The FRONTLINE Interview: Jim Blair
As a lawyer in Fayetteville, Arkansas, Jim Blair met Hillary Clinton when she taught law at University of Arkansas Law School. Clinton and Blair played tennis together, and when she met Diane Kincaid, whom Jim would later marry, Hillary Clinton had found a kindred spirit in Arkansas. The two women’s shared interest in politics made them “strangers in a strange land,” Blair explains. While Diane Blair worked for both of Bill Clinton’s presidential campaigns and served in other advisory roles, Jim Blair advised Hillary Clinton in what would become one of the early controversies of her public life: commodities trading. “I talked her into it,” Blair says.
In his interview, Blair recalls the Hillary Clinton who arrived in Arkansas, discusses the commodities trading controversy and explains what Hillary Clinton’s reaction to Diane Blair’s cancer diagnosis and death reveals about the woman he has called a friend for more than 40 years.
This is the transcript of a conversation with FRONTLINE’s Gabrielle Schonder held on July 15, 2016. It has been edited for clarity and length.
I’m going to start by asking you about Hillary’s relationship with Diane. Can you give me a sense of how important that friendship was to the both of them?
When Hillary came to Arkansas, Sara Ehrman drove her down here. She didn’t know anybody except Bill Clinton. He was the only person she knew in the entire state of Arkansas, and she was very much alone and very much an outsider when she arrived. She found Diane, who had been born in Washington, D.C., had gone to Woodrow Wilson High School, had been educated at Cornell, had worked on the Hill for Stuart Symington when he was a U.S. senator from Missouri, [had] written part of his foreign policy speeches.
It was an instant recognition that they were both a little bit strangers in a strange land. And they had an awful lot in common. The more they visited with each other, the deeper the friendship became. They became very important people in each other’s lives.
And she became my friend. I had been teaching on a part-time basis at the law school, just until they could find somebody to teach some courses they were shorthanded on.
Hillary and I actually played a couple of tennis tournaments together and were friends and hung out some together, and Diane was Bill Clinton’s friend. When he was running the South for [George] McGovern, he would always come through Fayetteville and check with Diane, and they would visit a lot. He would tell her about this wonderful woman that he wanted to come to Arkansas, but if she came to Arkansas, she would be subordinating her possible political future, which he thought was a brilliant prospect, to his own. He felt guilty about it, but he still wanted her to come.
When she did come, somehow the friendships switched, and she became more Diane’s companion; Bill became more perhaps mine. We used to double-date some together. But the desire to really help people that Diane and Hillary both had bonded them closely.
You said strangers in a strange land? What was strange about Fayetteville?
Fayetteville is a little unique part of Arkansas in that it, being the most northern part of Arkansas, is a little more Midwestern-y than the rest of Arkansas. But it’s still more southern than Midwestern. The culture [was] then and [is] still now less progressive than most of the rest of the country. H.L. Mencken said, back in the ’20s, that if the world was going to come to an end, he wanted to be in Arkansas, because it wouldn’t happen there for another 20 years.
Hillary, although with a Midwestern background, is coming out of the East, coming out of Boston in effect, out of Wellesley, with an eastern education. The speed at which the Easterners talk and process information doesn’t fit very well with the slow Arkansas drawl and the more methodical way we process information.
What was her life like here? Did she go to football games?
She did some of that. She did a little bit of everything. She occasionally would go to the Elks Club. There would be a dance or something. She actually liked to dance. She would do a lot of concert-type activity if it was available. But she did a little bit of everything. And you know, Fayetteville had — it was in the ’20s and ’30s called the Athens of the Ozarks. It did have a little more culture than the rest of the state.
… Were you at their wedding in 1975?
I was at the reception. … I saw them immediately after the wedding. I felt like I was a participant in the process.
I had advised Hillary early on, when she said Bill had asked her to marry him again, and she had turned him down twice. She didn’t want to get married right now. When she got married, she wanted it to be to Bill. She was afraid to turn him down a third time because she was afraid he’d never ask her again. So I gave her terrible advice and said, “Go ahead and marry him.”
