ad info

 
CNN.comTranscripts
 
Editions | myCNN | Video | Audio | Headline News Brief | Feedback  

 

  Search
 
 

 

TOP STORIES

Bush signs order opening 'faith-based' charity office for business

Rescues continue 4 days after devastating India earthquake

DaimlerChrysler employees join rapidly swelling ranks of laid-off U.S. workers

Disney's GO.com is a goner

(MORE)

MARKETS
4:30pm ET, 4/16
144.70
8257.60
3.71
1394.72
10.90
879.91
 


WORLD

U.S.

POLITICS

LAW

TECHNOLOGY

ENTERTAINMENT

 
TRAVEL

ARTS & STYLE



(MORE HEADLINES)
 
CNN Websites
Networks image


Larry King Live

Ted Koppel Discusses 'The Clinton Years'

Aired January 4, 2001 - 9:00 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 1992)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: So help me God.

CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAM REHNQUIST, U.S. SUPREME COURT: Congratulations.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight: a remarkable look inside a roller- coaster presidency and the real West Wing. Joining us: ABC News' Ted Koppel of "Nightline" fame, who anchors "The Clinton Years." He also reported for it with "Nightline" correspondent Chris Bury. They're next on LARRY KING LIVE.

Good evening. Great pleasure to welcome tonight to LARRY KING LIVE two terrific journalists, one who has been with us frequently. And one is a new visitor. Ted Koppel is the anchor and managing editor of ABC News "Nightline." He's on your right. He's anchored the ABC and PBS broadcasts of "The Clinton Years," which he reports with the gentleman on our left, Chris Bury, ABC News "Nightline" correspondent, who covered the '92 Clinton campaign for ABC's "World News Tonight."

All next week, "Nightline" will air these special reports, "The Clinton Years." And then it will all wind up on PBS as part of a "Frontline" report.

Now, Ted, how does that work out: the arrangement between you, ABC and PBS?

TED KOPPEL, ABC "NIGHTLINE": Well, I guess it works out very well, thank you for asking. You know, "Nightline" is just, in terms of its format, so different. Obviously, we do five half-hour shows. Those half-hour programs are interrupted -- as yours is -- by commercials. And when it finally goes on "Frontline" the Tuesday after the week that we do it, it will be a two-hour documentary, which is anchored by my friend Chris Bury here.

KING: Now, Chris, the concept of this program -- when you say "The Clinton Years," this is a look at eight years, at the people. Give us an outline of it.

CHRIS BURY, ABC "NIGHTLINE": Well, what it is, is really an attempt to answer some basic questions. You know, I started covering Clinton in '92. And I became fascinated by how he was able to survive one calamity after another. And it turned out that some of the patterns that we saw in that campaign have continued on through the eight years of the presidency.

And, in two hours, we don't have time to tell every story of those eight years. But you can see those patterns develop over time. And, as you go back and watch, it's really quite fascinating to watch it all unfold.

KOPPEL: Much of this is video that you have seen before. But in looking back and seeing it now eight years later, you begin to realize just how skillful Bill Clinton was, for example, during the Gennifer Flowers affair, during the draft-letter incident, how skillful he was and how determined he was not to let those things knock him right out, which they could have done at that stage. This was still very early on in the primary season. It was up in New Hampshire.

He had gone from being someone who was potentially looked at as perhaps being the winner in New Hampshire to someone who was thought, to have been knocked out of the race altogether by those two scandals, who then came in a second. And that was such a remarkable recovery that that was the moment at which he first began to describe himself as the comeback kid.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, 1992)

B. CLINTON: And New Hampshire tonight has made Bill Clinton the comeback kid.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BURY: And this is really an insider's view, Larry. I mean, we deliberately chose not to have pundits. We deliberately chose not to interview the Newt Gingriches and Ken Starrs of the world. We wanted to focus on the people who saw Bill Clinton day in and day out in the real West Wing.

KING: So we have Dee Dee Myers, and Mike McCurry, and Robert Reich, and Donna Shalala, and George Stephanopoulos. But do you have Clinton on?

KOPPEL: No.

BURY: We don't.

(CROSSTALK)

BURY: And we did put in a request, yes.

KOPPEL: We put in more than one request. And he chose not to do it. And I'm very, very sorry that he opted not to do it. I think it would have been enormously useful, and I think would have just given a whole 'nother dimension to the broadcast. But we had to go with what we got.

