Hoe did you come into the Administration in the second term?|
I think it happened when the president [appointed] Madeleine Albright to be
secretary of state. I'd known the secretary for many years when I worked for
Senator Kennedy and done foreign policy and national security issues for him.
So I had worked with her. And she called me up after her appointment and said
that she would like very much for me to work in the State Department. She
suggested that I work in the policy planning staff as director.
And that's where your expertise had been...
I think my expertise in foreign policy and national security and military
affairs began when I turned draft age back in the sixties. Ever since that
time I have followed it carefully, cared about those issues, been involved in
it through law school, then got a chance to do it myself with Senator Kennedy
when I worked for him on the Hill, which was very exciting--doing the Senate
Armed Services Committee staff work for him.
So then when I had a chance to work for the first female secretary of state in
the history of the country and a friend, someone that I admire enormously, I
jumped at the opportunity.
The rap on the Clinton Administration in foreign policy had been,
especially in the first term, that the president, because of where he had come
from politically, didn't put a huge priority on it. What did you find out
about that at the State Department? Were you on the back burner?
No. I never thought that foreign policy was on the back burner with the
president. I thought the president had gotten comfortable in that arena. He
was very good at it. I spent some time with him when we were preparing for the
president's trip to China. And as many people have [said] who spent time with
him in small groups [how good] he is [at] absorbing information. It
really is very impressive to watch a first rate mind absorb that kind of
information and then use it to define issues to identify policy questions and
then to mobilize that data behind a policy.
I was very impressed with him for someone who really had spent most of his time
in domestic politics as a governor in Arkansas and in the National Governor's
Association. I thought he was not only comfortable, but he loved it. And
he was very good at it.
My perception was that he had an unusually harmonious foreign policy team, at
least when I was there. I doubt that there's ever been a team that has worked
as successfully together as Sandy Berger and Madeleine Albright, who have known
each other for 25 years and really over time developed an understanding and
approach to these crises that served America well during the second
What was the crisis du jour when you were in policy planning...
Well, in real terms the crisis du jour was Iraq, because every day we were
being tested. Every day UNSCOM was being challenged as to whether it could
conduct the kinds of inspections that were required to assure us that Saddam
Hussein had not developed weapons of mass destruction. So there was that.
There was also the continuing saga of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the
development of strong new states, particularly in the areas surrounding the
Caspian and the Caspian energy challenge. Were we going to sit back and let
one of the potentially richest areas of energy become essentially the monopoly
of the Iranians and the Russians or were we going to try to play a serious game
as a participant in the Caspian energy arena? What was going to be done with
NATO, how NATO was going to develop in the face of the collapse of the
Soviet Union, and what its mission was going to be was a very important ongoing
discussion that was in the White House and in the State Department and very
much involved with the policy planning staff, which I was running.
In Iraq at one moment the president came out and made what was an unusual
announcement that the United States was going to financially support the
overthrow of the Iraqi government. I assume that that was not something that
was off the cuff?
No, it wasn't off the cuff. I think that my experience with the president is
that in foreign policy he almost never did anything off the cuff. He always
had thought through very carefully the policy implications and the impact of
what his words would be and would have. And I don't think that was off the
cuff in the slightest at all.
We'd had some disappointments in that domain with respect to support for the
opposition forces inside of Iraq and more than
disappointments--we had some real defeats in the foreign policy front in our
efforts to support an Iraqi opposition. That was a challenge that I think the
president felt that he had to really step up to and meet and there was a good
deal of Congressional support for that as well.
So you are the head of the policy planning and your expertise is foreign
affairs. And you get a call to come over to help defend the president after
the Starr report is released. What do you remember about that meeting?
I remember getting early warnings about it from John Podesta, who at the time
was the deputy chief of staff for the president. I think it was probably a day
or two before the president appeared before the grand jury and testified about
the Lewinski related matters and then gave his speech to the Nation that John
Podesta called me up and said that the White House was contemplating putting a
new person into the White House to be a coordinator quarterback of what they
expected to be an impeachment effort. And I said I could name to John ten
other lawyers in America that could do the job as well, if not better.
