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Wolf Blitzer Reports

Laura Bush Discusses Becoming First Lady; Has President Clinton Finally Managed to Put the Scandals Behind Him?

Aired January 19, 2001 - 8:00 p.m. ET

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

WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight: President Clinton makes a deal to avoid a potential indictment.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT RAY, INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: The nation's interests have been served. And therefore I declined prosecution.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: What the deal says, what it means, and why it happened on the last full day of his presidency. The next first lady one-on- one: Laura Bush opens up about her husband, her new role, and the challenge of living in the spotlight.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAURA BUSH, WIFE OF PRESIDENT-ELECT GEORGE W. BUSH: And I hope I still can have a private life. I certainly hope my children can have a private life.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BLITZER: The inauguration of George W. Bush is just hours away. I'll have the latest on the parties, the ceremonies and the dreary forecast that could put a damper on tomorrow's celebrations.

Good evening. I'm Wolf Blitzer, reporting tonight from Washington.

We're only 16 hours away from the inauguration of the new president, but the focus of attention for much of the day was on the outgoing president. Bill Clinton is winding up his eight years in the White House with a legal bombshell: after seven years, the end of the Whitewater and Monica Lewinsky investigations. And that's our top story.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID KENDALL, CLINTON ATTY.: This is an appropriate closure for the country and the president.

BLITZER (voice-over): President Clinton's attorney, David Kendall, provided details of the last -- minute agreement, ending once and for all, the independent counsel's investigation of the president. As part of the deal, Robert Ray -- Ken Starr's successor -- will not bring any criminal charges against Mr. Clinton.

RAY: May history and the American people judge that it has been concluded justly.

BLITZER: In exchange, the president admitted knowingly giving misleading answers during his sworn testimony about his affair with Monica Lewinsky. The president agreed to a five -- year suspension of his Arkansas law license. And he will pay a $25,000 fine. And he waived any right to get his Lewinsky legal fees reimbursed.

Still, his lawyer insists Mr. Clinton did not lie.

KENDALL: He has, from the beginning -- at least from the grand jury -- conceded that he tried to conceal the relationship with Ms. Lewinsky. He tried to conceal that. And we have acknowledged that that was evasive and misleading. But it's not obstruction of justice. It's not intentional falsification.

BLITZER: The incoming White House seemed relieved.

ARI FLEISCHER, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY-DESIGNATE: Inaugurations mark the beginning of a new chapter in our nation's history. And the president's focus and efforts will be forward- looking, not backward-looking.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Joining us now live: our senior White House correspondent John King.

John, tell us why today? What's the story behind the story?

JOHN KING, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Well, Wolf, these negotiations actually began over the summer. They became very serious, we're told by sources, after the election, when the independent counsel said he would very much like to wrap all this up before the new Republican president took office so that Mr. Bush would not be distracted by questions about: Will you pardon President Clinton? What do you think of the ongoing investigation of now former President Clinton?

Those negotiations, though, relied on a bit of triangulation, if you will. First, David Kendall, the president's attorney, needed to strike a deal in Arkansas with the committee trying to disbar the president. Once that was done, then Mr. Kendall -- we're told, stinging that a five-year suspension was included in this -- he thinks that's way too harsh of a penalty. But he had to accept it. He went back to Mr. Ray and said: If I sign this deal, will you drop the prosecution?

In exchange for the public statement today from the president, in this the letter to Mr. Kendall this morning, Mr. Ray agreed to do just that. And as we saw in your report, this seven-year investigation will now fold down -- both sides claiming victory tonight. The president, of course, paid a heavy price for his, not only monetarily in legal fees and settlements, but he was impeached because of that as well.

BLITZER: And, John, I take it this last full day of Mr. Clinton in the White House may not be over yet. There is some talk he could still issue some pardons.

KING: We are told by White House sources he will indeed issue several pardons tonight: Whitewater figures Webb Hubbell, Susan McDougal among those on the list the president is considering at this hour -- we're told another hour, perhaps 90 minutes until we get the final word.

BLITZER: John King at the White House, you will have a long night. I thank you very much.

Meanwhile, our senior analyst Jeff Greenfield is with me here.