KING: All right, Chris, we all know him. We all know him well. We've covered him, been around him, interviewed him many times. Yet he remains -- you're the guest. Is he -- is "remarkable" a good word, Chris?

BURY: Well, you know, a lot of the people who first started working with him had a little name. They called him Secretariat, because he was the thoroughbred of campaigners. Dee Dee Myers, James Carville, Stephanopoulos, when they first signed on with him in late 1991 and early 1992, they had never seen the politician who could work a rope line and give a major policy speech and be extemporaneous. He had an enormous reservoir of pure political and substantive skill.

And, in that sense, I mean, he's truly one of the most remarkably gifted politicians of recent modern history.

KING: Ted, if you were explaining him to someone who didn't know who you were talking about, what you would say?

KOPPEL: I would say this is a man with enormous personal charm, who is able to suck you into his own little cosmos, that when Bill Clinton is talking to you, you are perfectly prepared to believe that there is absolutely nobody else who interests him at that moment, nothing else on his mind.

I think, of all the presidents I have interviewed over the years -- and like you, I have done a lot of them -- I have never interviewed one where I had the feeling that he was always at least one and sometimes two or three questions and answers ahead of me.

KING: We are talking with Ted Koppel and Chris Bury of ABC's "Nightline." And we will be right back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE CLINTON YEARS")

B. CLINTON: Hi, Ted.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Good morning. How are you, Bill?

KOPPEL: By April of 1992, Bill Clinton had been campaigning for six months. "Nightline" spent a day with him in New York.

How much sleep did you get?

B. CLINTON: I try to get six hours a night. And I don't always.

KOPPEL: And he spoke about the pressures of the campaign.

B. CLINTON: One thing I think you've got to be real careful, when you are in these campaigns, you have got to work like crazy or you can't get elected. But if you work too hard and you get too tired, then you become too testy. And that's when you make mistakes.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, "THE CLINTON YEARS")

KOPPEL: Then came the emphatic public denial that aides had been calling for.

B. CLINTON: I want to say one thing to American people. I want you to listen to me. I'm going to say this again. I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky. I never told anybody to lie, not a single time. Never. These allegations are false. And I need to go back to work for the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We are back with Ted Koppel and Chris Bury. The subject is Bill Clinton.

Why do you think, Ted, he drove -- and I think even they would admit it -- his detractors a little nuts?

KOPPEL: Well, because there were so many times when they thought they had him absolutely cornered. There were so many times when, certainly his detractors, but also those of us who were who are out there covering him, wrote his political obituary. And he always seems to have wiggled out of it.

I mean, one of the -- one of the qualities that Chris did not mention before -- which is really an admirable quality in anyone -- is this unwillingness ever to consider yourself defeated, ever to consider yourself completely out of the game. And Bill Clinton, I think, has demonstrated -- perhaps more than any politician in recent history -- that half the battle is just showing up. And if you are willing to take the position that this is not going to drive you out of the race during the campaign or out of the White House once you are in the presidency, that is half the battle.

And he was able to fight that as well and as skillfully as anyone I have ever seen.

KING: Chris, I know one of the people you talked to is Dick Morris, who remains a kind of enigma. Here is a man who is both a friend of and critical of the Clintons. It seems that he can't go anywhere without mentioning them every day of his life. What has been their impact -- and I refer to both of them -- on him?

BURY: Well, it's funny. Dick Morris really is a Rasputin-like figure in the Clinton administration. He comes in after the Republican revolution of 1994, and he comes in, secretly, in late '94, early '95; so secretly, that Bill Clinton and Dick Morris come up with a code name, and the code name is "Charlie," and soon the staff starts seeing little post-it notes around the Oval Office: "Charlie called", a "call Charlie back," and for several weeks no one knew who Charlie was. Finally the secret came out and it was Dick Morris, this political operative, a kind of a mercenary with no partisan allegiance who had rescued Bill Clinton back before when Clinton had lost his first race -- after losing in Arkansas as governor, Morris helped engineer his comeback, and, at times of trouble in Bill Clinton's career, he's always reached back for Dick Morris.

KING: And Morris's feelings toward him are what, Chris?