You didn't really want this job?
No. I was thrilled with working for Madeleine Albright. She was a very
exciting leader. She was a historian, a teacher, an intellectual, a
professor of public policy. She loved policy. It was a place that I thrived.
I loved my staff. We had really exciting people work with us. So I
was not looking for any new job. I wanted to be a success inside the State
Department and to help establish a post cold war footing conceptually and in
strategic terms for the future. I had been reading in the newspapers that
they were looking for some, I think the newspaper columnists were calling it
some "ego" lawyer. I didn't think that phrase applied to me in the slightest.
So I shrugged it off until John called and I said, "Forgive me, John, if I'm
not enthusiastic about the idea." But they continued to ask me to get
And then you had a meeting with the president? This is September 11th or so,
September 10th, shortly after the Starr report came out.
Yeah. To be somewhat complete, there's one step that I really ought to include
in that. And that is that I did talk to the secretary of state about it before
I agreed to do it, because I thought that she was the person to whom I owed my
fundamental allegiance at that point. And I didn't feel as though I could make
a decision independently talking with her. After consulting with her, when she
said that she thought I could make a difference and that it was important that
the president as president and the presidency as an office constitutionally
make it through this crisis, I agreed to do that.
The president called me, I guess first it was on a Friday night. That was the
day the Starr report had been sent to the Congress. And we talked about that,
of what the impact had been and about his experience that morning with a prayer
session that he had--a prayer breakfast.
What did he say about that prayer breakfast? I remember the speech he gave
Well, it was an important speech for him. I had the impression that he had been
up very late at night and that it was--every word was his word. And he had
made the use of various words to try to convey his feelings of remorse, regret,
a sense of shame which was, I think, all very genuine and appropriate.
The next night I went over and I talked with him about what had to be done in
terms of coordinating the defense of the presidency over the next months.
That was a remarkable meeting from what I've read and heard. Tell us about it.
I can tell you only a limited amount because at that point I became his lawyer.
He asked me to work for him. And I agreed to do that. And so that the
contents of that conversation are really protected by the privilege.
I can say that I was personally very moved by the anguish of what he was going
through emotionally. This was a person genuinely troubled and angry at himself
and frustrated, and someone who was also very concerned about the future.
Did he feel his presidency was at genuine risk at that moment?
I can't characterize it. I can't tell you that he thought he was at genuine
risk. He knew he was in trouble. He knew he was in trouble personally. He
was in trouble not only with his family which was, I think, first and foremost
his concern. And, again, I would say it was appropriate for him to have that
concern. The relationship inside the Clinton household, of course, was very,
very strained at that moment in time.
He had trouble with his Cabinet. And you can understand why that had happened.
We had seen it very closely from the State Department because the secretary of
state had been a very outspoken defender of the president back in January. And
it turned out that the president had mislead the members of his own cabinet.
He was in trouble with his staff. He had mislead his staff about what had
happened. And the question of his relationship with some of the most important
people that he worked with day in, day out was still a problem. I found out
even more dramatically later on that he was seriously in trouble with his party
members on the Hill. There was not a great fund of personal loyalty that the
Democrats in the House felt for the president. They'd had five years, six
years of a history with him that had been difficult.
I can remember every time I walked into a member's office to discuss the
proceedings in the House Judiciary Committee and the prospects for various
alternatives to an impeachment vote, I first had to go through 15 or 20 minutes
of, understandably from each member, about how angry [and] disappointed they
were at the president's reckless [behavior] and at his shortcomings.
So, yes, he was, he was in trouble. He knew he was in trouble. Whether the
presidency itself was in jeopardy, I mean, I'm not sure I could tell you that.
I felt that the presidency as an institution was in trouble.
But at that meeting...this was a several hour long meeting. Where was it
held? And if you would give us a little color.
