Remember the old stuff about Jim Brown. You don't spit on Superman's cape--you
know walk on Superman's cape, you don't spit into the wind, you don't mess with
the Lone Ranger, you don't fool around with Jim. Well, that's how people I
think felt about the tobacco companies. And the irony of that was that it took
a--a pygmy to take them on because the giants were too scared.
That is the courage of Mike Moore to do that.
Q. So to politicians, the tobacco industry was Darth Vader?
Morris: Yes. It was the source of a vast amount of money, an incredible
amount of advertising. Erskine Bowles told me when we were considering the
tobacco initiative, "Don't pick on somebody that spends six billion a year in
advertising." And you know that was--that made some good sense.
Q. So it took a pygmy as you put it. The pygmy is Mike Moore.
Morris: The giants turned away and it took one man who believed that he
could use the court system to bring about justice. The beauty of our court
system is that anybody can enter the court and sue. Uh, you have to be
appointed to be in the Executive Branch. You have to be elected to be in the
Legislative Branch, but anybody can go into court. And Mike Moore basically
said, "I'm anybody, and I've got basically a free lawyer in Dick Scruggs who's
willing to front all the money that's required and all the time and all the
energy and uh I'm willing to do it."
And the beauty of this, the amazing thing about it is this was such a
incredibly courageous idea and it took me so long personally to understand what
he was doing. That he was suing over Medicaid. It was just uh, a very unusual
idea. And he really singlehandedly brought about the changes that are going on
the country today. And he did it, not as Attorney General. He did it as just
a regular plaintiff.
Q. You said you had a hard time understanding it at first. Do you
remember when it was explained to you?
Morris: I had been working with Scruggs on some of the asbestos
litigation he had been doing and uh, he called me and he said, "I'm going to go
after tobacco." And I said, "Well, great. But what's, but, most people are
losing in these smoker lawsuits. They don't believe that the cigarette
companies have liability about people who have died as a result of smoking."
He said, "No. We have a new theory. The State of Mississippi is going to sue
and to say that the tobacco companies owe us money for the people who we've
been treating for lung cancer and emphysema and heart disease and that the
cigarette companies should pay for that treatment."
And I said, "You mean actually charge them for the treatment?" And he said,
"Yeah." And I said, "Under what theory?" And he said, "Well, the theory of
any liability, that their misbehavior, and their selling products that kill
people caused this liability and that they should be required to pay for it."
And it was a fascinating theory. So I said, "Well, I don't know if anybody's
going to buy that, but that's incredible." And he said, "Well, why don't you
do a poll on it?" So I did a poll in Mississippi and I outlined it to people.
And at first blush we got 55 that agreed and 40 that opposed.
Q. Fifty-five that agreed to what?
Morris: We had 55 percent that said that tobacco companies should pay
and 40 percent that said that they shouldn't. And after we went through the
argumentation on both sides, pro and against--
Q. In your poll.
Morris: In the poll.
Q. So you went down to New Orleans to do what?
Morris: Well, Scruggs asked me to meet with all of the anti-smoking
lawyers, to test the viability of this weird idea of suing over Medicaid. And
I went to them and showed them the poll that we'd done in Mississippi. And the
poll showed that about 55 percent of the people, off the first blush would vote
for the plaintiff's position that the tobacco companies would have to pay, and
that with some arguments on both sides for and against, you could get it up to
And I said, "Hey, if you need three-quarters of a jury to win this, maybe you
can." Because there clearly is good, solid public consensus. And the data
showed that the people really believed--number one that smoking caused these
diseases; but number two, they also believed that these cigarette companies
were targeting kids.
They had absolutely no doubt that the purpose of cigarette advertising was to
go after the kids and that was a very, very important element of it, of making
this whole case work.
Q.What was your sense of Dick Scruggs?
Morris: I thought that he was a regular lawyer, litigating to make money
and that he had this really good thing going because there were so many people
that were sick from asbestos in this--the area of Mississippi where the
You know, he was doing very well financially. But then as he became more
involved in tobacco, I began to realize that this was not a profit-making thing
on his part. This was a holy crusade. This was sort of something he was
dedicating his life to. And uh, I really believe, and came to believe that if
he didn't make a penny out of this uh, it would be fine for him.
I think he made all the money he would need for the rest of his life in the
asbestos litigation. And I think he basically decided he would dedicate it to
fighting tobacco. I think Dick Scruggs is probably one of the most idealistic
people I know. He puts the rest of us to shame.
Q. This is coming from hard-nosed Dick Morris.
What can--was there an incident, something happened that convinced you that
this guy wasn't in it for the money or just to win?