BURY: Well, I think that, to a certain extent, Dick Morris feels that Bill Clinton has been a terrific president. I think there is probably some hard feeling there, but don't forget, Clinton, even after Dick Morris had been disgraced following the Democratic nomination in 1996, when Clinton is in trouble, when the Lewinsky scandal breaks, that day, he beeps Dick Morris to help him once again. I mean, they've got this incredibly complicated relationship.

KOPPEL: And there is a reason, Larry, that the president and Dick Morris initially engaged in this secretiveness. The fact of the matter is, that there was hardly anybody in the White House working for Bill Clinton at the time who could stand Dick Morris. I mean, they thoroughly loathed him. And, they loathed him, perhaps with good reason.

On the one hand, as Chris says, he is a political mercenary. He is there to help candidates win, and to help someone like the president, in this case, succeed with some of his programs. He succeeded by, in effect, betraying a certain wing of the Democratic party. He told Bill Clinton the only way that you are going to beat the Republicans is by moving much more toward the center, and by co- opting some of their positions.

KING: Chris, do the people around him become -- obsessed may be a wrong word -- so attached as to be inseparable from him. For example, maybe I'm wrong, did anyone quit over the Lewinsky matter?

BURY: No. No one quit. In fact, what we found is, those closest to Bill Clinton have these intensely conflicted feelings about him. On the one hand, they admire his political skill and in many cases, they admire his stance on issues, and his talents as a leader.

On the other hand, they feel personally betrayed, and in some cases, used by the president. Nonetheless, they rationalize. You know, when Gennifer Flowers breaks, for example, George Stephanopoulos rationalizes. He says, well, the president did have powerful enemies and even if he lied, that's politics. And so you have this conflicting feeling, much like much of the country feels, even among those in the inner circle of the White House.

KING: But Ted, in the case of Lewinsky, the lies were directed to all of them, right? He lied to every one of them and they all stayed.

KOPPEL: Yes. And in some cases, I must say, I find that kind of surprising. But, again, you cannot overestimate Bill Clinton's personal charm. And I think as the country as a whole saw, when he looks into the camera, or when he looks into your eyes if you are with him personally and tells you how profoundly sorry he is, and how his only concern now is to mend his relationship with his family, that this is, after all, first and foremost, a family matter to be resolved with his wife, with his daughter, and that his only other concern is serving the American public, all of us ended up -- when I say "all of us" I mean the American public sort of collectively -- ended up with these sort of schizoid feelings about Bill Clinton.

What kind of a president is he? In terms of job rating, he still has a higher job approval rating today than Ronald Reagan did. In terms of rating him as a human being -- someone that you might want to entrust with a member of your family, he was in the teens, he was in the low 20s. The American public seems to have done a pretty effective job of saying, I may not approve of him as a human being, but I thought he was a pretty damn good damn president.

KING: We'll take a break and come back and ask these two distinguished journalists about Bill Clinton and the media, right after this.

(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The question that we were dealing with at that point, was do you want to go ahead and give this address to the country tonight? And he was very adamant that he did.

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Indeed I did have a relationship with Ms. Lewinsky that was not appropriate. In fact, it was wrong. This has gone on too long, cost too much, and hurt too many innocent people.

Now this matter is between me, the two people I love most, my wife and our daughter, and our God. I must put it right, and I am prepared to do whatever it takes to do so.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

KOPPEL: Let me first of all just say something and you react to it. It's over.

CLINTON: It's hard to believe. You know, a year and a month ago to the day, we began -- with all the ups and downs, it's been an incredible experience for us.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Ted Koppel, I know you had enormous access to him the first four years, less the second four years.

KOPPEL: Yeah.

KING: Did he play us?

KOPPEL: Well, look. Which politician doesn't? It's...

KING: Did he do it masterfully, then? Some don't do it as well as others.

KOPPEL: He certainly did it masterfully. You know those pictures you have of wildebeests and a rhinoceros with a little bird on its back? Its what the biologists call symbiosis. They need each other. You know the little birds take care of the insects, and sitting on the back of the rhino is good enough to protect the bird.

We had a symbiotic relationship with this president. He has been, certainly for all of the 8 years, enormously good copy for us, and at the same time, when he needed us, boy, did he use us and he did it extraordinarily well.

KING: Chris? Do you like him?

BURY: I found Clinton enormously charming, ambitious, extremely bright; but I also found a man who was somewhat disorganized, chaotic, and from the beginning, had trouble telling the truth. So I guess, like even members of his own staff, in the nine years that I've spent following him, I have come away with pretty conflicted feelings about him.

