, here was a guy
who was a federal judge -- he was a Solicitor General, he was someone in my
professional circles -- even if you disagree with views, you respect their
integrity and have some confidence in it. I thought that that meeting, and his
failure to come up with any kind of an explanation for why hauling her into the
grand jury was necessary, was the point at which I concluded that he was not
out to seek the truth, that he was out to do harm to the president and the
first lady and that that was his primary objective. After that, those are the terms on which I approached the whole situation.
It became war after that?
Well, it's hard to go to war with somebody who has grand jury power, and
subpoena power. You still have to cooperate, you still have to try and
negotiate the best deals you can. You can't just shut down. It's a fact of
life, and you have to keep dealing with it. But to have any trust or
confidence that what they're doing is actually in the interest of justice, no.
That still doesn't justify not complying or cooperating with the legal process.
You have to do that under our system of justice. But being smart about what
was really going on here, I think, had to affect the strategy.
Did that impression get reinforced when Mrs. Clinton had to be
fingerprinted, for example? What was your view on that?
She was fingerprinted for the billing records. And I understood why they
wanted to do that, although she actually had acknowledged that she believed
that she had handled the billing records during the '92 campaign. So I wasn't
quite sure, since she acknowledged handling them, what finding her fingerprints
on them was going to establish. That struck me as another indignity that we
had to endure, but part of the process.
You develop a mentality with this kind of an assault, where you just accept it
as a fact of life, and then you try not to let it distract or divert. I think,
over the course of time Hillary got very good at that. She had to because
there were other things that were far too important to her...for example, being
annoyed with the request for fingerprints would have absorbed energy that she
really wanted to keep for something else that was much more important.
She was always known as a first-rate lawyer, in her own right, and an
excellent legal mind. To what extent did she influence the legal strategy of
the White House?
I think occasionally she'd have a view that she would express. But, again,
once she recognized that the legal strategy was being handled by the lawyers
and this team that we had set up, she did relax about it, and she didn't worry
about it. She didn't focus on it. And it was consistent with her goal not to
put a lot of energy into that. She wanted to move forward, and she did not
want to be distracted by these kinds of things.
Occasionally she'd have a view about something if it involved some action that
she was going to have to take. But she absolutely did not put herself right in
the middle of it and try and manage it or lawyer it herself. It was not her
The reason I ask is one description of her is that she moves from pre-'94,
where she's described as sort of the president's premier domestic policy
advisor, to after that period becoming his top legal advisor. You didn't see
it quite that way.
I didn't see it that way.
Just checking the dates here, we are now up to May '96 --the Independent
Counsel talks about issuing a search warrant for the White House private
residence. What is that about and what are the reactions of the White House
Well, I think by this time we were probably in a mode of...just take a take
deep breath and get through it. It's the fact-of-life kind of attitude toward
all of this, although this seemed beyond the pale to me.
I got a phone call from I believe it was John Bates, the deputy independent
counsel, saying that they had a search warrant that they wanted to execute on
the residence. And, you know, I just went nuts. I said, "You're out of your
mind. That can't happen."
I asked him what it was for, and he said that it was for a box that they
believed might have something related to Vince Foster in it, with Vince
Foster's name on top. What it appeared to me is that someone must have said in
a grand jury appearance that they had seen a box in the White House somewhere.
It must have been pretty nonspecific because John couldn't describe for me how
big it was. I said, "Is it a shoe box? Is it a packing box? Is it a jewelry
He said, "I can't give you any details. It's just a box." And he said that an
alternative to sending in the FBI agents would be to have me do the search. I
thought that was actually pretty clever on his part.
Because I'm a Washington lawyer. I've got a career and a professional
reputation. John and I had worked together enough that he knew I wasn't going
to be a White House lawyer for my whole life. I could not afford to
participate in any kind of a search that wasn't complete, and thorough, and
careful, and certify, if I had to certify, and do it truthfully. So I thought
it was sort of clever on his part to do that. Would he really have executed a search warrant and sent in FBI agents? I
actually kind of doubt it.
Even after hauling Mrs. Clinton before the grand jury?
It wasn't worth the risk as long as he presented the alternative. It wasn't
worth the risk of calling his bluff. He presented an alternative, and that's
what we did.
