the clinton years

homekey chaptersinterviewsanecdotesphoto gallery

interview: david gergen

photo of david gergen

An advisor to three Republican presidents, Clinton brought him to the White House in 1993 in a move that caused resentment among the White House staff. Gergen left the administration in December 1994. He is the author of a 2000 book on his White House years, Eyewitness to Power: The Essence of Leadership, Nixon to Clinton.

Interview conducted June, 2000 by Chris Bury

The transition. You were down there as an observer for U.S. News and World Report. But you'd been in three other administrations. What did you sense about the transition and how this newly elected president was putting together his team?

What I sensed was that they had a fantastic public relations machine going in Little Rock so that he got only 43 percent of the vote in the election but by the end of the transition he was up to 59 percent approval. But beneath the public relations machine, a real mess was building up in my judgment.

They did not seize the transition as a way to govern. It became more of an extension of the campaign with the public relations side of it than it was the movement from campaigning to governing. And I think that cost them a lot when they got to the White House.

Ordinarily, in a transition, what you want to do is to make sure you get your team ready, to make sure you get your program ready and to make sure you get your president ready so he's physically ready, rested and ready to go. And they did pick a good economic team but on the rest of it he, he put his White House team together at the last minute. People didn't know where they were going to be sitting until the last minute, didn't know what their jobs were going to be.

He didn't have his program together by the time he hit Washington, and when he came to Washington he was exhausted. You know, kept running during the transition. He kept out there, physically out there, and instead of getting a rest,by the time he got to Washington, he was a very tired guy. And I think that left him in Washington--a man who is as talented as he is, his judgment was not as good as it was when he was governor.

The first two problems that hit him as president were the Attorney General nomination thing, and gays in the military. To what extent were both of those things a result of sloppiness in the transition?

I think that the continuing bumbles on the attorney general decision came out of two things. One, they were being so fastidious about filling the slot with a woman that they weren't looking for merit, they were looking for a woman. And as a result of that they found one person they hadn't checked out enough, and they went through another, and that sort of thing and wound up with a third candidate. But it took a long, long time to get that in place.

You have to give him credit for diversity. This is the first president in history who appointed the Cabinet where white males were in a minority. That's something different, that's new. And he got the diversity he was looking for but in the obsession with diversity, he, it was so slow that he wasn't ready to govern.

And it wasn't just the attorney general slot that was so slow in being filled. The fact was because they took so much time on the attorney general, they never got the sub-Cabinet done. So, what you had at the Justice Department was a shell of a department. You know, Web Hubbell was basically running the Justice Department for a good long time there at the beginning. And whatever you may think about Web Hubbell you needed more people there in place to really run a department. And that was true not only at Justice, it was true in a lot of different parts.

I think that the problem goes back to the fact that it's a bigger leap from a place like Little Rock to Washington than people imagine. Bill Clinton, one of the most talented political figures of his generation, certainly, found it much tougher. It was much, much tougher than he anticipated coming here and he did not surround himself with a lot of Washington veterans early on.

But he did that on purpose. I mean there was, as you recall, a tremendous resentment among the campaign from anyone who had been associated with the graybeards of Washington. Those sorts of people were specifically not welcome.

As much as I admire Mrs. Clinton's capacity ,,,there is no room in the White
House for a co-Presidency. It just does not work.They were not welcome. And I think that was a terrible mistake. If I can only suggest two contrasts. One, when Bill Clinton put together his campaign he reached out far and wide for people of all different backgrounds regardless of what their loyalties had been before. And as a result he got a crackerjack team. He had a really first-rate campaign team.

But when it came to governing, he did not use that same sort of net to bring in the best. If someone had worked for the Carter White House, it was almost by definition no place for him in the Clinton White House. Let me give you an example.

Mack McLarty, who is a wonderful gentleman, to come as Chief of Staff, wanted to have Stu Eizenstat as his deputy. Eizenstat was ready to come. He had been Jimmy Carter's chief domestic advisor and is just a first-rate public servant. Eizenstat was vetoed by the high command of the Clinton team because he worked for Carter.

As a result, McLarty never had the man who would have been so valuable to him, right from the beginning, who really knew how to run a White House. And, as it's turned out, of course, Eizenstat went on to work over in the foreign policy side and, of course, he has distinguished himself at the State Department, the Treasury Department, because he is so good.

But it was the nixing of people like that. They nixed Eizenstat, they nixed Mike McCurry from coming into the White House. Mike McCurry could have come in and he and Dee Dee would have been a terrific team early on. But they nixed McCurry because he had worked for Bob Kerrey and he'd been for other people.

Jump ahead to May of 1993, how are you approached to come to the White House and what is the argument, what is the pitch that you are given?

It was a bolt out of the blue for me when the calls started coming. I was working for U.S. News and World Report and writing editorials urging the administration to pull itself together. I had great hopes that Bill Clinton would launch a new bipartisan progressive era of reform. I thought that was really important for the country.

He suffered a lot from not bringing in people from the Carter administration
and from the previous Democratic administrations who knew Washington. I had been writing pieces about, do this, and do that, please. And finally Mack McLarty called me and said, "We don't know each other but would you come over and have lunch with me and talk about some of the things that you've been writing about? I would like to explore some of these issues with you." So, I went over to the White House mess and I'm sure Mike had this wired but about three-quarters of the way through the lunch Bill Clinton came into the mess to say hello, and we talked for a while. I'd known the president for a long time.

And we talked for a while about what he was up to. And then the lunch ended and, and Mack McLarty said to me, "Look, we're really looking for someone with experience,for a graybeard to come in now. Do you have any recommendations? Could you think about it?" I said, "Sure, I'll think about it."

So, he called me that Sunday at home and said, "Have you thought about it?" And I said yes---one of the people I recommended was Stu Eizenstat. I recommended all Democrats. But Stu Eizenstat I thought would be a terrific person to come in. I didn't know the history from before that. And then three or four days later Mack called back and said, "The president and I have been talking about this and we'd really like to ask you to consider filling this job that we have."

That set off a whirlwind of activity over the next 72 hours or so in which I talked to the president. He made a very strong pitch to me by telephone. I met with him personally. I met with the first lady personally. I had extensive conversations with the vice president as well as Mack McLarty.

Did you tell the president what you thought was going wrong with his administration at that point?

Well, I didn't need to tell him what was going wrong because he told me. He was very reflective. He thought that the administration was way out of position politically. That he had intended to come as a New Democrat and he was perceived as being way off to the left and he had to get back to the center and he had to get back to working with Republicans and he thought I could be a potential bridge to help get back to the center where he wanted to govern.

What did you tell him?