The first thing to be said is that on the telephone he told me to just drive
into the diplomatic entrance on the south lawn and park right there where the
heads of state get out of helicopters. And I thought that was, I mean, I was
pinching myself as I drove through the gates. And on my left I could see the
Washington Monument. On the right there was the White House. And I just got
out, put my station wagon there where the helicopter is, and walked into the
White House as though I belonged. It felt very funny. And I was pinching
myself at that particular moment.
They took me up to the residence and there is a living room area in the
residence over the formal areas down below which has a beautiful balcony. I
think they call it the Truman Balcony. And I wandered out there to just look
at the Christmas decorations. It wasn't Christmas decorations. That was
later. I wandered out there just to look at the view of the Jefferson and the
Washington Monuments. Waited for the president. He arrived and we sat there
and talked on the balcony.
That weekend, that Sunday, the president's lawyers went out on the Sunday
shows partly because the political people were fed up. They all told us they
weren't going out to defend the president that Sunday.
What was the problem from your view of the performance of the lawyers
Sunday? Perhaps through no fault of their own, but it was viewed here in
Washington as extremely legalistic performance with the president's lawyers
making distinctions about sex and about perjury that, perhaps, didn't serve the
president very well.
Yes. And, in fact, the backlash was significant. It was a real wake-up call
to the White House because I think both Tom Daschle and Dick Gephardt wrote
letters to the president saying, "Don't send the lawyers out again." There was
a lot of mumbling and grumbling about how the president's lawyers had been of a
disservice to him.
I thought that Chuck Ruff [and] David Kendall's performance was absolutely
essential to the defense of the president and was critical to everything that
we did thereafter. I know it probably was not politically popular. But a very
sharp line had to be drawn very early on that there was no criminal conduct
here, and that we are never, ever going to compromise on that question. That
line we stuck with throughout, and we never compromised on that question. It
was important to establish it.
It would have been so much easier for us to or for the lawyers to have said on
the hand and on the other hand. But they were absolutely unapologetic about
the fact that this conduct, which was clearly blameworthy and wrong, did not
amount to criminal conduct and should not be considered in that category of
Because of that drawing the line and mobilizing the defenses, we were able to
move forward and make the case that, however blameworthy the conduct was, it
didn't rise to the level of an offense that was impeachable under the
Constitution. It didn't rise to the level of a high crime or a misdemeanor.
That was where the battle took place for the rest of the session, the House as
well as in the Senate. And so, yes, people can criticize the lawyer's
performance. And it was a very tough moment, I know, for them individually as
well as for the president personally. But it was necessary to establish the
foundations of the defense of the presidency as an institution and Bill Clinton
as a man.
One of the common complaints from the political side throughout this is that
the lawyers aren't confiding in them. So they don't feel they can do an
adequate job of defending the president and feel very much in the dark.
I think that one of the reasons I believe I was asked to come into the White
House was because there was difficulty in communication between the political
people that were advising and the legal people who were advising the president.
Did you note that tension? Can you describe it or give us some insight into
it and the reasons for it?
It was clearly in the air. One of the very senior people in the White House
talking about his personal relationship with the president said that he thought
that soon after the August 17th grand jury appearance and his speech to the
nation that the White House became almost dysfunctional. There was such a loss
of enthusiasm, energy and momentum in the place; that people just sort of
withdrew precisely at a time when there needed to be more energy, more positive
activity, and more momentum forward.
One of the elements of that, I think, was that the president went off on
vacation right afterwards. It's hard to generate a lot of positive activity
and energy in the White House when the president isn't there in the middle of
summer. But that atmosphere, I was told, was just devastating inside the White
House. Someone said it was like a neutron bomb had hit and everybody had
vanished inside the building.
You said that there was a point at which you were concerned that this
president might not survive in office. What was that moment?
The first time that thought occurred to me was when I was talking to a close
friend in the Senate, Kent Conrad, who I've known for 25 years. And I thought
that I could get a really good reading on the situation in the Senate, which
was obviously the place that we ultimately would end up if the Republican Party
stuck together and voted to impeach the president...