Why was it so bad?
Well – (laughs) — think of all the difficulties I could have spared her if I had said, “Don’t do it, Hillary.” No, she loved him then; she loves him now. No, I think I gave her good advice, actually.
Let me ask you a little bit about their union, because it’s more than just the romance. There is this political partnership that they have. There is this symbiosis that they have that I’d love your help to describe.
Hillary is very analytical about her desire to maximize her drive to do good. Bill is more spontaneous. As a consequence of that, they come to almost any political problem, any political process, any political solution from two different directions. It’s very interesting to see them engage and see her shoot down some of Bill’s ideas because he hadn’t thought them through, for Bill maybe to shoot down some of her ideas because he doesn’t think it’s warm and fuzzy enough to grip people’s attention. They both would call themselves policy wonks, but they don’t come in the same door.
Who’s better suited for the battle?
Bill Clinton is the better candidate; Hillary Clinton will probably be the better president. It’s one thing to go out and create friendships on the campaign trail and empathize with everybody, and it’s another thing to sit in the seat in the White House and have to make the tough decisions between competing interests.
The campaign didn’t bother Bill. He loved the campaign. The making the tough decisions between competing interests caused him lots of agony because he had empathy for everybody. Hillary is not a natural campaign person, has more difficulty on the campaign trail, but sitting in the seat that makes the decisions, [she] would have less problem reaching the weighing of values and picking the right solution to a problem that involved competing interests.
You’re describing her a lot like her friends from childhood and from college do. She is prepared.
Been that way all her life, I think. But another interesting facet of that is you have no idea how quickly she can get prepared. She is very, very quick to pick up the weak spots in any new thing she encounters. And she can get immersed in a subject she doesn’t know anything about, and it’s incredible how quickly she becomes extremely confident with it.
Do you remember seeing that with a particular experience?
Oh, I’ve seen it a lot of times. One of the worst things I ever did to her is [when] I was having to give a trial practice seminar for a continuing legal education course, and I was going to give a demonstration of cross-examination of a doctor under trial conditions. Whoever was supposed to do the other side, something happened to them and they couldn’t do it, and I drafted Hillary at the last minute to fill in on that, which she thought was very unfair, but she did it. She was a good sport, and she did it extremely well, because she caught up and caught on very quickly.
Who told her to go into corporate law? Was it you, or was it Diane?
She didn’t go into corporate law. … When she was with the Doar committee on Nixon’s impeachment, there was a very, very good trial lawyer there named Bert Jenner, the head of Jenner & Block law firm in Chicago. This was before she even came to Arkansas. And he said, “What are you going to do?” This [the Doar committee] came to an unexpected end when Nixon resigned. She said, “Well, I want to be a trial lawyer like you.” And he said, “Hillary, you can’t be a trial lawyer.” And she said, “Why not?” And he said: “Because you don’t have a wife. A trial lawyer has to have somebody else maintain their life while they go about the business of litigation. That’s where the wife comes in, and you don’t have a wife.”
But when she went to Little Rock with Bill, and he was going to be the attorney general, Phil Carroll said, “Come over here to the Rose Firm and join our litigations section, and you can be a trial lawyer.” That’s where she bonded with Vince Foster and with Webb Hubbell and worked with some really top-notch people there at the Rose Firm.
Was she the breadwinner for the family at that time?
I’m sure she made a whole lot more money than Bill was making as attorney general, because at that time it paid virtually nothing. It pays a little more now, but it didn’t pay anything then.
Did she talk about thinking about financially providing for the family and looking for opportunities to be more secure in their finances?
There were three or four of them there in Rose Firm [who] did a little stock trading and things, did a little investment stuff. I don’t remember how successful it was. But I think she was conscious of the fact that her husband would probably never make any money and never care. I mean, Bill Clinton has never been interested in money. Money has no interest for him.