Did you find the box?
What was Mrs. Clinton's reaction to the search warrant news?
Hillary's reaction was, "Fine. Do it." And by that time she was definitely in
this mode of, you know, "This is a fact of life. I'm just going to have to live
through it, and I'm not going to put my energy into being angry about it or
upset about it or resisting it--just do it." And that was that.
To what extent, as you worked with her over these years, did she get angry?
I mean, when did you see her really lose her temper about this?
I can't remember a specific incident where she would have lost her temper at
something that Starr had done or something that the Republican Congress was
doing. I know that there was this continuing sense of frustration at just not
comprehending how, given the importance of the issues that she wanted to pay
attention to, these people would want to distract her...
She cared deeply about children and families. She wanted to develop those
issues, as she has done, and how could anyone want to discourage her from doing
that? It was this sense of incomprehension; what would motivate someone to
want to undermine this kind of effort in this way? It was that sense of
Did she think they were out after her personally? I mean, that she was--did
she feel embattled because there was this sense that she was the target?
Certainly, when you're a target, it's hard not to take it personally. I
certainly hope that she was in a position to recognize that she was just a
tool. It wasn't her, personally. But when you're attacked, you're called the
terrible things that she's been called along the way and treated with such
venom, it's hard not to, at some level, take that personally.
But she's a very strong person, and she has a very strong core. And I would
certainly hope that she recognized that she was being used as a tool to get to
objectives that were much bigger than just her.
In the summer of '96, the other flap on your watch is the FBI files thing.
Was Mrs. Clinton concerned that she would get blamed for that, too,
I remember there was a moment when she was joking. The FBI files are found in
the White House, and it was a completely startling event. And as you know now,
the independent counsel has just acknowledged that there was nothing more to it
than what we said within 48 hours of finding these files--it was a mistake, and
there was no significance to it beyond that. But at the time, it was a great
opportunity for the Republicans, again, and they seized it and ran with it.
At one point, as the whole thing was developing, Hillary laughingly said, you
know, "Sooner or later they're going to think this is my fault too." And I
thought that was completely absurd. I thought it was a ridiculous statement
because I had been working with this FBI files issue from the moment that it
hit. I knew all of the facts, all of the details. She wasn't anywhere near
it. Her name never came up. There wasn't any even remote way that she was
connected with this.
Then, sure enough, we get the Republicans, and Larry Klayman of Judicial Watch,
and others claiming that somehow she had directed this whole thing, and there
was absolutely no basis in truth. But she was right.
Why did she become such a lightning rod for all of these things, do you
I think that Starr had been looking for something to go after the president on
for a long time and hadn't found it. And she was a target that was easier to go
after until, of course when Starr finally found the issue. Then Hillary had no
significance at all to his investigation.
But I think it was easy to go after her, and the president wasn't terribly
involved in the Whitewater issue. She managed that. And, of course, that's
come to nothing. The president wasn't terribly involved in the travel office.
There were allegations that she was, and I also think she's a compelling,
strong, interesting, articulate, lively woman who engages in ways that people
may not have been used to or even necessarily comfortable with, and I think it
made it easy.
In the fall of--right before the election, the campaign finance stories
start coming out with the Riady connection. At some point here, you have a
disagreement with the White House about how this is being handled.
Internally you always have judgment calls to make about how you describe
something or how [and] when you reveal it, and who you tell, and it's always a
question of timing, what's happening at the particular moment; if there's a
crisis that diverts. There are always judgment calls about how you
And I guess over the course of the time that I was in the White House, I
learned that you guys would prefer that we not characterize things; that the
people in the White House just gave you the facts and let you figure out what
they mean and how they can be characterized. That's not to say that it's not
useful to give you the facts and then give you my characterization of them, but
it's really the facts that a good investigative reporter wants.
I had also come to appreciate that when you give a characterization without the
facts, there's something inherently suspicious about the characterization and
that a good investigative reporter tends to want to get behind the
characterization to test it. And so it was a judgment call, based on sort of
my experience and sense of how things ought to be played. Others in the White
House had different views of how some of these meetings that the president had
should be described and what kind of information should be--
Are you talking about the coffees now?
I'm actually talking about the meetings that the president had with Mr. Riady
and how--how those should be described. And I actually never got too terribly
involved in the coffee issue.