Well, I told him that he was terribly out of position and that he had lurched to the left when he came in and it sent signals to people like me, who thought he was going to be a centrist Democrat, that he had lost his moorings. I also had a private conversation with the first lady saying, it's widely perceived on the outside that you're the one who's pulled him left and that he can't govern here.

And then she made a pitch to me about well, that she was misunderstood, that, in fact, I should remember that she had been a Goldwater girl in her youth and that she was very much for traditional social values and she thought he ought to be back to the center. And they also felt that they didn't understand Washington very well. They didn't understand the dynamics of the press corps. They were having a hard time figuring out Capitol Hill.

They were asking the right questions. It was just the fact that it was several months into the Administration and they had paid a fearful price by that time. I mean he was in a pretty deep hole several months in. I believe Sam Donaldson had declared him dead politically just a few weeks after he took office.

And there were widespread feelings in Washington that he was in over his head. That they had slipped on one banana peel after another. So, the call to me was emblematic of someone in Washington who understood the press, who knew something about bipartisan politics, who knew something about the White House and perhaps could help them right themselves to come out of the ditch.

When you get to the White House, what are your first early impressions of how it's working?

The thing that struck me the most forcefully when I first got to the White House was the fact that Bill Clinton, a man I had known for 10 years, self-confident, optimistic, always a man who, if he made a mistake on Tuesday and got knocked down Wednesday, he'd bounce right back up and be sunny. And here was a fellow who had lost his way and most importantly he had lost his self-confidence. He didn't believe in himself in the same way he did, the man I'd known. He was a very, very different person.

And what I had learned from other presidents, particularly with Reagan, was that the best thing a staff can do is don't try to reinvent the person. Instead try to help the person bring the best out of themselves. We said, "Let Reagan be Reagan."

And my view was let Clinton be Clinton. He's got it within him. He's got the resources within him but he'd lost his confidence. And so what we tried to do more than anything else in my judgment was to create an environment for him in which he could make his own recovery. To tighten the place up, to get the organization tightened up, and to give him the opportunity to find himself again.

You say, "get the organization tightened up." You hear and read these accounts of endless meetings where the president is engaged by practically anybody who walked past. That policy discussions go on until 2 - 3 o'clock in the morning. That there's this sense of a free flowing dorm room almost. I mean, how would you put it?

Well, early when I got there somebody told me, I think the vice president had this view--the comparison was have you ever watched 10-year olds play soccer? And if you have, what you notice is they never hold position. They're always clustered around the ball. There are tons of them clustered around the ball. This is what was happening in the White House unfortunately. Bill Clinton was the ball and wherever he was, there were tons of people clustered around.

clinton, gergen & myers And it was for me, who had come from Republican administrations, which are very buttoned up, very hierarchical, very orderly, it was stunning. I mean I realize the Democrats are different in some ways. They like a little chaos. They think it's more creative. And, hey--who's to say they're wrong.

But in this case, it was totally chaotic. And I think that from the president's point of view it was unsettling. He had no time for reflection. He had no time to rest. And I think it was almost like he was in this never-never land, he was in the fun house. He didn't know how to find his way out of it. And it took a while to let that sort of settle this down, slow this down, let him find himself and he'll be fine. And he did. I mean he worked his way out of the hole. But it took a while.

I will just give you an example. I am used to a White House where normally the president is in the Oval Office and there is a fairly orderly discussion, it may be three people, may be four people, but not very many and everybody sort of waits for somebody else to speak.

And more than once the situation I saw was Bill Clinton was going to go out to the Rose Garden to do an event and the press would be out there. And suddenly, ten minutes before the event, people would pour into the office, to give him advice. And everybody would be milling around as the fellow was trying to get himself ready to go out there. And somebody would be whispering in his ear, somebody would stick a piece of paper in his pocket, somebody would say, "You got to say this," and somebody else would say, "No, no, no, you got to say that." It bordered on chaos.

And I think that he realized that he needed to stop that and he did. And over time he became a lot more effective as president over time. I think that should be emphasized, but in the beginning I think that he suffered a lot. This cannot be overemphasized enough. He suffered a lot from not bringing in some people from the Carter administration and from the previous Democratic administrations who knew Washington, who knew the White House and who knew what it took to govern.

He would have been a lot better had he integrated the campaign team, very talented people, George Stephanopoulos, Dee Dee Myers, Paul Begala, James Carville, Mandy Grunwald, Stan Greenberg. They are all very, very talented. And he needed those people. They were vital to him. But he also needed a few of the graybeards. He needed the Bob Strauss types or he needed the Stu Eizenstats who could come in and say "Okay, that's all great, that's the energy of the campaign, but now to translate that into governing, you've got to put together an integrated team."

Once again, I have to go back--I think the best transition in modern times has been the Reagan transition. Jack Kennedy also had a fantastically good transition. One of the things that distinguished Reagan was that he brought his California team with him but then he reached out and got Jim Baker straight out of the Washington establishment, in effect, to be his chief of staff. And he blended the Washington folks with the California folks and by that he got a very strong team.

And what Clinton tried was bringing his campaign team in, but didn't reach out and get any of these veterans.

You mentioned that you saw the president lacking the confidence that you had seen him demonstrate before. One of the things that you and Mandy Grunwald did was look at videos from Clinton as candidate to Clinton as president. What did you notice in the comparison of those videos and then what did you do about it?

Yeah. Well, the credit for the videos belongs to Mandy and I didn't have anything to do with the production of them. I did see them. And the videos showed that the president when he was campaigning spoke with a vision about what kind of country we could be. He was thematic and he was sort of lofty. And he talked about the problems facing us and the solutions facing us as a people.

When he became president the conversation on the news was all about process, it was about this committee or that committee and "We've got a group working on this." It lost that sense of vision, that sense of what drew people to him. And I remember very well a meeting with him in which he complained, "I'm becoming the mechanic in chief and I don't want to be there. That's not who I got elected to be."

You know, Ross Perot had that wonderful metaphor about looking under the hood of the car and figuring out what's wrong. The president is not supposed to be the guy under the hood of the car. The president is supposed to be the person in the driver's seat figuring out what the road map looks like and where you're going.

Was part of it Clinton's fault? He was known to be hands-on, he wanted to be in every decision. In fact, people have told us that he couldn't stand not being in decisions and discussions.

Bill Clinton, because his mind is so quick and because he's so comprehensive in what he thinks about, he did want to be in every decision. I think he realized after a while he was getting lost in the trees and couldn't see the forest and he needed to sort of pull back from that he could not only think in, in a different way but he could present to the country a different sense of what his presidency was all about.