And I don’t think it has a lot of interest for her, except as a means to do something else with. Her deep core is steeped in John Wesley Methodism. His mantra, which I can’t recite accurately because I’m not a Methodist, but is “Do all the good you can to as many people as you can, everywhere that you can, for as long as you possibly can.” And I think she has believed that all of her life.
The difference between that and the typical idealistic good-doer is that she has a practical bent to it. She knows she could do more good if she had more resources. She knows she could do more good if she had an organization behind her. She knows she could do more good if she could involve more people in her project. Her love of political solution and her desire to help particularly children and women measures on that level.
… Pretty soon after she starts working at Rose Law Firm, Bill becomes the youngest governor in the country. Can you tell me a bit about her approach to becoming first lady of Arkansas?
She came to Arkansas wearing heavy horn-rimmed glasses, with frizzy hair, wearing what I would call hippie dresses. That’s not the southern Arkansas image of a lady that is the first lady of the state. I think she recognized that, and I think she knew that she would have to give up the hippie dresses, give up the heavy horn-rimmed glasses, even give up the frizzy hair.
The issue came up: Does she give up her name? She was very, very loyal to her father and her mother and the Rodham name, and she wanted to be known as Hillary Rodham. Her mother, Dorothy, didn’t want her to do that. And boy, her mother-in-law sure didn’t want her to do that, Virginia.
It was an issue, and we discussed it. I had such an elegant solution. I said, “Hillary, what you need to do is just go out on the State House Capitol steps and lie down on the steps and have Bill put his foot on your neck and say, ‘Woman, take my name.’” And I said: “The people will love it. It will all be over.” Well, she didn’t think that was nearly as funny as I did. But eventually, she did see that everybody in the state was going to feel better if she did this, and it was a price she could pay.
What was her reaction?
She wanted women to be judged on their own abilities, women to be judged for their own skills. She didn’t want women to be accessories to their husband, and that is usually what a political wife is, is an accessory to her husband. And it didn’t fit well. And the name issue was just an effort to hang onto her ideas about being accepted for who she was and what she could do and what her abilities were.
… At this time, how is she managing in Little Rock? She’s in the spotlight, and she’s pretty exposed. Do you remember how she’s handling the public and private life that she’s defining for the first time in her career?
She’s having to live in the governor’s mansion, which is maybe out of her comfort zone initially. She is still trying to go to work and take depositions and appear in court and do the things that trial lawyers do. And at the same time, she had to be a hostess at events at the mansion, and she was more interested in participating in policies. She wanted to help Bill on educational reform and things of that nature. So she had her plate full; I will say that.
In 1980 they lose. He loses. Do you remember if that was a big surprise to her?
It certainly was a big surprise to him, and it was a big surprise to a lot of his staff, who were my close friends. I’m not sure it was that big a surprise to her.
… His opponent, Frank White, was running those ads that were targeted toward Hillary’s maiden name.
He did some of that because he saw that as a vulnerability. Frank was not unskillful in his political approaches.
Did people buy into that, though? Was it successful?
I don’t think it was a big part of it. What I really think part of it was, was they felt like Bill Clinton and his staff were young know-it-alls who tried to do too much too soon. A lot of the votes against him didn’t want him to lose. They wanted it to be close. They wanted him to be humbled a little. But they really didn’t want him defeated. I think, in some ways, his defeat was an accident.
After the loss, Hillary takes charge. She’s already involved in campaign work, but she really becomes involved in this re-election effort. My reading into this is that she’s really the fighter between the two of them at this stage, because he’s devastated by this loss.
… I told them, and particularly Bill, that he needed to not run for re-election; he needed to go out and make some money, live in the real world, and he had a theoretical job with the Wright firm. And he told me that there was nothing else he wanted to do.
But Hillary changes her look a little bit during this time period.
And she changes her name. Can you tell me a little bit about that decision?