What was your argument on Riady?
I worked briefly on this issue, but had done enough research on it to know that
there were some descriptions of these meetings that were in records, official
White House records, that I thought could be interpreted as more substantive
than what others wanted to characterize the meetings as being. They wanted to
say that these meetings that the president had were more social in nature. And
while I think they were social in nature, the documents suggested that there
may have been some substantive policy issues raised in the course of these
It was a dispute over do we just say they were social and not say more or do we
say records reflect that these six subjects were discussed, although I'm
telling you that the tone and nature of the meeting was mostly social. And that
was an uncomfortable kind of disagreement.
Why did you decide to leave the White House?
When I came to the White House, I had an understanding that I would stay
through the election. As you know, when the midterm election occurred,
everyone recognized that scandals were going to be high on the priority of the
Republicans and that that was a weapon they were going to use to try and defeat
the president. I had said I would handle the scandal management through the
reelection, and then I was going to leave. I have three children, and 2 or 2
1/2 years on that beat is enough for anyone.
Did your disagreement on the Riady thing prompt you to leave in any
No, it didn't. It made my departure more uncomfortable than I had hoped, but I
had already planned to leave.
When you now look back, I guess, you actually got the easy part of the
scandal management, how do you see the legacy of this president, good and bad?
How do you think he will be recollected in history?
I think, over time, the president will be recorded as a terrific president.
He's brought us into an era of prosperity that is unprecedented, and I think
that the scandal issues will eventually take a proper perspective. Certainly,
in the first term, every single scandal that we worked on has been found to be
nothing. There was nothing there.
I think that once history takes proper account of that, there will also be some
account of how desperate the Clinton haters were to find something. And by
"Clinton haters," I do mean this whole group of people that includes Starr,
includes the Republican fringe in Congress, and includes all sorts of these
other people [such as] the Linda Tripps of the world. I think history will
show that their effort to try and diminish this president just cannot
A lot of people have talked to us about the decision, in which it was
debated about whether the Whitewater records should have been given to the
Washington Post. Some have said that it was the single biggest mistake
of the first term because it led to so much heartache. What do you think about
that decision not to turn everything over back in '93?
I think everything should have been turned over in '93, but I would take issue
with it being the single biggest mistake. These people were bent on harming
the president. And if it hadn't been Whitewater, it would have been some other
issue. And if it hadn't been not being forthcoming here, it would have been
some allegation that they weren't forthcoming there.
These people didn't have anything to hide. They truly didn't. And these
allegations of trying to create all of this smoke around an effort to try and
maintain some privacy would have persisted into, as it did, every corner of
their lives. So even though that set a tone that I think made it harder to
deal with, it was harder for someone like me, when I came in, to have
sufficient credibility about the facts that we were revealing, for example,
when so much had been withheld in the past. It made it hard to manage some of
But I think these people were so bent on using scandal issues, the politics of
personal destruction, as the president has called it, to affect and diminish,
if not destroy, the president. I think their motivation was so strong, they
would have found something else.
You say that the decision not to turn over the records to the Washington
Post was not the most critical one, but do you feel or believe or agree that it
led to a certain tone, especially in the press coverage? Did it make the White
House look like it was covering things up?
I think it did, and I think that made it difficult then to try and persuade
people, when we gave them information, that it was complete and credible and
that they ought to rely on it, and that there wasn't something else there. It
did end up, I believe, creating this constant worry, on the part of good
reporters, and, you know, that there was something else behind this, otherwise
why would they resist?
And I don't think the average person appreciates how invasive it would feel if
you were asked to just disclose to the press, who would publicize all of your
personal financial matters. And that's essentially what they were being asked
to do. They did resist. It wasn't that they were hiding anything. They were
trying to hold on to some privacy. But it did create an atmosphere where
people were questioning, "Well, what is there? Why do they care about this so
much? What are they hiding?"
And that, I think, did persist, which is why when Lloyd Cutler came in '94, it
was refreshing when he came and said, "We're going to make a full report to
Congress. We're not going to claim privileges," because he felt very strongly
that it was necessary to overcome that impression, with a completely open
What was the legal argument at the time for not turning this stuff over? I
mean, legal arguments were made to the Clintons, especially Mrs. Clinton, who
decided against it.