Morris: Well, a lot of times as we talked about the proposed tobacco
settlement, I would say I thought a real vulnerability here was the attorneys'
fees and--because they were pretty large. And I said, "The tobacco companies
and people will pick on that aspect of it, and, and they'll pick it to
And he said, "Well, look, as far as I'm concerned, I don't care if I make a
dime off of this. I don't care if I lose money, for the millions that we've
put out in this thing. I'm just determined to see this through." And at first
I just thought that was a speech. But then, the more we talked about the
formula and who would get what and how that would work, it became very clear
that he literally was willing to make nothing from it. Literally.
Q. So you believe that Dick Scruggs is in it for the issue?
Morris: Yeah, idealism isn't fashionable in America these days and it
certainly is suspect. But I think that he is one of the truly publicly
spirited people around. I think that he decided that he made a lifetime's
worth of money off of the asbestos stuff, that he was just going to basically
spend the rest of his life fighting tobacco. And if he got money for it, fine.
If he didn't get money for it, fine. But he was going to go after it.
And you know, he put his whole law practice on hold. He uh, basically stopped
taking any other cases. He focused all of his energies and resources on this
tobacco litigation. And he didn't have all that good a chance of success. I
mean, if he was a pragmatist, he was a pretty stupid pragmatist. There were a
lot of better targets he could have--you know, people get hurt in automobile
accidents every day. He could have focused on that.
Q. So, you took this, in a sense--by the time you went back to the White
House, 95... Did you talk to them about this litigation? Did you talk to the
President about it?
Morris: Yeah. Starting around January or February of 95, I raised with
the President the tobacco issue, because I thought Henry Waxman, the
Congressman from California had done a very fine job of focusing attention on
But then there was kind of the assumption that with the Republican victory that
the deregulation, anti-regulation forces were in the driver's seat. And I knew
from my polling in Mississippi how strongly people in what's after all is the
most conservative state in the country, felt about that issue.
So I told the President that I thought this could be a really good issue for us
to focus on.
Q. Give me a sense of the conversation. You're in his living room, the
Oval Office, where are you?
Dick Morris: We would meet in the Treaty Room it's called, which is in the
President's residence. And it's his office. And there's this huge picture on
the wall with William McKinley settling the Spanish American War and behind you
there's a picture of Abe Lincoln, an original oil painting of Lincoln and
Admiral Farragut and General Sherman and General Grant on a river boat settling
the Civil War strategy. And then there's his desk and then there's his book
case of his personal book collection. So it's really a heady and a very
intimate kind of atmosphere.
Q. Subject of the day was?
Morris: Well, it was part of our weekly meetings. We'd meet every week,
initially alone and then with others. It became kind of a strategy meeting.
and I said, "You know, we ought to look at tobacco down the road as an issue we
could focus on. And he just kind of grunted. He looked at me and, you know,
just nodded and it was kind of lightly and in passing.
Then we were looking for issues that we could take the offense on. We were
playing defense on school lunches, defense on Head Start, defense on Medicaid,
defense on Medicare, defense on education, defense on environment. And we were
looking for something--I was looking for something where we could take the
offense. Where we could really go out with a new proposal.
And as the President was beginning to move towards the center on the balanced
budget and stuff like that, I thought just strategically, it would be a good
idea to have an issue where we were really going out left. Where we were
really being very aggressive and very active.
And then, I guess, two influences combined in my mind. One was that I knew
from my work with Scruggs how incredibly deeply the American people felt about
this stuff. And in September of 1993, just about a year and a half before all
this happened my mother died of cancer after a lifetime of smoking and that
affected me. And I also personally was born two pounds 11 ounces, premature
and almost died and my mother chainsmoked during my pregnancy and had no idea
in 1947 that that caused premature birth. So tobacco almost killed me and it
killed my mother. So I took it personally.
Q. Well, there is this way in this issue, whether you're Hubert
Humphrey, with his father, and other people, that there's a personal connection
to this issue.
Morris: Yeah. And, and I felt it, and I felt that it was politically
good. But that really wasn't enough to make it work. That was just kind of
the beginning of the process.
Q. And this is at the time that the FDA is getting ready to propose
regulation of cigarettes?
Morris: The FDA's thinking about it. And, um, we're now around March or
April or May. Then, um, in early July, the President gave a speech at
Georgetown University where he really talked about a values agenda in our
politics. He said that we need to basically move from an exclusive focus on
dollars and cents to something where we're really focusing on values.