KING: When you have that kind of figure, Ted, is that the kind of figure that, as they say in show business, is a tough act to follow?

KOPPEL: Oh, boy, is he a tough act to follow. I mean, I think all of us, whether it had been Al Gore, or as it now is George W. Bush, are going to be thinking, wistfully, that the good old days, not necessarily good old days in terms of everything going so well, but in terms of the high interest level, this man generated interest at all times, as of course did Mrs. Clinton.

You were asking before, Larry, or least you made the comment that during the first four years -- it was actually only during first couple of years, that we had extraordinary access to him during the campaign and then the first couple of years of the presidency. Once "Nightline" began doing -- once Chris and I started doing a lot of stories on Whitewater, and we heard this from other people at the White House, there was just a sense that the gates had shut down.

And it was not so much, from what I understand, Bill Clinton. Bill Clinton has, from all that his close friends and advisers have told me, sort of a live and let live attitude, and he tends to forgive pretty quickly.

Mrs. Clinton does not, and she was determined. She had determined that this broadcast had done altogether too many programs on the subject of Whitewater, and from that moment on, the close access we had turned into almost no access.

BURY: The other thing worth pointing out there, Larry, is that when the Clintons came to Washington, they had a separate agenda. They wanted to change the culture of Washington, and Mrs. Clinton, when she interviewed with Ted on the campaign plane the night he got elected, said she wanted a zone of privacy. And one of the first things that they tried to do was to seal off access to the press secretary.

In fact, Mrs. Clinton had an idea of moving the White House press corps out of the White House entirely, over to the old executive office building, which might as well be Siberia. That didn't go anywhere. The compromise was they would seal off the door so reporters couldn't get into see the press secretary, the communications director.

That was part of their separate agenda. We're going to do things our way. We're going to be different. We're going to change the culture and what it did, of course, was it alienated the press

KOPPEL: You also hear, Larry, from some of the insiders that Chris interviewed, they were for the most part scared stiff of the first lady. You would have people sometimes talking to the president and saying, you know, we need to get such and such done, and the president would say, well I'm not sure how Hillary is going to feel about that.

And they would look at him and say well, you know will you, in effect, talk to her and he would say, no, you do it. And there was David Gergen in particular, talks about trying to reach the first lady to talk to her about something she didn't want to hear. He never got through to her.

KING: We'll pick right up with Chris Bury and Ted Koppel of "Nightline" right after this.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: So, let's see what we have here. We have giraffes, and we have all kinds of -- see that.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

H. CLINTON: ... people at all times to live by the Girl Scout law.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: We're back with Ted Koppel and Chris Bury. How much a part of this week is Hillary, Chris?

BURY: Well, Hillary Clinton is a force to be reckoned with in the White House, and people inside the West Wing have very strong feelings about her. We have one very sort of fascinating story from Dee Dee Myers. She's in a meeting in the White House, this is 1993, I believe, and George Stephanopoulos is making an argument that the White House itself ought to appoint a special counsel.

This is when Whitewater first breaks, and everybody in the room is agreeing with him, and a great idea, George. Mrs. Clinton walks in, dead silence. Nothing. And then George starts telling his argument again, and Mrs. Clinton cuts him to the quick, just belittles him in front of everybody, and so this left a bad taste in a lot of people's mouth, and they just did not want to mess with Hillary Clinton.

KING: And what made her then, Ted, do you think, such an effective politician, which even her critics would say she ran some race in New York?

KOPPEL: Well, I mean, she won. That's the important thing, I'm...

KING: By double digits.

KOPPEL: She won by double digits. She was up against, I think, a rather weak candidate, and the fact of the matter is you take Rick Lazio and Hillary Clinton, and Hillary Clinton is a far more formidable figure. I'm not sure that I would agree with the assessment that she is such a terrific politician. That remains to be seen.

She was a lousy politician while she was in the White House as first lady when it came to, for example, the health program. You remember again, as Chris was saying, this notion of trying to compartmentalize even keep some things secret. She had this huge group of experts that she had assembled to come up with a new health program, but nobody on the outside was supposed to know anything about what was going on.

Politically, that was not very smart. People up on Capitol Hill resented it, the media resented it, and ultimately, it cost the Clinton administration dearly during that first term.

(CROSSTALK)

KOPPEL: She's obviously learned a lot.