Insofar as some people blame that for part of Bill’s loss, which I don’t think is legit or fair, but people did blame him, insofar as that existed, she was going to do her best to repair that. She was not going to bear that onus, if that’s the proper word.
I think you have said that she was willing to make that sacrifice for political expediency.
Well, that’s not as blunt and as cynical as I would express it, but it gets into semantics. She didn’t want Bill to think that she wasn’t 100 percent there for him. She didn’t want anybody else to think that she wasn’t 100 percent there for him. If that’s political expediency, it is a gentler, kinder, sweeter kind of expediency than we usually mean when we say those words.
Fair enough. They both threw themselves into this next race, and they do win. And she becomes heavily involved in policy work. I wonder if you think that that is a little bit of a foreshadowing of what’s to come.
She loves policy, and she wants to be involved in policy. That would be true if she wasn’t married to the governor of the state of Arkansas. So as long as she is married to the governor of the state of Arkansas, how easy can it be for the camel to get her nose in the tent, so to speak?
… Let me ask you about the ’92 campaign when it’s announced. The idea of a co-presidency comes up pretty early in that campaign. How do you think they decided about the division of labor, of what Hillary would do and how she would do it?
When they decided — and I say “they” like it was a collective decision — when they decided that Bill would run for president, Diane took a leave of absence from her job as the university political science professor and went to Little Rock. I got her an apartment. She went on the staff as a researcher and adviser without portfolio or something like that. … But the role early on became something of a fire extinguisher or counterinsurgency research strategist, because very early on fire rained down on the campaign like a meteor shower, and they had to play a lot of defense.
One of those meteors that year was Gennifer Flowers. There had been rumors about women going around Arkansas for a little bit of time. Were you aware of some of those rumors?
He’s very charismatic, and women fawned over him. I mean, in any gathering, there are women leaning on him; there are women pawing at him. That’s kind of fun if you’re the recipient of it if you don’t take it too seriously. I never felt like he was taking it all that seriously.
He loved people in general. In my personal conversations with Bill Clinton, he’s one of those few people who stood inside my comfort zone. He always stood too close to me. (Laughs.) I’d want to push him back a little. I want to back off. But he’s very comfortable in close physical proximity with anybody he’s talking to. I’m not saying I know enough about it to talk rationally about it; I’m just saying there was always a press of women and men, but the men couldn’t get there because the women were in the way. They were always closer to him than I’d be comfortable with, but he wasn’t uncomfortable with it.
It’s hard for a lot of people to understand this part of their marriage, because how does a brilliant woman like Hillary balance this out?
I think that she has answered it. I think the answer was truthful, and I believe it. And I think what the answer is, is that she loves Bill Clinton. He makes her laugh. He is the person she wants to spend the rest of her life with. She does not want to not be a part of his life, and she does not want him not to be a part of hers.
Now, does she get highly angry when he does something she regards as highly stupid? Yes, she does. And as his good friend have I gotten angry with him when I’ve thought he did some things that were unnecessarily — “stupid” is a strong word, but I don’t know a better one. But I think she always knew, and I have always known, that Bill Clinton’s heart is good. Bill Clinton at heart is a really good person. And you can take a person that’s as celibate as St. Augustine and he can live a life as virtuous as the snow on the top of Mount Everest, and you can know sometimes there’s no heart there; there’s no warmth there. There is not a good person there.
This gets extremely complex in the field of human emotions and relations, and an awful lot of the pressure that gets put in situations like this is external, because people that don’t know anything about their marriage think they know what men and women ought to always do under those circumstances. And I think any marriage counselor, any psychiatrist, any psychologist that’s worth their weight in salt would tell you that’s not true. I mean, it’s more complicated than that, and there are a lot of factors to be weighed.
If you look at Bill Clinton’s life, when he has done some of the most unthoughtful things, it’s been when he has been under particularly unusual stress and usually some kind of depression — his mother’s death, whatever it is. When he’s knocked off his rails, so to speak, it’s not a good thing. But he finds his way back. If there is ever any malice in Bill Clinton, I’ve never seen it.