...I called up Kent and I said, "How we doing up there?" And he was saying
they were about two or three days away from a delegation of senior senators
from the Democratic Party coming down and talking to the president about
I had no sense of that apocalyptic aspect to this matter. This was probably
six or seven days after the Starr report had been delivered to the House of
Representatives. It was about two weeks after Senator Lieberman had given his
speech on the floor of the Senate. That had not been followed by a whole lot
of other speeches, but other members of the Senate, including Senator Moynihan
and Senator Kerrey had made comments in support of the Lieberman analysis of
the situation. And so there was the potential for that happening, just as Kent
Conrad had described it. If it had happened, if we'd had ten or fifteen
senators, Senator Byrd being one significant one, going to the floor and
feeling as though they had to pass judgment on the president so early in the
process, it would have had a real harsh affect on our ability to defend the
president in the House.
It could have finished him?
I don't know whether it could have finished him. You're talking speculation
here. It would have been very, very difficult...
I mean you, yourself said that at that moment you thought that it could
finish the presidency...
Prior to that moment I thought it hadn't gone that far. I thought that people
were waiting to see how this unrolled. I thought that people were setting back
and reserving judgment and watching to see what the president did and what the
House did and what the evidence was. And so for the news to come in from
someone whose judgment I trust and who is not going to give me a candy coated
view, and who would also be someone who could speak honestly with me about the
situation, for him to deliver that news...it was a cold shower in the morning.
And I realized that we were probably going to be in for a long haul.
And what day is this meeting?
It's a Saturday night.
Which was the 12th of September. Tell us a little bit about that, that
meeting Saturday in the private residence?
Well, he had just completed the prayer breakfast speech, which was very
important to him. The Starr report had been delivered with a great deal of
fanfare and publicity to the House of Representatives. That was the Friday
night. And then Saturday, I spent the day talking with John Podesta, with
Chuck Ruff , with my wife and my family. And when the president called and
said he'd like to talk to me about taking the job that night, I was prepared to
go down and spend a little time with him. I went down at 10:00 o'clock in the
evening and spent two hours with him.
The meeting took place on the porch on the residence area. I think they call
it the Truman Balcony, that is looking out over the south lawn. And we had a
very intense and personal, as well as professional, conversation for two hours,
Had the president read the Starr report at this point?
I think he had read summaries; he'd read excerpts. I don't think he'd gone
through all of the hundreds of pages. And he certainly had not read the
various exhibits attached to them, the grand jury testimony, the interviews,
and the graphic material that was yet to be displayed to the American
But as I said to you before, he was a man in deep trouble personally,
emotionally. And you could tell it. He's a strong man. And I think part of
the turmoil in his face and in the way he addressed this issue was that he felt
a little bit out of control and almost helpless.
He gathered his resources quite effectively in the course of the following
days, weeks, and months. But that night I think was a key transition night for
him. I had a sense that he'd had a nap in the afternoon because he had been
exhausted from the night before working very late. And that he was sort of
rallying his resources, his emotional and personal and intellectual resources,
and preparing for all that was going to be and he understood it to be a very
You described what for you was probably the darkest moment when you got an
inkling that some senior Democrats were prepared to either come out in public
or possibly even visit the president suggesting that it was time.
It was my first inkling of real danger. There were dark moments that followed
that were probably darker and more difficult moments to get through. The day
of the impeachment itself was a very sad day. But I would say that that
conversation with Senator Conrad was the moment in my experience when I
suddenly realized this battle could go either way. It was up in the air.
When did you become aware that in the House you were unlikely to
I don't think that hit me until probably the first week of December. It was
after the election; [the] Congressional election had gone very well. We
thought that our defense had gone in to the House Judiciary Committee very
well. We thought that the partisanship had divided the House of
Representatives so profoundly that the American people were upset about the way
in which the impeachment was going forward. All of the promises that had been
made about the way in which this proceeding would be run had been broken.
They promised that it would be heroic bipartisanship. It was not. They
promised that members of the House would be able to vote their consciences.