KING: Chris, President-Elect George W. Bush told me he greatly admired the way they raised Chelsea, and he thought that that should be a notebook for presidents handling children growing up in the White House. Do you agree?

BURY: Well, I do agree, and I think that that is one area in which Mrs. Clinton's zone of privacy worked out. I think that she asked the press corps to leave Chelsea alone, a hands-off policy, and by and large with only a few tiny exceptions, the Washington press corps took her up on that, and I think as a result, Chelsea Clinton didn't get the same kind of coverage that Amy Carter did, for example, when she a child.

KOPPEL: Or, for that matter, you know, the Johnson daughters or the Nixon daughters. I think some of this, Larry, has to do with the tone that is set by the president and first lady themselves.

If they end up using their children during a campaign as props, as so many politicians are inclined to do, then I think it's disingenuous for them later to say, hey, not fair. You can't cover them. You can't, you know, you can't -- report on their comings and goings and doings.

But if, as in the case of the Clintons, they really left Chelsea out of it during the campaign, I think the media by and large, as Chris says, respected that.

KING: We'll be right back with Ted Koppel and Chris Bury of "Nightline" right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I am forever grateful for the person who has led our efforts from the beginning and who has worked so tirelessly for children and families for 30 years now: my wife, Hillary; and I thank her.

(APPLAUSE)

(END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: Welcome back to LARRY KING LIVE. Our guests are Ted Koppel, anchor and managing editor of ABC News' "Nightline" on the set of "Nightline." Anchors the ABC and PBS broadcast of "The Clinton Years;" that airs all next week on "Nightline" and then on a special "Frontline" on PBS. And with him is Chris Bury, ABC News "Nightline" correspondent who's covered Clinton for a long time and covered the Clinton campaign for "World News Tonight"

Chris, what about...

KOPPEL: If I could just jump in for a second, Larry...

KING: Jump.

KOPPEL: ... Chris is also the man who anchors the "Frontline" broadcast. That's his broadcast.

KING: That's your baby, Chris.

BURY: That's right.

KING: So if we like Ted...

BURY: Ted's got to throw a few crumbs my way once in a while.

KING: Yes; do you beg for that, Chris, by the way? What's he like -- Ted?

BURY: You know, asking someone what their boss is like in front of their boss is just one of those social faux pas; but he's a terrific boss in every way.

KING: Chris: Bill Clinton overseas -- extraordinarily popular?

BURY: Overseas he is extraordinarily popular; and I think foreign policy is one of the interesting legacies of Bill Clinton. He got off to a terrible start, you remember, with Haiti and the vacillation -- changing orders right upon the eve of what might have been an invasion. And then Somalia, where 18 elite army rangers were killed. Bosnia, where he vacillated so much and was chewed out publicly by Elie Wiesel.

And it's not until his second term, really, with Kosovo and, of course, lately with Camp David and the Middle East, that the president has firmly established his credentials, not only as commander in chief, but also as a statesman.

KING: And also, Ted, is it not true that the people around the world -- whenever we see films and tape of Clinton traveling, the turnout seems enormous. The feeling for him seems incredible.

KOPPEL: He's a star; I mean, there is no question about that.

Look, you have to remember, and I'm not drawing any analogies here -- but even during the final months of Richard Nixon's term before he finally resigned in August of 1974, he took refuge, as many presidents do in the final months of their administrations -- he took refuge in going overseas if only because -- I remember he went to Egypt for Anwar Sadat's funeral.

And just hugely popular. American presidents tend to be enormously popular overseas when they come to visit. It's a big deal when the president of the United States shows up. And when he has the kind of megawatt personality that Bill Clinton has, then it's doubled and tripled.

KING: And what, then, do you think -- maybe this should come at end, but we'll ask you now -- Chris, what to make of him now? What does former President Bill Clinton, with a wife in the Senate, do?

BURY: Well, he's such a young man and he's got so much energy; it's going to be enormously fascinating to watch. I think that we're going to see Bill Clinton do almost exactly what we've seen him do in the last few days.

He's invested himself incredibly in the Middle East peace process. He's very proud of his role in reconciliation, in ethnic reconciliation in race relations; he's very proud of what was accomplished with the Irish peace process. And I think that that's the kind of ex-president we're going to see.

He has said, himself, that he looks at Jimmy Carter and, to a certain extent, John Quincy Adams as models for ex-presidents, although Adams went back and served in the Congress, and I don't think we;re going to see that from Clinton. So maybe something more like Jimmy Carter.