And I think that that gave the whole anti-tobacco thing a new spark in terms of
the thinking that kind of catalyzed it. Because I think that it--that he was
very clear that the anti-tobacco stuff would be kind of the one of the
centerpieces of that new agenda. So I think that was, an important part of the
Q. But did he bring up the fact that, "Hey, Dick, tobacco. They're the
Darth Vader of politics"?
Morris: Well, he was scared to death of losing Kentucky and losing
Tennessee because he felt it could get tight in the electoral college when the
reelection came. And he felt that this would absolutely wipe him in those two
states. And he was a little worried about Georgia, Virginia and North
Carolina, but he pretty well figured he wouldn't win those states anyway.
But I kept telling him that even in those states, there was a strong probably a
strong majority in favor of banning tobacco companies' efforts aimed at kids.
You see, at that point, the anti-tobacco cause had not really distinguished
adults from children. They had focused on smoking as a whole as being a health
issue in general.
And the contribution that, I guess, I perhaps had the most to do with was to
say that, that voters felt one way about kids and teenagers and another way
about adult smoking. When you talk about restrictions on adult smoking, you
basically had about 40-50 disagreement--45 on one side, 45 on the other. It
was a real split community. But when you talk about restrictions on teen
smoking and on advertising to kids and of targeting kids, you have about 80
percent that wanted to crack down hard.
And the the funny thing about it, the amazing thing about it is people that
have never smoked didn't switch, they were always anti-tobacco. People who had
smoked and quit, were always anti-tobacco. So they didn't switch.
The difference was smokers, people who were now smoking were almost unanimous
against restrictions on adult smoking, but 70 or 80 percent in favor of
restrictions on teen smoking. Because they were hooked and they were basically
say that "I know that I smoked when I was 12 years old and they were not very
sentimental about the process."
They are flipping. They gave you the votes that made this politically viable.
Q. So Scruggs tells us that you called him at one point and asked him
"can you do a poll in the tobacco states, because I need the information for my
discussions with Clinton."
Morris: That's right.
Q.Tell me how that happened.
Morris: Well, as it turns out the--I did the poll.
Voters absolutely felt that cigarette companies were targeting kids.
We asked them in one question, "Do you think cigarette companies advertise to
get people to switch brands, to get people to smoke more or to get children to
start smoking?" And 80 percent said "children to start smoking" and only 20
percent said the other two answers or weren't sure. They got it. They knew
what Joe Camel was about and the Marlboro Man and all that.
But the President said, "Okay, well this'll be the issue. But I'll lose two
states. I'll get killed in these two states." I remember he once said to me,
he said, "I'm going to get a one-day story and I'll lose two states." So I
Q. Was he laughing?
Morris: No. He wasn't laughing. He was deadly serious. Because he
felt that you know, he would get a nice one-day story and it would look good,
and then he'd get killed in two states that he absolutely had to win.
So I did a survey in five states... in North Carolina, Georgia, Virginia,
Kentucky and Tennessee, which were the five tobacco states. And we asked
people, "Who are you voting for?"
And then we said--we talked about the anti-smoking stuff being aimed at kids,
and we said, "If Clinton backs this would you vote for him? And we found that
in every single one of these states he gained by taking this position, as long
as it was aimed at kids, at teenagers. And uh, he was shocked by that. He was
absolutely blown away by that.
Q. What'd he say?
Morris: He was shocked. He said, "In other words, it's not adult
smoking, it's teen smoking?" And I said, "Yeah, this is--as far as their
concerned, smokers see it as a subset of the drug issue." You know, not the
civil liberties issue, and not seatbelts and that kind of stuff. They see it
as basically a drug issue and a character issue and it was a whole new
perspective for him in that sense.
So that was significant, and I think that was very important. But the absolute
key intervention was Gore. Because Gore was from Tennessee. And, I remember
at the seminal meeting when he really decided to go ahead in early July. We
were pondering it and he was thinking about it.
Erskine, who usually--Erskine Bowles the current Chief of Staff--who usually
was an ally of mine, was here against it because he's from North Carolina. He
favored it in principle but he was scared to death of the tobacco companies.
He said, "Let's don't go against somebody that spends a billion dollars in
advertising." And the President turned to Gore, he President was sitting in a
wing chair, in front of the table and Gore was sitting at the edge of the
couch, right over here and he turned to Gore after everybody had spoken and he
said, "Al, what do you think?"
And you know, Gore always speaks like he's giving a Supreme Court opinion.
And he said, "Well, Mr. President, the history of this issue goes back,
blah-blah-blah and he was, you know, like writing for the Court majority. And
he said, "Listen, early in my political career, an issue came up about labeling
on the cigarette packs to say this--the health warnings that you see." And he
said, "I had to vote on that, and I decided to vote in favor of that. And I
thought I was ending my political career." From Tennessee voting in favor of
And he said, "I would go before tobacco farmers and I would say, "I voted for
this because I don't want your kids to smoke. Do you want your kids to smoke?"