… That year she and he appear on 60 Minutes, but everyone really remembers her, because she —
Oh, the Tammy Wynette remark.
Yeah, but also the assertiveness, the strength and the determination. I go back to this idea of her fighting again, because she is unbelievable in that interview.
She operates from a strong moral core. And having herself centered there, the idea of never giving in, never giving up, never giving out, is a legitimate focus and strategy.
Do you remember watching it?
What were you thinking?
I thought at the time that she did an outstanding performance. I thought she really was good. And when she made the Tammy Wynette remark, I thought, well, that might not have been the best choice. We call it the Tammy Wynette remark. It’s from a song. She was standing by her man, but she’s also standing by her convictions that, if she’s going to do the maximum good she can for the most people she can, and as many ways as she can, there’s no better way to do it than to stay tied to Bill Clinton.
Can you describe election night, the mood, especially after that campaign? When they win, what is that night like?
Everybody thought it was a long shot. A lot of people were saying, “Bill is just doing this to position himself for ’96.” And there were a lot of people, and I might be one of them, that think there was a lot of luck involved. This wasn’t all just Bill Clinton’s skill or George Stephanopoulos’ skill or even the Ragin’ Cajun’s [James Carville] skill. But it was euphoric. I mean, we’ve got it; we’ve got it. Here’s our chance. Here’s all this wonderful stuff we can do. What nobody realized is, the meteor strikes weren’t going to stop.
What were those expectations that you’re alluding to?
They really thought they were going to help equalize opportunity for the less fortunate people, to strengthen the middle class, to take care of children and give children a chance for success, and to reform medical health care and be sure that everybody had insurance coverage. There was a huge policy banquet in front of them, and you’re going to do all this in the first 100 days — that became the magic formula. Three and a half months, and you’ve changed the world.
Pretty soon into the new administration, Sally Quinn wrote a very harsh op-ed attacking the Clintons’ idea that Washington is getting two-for-one with Bill and Hillary. Sally Quinn, who represents the Washington establishment, writes that the word “we” is the kiss of death.
There are some people that believe that Hillary didn’t initially respond to Sally Quinn’s overtures in the way that [Sally Quinn] wished she had, and Hillary got punished for it.
How did Hillary make sense of it?
She may feel a little bit that way.
What do you mean?
She didn’t want to spend her time doing the Washington society bit. She wanted to work on policy. So the people that wanted to manage her in the Washington society life, and thereby get additional brownie points for being the person that really had the closest access to the first lady and could get the first lady to do whatever they wanted her to do, responded in a highly negative way when she didn’t seem to be champing at the bit to do what they wanted her to do.
The decision is made to move on and involve Hillary more in the West Wing than the East Wing, where first ladies usually have offices. Hillary is given health care reform, a major policy. How important was this to her?
You go back and look at beginnings of her career, Marian Wright Edelman, the Children’s Defense Fund. She went to work for her really before she did anything else, and was very influenced [by] that. She comes to Arkansas and cofounds the Arkansas Advocates for Children [and Families]. So I think she thought this is a great opportunity for her to really unleash her focus and her effort because they knew the insurance companies were going to oppose it, and they knew that the insurance companies would fight back.
… 1993 was a year in which the meteors really started flying. There was scandal and personal tragedy. In April, Hugh Rodham passes away. In May, there’s the travel office and Travelgate and the subsequent investigations. In July, Vince Foster dies, one of Hillary’s closest friends and mentors who had come to Washington with them from Little Rock. Later, she would describe this time period as tied to a “right-wing conspiracy.” But at the time, how does she understand all of what is happening?
Well, in 1993, I’m not sure she did. Vince Foster was one time my law clerk. I knew Vince well. And Vince was as noble and righteous as a human could be. But that creates an area of vulnerability. He lacked the Marcus Aurelius-type ability to disregard what everybody else thought about you and do the right thing. He wanted to do the right thing, but he didn’t want people to think badly about him.