KING: Do you expect anything, Ted, like doing what we do?

KOPPEL: Who knows. I mean, you know, one of the things that has to be put into that equation -- and I agree with Chris, first of all, I do think that, in some respects, Jimmy Carter is going to be his model in the sense Bill Clinton wants that remain relevant. The way to remain relevant is to be available as an intermediary; to be available as a peacemaker; to be available as a plenipotentiary for the president of the United States.

But there's one other thing you have to keep in mind: He's broke; she's broke. She's less broke than he is right now because she just signed an 8-million-dollar-plus contract for a book.

BURY: I'd like to be broke like that.

KOPPEL: Yes, but they have millions of dollars in legal fees. He's not out of the legal thicket just yet; he may yet be indicted after he leaves office. That remains a possibility. You know, he has huge, huge debts to pay.

They now have themselves a, what, $3 1/2 million house here in Washington and whatever the house up in Chappaqua cost. You know, they are living as though they already had the money that they don't yet have. So he's going to have to make some money over the next couple of years, and I'm sure that will be a big part of it, too.

KING: Would that mean, Chris that they -- even though, naturally, she's in the Senate -- they are not going away?

BURY: I don't think they're going away. We might see another kind of triangulation where we have Bill Clinton here in Washington and Hillary Clinton, sometimes the senator from New York both keeping an eye on President George W. Bush. So I don't think we're going to see the Clintons go away; they're going to be with us for a while.

KING: And do you think the public wants that, Chris?

BURY: Well, as we've already said, the president still has these incredible job approval ratings -- 66 percent, I believe, in the last Gallup Poll. At the same time, as Ted pointed out, they don't think much of his character and trustworthiness.

Mrs. Clinton now has a six-year term in what is often a very safe Senate seat, in New York. So I think we're going to have lot of Clinton stories to report in the next few years.

KING: We take a break, and when we come back we're going to ask Ted and Chris to talk about the people they talk to, and were they surprised at any of the reactions they got, right after this.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: In these "Nightline" specials, they talk to 20 senior administration officials, Cabinet secretaries, advisers and the like, from the secretary of state to press secretaries.

Did things surprise you, Ted?

KOPPEL: Well, again, I should point out, Chris conducted the interviews. But what surprised me in the product that came out of that was how painfully all of them seemed to look at Bill Clinton and say: Here was a man who had all the raw material for greatness, but, who, because of his own weakness, did not achieve it.

And one of the fascinating things to me is, if we had heard that from, you know, the chattering class -- some of our colleagues out there -- if we had heard that from his political opponents, you would you have said: Well yes, sour grapes. These were all his friends. These were all the insiders. And almost without exception, they come up with the same assessment of Bill Clinton: someone who could have been great, but wasn't.

BURY: There is this sense of disappointment. I think maybe Leon Panetta said it best, that he sees Bill Clinton as the tale of two presidents: on the one hand, a president who could be very caring, compassionate, extremely brilliant; on the other hand, someone whose terrible personal mistake led to a great disappointment about what might have been.

KING: In fairness, Chris, other presidents had tremendous personal flaws that we never found out -- John Kennedy, for example -- that we never found out about. And they have not been marred by history. Was Bill Clinton flawed, in a sense, or just unfortunate?

BURY: Well, I think that history will show, of course, that he was only the second president of the United States to ever have been impeached. And if you go back to the campaign, it is sort of one calamity after another. You have got Gennifer Flowers. And then you've got the draft scandal. You go into the administration, and then you've got Troopergate, and Paula Jones, and Whitewater, and then impeachment.

I mean, there is a fair amount of trouble there. In fact, there was a joke going around in the White House that somebody tells us in this series, which is: We could only go through four weeks in the White House at any one point -- four weeks of good news before we got another round of incoming bad news, which, too often, was scandal.

KING: Ted, you mentioned the possibly of an indictment. This is just speculation, of course. If that were to occur, do you think President Bush would pardon, just to stop all the incredible coverage that trial would entail?

KOPPEL: Yes. I do. I mean, I think -- and that might be the bitterest pill of all for Bill Clinton to swallow. You know, I mean, on the one hand, it would finally put an end to it. But on the other hand, to think that he would have to be dependent upon a presidential pardon from his Republican successor, I think, would be very, very hard to take. But do I think that George Bush would do it? Ironically, yes, he would do it. Al Gore, when he was asked that question, said: He would never ask me. And I would never do it.