Jeff, is this a win for Bill Clinton and his legacy, this last- minute deal with Robert Ray? JEFF GREENFIELD, CNN SR. ANALYST: In all your years as a fine journalist, could you ever have imagined that on the eve of the end of a presidential administration, you would be raising the question: Is a five-year suspension from the practice of law, a $25,000 law, accepting liability for millions of dollars of legal fees, and the confession of, in some sense, a quasi-confession of sort of knowingly maybe misleading with a false statement, this is a win?

When you talk about the Clinton legacy, I think this defines what his hardest task is going to be in the many years this still young man is going to have left: to not have us think of him in this constant, what is now called Clintonian exercise of linguistic play. One of the things that strikes me about legacies is, one of the things this man really wanted to do was to restore optimism in government.

And on a policy sense, he may well have done it. You know, it's a country of surpluses. And the economy is great. And the crime is down. But in terms of people's belief in the straight-shootingness of their politicians, I'm not sure the Clinton legacy is all that impressive.

BLITZER: There's no doubt, though, that this is a win for the incoming president: one headache he doesn't have to worry about.

GREENFIELD: Well, nobody -- I can't imagine that a new president -- particularly one who to change the tone and create a fresh start -- would have wanted to begin his administration with several months of the first criminal prosecution of an ex-president, I think, in American history. So that's true. I think it does something else, and -- it lowers the bar: that is, if you want to be seen as a president who creates a contrast in terms of the tone to Bill -- to the former president, Clinton has kind of made it easy for Bush.

Let's see: I should not have sort of sexual relations in the Oval Office. I should not get impeached. I should not come close to being disbarred. And I should not be held in contempt by a federal judge. I think he'll be able to pass those tests.

BLITZER: He was not indicted, though.

GREENFIELD: That's right. That's right.

BLITZER: So that's one thing -- one thing he can say for himself. Jeff Greenfield, thank you very much.

Let's turn now to the inauguration of the next president of the United States. Our other White House correspondent, Major Garrett, is standing by at the Texas Black Tie & Boots Ball.

Major, amid all these festivities, though, the weather seems to be becoming a factor in this inauguration.

MAJOR GARRETT, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Yes, indeed, Wolf.

It's the only variable the Bush team can't control. But I just bumped into a senior Bush adviser. He said things look good -- got a little bit worried about the forecast of rain and snow tomorrow. But so far things look good. They'll make a final decision about midnight, possibly a little bit after that. But as they might say in Houston, Wolf: If this were a space mission, all systems are go -- Wolf.

BLITZER: What about the whole tenor for tonight? The weather seems to be suggesting that some of the events tomorrow could be moved indoors. Is that going to happen?

GARRETT: Well, that's the option, Wolf. If the weather gets really inclement tomorrow -- a tremendous amount of rain, a lot of snow -- they'll push it inside. Again, that's a decision they're holding off until at least midnight, possibly as late as 4:00 in the morning. But right now, as I said, they feel pretty good about the weather forecasts they've seen. And I consider myself, Wolf, an honorary Texan, having lived there for about five years. And I can tell you, a little rain is not going to scare your average Texan, not at an inaugural.

BLITZER: Major Garrett wearing his black tie -- and I assume he's wearing his boots. Thank you for joining us from that ball. Have a good time amid all of your work.

Up next, my conversation with the next first lady: Laura Bush talks about the campaign, the inauguration, and how she plans to handle life under the media microscope.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. Laura Bush will have some tough acts to follow when she assumes the title of first lady. Earlier, I spoke with Laura Bush at Blair House, her temporary residence across the street from the White House.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: Mrs. Bush, Congratulations. This must be so exciting for you. Tell us how it really feels to be just, I guess, hours away from going back to the White House, in your case.

BUSH: It feels very exciting. I'm thrilled. I'm really thrilled. I'm thrilled to be here with George, to be here in this beautiful historic Blair House, which is where we stayed eight years ago -- 12 years ago, when we were here with the Bushes when they moved in. But also, it's very exciting to think about my husband being president of the United States.

BLITZER: When you married him 23 years ago, did you ever think it would come down to this?

