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Bill Clinton says America should be rooting for Trump’s success on North Korea

Americans should “be rooting” for President Donald Trump at next week’s U.S.-North Korea summit on denuclearization, former President Bill Clinton said Thursday.

“I think we should be rooting for [Trump] to succeed with the North Korea negotiations,” Clinton said in an interview with PBS NewsHour managing editor and anchor Judy Woodruff.

Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are meeting June 12 in Singapore to discuss ending the regime’s nuclear weapons program — a goal that has eluded previous U.S. presidents, including Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Clinton.

The summit could be successful even if it doesn’t produce a full denuclearization deal, Clinton said, so long as North Korea makes other commitments such as allowing inspectors to monitor its nuclear weapons program.

Next week’s talks, at a resort on Sentosa Island, will be the first ever meeting between a North Korean leader and sitting U.S. president. Clinton called South Korean President Moon Jae-in a “genius” for helping broker the talks.

Trump has expressed optimism ahead of the summit, while cautioning that talks might not result in a final deal and could take longer than one day. CNN reported Thursday that Trump and Kim could meet for a second day if the first day of negotiations goes well.

“Anything we can do to reduce that threat [of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program] is a positive thing,” Clinton said.

Clinton spoke to the NewsHour alongside best-selling author James Patterson, with whom he co-wrote “The President is Missing,” a thriller about a fictional president’s response to a cyber attack. The book was released this month, putting Clinton back in the spotlight two years after his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was defeated by Trump in the 2016 presidential election.

Other highlights from the interview:

  • Defending NAFTA: Clinton defended the North American Free Trade Agreement, his signature trade deal with Canada and Mexico. “On balance we’re a lot better off” because of NAFTA, Clinton said. But said the agreement — which he signed in 1993 — “needs to be upgraded.”
  • Have Democrats moved in the direction of protectionism on trade? When asked by Woodruff, Clinton said yes. “But we pretty well know who is going to be hurt in a trade agreement — who will be helped, will be hurt. We should get our money on the front end from now on, but otherwise, I still believe in trade.”
  • Is a cyber attack the most serious threat the U.S. faces? Clinton, whose new book is about a fictional cyber attack, said while a chemical, biological or nuclear attack could kill more people more quickly, “it is more likely that a serious cyber attack could do a massive amount of damage and be successful.” The comments come weeks after the White House eliminated its top cyber security adviser position. The annual report from the director of national intelligence identifies cyber security as the No. 1 threat to the U.S.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And now, more of my interview with former President Bill Clinton and writer James Patterson about their political thriller, "The President Is Missing."

    I sat down with them yesterday.

    President Bill Clinton, James Patterson. The book is…

  • James Patterson:

    Guilty as charged.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The book is "The President Is Missing."

    A former president of the United States, a fabulously successful writer, who calls the shots when you're working together on a book?

  • Bill Clinton:

    Well, I think we know who's better at this. He's one of the world's great storytellers.

    But we both wanted to do it, and our lawyer/agent/friend Bob Barnett suggested we do it. And when he mentioned it to you, he said, I have been trying to get you to write a thriller for years, and you are never going to do it. You're too busy with your foundation. So, why don't you do one with James Patterson?

    I said, he'd never do that. Never.

    So Bob talked to him. He said yes. And we just started.

    And I told him he was going to have to do a little hand-holding in the beginning, because I didn't — I have read thousands of thrillers, but I — I guess, by now, but I didn't know how to do it.

    But we started with an outline. And he said, OK, here's 20 questions you have got to answer of how to make this authentic.

  • James Patterson:

    I didn't tell him there would be another 20 after that.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Bill Clinton:

    And so we started working. And then, every draft, we traded back and forth, sometimes several times.

  • James Patterson:

    Yes, when Bob came to me — we both grew up in small towns, but, in my small town, nobody ever came.

    But when I was 8 or 9 years old, Eisenhower President Eisenhower, and I never forgot that. I never forgot that. And I also tried to never forget where I came from. I never get a big head because of whatever. I don't think anybody should get big heads about anything, but I really tried not to do that.

    So, when I got the opportunity to write a book with President Clinton, I jumped at it, and to spend a year with him, which has been fabulous.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    This is a book about a president. It starts out, he's facing an impeachment hearing, something you know about, President Clinton.

    He's also confronting an international terrorist threat that, implausibly, he decides to deal with himself. He has to…

  • James Patterson:

    Not implausible in terms of the book, though, in terms of the story, in terms of why he decides to do that.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well…

  • James Patterson:

    But, yes, implausible in terms of like — I mean, even when we talked about it, the president said, this would be irresponsible, except under this kind of circumstance.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, that's what I want to ask you about, because he has to ditch the Secret Service, President Clinton, in order to do — to go and do this thing on his own.

    That would never happen, would it?

  • Bill Clinton:

    Well, it never has happened.

    In the book, we explain what the law appears to be, which is that anybody except the president who is covered by the Secret Service, including members of the president's family, can sign off the coverage and assume the risk, normally, for a very specific purpose and limited time.