They were not. There were promises made right at the beginning by Mr. Gingrich
and Mr. Hyde that of course the House of Representatives would never, ever vote
to impeach the president against the wishes of the American people. And they
were proceeding to do so. And that message of partisanship had swept through
the country to the extent that we had done much, much better in the
Congressional elections than any of us ever expected. Rather than lose 40
seats, which most second term presidents do in their off year election, he
actually gained seats.
Coming out of the election, I think most of us in the White House felt pretty
good and that what we had to do was not make mistakes. That we had to continue
to pursue the high road that we had tried to pursue. Arguing the case on the
standards, the Constitutional legal standards for impeachment on the evidence.
That whatever and however wrong the president had been, that conduct did not
rise to the level of an impeachable offense.
We had been given advice by Republicans in the House that let us get there on
our own. "Don't push us. Don't pressure us to vote your way on impeachment.
We'll get there. Just give us time." We responded to that advice and we said
we were going to be available in the event they wanted to talk to us. But we
didn't insist on making appointments with people that we thought would be
national in their view rather than partisan.
And so when one after another of these Republican Members of the House of
Representatives started holding press conferences and announcing that they were
going to vote to impeach the president of the United States. It was only
then--and I may have been in some different room--it was only then that I
realized that the president was, in fact, going to get impeached.
One of the reasons I think that the president survived all of this, by the way,
was that if you go back and look at that period of time that I worked in the
White House, from September to February, and you take the impeachment battle
out of the equation and you just look at what the president did day by day on
the national business, it's really quite extraordinary. It is the president at
his very best dealing with the budget issue, dealing with the foreign policy
issues where there's the Middle East crisis going to the Gaza strip,
negotiating the Wye Plantation peace agreement, dealing with, in the middle of
all this, an UNSCOM deadline and air attacks on Iraq. A standing ovation in
the General Assembly of the United Nations.
Day in and day out as president, his performance was simply extraordinary. I
think even his sharpest critics would agree with that.
This was part of the strategy, as well, from the White House to show him out
doing his job as president.
That was his strategy. He said, "The way that I'm going to survive this is to
show them that they've got the very best president that they could ever
possibly hope to have at this moment in time. And that I can continue to
perform as their leader and speak to them with authority about issues that the
people care about." And he did so.
Part of that was the economy. Every morning at the senior staff meetings there
was the president's economic team. It was very interesting. I was impressed
that the secretary of the treasury, who used to be a senior staff member at the
White House, attended every one of those. He was the only member of the
cabinet, the traditional cabinet post that participated in those senior staff
His participation there meant that every single member of the president's
economic team was coordinating for an hour together on every day whether it was
the Director of the Office of Management Budget, or whether it was the Director
of the Council on Economic Affairs, Gene Sperling, or whether it was the
Secretary of the Treasury, there they were. And the Chairman of the Council of
Economic Advisors, there they all were and the economy day in and day out got
stronger and stronger and stronger. The president's performance on
international affairs got stronger and stronger and stronger.
And, of course, the impeachment team would like to take credit for winning on
the merits, but this obviously put together an atmosphere that was very, very
important for the president's ultimate survival.
The day of the impeachment vote, Hillary Clinton goes up to meet with
members of Congress. Why did Hillary go up that day?
She had wanted to show in some visible way her support for her husband despite
all the problems and all the disappointments. She had been looking for some
way that was appropriate for the first lady to tell the country, as well as the
people that had supported her husband that she was grateful for their support.
And I think this was the way that she picked to do it.
She was invited by the Democratic caucus. It was a very, very moving moment in
the caucus chambers with the Democratic members. It was a tough day.
You say it was a tough day and I wonder if you could expound on that a
Well, we knew it was happening. We knew it was going to be a very, very
difficult day for the president, for the presidency, for history, for the
country. And if you recall, we didn't realize exactly how difficult the day
was going to be when we started into it. First of all, we had this very
powerful and passionate and emotional speech that the first lady gave to the
Democratic members. And then the debate began in the House of Representatives
and lo and behold the person who was going to serve as the new Speaker of the
House resigned with allegations back and forth about his own personal life.