I don’t think anybody picked up on how much anguish he was in, particularly with the Wall Street Journal article. I think Hillary certainly felt terrible that she didn’t pick up on it. That was a huge blow.
The Travelgate thing was just one of these exercises in stupidity, to me. They had the right to replace anybody they wanted to in that department. They didn’t have to give any reason for it. Why explain to everybody? So this is a person that had petted the media, petted the press, and the media and the press didn’t like him being replaced. You’re the president, and it’s your job to staff that. And you don’t have to explain it to anybody. I was frustrated that they would even try. The justifications were not appropriate.
And Hugh [Rodham]’s death — you know, girls and their fathers have different relationships than girls and their mothers, or sons and their fathers. And Hugh and Hillary always had a relationship that had its difficulties. Hillary goes to a school and makes straight A’s, and he says, “That must be a really easy school if you got straight A’s.” I mean, gets no credit for her effort, no credit for her work. But she loved her father.
And it was a huge blow. It was making things function less well at a time when, you know, the worst thing happens, and they let the special prosecutor law go through, the worst thing happens. And then the fallout from that just gets tidal-wave sized.
… Let me ask you about two stories in particular. I want to ask you about the commodities trading and about Whitewater. I hope that you can help me handle these two subjects.
I hope I can, too, because both of those have been so inaccurately represented. I’m delighted to have a chance to explain.
So let me ask you first about the commodities trading. Why did she do it?
Let me put it in context, may I?
I ran $40,000 into $1.4 million net after taxes after an extensive tax audit and after a little bit of litigation for myself. I had 11 other people that were close to me that I talked into getting into this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, including my ex-wife, my fiancée, my fiancée’s children, my law partners, my close business associate, and Hillary. Hillary was one of those 11 people. And I talked her into it. I mean, we’re talking about possible investments into things. And I said: “I’ve got a situation where it is a one-time-in-a-lifetime shot. It’s an 11-year cycle culmination in the cattle market, and there are people trading it that are sharing information. That gives us an edge. There’s no such thing as insider information in commodity markets unless you steal the government report.” So I talk her into it.
People think that she put in $1,000 and made $100,000 overnight. It was 18 months or something like that of hard trading, and a lot of losses were taken in all of the accounts. You cannot trade on 20-to-1 leverage, which is what commodity trading is, and survive if you aren’t nimble and willing to take quick losses if you make a mistake.
The thing that broke the banks in ’09 is they were trading on other people’s money, on depositors’ money, on 50-to-1 leverage. And it’s impossible not to make a 2 percent mistake, which wipes you out.
I don’t think people ever understood that this was an 18-month slog. It was a brilliant opportunity. It had a lot of people sharing information. As her longtime friend and sometime adviser, I have certainly helped, strongly helped talk her into it. But I was not, at that time, an employee of Tyson Foods. I was in general law practice. I had a lot of clients. The guy who was the commodity broker for Ray Friedman & Co. that she was trading through had in effect been fired by Tyson. He was not a Tyson connection, yet somehow they think Tyson had something to do with it. They didn’t know anything about it.
I could talk about that for a long time. But I know you want to go on.
Help me understand the bigger question, which is, why was she trying to make money investing?
I think the answer to that is, why does anybody? They see a need down the road for money. In her case, remember she’s a Methodist do-gooder; she has to have resources if she’s going to maximize what she can do. The central basic Protestant religion is built on the Calvinistic principles of, there’s nothing wrong with making money. Money is not the root of all evil; it’s the love of money that’s the root of all evil. It’s what you do with it. And she wanted it — I’m totally convinced — for good purposes. Did she want to have a child, and did she want to be sure this child was taken care of? Of course.
Let me switch now to Whitewater. Why do you think she became involved with somebody like Jim McDougal?