But I think George Bush would.

BURY: And, interestingly enough, I mean, one of the things that surprised me is that Bill Clinton is still quite worried about that possibility. It may be remote, but Joe Lockhart tells us in this series that, in fact, Bill Clinton fears that he may be indicted by Robert Ray, the current independent counsel. And it's something that haunts him.

KING: Many things will. What will history say? And this is always a guess. When Truman left office, history was regaling him. And now they praise him. So it's always a guess. But it's an educated guess when you talk to Koppel. What are they going to say about him in 50 years?

KOPPEL: I haven't got a clue.

(LAUGHTER)

KOPPEL: Look, I must tell you, one of my beloved activities these days is, I love to jog on the C&O Canal on a Saturday afternoon. I bring my headset along. And I listen to CSPAN Radio, which plays -- for a couple of hours, every Saturday afternoon, it plays the LBJ tapes. Lyndon Johnson, as I know you know, had his -- the Oval Office, all the telephone calls were taped -- and up in his bedroom, and on the ranch, and even when he was in the car.

And I must tell you, when Lyndon Johnson was in office, and you know, had that huge albatross of Vietnam around his neck, I was not a big fan. In listening to these tapes now, I must say I have completely -- you know, I have done a complete 180 on Lyndon Johnson, and enormously impressed by what a skillful president he really was and what an enormously difficult job that is.

The fact of the matter is, there is a reason that history always surprises us. You know, we are -- whether we intend to be or not -- we are prisoners of our own biases. We are all prisoners of our subjectivity. Chris and I have been covering this man for -- in Chris' case, nine years -- in my case, eight years. Obviously, I have my own feelings about the man. History will sort of move back, take a look at what he accomplished, take a look at what the problems were, take a look at what he overcame.

Is it possible that the impeachment will only, you know, rate a third or fourth paragraph? I find that hard to believe today. But history has a way of making fools of us.

KING: We will ask Chris the same question when we come back after this break. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

B. CLINTON: Now I ask all Americans -- and I hope all Americans here in Washington and throughout our land will rededicate ourselves to the work of serving our nation and building our future together. This can be, and this must be a time of reconciliation and renewal for America.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: Chris Bury, same question: history and Bill Clinton. BURY: I think it's far too early to tell. Let's give it 20 or 30 or 100 years. But I can tell you this. And that is that Bill Clinton himself is extraordinarily interested in how history will look back at his presidency. And it's clear, ever since impeachment, that legacy has been on his mind.

And people have told us this, who have worked with him in the West Wing that, from Kosovo, where he was determined to stand his ground, he thought in grand, historical terms, against slaughter in Kosovo, and then -- especially now, with the Middle East peace process, this man is very much consumed by how he will be viewed.

KING: What is the legacy, Ted Koppel, do you think?

KOPPEL: Of Bill Clinton?

KING: Yes.

KOPPEL: I think the legacy is of a man who perhaps made the transition into the communications age as it has only begun to exist in these last five or ten years. The fact of the matter is that when you and I were young pups growing up in this business, you know, news still -- news came in 24-hour cycles. You waited until the evening news every night. You waited until your newspaper came in the morning.

Now the news that happened an hour ago is immediately updated on your network every minute on the minute. And Bill Clinton -- perhaps better than any one in America today -- understood how to best use that to his advantage. And I think one of the reasons that he was able to survive as many scandals as he did was, he recognized, in his own gut, that sooner or later, something would come along -- tomorrow, the next day, the day after that -- that would overshadow whatever it was that was causing him problems at this particular moment.

And he has used the media as skillfully, as I say, as anyone I have ever seen.

KING: Chris, was he fortunate in his enemies?

BURY: He was very lucky in his enemies. I think first with Newt Gingrich, Clinton won perhaps the most important political showdown of his career with the government shutdown in 1995, and he won it, in large part, because Newt Gingrich was his enemy.

And Newt, as you'll recall, was on Air Force One to the Rabin funeral. He came back in the middle of the brinkmanship over the shutdown. He complained about his treatment on Air Force One. The American public saw him as a crybaby. Advantage, Clinton and the president goes on to win that battle.