And he said, "None of the tobacco farmers wanted their kids to smoke. And they
really identified with it. They understood it and they voted for me, even
though it hurt their economic interests. Because it was their children."
And he said, "Mr. President, I am deeply convinced that if you do this, it's
not going to hurt you politically, it's not going to cost you Tennessee. It's
not going to cost you Kentucky and it's going to be a very important advance
for public health." And I think that decided Clinton. Because he wanted to do
it anyway, but when the former Senator from Tennessee was saying it's not going
to cost you Tennessee, that I think was the decisive moment with him.
Q. That's when he let Commissioner Kessler issue his regulations.
Morris: Yes. When he endorsed those regulations I think that he--there
ensued a couple of weeks there where he was talking with Governor Hunt of North
Carolina and was, I think, hoping for a negotiated solution with the tobacco
companies. But I think he understood that he wasn't going to get that and that
he should go straight ahead.
Morris: When Clinton decided to take on tobacco it was really very close
to the absolute low point of his presidency. Uh, his popularity was very far
down, he had been battered by the Republican Congress which had passed a lot of
its programs and um, this was a, this was an act that was taken by a president
who was looking at the face of extinction.
Uh, whatever you think of Bill Clinton, it's clear that this was the single
most courageous moment of his presidency. The single most courageous moment.
Q. His willingness to take on the people no one else would ever take
Morris: Exactly, his willingness to take on this mass collection of
power and money and uh, and political clout that the tobacco industry
He took on the NRA. The NRA is probably a tenth as potent as the tobacco
companies were. He took on the pro-life people. They're probably a tenth as
potent as tobacco. To take on the tobacco was just extraordinary. And the
interesting thing about it, it is that while he probably came to believe that
maybe this wouldn't cost him two states, he sure didn't believe this would help
Because he didn't really believe that America would get energized about
tobacco. It wasn't a national issue. It wasn't a big deal. Nobody was
talking about it back then. And, uh, he was kind of rescuing the issue from
the dust heap. It had fallen by the way side.
Q. Now during this period of time, according to Dick Scruggs, you are
the Prime Minister, as he put it. You were talking to Trent Lott. Who was, at
one time, or was still your client as well.
Morris: At one time was my client, right.
Q. Yeah. What was Lott's reaction to all this?
Morris: Well, Trent had a weird relationship with Scruggs. Uh, he would
always refer to Scruggs as "my no good scum-suckin' brother-in-law." And when
I met with him in the future and I wanted to refer to Scruggs, I would say he's
the "NGSSBIL" the initials of that "no good scum-suckin' brother-in-law." So
he kind of saw Scruggs as this crazy Liberal who he was related to by marriage.
Who he liked a great deal. He had a very real affection for him.
But Trent uh, didn't and I think that he really was sensitized on that issue.
And I think he was really uncomfortable with the tobacco industry and I think
that one of Scruggs's key aces in the hole here is his relationship with Trent.
Q. Is that why Scruggs turned up in Trent Lott's suite at the 96
Morris: Okay. Well, the sisters are very close, Trent's wife and Dick's
wife are very close and Dick's wife is very involved in this and feels very
passionately about it.
Q. During this period of your being the Prime Minister--
Morris: That's your phrase not mine.
Q. Well, that's Dick Scruggs's phrase.
Q. The go-between between Lott and [Clinton], right?
Q. What stands out as sort of your feeling that these guys really were
together actually on this issue?
Morris: Well, most of the time I--I didn't really deal with Trent on
tobacco very much until April or May of 96 when Scruggs told me that the
tobacco companies were suing for peace. That they had reached out to him and
said they were interested in settling these lawsuits. And at that time it
seemed that it was very possible for that to happen in 1996.
And uh, as I mentioned, Trent had kind of designated some people to help put
this together, and those were the negotiations that were going on. So I kept
the President closely informed of what Scruggs was doing and Scruggs kept Trent
closely informed of what he was doing. And uh, I kept the President aware of
the fact and constantly focusing on the fact that Trent was probably moving
with Scruggs and that therefore he probably could count on helping Congress and
getting this thing done.
It was the willingness of Lott and the Republicans to be part of the process
uh, that gave it sense of political reality to it. As opposed to pie in the
Q. Did the President ever say, "I want to settle because I want to show
them we've accomplished this."? Or, was he reluctant to settle and say,
"Listen. We wounded em, we better kill em."?