He'd never got quite into the detailed hands-on relationship that say, Jimmy Carter did. Remember Carter got into the point where he was actually approving who would play on the White House tennis court and he would look at the schedule. Clinton never got that far. But what instead was happening was that on policy issues, he would dive in and get deeper and deeper and deeper and he could get mired down in the details, and it was really hard. There is such a thing in government as paralysis by analysis.

By the time you got to the White House, relations with the press in this town were already pretty bad. A couple of things had happened. For one thing, the hallway had been blocked off to George's office, but generally there was a lot of enmity there. Where did that come from?

The press had fallen in love with Bill Clinton for a portion of the campaign. And then they started falling out of love. That frequently happens with candidates.

But the Clintons had gone through a just grueling experience with the press during the campaign, especially in New Hampshire and they came out of that very banged up, psychologically wounded by it and angry. There was a lot of hostility deep down about what these people did to us in the campaign. They didn't treat us fairly.

Mrs. Clinton felt that very strongly. So that when they got to the White House, there was a sense, "We can't trust these people. Let's put them somewhere else. Let's take them out of the White House." So, there'd be early on the discussions were, before I got there, "Let's put them over in the Old Executive Building across the street, get them out of the White House." Now, they realized after they looked at it that that was not a good solution. But the compromise was to close the door between the press and the offices of George Stephanopoulos and Dee Dee Myers.

Now, it's always been my understanding that both George and Dee Dee wanted that door open. But it was ordered closed over their objections. And may seem to the outside world so what? But it's actually quite important to the free flow of information in the White House.

So when I got there, I had this discussion with Mrs. Clinton as part of my going in--"Look, if I'm going to come in, I've got to understand how you feel about going to the center, and how you feel about working with Republicans. I can't come in here as someone who has worked in three Republican administrations and have you anti-Republican. I'll never get anything done. I can't be helpful. And, I've got to talk to you about the press. You know, if there's really going to be a war with the press, I can't be helpful to you." And she said, "We want to end this war. This is not where we want to be." And I said, "How about opening the door?" And she said, "I can't believe it hasn't been done already." And she opened it. She got it open right away.

And I was really surprised. I didn't know what to think of that. I never have known what to think of that. But, they then went--and they'd been planning this long before I got there---they had a series of dinners that summer with the press and for a while there was a truce. It lasted maybe until almost the end of the year of 1993, the first year. You were involved in an episode which sort of illustrated the "us versus them attitude," when The Wall Street Journal preparing a sort of series of what were relatively hostile editorials asking questions like, "Who was Vince Foster?" The Journal calls and they want a picture. What happens?

I thought my role early on for better or for worse, was to see if we couldn't sort of build a truce with the press and get to a more normal relationship with the press, with the Congress, with the leaders of Washington. And so when The Wall Street Journal was looking for pictures, knowing they were going to do the drawings of these people and knowing that they were probably going to be critical--I mean The Wall Street Journal didn't pull any punches about how critical it was of the Clinton administration--my view was, "Look guys, they don't like you. They're never going to like you. But you're crazy if you don't sort of act like this is a professional operation. Of course we'll send you the picture. This is public information. You are public figures."

And Vince Foster and Bill Kennedy did send their pictures up there and The Journal did nail them. But it was a lot better. And The Journal called back and said, you know, at least you guys are talking to us.

Now, this is the reason I want to go back to the Washington experience. This is not rocket science. Relationships with the press are a matter of pure professionalism. They are professionals. They have a job to do. It's not your job. It's a different job. You've got a job to do and you've got to have a professional to professional trust, a relationship of trust. Even though they're going to nail you sometimes.

And my experience from Watergate on has been you're better off acting like this is an important part of the process and let's open up to it, then you are to go out hostilely and say we're not going to cooperate with you guys on anything.

To me there was a significant turning point in the relationship with the press that led to the Whitewater Independent Counsel. And George Stephanopoulos, and I were both involved with this. There came a time when The Washington Post was seeking Whitewater documents and this was in the late Fall, early Winter, 1993. And they sent a letter over asking for the documents and, and the letter sat there for two weeks without being, without getting an answer. And then Bob Kaiser of The Post called me and said, "You're fairly new over there, still--you know this is serious. We feel like we're getting the run-around."

To make a long story short, Bruce Lindsay, Mark Gearan and I went to The Post. Mark and I--Mark was then communications director--recommended to the Clintons that they turn over the documents. We had a climatic meeting with the president who agreed to turn over all the documents but then told me, you got to get Mrs. Clinton to agree to this before we do it.

And I couldn't get it on her calendar. They wouldn't let me in to see her. I got into a stall situation. And eventually a letter went back to The Post saying, no deal. In fact, it was a lot tougher than that.

What did that tell you about the relationship when it would come to something like that where Mrs. Clinton obviously was driving the ball here?

Well, there are a couple of things. Let me finish upon the press story and then I'll come back on the the Clinton story. The press side of this was--this was a turning point for The Washington Post. They made a very serious re-request for documents. And we, in effect, put a stick in their eye. And it was just as sure as night follows day they then put a large team of investigators on the situation and they really went after them.

And it was clear it was coming, and the Clintons were told it was coming. But Len Downey of The Post called me and said, "This is not personal, this is just business. But I want to tell you something, you folks have made a horrible mistake and we have no choice now but to look at this very seriously." And once that started, that's the flagship newspaper of politics in Washington, everybody else got into this thing. Newsweek was there, everybody else was there. And it really put the pressure on where are the documents, and eventually as you recall, the Clintons decided to voluntarily turn the documents over to the Justice Department and they, themselves, called for an Independent Counsel. And I think it was very symbolically important that on January 20, 1994, exactly one year after he'd taken the oath of office, the Independent Counsel was appointed. And Mr. Fiske came in and said, "There is no limit to what I'm looking at." And that's exactly where he was going.

I honestly believe that had we turned over the documents to The Washington Post in late 1993, we would not have had this hunt in the press for the documents and hunting down the Clintons. We never would have had an Independent Counsel appointed in 1994. There would never have been a Ken Starr. And there might have been a Monica Lewinsky in Bill Clinton's life, but I don't think we ever would have heard about her.

What did that episode tell you about the power of Hillary Rodham Clinton?

Well, I think to be fair to the president, Bill Clinton is a man who likes to share power and the spotlight. He doesn't mind other people doing that. And he was very generous in bringing the vice president into a position of real authority. I think the vice president had more authority in this administration than any other one.

But I also think it led him ultimately into creation of what amounted to a co-presidency in a variety of serious ways. So, that she wasn't making all the decisions, but she did have veto authority over some important issues.

And that put her in a situation which I think is unprecedented in American history. You can perhaps go back to the late period of Woodrow Wilson when he had a stroke and his wife, Edith, was making many decisions. But there's no other, I think, comparable time when we've had, in effect, a co-presidency.