It is the exact same thing. McDougal came to them and said: “Here is a chance to make some money. Why don’t you put some money in this real estate project?” McDougal had been around the political life forever. He had worked for [Sen. J. William] Fulbright [D-Ark.]. If you recall, Bill Clinton at one time drove Fulbright around the state. They have known each other forever. They were friends. And I’ve known McDougal since he was 16 years old. I was president of the student body at the University of Arkansas when his parents brought him to Fayetteville, and I personally took them on a tour of the campus to see if that’s where he wanted to go to school.
McDougal was brilliant, but he was an alcoholic, and he was a manic depressive. Not everybody knew that at the time. And McDougal ran off the rails. I have looked at every Whitewater document, every check stub, every check, every deed. I have looked at everything there is, and the ultimate conclusion is, McDougal stole the Clintons’ money, and the Clintons never made anything out of it. They were betrayed by a person they thought was their friend. And the reason he betrayed them is probably because he was mentally ill. And that’s about all there is to it.
How much did Hillary know about this at the time?
She had never been to the Whitewater Real Estate Development, which I had. And there’s nothing there to amount to anything. It was a very incidental thing. McDougal used to go around to the political people — and Fulbright was one of them — and he would have a tract of land he was going to buy, and then he was going to break it into smaller tracts. The sum of the parts was going to be greater than the whole, and he was going to sell it for more money than he paid for it and split the money with everybody.
Basically that’s what Whitewater was, except it was a little fancier, in that they were going to build some roads and subdivide and build some lots in a place where there was virtually no demand for it.
At the time were you surprised that she was getting hammered for this?
What surprised you about it?
The fact that there was just no basis to it. I mean, there never was any basis to it. But you had an independent prosecutor run wild, and that’s very easy to do. And he’s certainly not the only one that ever did. They have an unlimited budget. There are over 50,000 federal laws on the books that are crimes to violate. If you give me an unlimited budget of millions of dollars and ask me to prove that you violated one of those, I guarantee you I can do that. You have violated some of these laws. You’re a criminal. You just don’t know it. And most people are. Maybe everybody is. The process was out of control.
There was an opportunity around this time period to release some information to satisfy the press, to satisfy critics, and the decision is made not to. Do you think that was the right thing?
No, I don’t. I think the reason that people usually don’t lay it all out is they’re afraid of, when they know they’re totally innocent, is they’re afraid of misinterpretation. They’re afraid that somebody will go through and nitpick little things, blow them out of proportion, so they’re afraid to lay it all out. I think the best course, history has proved, is probably to lay it all out. Stonewalling virtually never works. You have an empty box; somebody says, “What’s in that box?,” and you say, “I’m not going to tell you; it’s none of your business.” “Oh, well, I’ve got to know what’s in that box.” And then there it goes.
… Let me ask you about 1998 and Monica. When that story breaks, she had a previous interview scheduled on the Today show, and she ends up going through with that, and she defends the president on the Today show. Was that surprising to you at the time?
Well, yeah. Am I surprised she went? Yes.
Are you surprised she —
And am I surprised she defended Bill? Yes. But one of the things that I think is, she hadn’t had time at that point to really think things through. I think she was operating on gut instinct. And sometimes you have to trust your gut. Bill’s in one of his depressive states, and he isn’t making good decisions. You know, Virginia [Bill Clinton’s mother] has died. It was a bad time.
… When Bill admits having the affair, how hard was that for Hillary?
It wasn’t right, it wasn’t proper, and it was stupid. And she has a hard time tolerating any of those things.
… Let me ask you a little bit about the impeachment, because at this point she goes to the Hill; she fights for his presidency. At the same time, she’s looking at maps of New York state and thinking about a Senate run. Do you remember discussing what the approach was?