    If you read this book, you will see there's a very specific reason he thinks he has to do it. And he acknowledges that it won't be very long, but this is a cyber-security novel, so the things happen fast, clock is ticking. He has to make a decision. And he thinks he's doing the right thing.

    But, in general, you wouldn't — you wouldn't do it. And you see why shouldn't do it, with the consequences that flow.

  • James Patterson:

    There is an incredibly devastating attack launched toward the United States.

    If something like that happened, this is how it would happen. There's an attack on a presidential motorcade. If it happened, it would happen like this. The president goes missing. If that — inconceivable as that might normally be, if it happened, this is how it could happen.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The theme of the book is around, as you said, a cyber-attack, a cyber-threat.

    Is it fair to say, President Clinton, that you think that that is now the most serious kind of potential threat this country faces?

  • Bill Clinton:

    Well, of course, a nuclear, chemical or biological attack could kill more people more quickly.

    But I think it is more likely that a serious cyber-attack could do a massive amount of damage and be successful.

  • James Patterson:

    Currently, you know, we have a very large defense budget, which is getting larger, but only a very small part of it is designated towards cyber-defense.

    And I think we both think that we need to reexamine that in terms of how big that piece should be.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And this is one way of educating the public, because…

  • Bill Clinton:

    Yes, we're trying to do something that you don't normally do. Can you write a legitimate thriller that's really fun to read and faithful to the way it would unfold, and also makes a point that makes people more interested in the cyber-security thing, because anything electronic can be hacked.

    And that's the point we're trying to make here.

  • James Patterson:

    And it's not just that it goes off temporarily. It can be erased. Or your bank records, Wall Street, all of it, it could be erased. That's what really makes it scary.

    And we tried to create a president that we would remind people how important this job is, how stressful this job is, so that when people — and I'm not being political here, but when people go out to vote, they would really think about that a lot, even in the midterm elections, that, when they go out, they are going to elect people to Congress.

    This is really — governorships — this is really important stuff. This is not — and these people are not silly. They're not villains. They want to do an important job. And let's be real careful about who we elect.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    One of the other points, I guess you could say moments of education, comes through in the dysfunction in Washington, one of the things that is surrounding this president, this fictional President Duncan.

    And, at the end of the book, he laments — quote — and I'm quoting — "The downward drift into tribalism, extremism and seething resentment, us vs. them, a blood sport, the well of trust runs completely dry."

    I guess my question to you is, though, with President Trump's success, aren't we deal — isn't that here to stay for the foreseeable future?

  • Bill Clinton:

    Well, for a while, it is.

    But I think — you know, I think, in the campaign, for example, I believe that I attacked him less personally than anybody else, that I always said, look, this election is about you. Here's why you should be for Hillary, one, two, three.

    I think the — everybody should be trying to recapture that. For example, I think we should be rooting for him to succeed with the Korea negotiations. I don't like having to brag on the dictatorial proclivities of the North Korean leader, but I think the South Korean president has been a genius, the way he's kind of gotten them together.

    And I think anything we can do to reduce that threat is a positive thing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We're watching this summit that looks like it's going to take place between President Trump and the North Korean leader.

    Do you believe the North Koreans — you have dealt with them — are prepared to completely dismantle their nuclear weapons program?

  • Bill Clinton:

    Maybe, maybe not. But even if they're not, if they are prepared to have an inspection regime which would give us greater confidence that the nuclear material, the fissile material, and any technology would be identified, monitored and couldn't be given or sold to anyone else, that would be worth doing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You have said — you have continued to say you believe that NAFTA was the right thing to do, that the benefits outweigh the disadvantages.

    However, your party just has steadily moved in the direction of protectionism. So, my question is, that's the political reality, isn't it, on trade?

  • Bill Clinton:

    Yes.

    People will tend to resent any force that is not helping them. So who cares if trade is helping somebody else? Who cares if technology is helping somebody else? I get that.

    I do think NAFTA needs to be upgraded. It's 25 years. There's all the other technological and other changes. I think there is plenty of room for them to — for both sides to say they have got something done, and they can redo this.

    We pretty well know what's going to be hurt in the trade agreement, who will be helped, who will be hurt. We should get our money on the front end from now on. But, otherwise, I still believe in trade.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You going to do another collaboration after this one? You going to write a second Patterson-Clinton book?

  • James Patterson:

    Well, we have had a lot of fun doing it. We really — it's been a tremendous experience for both of us. It's been fun out here and doing interviews and big crowds and really positive crowds.

  • Bill Clinton:

    I was thrilled, at my age, to try something new.

  • James Patterson:

    He's probably got a detective series started already on the side.

  • Bill Clinton:

    Spending 35 years reading all these mysteries, all of a sudden, I got to help write one. It was fabulous.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, gentlemen, the book is, "The President Is Missing."

    Thank you very much for talking with me, James Patterson, President Bill Clinton.

  • James Patterson:

    Thank you. Thank you.

  • Bill Clinton:

    Thank you.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Thank you both.

    And you can watch the first part of my interview, including President Clinton's comments about Monica Lewinsky. That's on our Web site, PBS.org/NewsHour.

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