And as much as I admire Mrs. Clinton's capacity because she truly is a very talented woman--and she's passionate about the causes she believes in, and I think she's a well-centered person-- but there is no room in the White House for a co-presidency. It just does not work.

You cannot have two different camps running the White House. You can't have a war room that goes off and does a budget and another war room goes off and does NAFTA and then you have a war room who goes off and does health care. You need an integrated process.

And frankly, I think the president would have been better off had he asserted himself, his own authority, in doing that.

--private residence of the Clintons to talk to them, to make a case for turning over these documents, what happens?

Well, Mark Gearan and I had requested an opportunity to talk to the Clintons to persuade them to turn the documents over to the Washington Post and Mack McLarty, the Chief of Staff, said fine. He set up a meeting at 7 o'clock on a Friday night for us to go over to the residence and talk to the Clintons and made it clear that there would be lawyers there arguing the other side against disclosure because the lawyers were against it. I knew Bruce Lindsay would be against disclosure.

So, Gearan and I go--Mark's the communications director, and, and we're over in the residence waiting for the elevator to go up to the meeting. The elevator comes. Stepping out of the elevator is Mack McLarty, the chief of staff. And I said, "Mack, what are you getting out of the elevator for?" And he said, "We're not going to have a meeting." I said, "What do you mean we're not going to have a meeting?" He said, "They called the lawyers over early and they heard the lawyers and they decided they're not turning the documents over."

I said, you know, "You mean we're not going to have a chance to make the argument?" And he said, "No, you're not going to have the chance to make the argument."

Is that because Mrs. Clinton's view is going to hold there? That she had held--

I didn't know. It was the first time I was really, really furious. Because I thought "Listen this is the whole reason you asked me to come in here was to help you on questions like this. And you don't have to agree with me, but at least hear my argument." And, and that's when I said to Mack, "This is unacceptable to me. I can't live this way. We've got tto make the argument to them, Mack. We've got to talk to them." And Mack agreed. He said, it's only fair that they--and as a result of that, that was Friday night, as a result of that Mack set up a coffee that Saturday morning just off the Oval Office after the president had his radio address to have a chance to talk to the president. And George Stephanopoulos came to that meeting and he also agreed on the need for disclosure.

So, George was there. I made a very strong argument to the president why I felt we had to disclose the documents. George was strong. He was just right there, saying "You really got to do this." And Mack wanted to do it. And the president said, "Okay, I agree."

Then he turned to me and said, "Now, you've got to go talk to my wife. You got to persuade her to do it." I said, "Okay, fine." They let me know what I was going to be doing, and I said fine. So, that Monday morning I started calling for an appointment. I never got an appointment. They kept on saying, "I'm sorry, she's too busy." Too busy.

Which told you what?

It told me she made up her mind, didn't really want to hear the argument. And it also told me that she had a veto power over this question. And that, in fact, there were on some issues there was a co-presidency. Now, frankly--

On what issues? I mean you say that Mrs. Clinton had veto power. She had veto power on these Whitewater documents--but on what else?

Health care. The biggest single initiative of the first term was very, very much her--she was driving that. I mean if anything she was the prime player and he was not as fully engaged as he was on those other issues. And I think that was one of the reasons that he didn't bring to bear on it his very, very considerable political skills. I mean she's a great policy analyst, but he has perfect pitch in politics. He can hear, he can sense, he knows, he's finely tuned, about the political environment. I don't think that health care bill would ever have looked the way it did had he been fully engaged, had he been in charge of the process.

But at the end of the day, I have to say this: the tragedy about the documents question was there was nothing in those documents that was criminally culpable.

When the documents were all revealed, there were embarrassments in there, but there was nothing that was going to get them into legal trouble. But the failure to turn over the documents led to the outside Independent Counsel being brought in. And then led to these huge investigations that consumed much of his presidency.

Of course, there was a debate within the White House whether the president, himself, ought to ask for an Independent Counsel. And some of the political team were strongly in support and, in fact, the president did, himself, ask for an Independent Counsel.

We got put in a situation where the president had no choice and we had a long conversation. I was with him in Europe at that time--we were in Eastern Europe and there was a phone call back to the White House with some people gathered in the Oval Office and the president, and two or three of us, on the line in Eastern Europe. And it was a very spirited discussion.

Bernie Nussbaum, who was the general counsel in the White House, argued very strenuously against calling for an Independent Counsel for a very good reason. He said, "Once you get an Independent Counsel the guy's going to have a fishing license. He can go anywhere. It's going to be unending trouble."

I happened to agree with that argument. You never want an Independent Counsel because they're renegades. I mean they're sort of a runaway justice system in some way. But because we'd backed ourselves into a corner we really had no remaining choice. We were going to get an Independent Counsel anyway, it was clearly going to come. So I think the president made the right decision to say, let's go ahead and voluntarily call for one.

This is a very emotional time for the president because his mother has died just before this. What was the mood like on that trip?

I know that the president had a great sense of loss when his mother died. And I think that was one of those moments that you just don't want coming early in your presidency, because it took so much out of him emotionally. But I found him sticking pretty much to business. I didn't sense when I was there that he wasn't paying attention to the various meetings that he was going into. When we got to Moscow and he met with Yeltsin, he was in good shape there. He represented the country very, very well in his conversations with Yeltsin.

On that trip, the pool reporter gets a couple of questions and they're Whitewater questions. The president is livid. He jumps up, pulls off his microphone. Watching that, what was going through your mind?

This is a guy who's very tightly coiled. He's very, very tired. And he feels he's being hounded by the press. You know, the fact was the fat was in the fire by then. It was, you know, we were in a situation--that's why I come back to the notion had we gotten some things right to start with, I don't think we ever would've been in that situation. And I think that it's, it's hard to overemphasize how important some decisions are in the White House.

You may not see them at the time as being that important, but in retrospect you look back and say, if we'd just done that thing, this never would've happened.

During that same time Ted Koppel is there with a crew kind of chronicling all this, and he's supposed to talk to Clinton every night. One night Clinton doesn't come through, and Koppel is not happy about it. And the next night, the president does sit down with Koppel. But when the conversation again turns to Whitewater and you see the president's whole demeanor change.

Yeah. It's important to understand that the president felt on Whitewater that he was being pursued unfairly. He was just being hounded by the press and by his enemies. He thought they had been whipped up by his enemies in Arkansas that there was nothing really to it. And that they were using this just to bang him over the head and he wanted to go on and be president. And I'm sympathetic to that. I understand why he felt that.

But I had conversations with him. He said, "They are out there investigating my friends to within an inch of their lives. They're turning the lives of my friends in Arkansas upside down over these things and it's not right." He was morally outraged about it because he thought there was nothing in the Whitewater documents and the whole Whitewater episode that it was all that difficult. But he felt he was walking around Europe in one of his first major international outings, you know, he's got this 50-pound weight tied to him and he can't get rid of it.