And they had one of those great moments in history, I think, on the floor of
the House where the Democratic leader, Dick Gephardt, gave one of the speeches
of his career about getting beyond the politics of private and personal lives
and putting our nation on a different footing when it came to political debate
The emotion built and built and built and then when the vote occurred on the
issue of whether or not there was going to be an alternative permitted to
censure the president, and it was quite clear that the majority was not going
to allow people to vote their consciences, the Democrats walked out. That was
a very powerful moment. And then the votes occurred.
The debate, as far as I was concerned, was disappointing, because it was filled
more with rhetoric than it was with thoughtfulness and it was disjointed in
that everybody wanted to have their minute, but the minutes became duplicative.
We have some very talented and very skilled and very intelligent members, but
there's only so many things you can say. And each one became duplicative. So
that that particular debate is not a debate that will live in history because
of the quality of the argumentation and of the ability to mobilize facts.
There were no Daniel Websters on the floor during the debate on the impeachment
as far as I was concerned.
After the vote, there is a political rally.
I wouldn't call it a political rally.
It looked a lot like a political rally. And, the tone was almost defiant,
or perhaps you ought to describe it. But here you have what looked like a very
political event with the vice president calling Bill Clinton "the greatest
president in history."
The idea for the Democratic members of the House to come to the White House
after the debate and the vote was Charlie Nagel's. And his idea was that the
president was going to be demoralized. He was going to be going through a
tough time. And in politics as well as in life, you want to be with your
friends when they're down as well as when they're up. This was a principle
that I think everybody could agree with.
There were some other reasons behind it. One of the reasons was that we thought
that once the House of Representatives voted to impeach the president of the
United States, there would be a presumption of regularity in the way in which
they did it. And there might be an enormous amount of pressure, a wave of
pressure to try to persuade the president to resign. We wanted to make sure
that the world understood that he was not going to resign. That the evidence
of impeachable offenses was not there. And we were going to take it to the
floor and to the Senate. We wanted to really scotch that issue right at the
So this was a statement of defiance then?
It was a statement that he was not going to resign and that the Democratic
Party did not want him to resign. I guess, to a certain extent you're right.
The Democratic members of the House wanted to come down with a specific message
to deliver that "We want you to stay and we want you to fight, Mr. President.
This is the product of partisanship, not principle, and we're with you."
It became a much more public event than perhaps it should have been out on the
south lawn, with public statements. It should have been a solemn and sad
moment, but it also should have been a very serious moment of reflection on the
question of whether this was good for the country. And it was not intended to
be a political rally. It was intended to be arrogant. I know that some people
saw that on our side of the Senate and were very critical of what they called a
rally. It was essentially an effort to pump up and restore some confidence in
our ability ultimately to prevail.
The Senate, of course, was an entirely different kind of atmosphere. Were
you pretty convinced from the beginning that once impeached you would prevail
during the trial in the Senate?
I go through my life expecting the worst so that when something better than the
worst happens, I'm happily surprised. So I can't tell you that I fully
expected vindication. There was no vindication in the Senate. We knew that
this was going to be a very difficult, very painful process. And we didn't
know how it was going to unfold.
As you know, there were no rules that were going to allow us to predict how
this was going to happen. And each Senator really was his own master or her
own master as to how the vote would be cast. There were some very tough
moments over there because of this uncertainty and because we feared that a
minority of extremists were going to be able to take control of the process in
the Senate the way they had in the House. We were worried that that might
drive a wedge into our support as well. So we had many moments of concern in
I forgot to ask you, going back to the day of the impeachment vote, did you
talk to the president that day after the vote? And if so, what was his
Well, I saw him the morning and I think I saw him in the evening after the
vote. He was okay. He was still tired from that trip to the Middle East. He
had come back and been thrown immediately into a real serious crisis that was
almost a 24 hour crisis because he was putting American men in harm's way in
the air attacks of Iraq on the missile sites. So he had the features of a
tired Bill Clinton which I think the country has grown to recognize when they
see him on television.
But the tiredness and the drawn features were not really attributable so much
to the impeachment process as they were to his being president. And I must say
that I was impressed with his resilience. I was impressed with his confidence
that we were going to get through this.