And later on, with Ken Starr and Ken Starr's deputies, the interesting thing about the impeachment battle is the tide began to turn for Bill Clinton when that videotape of the grand jury came out. Up until that point, it was very dicey about whether Clinton would survive in office once the public saw the president being interrogated by Starr and his deputies. The tide turned, and in fact, Clinton's approval ratings actually went up. So, there is no question that he has been blessed by his enemies.

KING: In a sense, Chris, he won that deposition.

BURY: Well, he did once it finally became public. But it was very dicey there. One of the things we find out from Gregory Craig, who, as you recall, was a lawyer for the president in the Senate trial is that after the Starr report came out, they didn't know if he was going to survive.

I mean Gregory Craig would call his colleagues in the Senate and say how does it look, and he was told in no uncertain terms from Senator Kent Conrad that it was only a matter of two or three days before a delegation of respected Democratic senators were going to come to the White House and tell Clinton he was finished. It came that close and then that video was released and the whole public opinion changed dramatically.

KING: We'll be back with our remaining moments with Chris Bury and Ted Koppel, and remind you about this upcoming show as well. Don't go away.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I sat there all day like lots of people did with the television on in my office, just, you know, mouth agape at the kinds of questions he was being asked.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You touched another person on the breast, touched the genitalia. You used a cigar...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In a funny way, people started turning their anger at this whole process away from the president and at the accusers.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

KING: These "Nightline" shows, ABC News "Nightline," the Clinton years will air all next week on "Nightline" in its regular time slot and then as a "Frontline" feature for two hours on PBS. Ted will anchor the "Nightline" feature and Chris Bury will anchor the feature when it is shown in two-hour length on "Frontline."

I can't let you go, Ted, without asking a few questions about things more current, and that is, will President-Elect George W. Bush get a honeymoon?

KOPPEL: A brief one, yes. I think he'll get a honeymoon. I think all presidents do. In fact, I mean, just to go back to Bill Clinton for a moment, one of the extraordinary things about this enormously skillful politician is that when he first came into the White House, and that's something that they all learn one way or another, it's different once you're president of the United States. At -- you know, there was press conference early on in the Clinton term, and he was asked about gays in the military, and he didn't deflect it. And so, immediately his Republican adversaries up on Capitol Hill started hammering away on the gays in the military thing and that was like cement around his ankles for the first few weeks of his administration.

So, yes, there's always a honeymoon. George W. Bush will have one. How long the honeymoon lasts depends on how well he handles himself during those first 100 days.

KING: Chris, do you think he'll benefit from the fact that his father was president and he had to have a lot of lessons from that?

BURY: I think one of the things we've already learned is that George W. Bush doesn't seem afraid to reach into the Washington establishment. We've seen, you know, Donald Rumsfeld and of course we have Dick Cheney organizing a lot of this. We're seeing people from his father's administration in sensitive posts, and I think that that's a lesson from the Clinton legacy.

I'm think that the Clintons came in too suspicious of Washington. They didn't have enough veterans and they ran into problems like gays in the military and other early stumbles which really cost the administration in the first six months.

KING: Ted, former presidents have been hesitant to criticize the current holder of the office. Do you think Bill Clinton will be such a person?

KOPPEL: Yes, he's really very good about not criticizing his adversaries too much. I mean, it'll be interesting to see what he does once he is out of office. I've been sort of mulling over a question that I think you posed to Chris early on and that is, is it possible that he could end up in our business? In other words, is it possible that he could end up doing an interview broadcast. He certainly could do it. I mean, he's got the skill to do it.

But I don't think it would work for him for the simple reason that he would overshadow just about any guest that he would have. He has -- he's got that kind of star power. He really does, and as you well know because you do it so well, what you have to do on a program like this is allow your guests to come with whatever their little chic for the day is and I'm not sure if he can do that.

KING: Chris, I thank you for coming. Ted, thank you. I salute you for all your work and look forward to seeing the series.

BURY: Thanks for having us.

KOPPEL: Very nice of you, Larry. Thank you.

KING: Chris Bury and Ted Koppel of ABC's "Nightline." Tomorrow night on LARRY KING LIVE, another ABCer, Bill Maher will join us. He comes aboard about every two or three months to give us his observations on the passing scene. Among the guests next week will former president Jimmy Carter, and next Tuesday night, 'N Sync. You may have heard of them. Thanks for joining us. Have a great night. Good night.

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

 Search   


Back to the top  © 2001 Cable News Network. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.