The Bill Clinton presidency was soon going to be over. It was soon going to be history. Thanks to Franklin Roosevelt, we have an amendment to the Constitution that says you can’t be elected a third term, so his time is over, and if she’s going to pursue the things she cares about, and pursue her dreams, she’s got to have a new base. Why shouldn’t it be hers? And a good place to start, Ted Kennedy thought, was to go to New York and run for Senate. …
The thing about the New York Senate race is, it took so much money to make a credible race, there were not a lot of people that could raise that much money. She could come to Arkansas and run for the Senate, and there would be 100 people running against her, and they could all raise enough money to make a credible race. Well, in New York, it worked to her advantage to have a very expensive race because by then, she was a star quality, and she could raise money.
She’s pretty sure that she can take a very serious shot and pretty sure she can win this. And as this starts out — I mean, the tragedies in my personal life. In 2000, in March, Diane is told that she has stage 4 lung cancer. She didn’t even know she was sick. And Hillary is right in the middle of this Senate race, and Diane is her best friend. Hillary calls Diane every day the last 90 days of Diane’s life. Hillary leaves New York and comes to Fayetteville, Ark., to see Diane four times in that 90 days. And Hillary comes to Arkansas and emcees Diane’s memorial service.
You know, people [who] say Hillary is not loyal, that she doesn’t have a heart, that she’s not a real friend, don’t know Hillary. I just think that was incredible on her part. She’s running the race of her life. She’s got to put every ounce of energy she’s got in it. She is not going to leave a dying friend.
This is her closest friend in the world. I mean, this is her confidante. I mean, Diane is really her most trusted ear.
I believe that to be true.
It must have been absolutely devastating.
I believe that to be true.
Did it ever surprise you that, at 52, 53 she’s stepping out on her own, and she’s beginning a political career?
I think that she would have begun it earlier if she hadn’t been married to Bill and he hadn’t won his races. She could have been married to Bill, and if he lost his races, she might have done it on her own. So no, I don’t think I was surprised.
… I imagine, when you hear people talk about the email servers story, that that’s got to be frustrating to you.
It is highly frustrating. … It is an area of vulnerability that they can strike at, and she is somewhat responsible for having given them an area of vulnerability. Now, did she have advice of counsel, and no one stepped forward to admit that? I don’t know. But I would think she would have had. I would think that this was not as lightly taken. I would think that the efforts to make it work where she could preserve her private and personal email without putting it in the Freedom of Information Act was something that was important to her, and that could have been done. Obviously, in retrospect, it wasn’t worth it. It wasn’t worth it.
It seems to me like it’s a theme that sometimes follows her, which is that she has this complicated interest in maintaining her privacy. That’s what this comes back to. Can you help me understand that?
… Anytime somebody has found something that they think could hurt Hillary, they’ve tried to hurt her with it. Well, after you have been stabbed with 1,000 spears, do you want to leave the 1,001st spear laying out there, where somebody can pick it up and stab you with it? I think you don’t. You know, I think people have abused her privacy so much that she’s gotten overly defensive about it.
… Is there anything that we didn’t talk about that you wanted to?
The one thing I would do is sum up Hillary’s character. People say they don’t trust her. Do they not trust her to do a better job with American foreign policy than her opponent? Do they not trust her to do a better job with domestic policy than her opponent? Do they not trust her to do more for their lives than her opponent? What is it they don’t trust her about? I don’t see the trust issue the way they portray it on national television. Hillary Clinton has the temperament, the ability, to make a really, really great president. And that doesn’t happen very often. We don’t often get a candidate that good.
Here is a person who has no real selfish interests at heart. All she has at heart is to do good for the most people in the most ways, for the longest time that she can do it.
… How is she different today than that child of the 1960s that you first met?
She is different in the way almost every baby boomer who was there in the ’60s in the culture wars is different. They’ve grown up; they’ve matured; they’ve gained judgment. There are some people who say good judgment comes from exercising bad judgment. They made mistakes, and they have learned from them. She always, even at Wellesley, they said she was always looking at the big picture. Well, I think she looks at a bigger picture. She looks at the biggest picture.