At what point during the Senate trial did you think that the Clinton legal
team had won?
Well, there were two moments and they both had to do with Senator Byrd. The
first moment occurred at the conclusion of the president's defense after
Senator Bumpers had completed his final argument. It must have been 40 or 50
senators lined up to shake Senator Bumper's hand because he had done a dazzling
job speaking for the president. And on that occasion Senator Byrd, after
shaking hands with Senator Bumpers, came over specifically, I think, talking to
me and told us we had done a very, very good job and he admired our work and he
was impressed with it and he wished us luck. I thought that had he been
hostile to the president and to the defense team, he wouldn't have done
And then the second point; Byrd was a very important figure in the Democratic
Party in the Senate. The second and most important moment was when he stood
up, was recognized, and moved to dismiss the two counts.
At that point you were pretty confident?
Yeah. That meant that Senator Robert Byrd had made up his mind; that he'd
listened to the arguments of the House managers, he'd listened to the
president's lawyers, and he'd made up his mind that whatever the evidence
showed, he was convinced that the president shouldn't be thrown out of office
for it. And that was the point of that speech and that motion. And for him to
make it meant that it was going to be very difficult, if not impossible, for
the two thirds majority required to remove the president to be obtained. It
When you talked to the president that day--can you tell us about that
I had a personal one-on-one with him and then he met with the entire team. He
was great. He was appropriately grateful and thankful to us. It was also
somewhat nervous making; we were talking a little bit about the politics of the
previous days and the personalities that were involved and the way in which the
procedure went forth. But it was clear that there was a huge burden that had
been removed from his shoulders and that he was happy that it was over and he
could go forward to be the best president he could possibly be.
There was much talk of a censure option, and many Democrats wanted that
option, and it fizzled. Just looking back, what's your best analysis of why
that never got off the ground?
The reason it never got off the ground was because the Republican leadership
made it quite clear that if any Republican participated in the effort to craft
a motion of censure there would be severe consequences inside the Republican
caucus for those Republicans who participated in that process.
I believe that there were many Republicans who wanted a motion of censure as
well. And I believe also that had there been a serious effort to produce such
a motion on the House side, and the effort had been blessed by the leadership
on the Republican side, there would have been overwhelming support for it.
Yes, the president's conduct was blameworthy. Yes, the House of
Representatives had a right to say something about it. But, no, it shouldn't
have been an impeachment. I think that's where most of the members were, but
for the people that had taken over leadership of the Republican caucus. They
were very, very, I think, intense if not fanatic on the subject. And so you
never got a real live chance to try and work that out.
How did the president keep up with you during the proceedings? How
attentive, how involved, how intense was his communication with you as the
proceedings went on?
He was, I think, very much on top of what was going on, although I couldn't
tell you with confidence how it was because I would get up every morning and
leave and go to the Hill. I was up on the Hill until the end of the session.
We'd come down at 5:30 or 6:00 to work and prepare for the next session. So
every day was filled with an enormous amount of work to prepare for the
But, for example, when I was getting ready for my presentation, which was the
day after the State of the Union, he [said], "Good luck. I'm thinking that
we'll do fine." And then after my presentation, he called me up that night and
he said that he thought I did a great job. And actually, I think the first
lady called me as well and thought that I'd done a terrific job.
They were following it. And then, every now and then they would read stuff in
the newspaper, one of them, and would call up in the evening about [how] they
spotted something in the newspaper, [and] what did I think of that. I think
they were reading the papers as much if not more than watching the television.
But when the president's defense was being presented, when Chuck spoke so
powerfully at the beginning, and when we had our second day, which is the day
that I still believe is, when Cheryl Mills spoke, that was the day we turned
the corner and we realized the moment was with us in the defense. And then I
think also with the Bumpers speech which was so powerful and so compelling.
I think the president was following those proceedings very closely on
television. But I can't say that from firsthand knowledge. It's just my
What do you remember about the day that the video tape of the president's
grand jury testimony was made public?