And so, this is not the way Bill Clinton likes to operate. Bill Clinton is a free spirit. He likes to be out there, you know, sort of be able to do this thing. And shape the world, he likes to be able to control his own destiny. He's one of these kind of people that wakes up every day and thinks "I can shape the world this way for me today." And suddenly, his world is being controlled by other people and that was very, very frustrating for him.

Going back to Vince Foster's suicide, which is July of '93, you are at a party in Georgetown that night. And then you get the call. What happens? How does that affect Bill and Hillary Clinton?

I happened to be at a dinner over at the home of Sally Quinn and Ben Bradlee that night. It was a large Washington dinner, one of their classic dinners. And Vernon Jordan was there and many others. And I got a call from Mark Gearan at the White House saying what had happened. And telling me that the president had gone on to the home of the widow. And that was only a few blocks away from where we were having dinner. I was terribly concerned that this would knock the stuffing out of him totally. That he would become terribly embittered about the Washington experience. That he would share the Vince Foster view expressed in Vince's note that in Washington ruining people is considered sport. And, you know, I knew that some of that burned in Bill Clinton already. So, I was very, very worried that losing his friend was going to knock him over. And that he would find it very difficult to govern again.

So, Vernon and I went over to the Foster's home and what I found was that, in fact, he's a very tough fellow, Bill Clinton is. He was not there to get consolation from the people; he was there to give consolation. He was giving of himself to Mrs. Foster and to the others. He was going around hugging people, trying to buck them up.

And we then went back to the residence. Mrs. Clinton was in Arkansas. We went back to the residence and sat there with him for maybe two or three hours talking. Mack McLarty was there and Mickey Kantor came in and Vernon was there, and the president was there. And I guess four or five of us.

And Mrs. Clinton called and he had a long talk with her. I talked to her and found that she was in pretty good shape. She was shaken, but pretty good shape and was very concerned about him. But I found, in that evening one of Bill Clinton's great strengths. He's got a resilience, he's got an inner toughness that sometimes is not appreciated. You know, this is a man of many talents, and some weaknesses clearly. But resilience has been one of his great strengths. He bounces back from very tough situations. ... Not since Nixon, have we seen anybody as pilloried as Bill Clinton was in his early months and, in fact, as he has been through much of his Presidency.

And he's bounced back better than almost anyone you might imagine. I think that's one of the reasons he just wears down his opponents. I mean his view of how you wear down somebody is you show for work every day and you don't let them get to you. And there were times, of course, when he gets angry and he gets frustrated--

What about his, his anger? Carville said it's like a thunderstorm, it blows in and there's lightening and thunder and then it blows out. Somebody else called it "the wave." Did you see Clinton get angry and did he ever get angry at you?

You couldn't be around Bill Clinton very long without seeing him get angry. I think everybody who worked with him saw him get angry at one time or another.

Watching Bill Clinton erupt is like watching Mt. Vesuvius. It is something to behold. He gets very red in the face and it goes very quick and it leaves. And he does not harbor anger. It's a way to sort of get it out of his system.

But I don't think it's necessarily a healthy thing. I mean I think he sort of vents. One of the reasons I came to respect George Stephanopoulos was that frequently the president vented right into George's face. It was like he'd just be right close and just really red in the face. It was almost as if George was the son he'd never had. And George was very stoic about it. He knew it would pass. And he didn't fight. He didn't try to do anything. He just tried to calm him down and I think he helped him in that regard. But it was an anger that was something to behold. It was not something I would recommend as a model.

I tell you what, it's important for a president to set standards for his staff, so they gain admiration for who he is and what he stands for and they begin acting the way he acts. And so, what you find in our best presidents is the staffs get very much shaped by the atmosphere in the White House and the way the staff behave begins to take on the coloration of the person in the center. And if you've got a president who sort of is a little erratic, you know, he's very bright, but he's not as steady, the staff can get very erratic.

One of the things Bill Clinton did that I find most unfortunate, was he lied to his own staff about things during the campaign. He lied about Gennifer Flowers, he lied about the draft. And once you start down that road, what you find is "Well, if he's going to do it, maybe that's standard operating procedure around here." And he wasn't--

Was it? Did you find that in the White House? Did you find people were lying?

I think that the vast majority of people who worked with Bill Clinton and have worked in the Clinton administration are honest, up, straightforward people. I think there have been some people around him, a few, who have been willing to engage in a lot of things that are just unethical. I don't think there's any doubt about that. I don't think you can look at the record over the last seven years and say there hasn't been a pattern of unethical activity. Now, it has not amounted to an assault on the Constitution of the kind that we saw in the Nixon Administration. I was there in the Nixon Administration. The violations of law, the abuses of power were much more serious but one can't look at what happened in the Clinton administration and say this has been a good record. It has not been the most ethical administration in history, I'm sorry to say.

And I think that some of this starts at the top. I really think it's important for a president to set standards and say, you know, "This is the way we're going to be. This is the way I'm going to be and the way I expect you to be and if you're not, if you don't behave yourself, you're out of here."

I think it's really important for a president to do that. Our best presidents have done that. And you know, the coloration of the person in the center does matter a great deal. And I think Bill Clinton has done some fantastic things for the country. In many ways he's had a lot of accomplishment, but there have been some downsides. And you just can't walk away from them and say, it's been all perfect. It hasn't been.

One of the trademarks has been a tendency to sort of lurch from crisis to crisis to go up to the brink and pull back. And whether it's legislative fights or the draft or Gennifer Flowers, there's always been a crisis, where doom is right around the corner and yet, Clinton pulls out of it.

Is there something about who Bill Clinton is that leads to that kind of lurching from crisis to crisis?

That's a good question. There is a part of him, because he's so bright, that becomes easily bored. And I think he enjoys to some extent seeing how close he can walk to the edge of the envelope and still pull it off and still, you know, walk right on the edge. And his problem has been as president, occasionally he's fallen off.

But there's a part of him that sort of likes to dare history, because he's always been so good and people have always been able to say, "Wow, he did that." I think it's sort of one of the things he enjoys doing. He likes to get the ball on his own two-yard line and see if he can score a 98-yard run. He just enjoys that. And it's part of his psyche.

And so, I think he's willing to accept a certain amount of chaos or a certain amount of lateness on things and try to pull it out. It's like the guy who doesn't study until the night before the exam and then reads five books and goes and gets an A. I mean, that's been his history in life, right? So he brings that to governing. And he's always succeeded in life doing that.