BUSH: No, no, not at all. Of course not. I would have never guessed. When I married him, he was running for Congress, and we campaigned the whole first year of our marriage, and ...

BLITZER: It must have entered your mind a little.

BUSH: No, certainly not the presidency. I would have never guessed then that his dad would have become vice president or president. But we loved it. We had a great time, that one year of campaigning. And then we quit and didn't -- he didn't run for another office until he ran for governor. And I used to say to people -- people would say, "Do you think George would get back into politics?" And I used to joke and say, "Yes, maybe when we're 50." As it turned out, we were pretty close to 50 when he ran for governor.

BLITZER: It must be a nerve-wracking experience. You must be nervous.

BUSH: I'm not really nervous. I don't know if I would call it nervous. I'm thrilled. I'm very, very excited.

BLITZER: Because I remember before he announced that he was going to run, you were the big question..

BUSH: I was the one who was reluctant. I was. I just wanted to make sure. I think anyone would understand why you'd be reluctant at that -- running for this office, especially when you still have teenage girls, which we do. We have 19-year-old girls now. And, you know, there's just a lot of things about politics that I think -- are a fact of life in American politics, and that is the criticism that people get.

BLITZER: Your mother-in-law has called you, I guess, the Rock, your father-in-law calls you the Rock of Gibraltar. You've been steady throughout this process. You've been through the ups and downs of the primaries, the election, the post-election.

BUSH: I've been steady. I mean, I have a steady temperament, but so does George. And George will be a very steady president. And I'm very proud of him. I can't wait to actually be there on the platform when he's sworn in. BLITZER: So, having been on that platform twice covering swearing-in ceremonies of presidents, it's an exciting moment that you'll appreciate, obviously a lot more than I ever appreciated it, from your perspective. I read a humorous column in "The Washington Post" the other day by Marjorie Williams. She was pretending to be Mrs. Clinton. And she was giving me some advice as if she were Mrs. Clinton ...

BUSH: Good. I want to hear this...

BLITZER: At one point, she says this: "From here on in, you are the only person on the planet who has your husband's best interests at heart, and it's your job to watch his back."

BUSH: Well, I don't know about that. I think he -- I think George has a lot of very loyal friends, very loyal advisers, who also have his best interests at heart.

BLITZER: But if at the end of the day it's you -- the two of you will be together, and you'll have to talk to him, and give him your opinion ... BUSH: Well, I'll give him my opinion. I will -- sometimes. I think wives have to be just a little bit careful about giving their husbands all of their opinions.

BLITZER: Why is that?

BUSH: Well, I think because we've got -- I don't want to hear every single one of George's opinions about what I do. I doubt that he wants to hear every one of mine.

BLITZER: As you look at other first ladies -- and I'm sure you've done some reading, had this personal experience when your mother-in-law was a first lady -- who's your role model?

BUSH: Well, I think certainly, my mother-in-law. And I'm so lucky to have Barbara Bush as a mother-in-law. She's not only a wonderful mother-in-law, she's also a very good friend. She loved my husband before I met him and she adores my children, her -- two of her grandchildren. So I'd have to say Barbara Bush.

BLITZER: I think everybody loves Barbara, and still loves Barbara Bush. She was a terrific fist lady. Mrs. Clinton, who succeeded her, took a very high profile on substantive policy issues, like health care. Do you have any intention at all to do anything along those lines?

BUSH: I will take a high profile, and at least a high interest -- I don't know how much of a profile, but a high interest in education issues. That's what I did... I'm a former school teacher. I'm a former school librarian. And that's what I worked on in Texas. And I think education is the most important issue in our country. It's the great equalizer. It's the one way that every single person has the chance to succeed. If we can make sure we get every child's education right, we can really change our country in a very positive way. BLITZER: And, of course, having interviewed the president-elect on a few occasions, I know that's his number one priority. And when you say you'll take a high profile, at least in trying to promote education, will you get involved in specific controversial educational issues like vouchers or anything like that?

BUSH: Well, I don't know that I'll get involved in specific controversial issues. But I think we will get involved in education issues, and I'll go around the country and talk about what I think -- know that I can help support my husband's education policy ...