This was one of the uncertainties about the entire case...how in the event that
video tape was ever made available to the public and played to the world, what
the reaction would be, how would people respond to that. And that uncertainty,
of course, was pervasive in Washington, not only just among the president's
lawyers, but among a lot of the president's defenders and in the press. And so
everybody was waiting to see and to watch how the president did in his four
hours of testimony in very, very difficult circumstances.
Prior to the broadcast, there was a lot of expectations that were inflated, and
I don't know how. But people were speculating that the president had lost his
temper, that the president had been irritated and angry at the way in which the
questioning had been conducted. People were expecting to see something more
dramatic than [what] occurred. What the people saw was the president answering
questions forthrightly and dealing with the issues, difficult issues, directly.
And they saw a television screen that was bifurcated. On the one half of the
screen, the president was speaking to the General Assembly of the United
Nations and receiving a standing ovation, and on the other half of the screen
the president was testifying in front of the Office of Independent Counsel.
And the surprise to us, and it was a surprise [that] was twofold. One, how
well the president had done with the American public. Rather than being
critical and angry at the president, the public saw him working his way through
these issues as a human being, as a citizen and came away with a positive
reaction. And secondly, how angry I think they were at Ken Starr, because in a
funny way people started turning their anger at this whole process away from
the president and at the accusers, realizing that the accusers had gone into
issues in graphic detail, unnecessarily so, as a way to try to diminish the
president and the presidency.
You were telling a story about the impeachment day as perhaps the darkest
moment. And I just want to make sure that we have a clear understanding of why
you felt that way that day.
I'm not sure I can add much more to what I said. I do remember that it was
dark not only figuratively, but literally. That it was a day that was
overcast. It was rainy. It was cold. And it had all the foreboding of a dark
moment in our nation's history.
At that point, the president of the United States had been impeached, only
the second president to have been impeached...was there a sense among even
those loyal to the president, that here was a tarnish that he would never
outlive for all his successes in other areas?
I think the president would be the first person to say that this is something
that is in the history books for ever now. And he regrets it. He said so at
the time. I think he understands history. He reads history. He lives
history. So he knows what this sequence of events does to the history books
and to his story. It becomes sort of a lead item in the story of the Clinton
presidency when he would prefer to have many other.
I would like to say one other thing that I would volunteer at this point. It
was a remarkable experience working in the White House--someone who had not
worked in the White House before in [their] life--to walk into that Clinton
White House and see the diversity of the people that were employed. This is
not just an advertisement for the Clinton presidency.
He had assembled in that White House at the senior levels, at the middle
levels, all through that White House, women, African Americans, Hispanics. It
was really extraordinary. And he deserves some credit for that. This was not
part of my job. But you couldn't help but notice it, that these people,
wonderful people, excellent people, highly motivated, hard working, highly
qualified people were engaged in the public's business in the most responsible
way. And that was one of the experiences about working in the White House that
I will remember and give credit to William Jefferson Clinton for.
If you could concisely summarize, what do you think his legacy is?
I think that this president will be seen as one of the most highly qualified,
most talented, most skilled political leaders that this country has ever seen.
In that measuring stick, he is up there, in my view, with the Ronald Reagan
capacity to communicate with the nation, with the John Kennedy capacity to
inspire a generation. I think he probably had more sense of politics and
policy than we'll ever see again in a president, and more intelligence about
dealing with it.
I think people will be talking about William Jefferson Clinton as a president
and as a person forever because of the combination of incredible forces that
are wrapped up in this man. And we know about the flaws. And we know about
the lost promise. And we know about the squandered opportunities. But they
also shouldn't conceal the reality that this was a time of enormous achievement
and transformation of the nation in ways that I think that I've discussed with
you: the diversity, the commitment to diversity, to recognizing and celebrating
diversity in our country, to dealing with the post Cold War era in a way that
made sense. Where the country was not afraid of exercising leadership, of
projecting power and influence at the same time that it developed a very
powerful economy at home.
So it's going to be a fascinating story that people will be retelling for ever