The presidency is a very, very difficult institution. It's very difficult to govern this country. It takes a lot of discipline and a lot of thought about where you're going. And if you lurch around what happens is that you frequently get some things done, but it leaves the rest of the community saying, what's going on here?

Forty years ago Richard Neustadt published a book about presidential power that's now the classic in the field. And he made the observation that you have to have two things going for you. You have to have public prestige and a professional reputation. Now, Bill Clinton has been very good at the public prestige. He's been very, very good at the outside game of politics. Better than almost anybody we've seen recently.

He's had a much, much harder time on the professional reputation. Professional reputation is how people feel about you on Capitol Hill, how people feel about you in the press, how people feel about you in Georgetown, and some other places around Washington, increasingly it's how people feel about you in New York and in Silicon Valley and in Redmond and in places like that.

And his professional reputation has been one of "We're not sure who he is. And we're not sure he'll be there for us in the end." And there's been a lot of distrust up on Capitol Hill and I think that's come back to haunt him. I mean I think he's been much more popular in the country than he is in other power centers. And that makes a difference in governing. Foreign policy. One of the great successes was the Rabin-Arafat handshake, but one of the most difficult times was Somalia when the president sees the pictures of American Delta Force being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. What was it like or what was the president's mood, what was he saying when that crisis was breaking? And that was on your watch.

He was extremely upset about the loss of life. ... He's been very willing to use American forces overseas but he's been very reluctant to see them go in harm's way or be put in a situation where a lot of people get killed. He's tried to calibrate carefully various U.S. engagements so that a minimal number of people get killed and it's still an exercise or a demonstration of force.

Somalia wasn't quite his Bay of Pigs, but it came close. It was a situation in which I think he in retrospect realized that as president he had allowed the mission to expand, what's called mission creep, and at the same time he had been withdrawing down the number of forces who could do it. And he left his forces in a situation where they were overexposed to danger. And he knew that. And in retrospect, I think he blamed himself to some extent and I think to some extent he blamed some of his advisors.

Was there a sense there when you were with him that we were going to get out of there as soon as we could, that we were going to cut our losses and leave?

I think that Somalia haunted the administration for a while after that. It was almost like the Vietnam Syndrome. There was a Somalia Syndrome. And that is, don't ever get yourself in a situation like that again where you put people in harm's way and they are not fully protected, you don't know what you're doing.

I was trying to remember whether the Haiti thing came after that.

It did. Yeah. It did. As I recall we had a ship going into Haiti, the Harlan County, and they got there and there was a mob on the pier. And to my astonishment, people in the Harlan County were not armed. And I said, look--and people blame me for some of this, but my argument to the president was-- "You got one of two choices. You either got to go in with force and take care of that unruly mob, you can take them in five minutes. Or you got to get the ship the hell out of there."

The one thing you cannot do is dither. You can't just leave that ship sitting there while you try to figure out what to do. And he ordered them out .... And frankly, I don't blame the Harlan County on Bill Clinton so much. I don't understand why the Pentagon didn't have those people armed going in. They weren't prepared for what amounted to be like a street mob.

...I want to come back to this. The Somalia Syndrome was playing into the Harlan County episode. Because nobody wanted to have Americans leave the Harlan County and go ashore unarmed and get killed by that mob. That would have been awful, and in the back of people's minds was Somalia. And that existed in the back of people's minds for a long time.

You got to remember the people who were around Bill Clinton have a real neuralgia about Vietnam, that Vietnam continues to play through in this generation. This is the generation that is now in power. They grew up in Vietnam. And Tony Lake, his National Security Advisor, was in Vietnam. And Tony takes this very, very seriously, and to his credit.

Tony Lake is one of the kind of people who quietly, as National Security Advisor, went to the funerals of people from Somalia and took his day of Sunday and flew to Kentucky, I think it was, to go privately as a citizen to the funeral. Very quietly and came back. Didn't say anything about it. Didn't want any publicity. But the loss of life was very, very important to the president and the people around him, loss of American life.

To what extent during your tenure did Bill Clinton care about foreign policy?

You got to remember when Bill Clinton was elected the country thought George Bush was spending way too much time on foreign policy and wasn't paying enough attention on the domestic side. So Bill Clinton came in with the understanding of the mandate from the country that was pay attention to the domestic side and forget this foreign policy stuff.

And the truth was it flipped between the Bush administration and the Clinton administration on the attention to foreign policy. Traditionally where presidents have spent maybe 60 percent of their time, 65 percent of their time on foreign policy during the Cold War. With Bush he got up to about 75 percent sometimes. With Clinton it totally flipped and he went to maybe 25 percent of his time on foreign policy at most.

Jim Woolsey, the CIA Director, couldn't get on his schedule to see him. Couldn't get in to see the president?

Couldn't get in. The CIA does a daily briefing with the president. And that's long been the case. And so, Jim Woolsey would come over with his briefers thinking, "Well, I'll get a chance to go in there and talk to him." They had a very hard time getting on his schedule. When the little tiny plane crashed on the White House lawn, the joke around town was that was Jim Woolsey trying to get an appointment to see Bill Clinton. And other governments were having a hard time getting on his schedule.

Now, when he got in trouble over five or six months, Tony Lake and Warren Christopher and others, Sandy Berger, were able to persuade him, "Look,you're good at this foreign policy stuff. You know, you went to school at Georgetown on foreign policy, you enjoy it. But you're not spending sustained attention on it and you really need to do that." And they began correcting that schedule. But for the first few months all the emphasis were somewhere else. And I have to say his attention span on foreign policy remained episodic through much of his presidency. But I think he was better on foreign policy than he's given credit for. I think he's had many more accomplishments than he's given credit for.

Just before Christmas in 1993, the trooper story breaks, first in The American Spectator, then in The Los Angeles Times. How did Bill and Hillary take that story?

That was a tough, tough blow. He acted outraged, and she was clearly outraged; wouldn't say so, but I think she felt a sense of humiliation that went very deep. No first lady likes to be put in that situation, of course. So, it was a very tough time for them.

And she in that kind of environment, her first response is to rally the troops and get people out defending the president. I think that's one of the great contributions she's made to him over time. She's the one who steadies things up. She deploys people, gets them out there.

But I think it was privately just very, very difficult for her. Now, I believe that the Troopergate story was a turning point on the health care fight. Let me explain why. Up until that time, she had been very, very involved in sort of the effort to put together the health care plan. It had been early presentations in the fall of 1993. The Troopergate story came along in December. I think it put him in a substantially one-down situation, with her psychologically in the dynamics of a marriage.