Morris: The President was thrilled at the idea that this could be
settled. He was absolutely euphoric about it.
Q. Did he jump out of his seat or what?
Morris: He said, "You mean they really could do this? I mean we really
could bring this about?" Just, he was just excited about it. Uh, and
constantly, whenever I would brief him on the talks and stuff he would say,
"That's great. Great. Let's just keep going. Keep going, that's
Gore was apprehensive about it. Gore is much more-- read the fine print and
pay attention to the details. And Gore had a very cynical view of the tobacco
industry, and felt that they couldn't possibly mean anything in good faith, and
that if they were going to give you a concession then there was something that
they had in the back of their mind that you didn't know about. They were
smarter than you were. And that they had some--
Q. Did he say that?
Morris: Yeah, in effect. And that they had some marketing gimmick that
they would pull out of the hat at the last minute and would screw it all up.
And he told me early on that he would look to three people to give him advice
on this. Uh, Kessler, Waxman and, Myers from the smoking coalition, the
And, um, I relayed that back to Scruggs and that's the time when Scruggs
reached out to Myers from the Coalition Against Smoking to get him into these
talks and these negotiations because he would be so influential with Gore. Um,
so the state of play really in the White House in the April, May, June, July,
August of 1996 period was eager anticipation of the possibility of a tobacco
deal by the President and tremendous concern and caution on the part of the
Q. And then the trial balloon, or the week in September destroyed the
Morris: Derailed it for this time. There was no longer a chance of
getting it through before the election.
Q. Okay. And then we have from Scruggs and from Moore the history of
the deal progressing. You know they backed away and then--what do you think
brought the tobacco industry back to the table. Back to, you know--?
Morris: Well, the macro of any negotiation is that the only time you can
cut a deal is when both sides are hurting. If either side is, is well and
feeling happy, you can't get a deal. Then they go for victory. You need--if
they're willing to settle for things the other side can live with, it's because
they're hurting a little bit.
And the tobacco companies at the beginning of this process weren't hurting at
all. They were winning everything, that they encountered. Then they began to
see their vulnerability with these Medicaid lawsuits, when state after state
after state followed Mississippi's model and filed these lawsuits, uh they, the
potential liability piled up and they were really scared. Uh, frankly, if they
lose two or three of these lawsuits they're going to go broke, and this is a
very serious issue for them.
Q. Scruggs and Moore, once they announced their deal in June of 97, uh,
in their words, "descended into the swamp of Washington." They say they
learned a lot of lessons. They really did not realize that it was a town where
people told you one thing in private and then something else in public.
Q. Did they talk to you about that?
Morris: Yes. I think that Scruggs and Moore were so used to fighting
the tobacco companies that they were unused to fighting a two-front war, with
the tobacco companies in front of them and the public health companies in the
rear. Because the public health community basically said, "Thanks for the
gains, now get lost. We want to kill these guys. We don't want to make a deal
And whereas the President strongly believed that this should be limited to
stopping teen smoking, the public health community wants to wipe out cigarette
companies entirely and make everyone that smokes not have cigarettes anymore.
I mean that, that's their goal and it's laudable, but impractical.
So, um, Scruggs and Moore I don't think were prepared for the splash on the
Left over this issue, and I think they were shocked by it. And then, I think
they expected Clinton to stand up and deal and tame the Left and get a deal
But I think Clinton basically took the position of, "Why should I do this when
the courts are going to do it? The courts are probably going to rule against
the FDA. If they do then that'll give me the ammunition to put a deal
But then I think Clinton also realized because he's a marvelous student of the
practical, that if the courts ruled in favor of the public health groups and
against the cigarette industry that no force on earth was going to constrain
them. Then there was just going to be rout, and frankly I don't think Clinton
weeps over tobacco companies. I don't think he cares much if those companies
Uh, he's not going to be too grieved about that and at that point, you know,
the Huns sack Rome. And then who knows where it goes? Uh, but I think that
his feeling was that he would only attempt to impose a deal when there was a
reason to do it, which is that it was the only way he could get FDA
Q. One last question. You placed this issue, this whole thing on a
macro level that is beyond belief in terms of what the politics can accomplish
and all of this came out of a bunch of guys in Mississippi in Pascagoula?
Morris: When the history of the 20th century is written, there are going
to be some pretty obscure people who are entitled to sainthood. And they're
not going to be well-known. Nobody is going to know their names, and um, I
don't know if they'll go on to do anything else in their lives. I don't know
what their futures hold. But Scruggs and Moore have earned their place in
the criminal probe .
will there be a deal? .
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