I suppose that there may have been some material in there to which an
attorney-client privilege attached, although I think the arguments were more
political than legal. If you put 20 boxes of documents before a bunch of
people who either don't understand the transactions or the context in which
they arose or they've got questions, [or] are not necessarily going to push
them all of the way through, that can create a lot of misinformation that then
takes on a life of its own and can cause other inquiries to be opened, possibly
legal inquiries, based on the misimpression or false reports, however
well-intentioned they were.
At that point in time, it wasn't all that clear exactly what this Whitewater
investigation was going to focus on or what they thought was wrong. What did
they do--can you sit here today and tell me what you think the Whitewater
allegations really were? What on earth was all that about? It's really hard
to understand, and it became something that I think could easily be
misunderstood and misconstrued.
So the argument was, if you give this information out, you're going to open
another can of worms.
You give all sorts of opportunities for people to paw through your personal
papers and come up with another six things that they want to investigate, and
they start demanding, and it'll never stop. And that's a legitimate argument.
I think, ultimately, it all came out anyway, and nobody died. But it was a
legitimate kind of concern at the time. It was not a frivolous concern.
Before the White House was divided into the legal team that you headed to
take over the scandal, were the scandals dominating business in such a way that
it became destructive at the White House?
I think, yes; that it was perceived to be siphoning too much energy from the
people who were responsible for helping the president implement his agenda.
When you're focused on trying to figure out the facts and run down what
everybody knows, and figure out what documents are out there, it becomes very
This was in a time, you'll recall when the White House Treasury contacts became
full-blown. Fiske had subpoenaed several White House officials to go down and
testify in the grand jury, and this was incredibly consuming. That's not
something you take lightly. All of these people had to scramble to get
lawyers, they had to figure out what the documents were, and it was something
that really did divert and distract from what people really wanted to be
Were you, yourself, called as a grand jury witness?
I testified in the grand jury about finding the billing records, yes.
Was it important, as well, to separate the press aspect of this out of the
White House press secretary? You had your own spokesperson, the first one Mark
Fabiani. What was the idea behind that?
It was part of the same idea, where we really wanted Mark Fabiani to be the
person who would understand the details and develop the relationships with the
members of the press who reported on these issues.
Not all of the mainstream press was absorbed with Whitewater or travel office
or FBI files, and there was a cadre of people who Mark worked with and provided
information to, and those were people who didn't go and pester Mike McCurry
about those things, which meant that Mike could really try and stay about that
fray and keep people focused on the issues that the president wanted to stay
I think that worked quite well. I think Mike thought it worked quite well.
There weren't too many times when he had to deal with questions that related to
Whitewater-type issues, and it certainly made it easier for us to manage the
process and manage the facts. When you disburse facts through a whole West
Wing of people who are all talking to their contacts in the press, somebody's
going to get it wrong, and they're going to end up saying something that you're
going to have trouble explaining later.
This contained it with people who were lawyers, they understood facts, they
knew how to talk about them, and developed over time their own credibility by
having good information that they were able to manage the process.
The one time that it broke down was when the FBI files matter hit, and that was
frustrating to me because normally, if you stay enough ahead of a problem, you
figure out how you're going to manage it before it actually blossoms into
something that needs to be managed.
The FBI files took me completely by surprise, and so it had already exploded
into a real crisis, from my perspective, by the time I had even really heard
about it. So I didn't know the facts. I didn't know what was there. I hadn't
talked to the relevant people. I didn't know if there was a problem or not.
And when you're put in that position and somebody is calling and saying, "Well,
how bad is this?" and you say, "I don't know yet. I need some time." And
there is no time. People want answers. So you go with an answer sooner than
you really think you're ready, and you just hope you've got it right.
That was frustrating because my team didn't have a handle on it, when all of a
sudden everyone in the West Wing wanted to know what was going on. And so that
causes then other people to start feeling like they need to get the answers.
Then it sort of spirals out of control until you sort of pull it back in after
a while and persuade people that, indeed, you've got your arms around it. It's
working. That was frustrating, and it did distract. I can't remember what
else was going on in Congress or what the president was doing during that time
period, but it did end up diverting a lot of attention from people who should
have been focused on the positive agenda.