I can't prove this. My sense has been they are on a see-saw in their relationship. When that relationship works, they're very good partners. But when she goes up and he goes down, or he goes up and she goes down, there, the balance gets out of whack. On health care, what happened was that that Troopergate story put that see-saw up so that she went way up and he went way down. And I never saw him challenge her on health care in the weeks that followed. On the politics of what was going on, on sort of how to get it presented to the Congress properly. How to get it through the Congress. I really think that it sealed her position. It put her firmly in charge of how to get health care done.

Is this because he's in the dog house? Is that what you're saying here?

Absolutely. Watching him in that time, it was very much like watching a golden retriever that has pooped on the rug and just curls up and keeps his head down. And it put him in a situation where he was in her dog house. And I think it put him in a situation where on health care he never challenged it in a way he ordinarily would have, had he been under different psychological situation.

And, of course, the Troopergate story set off the Paula Jones case. Paula was mentioned in The American Spectator story and that led to the lawsuit. So it had other consequences. But it had a real change in the dynamics I sensed, at least in the White House, and it couldn't have come at a worse time. It was really very, very damaging.

I don't want to put the blame on her on health care. I don't think that's fair. I don't think she ever should have been asked to put the health care thing together. I think Donna Shalala should have been asked to put that together and I think Mrs. Clinton could have led the crusade to get it passed. But ultimately this was Bill Clinton's White House. He was the guy elected president. Ultimately if your wife gets assigned health care that's his decision.

And so, you have to say Mr. President, you did a lot of really good things as president but turning the health care program over to Mrs. Clinton, who had never really worked in Washington before and asking her to do something that massive was like giving her a mission impossible. It just was more than she should have been asked to do. And I do think that the dynamics of the relationship had something to do with it.

You mention Troopergate leads to Paula Jones. She gives this press conference and there's a sort of interesting strategy that develops from the White House.

The president's lawyer had a good line on the lawsuit, this was "tabloid trash" with a legal caption on it. You also had a not-too-subtle attack on Paula Jones herself. You have James Carville out on the talk show saying, "Drag a hundred dollar bill through a trailer park, no telling what you're going to find."

So, here you have the White House attacking the press again, shaming the press, and attacking the integrity of the woman bringing the charges. What was your view about the strategy?

I'm the wrong person to ask. I was not there for that. I had left by then, but I think the record is pretty clear that by attacking Paula Jones personally that the prospects for getting a settlement went down the drain. That she felt insulted and pushed on. I think they were very, very close to getting a settlement from everything I've understood about it. And by attacking her it really went down the other way. And James Carville has been a first-rate political strategist and helper for Bill Clinton over a long period of time and a big, big defender of his. But it's up to the president to determine how he wants the people who are loyal to him to support him. If you took a Franklin Roosevelt in that situation he would not have allowed somebody to go after Paula Jones in the way they went after her. He would've understood "Let's cut our losses. Let's get this behind us. Let's get a settlement done and get this woman out of the headlines. We don't need this."

And, instead, by going out and attacking, I think you you get her into a situation where it goes the other way. Now, I want to contrast that--and this is a very interesting point and it may seem like a stretch.

Contrast that to the way Bob Rubin worked with Bill Clinton on the Alan Greenspan relationship. Bill Clinton's tendency was to go out early on in his presidency and go out and attack Alan Greenspan on interest rates. He thought they were way too tight and thought they were holding back the economy and he wanted to go out there and attack him. And Bob Rubin came to him and said, "Mr. President, you can't do that. If you attack him, you'll challenge his manhood and if you challenge his manhood he's going to tighten some more just to show you that he's independent."

And Bob Rubin understood and as a result the president listened to that, decided that is right, that's wise, didn't attack him. And lo and behold Greenspan got us through this thing and they've had a fabulous relationship since, and Bill Clinton has twice reappointed Alan Greenspan. And it's been a terrific economy, partly because of that relationship. I think if they had the same kind of restraint with regard to Paula Jones that they had toward the Fed, there would have been a very different outcome.

By the end of '94, I mean you've been brought in as you say largely to bring this president back to the center. There was a profile problem he had after his early couple of years. He had gone way to the left and Hillary was blamed for part of that.

I think it was partly to get him sort of righted, to help get him out of the ditch. His presidency had gone into a ditch and my job was to help him get out of the ditch.

One of the things that you were arguing for strenuously to do was NAFTA. Why was that such a critical moment for Clinton at that time?

NAFTA, in my judgment, was one of the finest hours of Bill Clinton's presidency. And people like Bill Daley and Rahm Emanuel, and others--Mickey Kantor--deserve a great deal of credit for. What was really important about NAFTA was, first of all, it was good policy. Secondly, and very, very importantly, it was courageous of Bill Clinton to go out for NAFTA because he had the labor unions all on the other side. His entire political base was saying, "don't do this." He had a lot of people in the White House saying, "Don't do this. This is a loser. You're going to lose this thing and you're going to really tee-off your base and they're going to leave you."

And he said, "No, no, it's good for the country" and he went out and fought for something. And he showed people that he had some guts. He showed people that when it came to sort of, "I'll do something because if the country's interest is at stake I'll fight for it." And I think that was a terrific moment for him. I think NAFTA, passing NAFTA and getting the budget bill passed the first year were like two of the most important moments of his presidency. And they sent a signal to an awful lot of people, but particularly NAFTA sent a signal that at the end of the day Bill Clinton was not driven entirely by polls and by politics, he had some guts and he had a sense of what was best.

The tragedy that came later was that after he lost the 1994 elections and the Republicans took over--that Dick Morris who was the master strategist and I think one of the cleverest people who's ever been around Bill Clinton and has the best insights into Bill Clinton as a politician--the tragedy was that Dick Morris persuaded him he had to get away from that kind of thing and he had to go very political in order to survive. And he moved away from those kind of efforts.

I think if he'd stuck to his guns as he did on NAFTA, I think he would have sent a lot of signals to people that this is a gutsy guy.

You were still around at the election of '94?

I was over at the State Department by that time.

By this point Clinton is sort of upset with his whole team. There are big, big changes in the White House. What was his feeling? I mean why did you get moved to the State Department? Did he tell you?

I asked to leave. I wanted to get out before the '94 elections. I had told him when I came in I didn't want to be around for elections. I could help him with the governing but I thought it was inappropriate for me to be there for an election period when inevitably it was going to get partisan and I had worked for Republicans. I just didn't feel comfortable about that...

Did you talk to him after the elections? I mean did you get a sense from him--

Yes, I talked to him. He went through another downward spiral. This presidency has been on a roller coaster from day one. And what you find is in year one he starts high coming off the transition, 59 percent, he goes way down the first six months, he brings himself back up, and then he gets health care and he goes down and then he gets the defeat in '94 and he goes way down. And with Dick Morris there he picks himself back up again. And then, of course, he goes down after the Monica business and he has never fully--

Did he take any responsibility, himself, for losing the Congress in '94? Did he ever face that he was partly responsible for that?