BLITZER: You, know the...

BUSH: ... programs that I think are important.

BLITZER: There's a historian here in town, Carl Anthony, who's written a lot about first ladies. He's written this about you: "Laura Bush may turn out to be the voice and the face of education reform for her husband, because that's what her training and knowledge and experience is." He read that, reacting to some people who say you're going to be like Mamie Eisenhower, living in the background, not much of a voice in Washington. Is he right?

BUSH: I think he's right. I hope he's right. I hope I have that opportunity because I have, at least, for these few years -- four years -- a forum -- and if I can use this forum to talk about issues that are so important to me, but I think are very, very important to our country. And then I have a great chance to do that and be lucky.

BLITZER: Are you ready to lose all the privacy? It's one thing to be governor of a state, even if it's a state like Texas. It's another thing to be president of the United States and first lady of the United States. You give up almost all of ...

BUSH: Well, no, of course. I'm not ready for that. I don't think anyone really would be. And I hope I still can have a private life. I certainly hope my children can have a private life. And I feel thoroughly reassured because of the way the media and the press afforded Chelsea Clinton privacy, that they'll do the same for Barbara and Jim. I certainly hope they will.

BLITZER: Chelsea was a lot younger, though, when ...

BUSH: That's right, but our children are not public figures. They didn't run for office. They're freshmen in college. And like every other freshmen in college in the country, they want a private life.

BLITZER: When you look back now on the post-election, the 36 days of the Florida recount, was there ever a moment there that you thought that George W. Bush was going to lose?

BUSH: Sure.

BLITZER: When were those moments? BUSH: Well, I don't know about a specific one. But, you know, it was a very up and down time. It was an unbelievable roller coaster. There would be a recount, and he would win. And then there'd be another one, and he would win. But there were certainly moments when I thought maybe he wouldn't win.

BLITZER: I've read that -- you were quoted as saying you slept pretty well throughout that period. Did he?

BUSH: Yeah, I did. We both did. We really did. I mean, George has run a really terrific campaign. He ran a wonderful campaign. And we didn't look back at anything during the entire campaign with regret. We didn't feel like there was something else we could have done. We gave it 100 percent. And at that point, we just had to see what happened. And we had to -- we were dealt that particular hand, and it just had to be played out.

BLITZER: And you had some good people representing you in Florida.

BUSH: Terrific people.

BLITZER: I was down there for part of that time. We only have a little time left. Since you won, since your husband won, obviously there's been some controversy in Washington about some of the cabinet nominees. Are you monitoring this closely? Do you think this is just the politics of Washington, or is this getting personal, to a certain degree?

BUSH: Oh no, I don't think it's getting personal and -- at least, I hadn't -- I followed it. Of course I'm following it. I'm very interested in it. But I don't -- I wouldn't say it's gotten really personal.

BLITZER: So, as you look now to the immediate period ahead, you're pretty upbeat.

BUSH: I am upbeat, absolutely. I'm very, very optimistic. And I really think our country is too. I know George's characteristics. I know how he likes people, and I know how well he does with people. And I feel very confident that he will be able to bring people together, a consensus, and for what's best for our country. And I think that's really what everybody wants.

BLITZER: Is there anything the American people don't know about George W. Bush that you want to share with us?

BUSH: Well, let's see. Most people don't know how much he likes his pets. We have this new dog, Barney, who's in a kennel right now, waiting to go into -- move into the White House this weekend, and our dog Spot, who was born at the White House, and one of our cats, Willie, who -- so they're all waiting for us in a kennel. I'm not sure people really know that -- so that will be fun to tell them. .

BLITZER: And I'm sure they'll be looking forward to meeting the pets, as well as the family. Mrs. Bush, thank you once again. BUSH: Thank you so much, Wolf.

BLITZER: And congratulations to you.

BUSH: Thanks a lot.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BLITZER: And this footnote: This morning on "The Today Show," Mrs. Bush said she does not think the Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade abortion decision should be overturned. She said she supported efforts to limit the number of abortions, including abstinence classes in schools and churches. During the campaign, her husband said he did not think the nation was ready for the 1973 court decision to be reversed.