He was really, really angry at just a variety of things. He was angry at the Republicans, he was angry at the consultants. And he felt that if this the way that politics is going to be played in Washington, by God, he'd play it this way. His view was the Republicans have been cynical all along about politics, "They come in here and they don't stick to their guns, they just do the things that are political so they can get reelected. I came in the first two years and tried to do the right thing for the country, got my head handed to me. And by God, I'm not going to do that again. I'll do what basically I need to do."

He was very much fighting back to get elected. And that's why I think Dick Morris understands that. Dick Morris said--he's written in his book he wrote--"You got to understand that there are two sides to Bill Clinton. There's the good government Bill Clinton, and then there's the guy who's the politician. And if his survival is challenged he's going to turn into a politician." But that's what happened after the '94 election.

Why did he get rid of his political team?

He thought they had let him down. He thought that they had misjudged the tenor of the times. I think he blamed them in part for health care that they had been deeply involved in. I frankly think that they paid a bigger price than they should have. I think these were very talented people. And they had served him well over a long period of time. But hey, look, it's, like a losing baseball team, you fire the manager, get a new manager. That's where he was.

Looking back now, what do you consider his legacy to be, his historical legacy?

I think historians are always going to be ambivalent about Bill Clinton, just as they are about Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. And that's because there is a bright side of Bill Clinton who has accomplished enormous things for the country. The country is clearly better off than it was the day he was first elected.

The 1990s are going to be remembered as one of the brightest decades of the 20th Century. And he was one of the prime movers in that decade. Many of the steps he took were small, to be sure, but the decade turned out very well. We're better off economically, we're at peace, and a lot of cultural indicators like divorce rates, teenage crime, teenage pregnancy, are moving in the right direction.

And he has something to do with that. And, yet, at the same time, there is this other side, the downside, the negative side. He goes in the history as the first elected president to be impeached. He goes into history as the first president who's had his whole sexual life thoroughly opened up in the press. He goes into history with an administration that has a very tainted ethical record, just whole episodes that have bedeviled him.

Nothing as serious as Watergate. But the whole conjure of things we call Whitewater, you know, have left a definite stain on it, and I think historians are going to have a hard time with it. I think they are going to have a hard time sort of juggling how you weigh those two things in the end.

And Lyndon Johnson's always faced this. Now, what's happening with Lyndon Johnson is that he paid a heavy price in the beginning on Vietnam and now he's being recognized for what he did in civil rights and his reputation is getting better. I think Bill Clinton over time will fare better in the history books than he will immediately. I think he's going to look better over time. I also think that the country is better prepared for the 21st Century than we think we are. We are in better shape as a people than we think we are. And I think people will look back and say, "You know, Bill Clinton told us about this bridge and we never understood what the hell it was, but it turned out he prepared the country." Over the time he was president a lot of things happened that made us better prepared for the 21st Century. And I think he'll get some credit for that.

And this gets a little esoteric, but let me just put this over. Bill Clinton has introduced a different kind of leadership to the presidency. We traditionally like leaders who are very strong and have a sense of direction and go right this way and here, "Follow me." He has almost a feminine kind of style. It's more like "Bring this in, get this viewpoint, get this viewpoint, and we'll sort of synthesize everything and we'll try this and we'll move forward."

And I think we're seeing more and more of leadership like that in the corporate sector and in other kinds of organizations, in which there are many more voices at the table--the diversity that he's introduced, and looking for additional voices, trying to bring other voices in. I am a traditionalist. I prefer, "Let's go this direction." But I think there is an argument to be said for someone who has a 360 degree vision and draws the best from various traditions to put it together. And I think we're going to see more and more of that in the future.

In May, I had the opportunity to go to the White House and hear Bill Clinton speak extemporaneously and he was like the best I'd heard him in a long, long time. I couldn't believe it. I went to some of his people and said "Has he been speaking like this recently?" And they said, "He's entered a zone in the last few weeks that nobody quite understands, but its like a baseball player who's on a hitting streak. And the baseball player gets in that zone and he sees the ball coming toward him from the pitcher bigger than it really is and can hit it more easily."

And somehow he has been liberated. And over the course of his last year, he's willing to talk about things he would never talk about in a way. He's willing to talk more about himself. I think he's coming to grips with sort of his own place in history, who he is as a person. I think he's a much more mature man now than he was when he was first elected.

In my judgment he went on this roller coaster ride that was in his presidency. It was the first four, five, six months when he went straight down and then over the next several months he pulled himself straight back up again. And he was the prime architect of his recovery.

And then the Troopergate thing hit and then health care went down the early next year and then he lost the Congress and then he went right back down again on the roller coaster. But to some extent what you have to understand about the presidency is, you don't have long to make your big accomplishments. When Lyndon Johnson was elected in 1964, he went to his people and said, "We've got about a year to get things done." Because power slips away in this office, it evaporates very quickly. And the problem with coming in with those big early losses and going down on the roller coaster those first six months, he's lost precious time.

That first six to nine months in the presidency are the most important time you have as president of the whole eight years. That's when you can get more done with the Congress, that's when you're fresh, when the country's with you, things haven't hit from the outside. And inevitably, in every presidency, you're going to have some things that come in from the outside that come banging on you which you can't expect. And so things that happened to him late in the first year--Vince Foster happened in the middle of the year, he couldn't help that, or The Los Angeles Times and the Troopergate story. Those outside things come up and banging up against you. And if you don't get it early, you don't get it. It's really hard.

I think the strength of Bill Clinton is that he could overcome. Most people in that job would never have been able to pull out of that first tailspin that he went into. But he did. And that's the remarkable thing about Bill Clinton--how good he is at pulling himself out of the tailspins. He is "the Comeback Kid." The other remarkable thing about Bill Clinton is how he gets himself into trouble so he goes in those tailspins. And that's what's been hard to reconcile.

As you were saying before, there is a part of his character that seems to enjoy living dangerously.

Yes. He likes to live dangerously. It's the eight years of living dangerously. Some really high points, some very strong things, but he likes to live life right at the edge. And there's something about him psychologically that has thrived on that all his life, Now, I happen to believe that he's coming out of it. I sense a man who is coming more into his own than he has been any time in his life. That he's coming to grips with himself in ways that he has not before and it's healthy. You know, as a person, I think he has always believed, as a Southern Baptist, in the powers of redemption and I think he's in the process of sort of pulling himself together.

Home | Chapters | Interviews | Anecdotes | Photo Gallery

Copyright ©2000 ABC News Internet Ventures.
Click here for Terms of Use and Privacy Policy and Internet Safety Information applicable to this site.