And just ahead: our top stories, including the confirmation battles that continue in Washington. But for some, it's smooth sailing and tomorrow's the big day. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. Let's take a look at some other top stories we're covering tonight.

Former NFL wide receiver Rae Carruth has been found not guilty of first-degree murder in the killing of his pregnant girlfriend. But a North Carolina jury found him guilty of lesser charges that could bring him at least an eight-year prison sentence. The sentencing hearing begins Monday. Carruth had been accused of masterminding the 1999 attack on his girlfriend.

The Senate may be poised to confirm the new president's first three Cabinet secretaries: Colin Powell as secretary of state; Donald Rumsfeld as defense secretary; and Paul O'Neill as treasury secretary. Senate Republican leader Trent Lott says their confirmations are expected tomorrow, probably by voice vote. Republicans say they have enough votes to confirm John Ashcroft as attorney general. Four days of contentious hearings have now ended.

A fast-moving storm dealt strong winds to Alabama and Georgia. It knocked down power lines in suburban Atlanta, causing blackouts and delaying flights. A possible tornado touched down in Montgomery, Alabama, ripping away roofs and power lines.

On the "Leading Edge" tonight: a marriage of computer technology and biology to pursue the unraveling of the human genome. The genome was sequenced last year, revealing the code for the human genetic map. The federal government and Celera Corporation announced today they're teaming with Compaq Computer to try to break that code. Experts say that could transform medicine.

Californians face a weekend of uncertainty with the dwindling of power resources. Governor Gray Davis has signed a stopgap measure, freeing $400 million to help buy power on the open market to sell to utility companies. The two biggest utilities have threatened drastic power cutbacks, but they're under state orders to keep serving customers. The state's power system is on its highest level of alert.

Up next, we'll open our WOLF BLITZER REPORTS "Mailbag." One of you seems to think I was once called Shark Divebomber. You're confused. I'll explain.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Welcome back. Time now to open our WOLF BLITZER REPORTS "Mailbag."

Lots of reaction to our coverage of President Clinton's farewell address to the nation last night.

Bill Wilson writes with this: "It amazes me that the media keeps pouring accolades on Bill Clinton and the wonderful economy without any mention of the cyber-revolution. It is true that the economy of the country is probably better now than it has ever been. But without the rapid advancements attributable to the personal computer and the Internet, do you think that the economy would be near this good?"

And this note from Walter Kitchenman: "I love President Clinton, but I thought that farewell address was gratuitous and tacky. It served him more than the country."

Finally, this note from Richard, who watched our special on the Persian Gulf War earlier in the week: "Wolf, I enjoy your show. The best line I ever heard about you was during the Gulf War when the joke was that your name was really Shark Divebomber. You just called yourself Wolf Blitzer to not draw attention to yourself."

Richard, are you sure you're not remembering the "Wayne's World" guys from "Saturday Night Live"? They insisted my real name was "Howitzer Explosion Guy."

Remember: you can e-mail me at wolf@cnn.com. This warning: I just might read your comments on the air.

Stay with CNN throughout the night and the weekend for complete coverage of this presidential inauguration. Dick Cheney is among Larry King's guests at the top of the hour.

Up next, Greta Van Susteren. She's sitting right next to me to tell me what she has tonight -- Greta.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, "THE POINT": Wolf, a big day for the president of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton. His legal problems may be over. And the lawyer who represented him, Bob Bennett, through the Paula Jones matter is one of my guests tonight. And we're going to turn the corner and talk about the social activity in Washington. Will it change under our new president, president- elect Bush?

BLITZER: OK, Greta, good get, as they say in our business.

VAN SUSTEREN: Good get. Great get. All good gets tonight.

BLITZER: All right, Greta Van Susteren, we will be watching.

These programming notes: Tomorrow night, we will have a special inaugural edition of WOLF BLITZER REPORTS. That's at 8:00 p.m. Eastern. And don't forget Sunday: "LATE EDITION. Among my guests: the new White House chief of staff, Andrew Card, and former independent counsel Ken Starr. That's Sunday at noon Eastern.

For now, thanks very much for watching. I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.

"THE POINT WITH GRETA VAN SUSTEREN" begins right now.

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