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CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Interview With CBS News Anchor Dan Rather
Aired June 18, 2004 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, Dan Rather. The veteran CBS News anchor will tell us how he got the first interview with former president Bill Clinton on his new book and what the president had to say. And he'll take on today's news from Saudi Arabia, too, that al Qaeda terrorists have indeed beheaded U.S. hostage Paul Johnson, Jr., and that Saudi security forces then killed the terrorist believed to be behind the grisly murder, the leader of the al Qaeda cell in Saudi Arabia. Dan Rather for the hour with your calls next on LARRY KING LIVE.
One program reminder. Dan Rather has Bill Clinton as his guest on Sunday night on "60 Minutes." Bill Clinton will be on this program next Thursday night. That interview will be the president's first live interview and will include your phone calls. He'll be live in prime-time next Thursday night.
Before we talk with Dan, however about Bill Clinton and getting the interview and what was said -- and we'll show you a clip or two from it -- let's discuss the events today. Were you shocked that they did what they said they would do, Dan?
DAN RATHER, CBS NEWS ANCHOR: Absolutely, Larry. This was barbarous, savage. There really aren't words to describe it. We shouldn't be surprised by this time that these people, who want to destroy our country, kill us, our children and our grandchildren, would do such a thing. But each time it happens, it's like the first time, in terms of a combination of grief and outrage.
KING: And there are now some conservatives and liberals binding together and saying that our friendship with the country of Saudi Arabia is misguided. What do you think?
RATHER: Well, I'm a reporter, not a diplomat, Larry, as you know. But I will say that it's worth reconsidering what our overall diplomatic and geopolitical, as well as military strategy towards Saudi Arabia is. But in the heat of something such as this, is not the time to make a decision. It is a time to say, Well, maybe we should start asking some questions because this much we know, Larry. You and I, I think, have talked about it on this program before, but it's worth underscoring in light of what happened today, that those who are responsible for the 9/11 attacks and those who are allied with them, in addition to killing people and destroying buildings, they want to destroy our economy. And that's where Saudi Arabia fits into the puzzle in a very big and important way for us, that the whole idea of Usama bin Laden, his followers, the close ones and the others, they understand that we are right now the world's only what I call full- service superpower, both an economic superpower, and a military superpower. They understand very well that the underpinning of our military power is our tremendous economic power, so they started out trying to crumble our economic power. And that's what they're continuing to try to do.
Now, as regards our relationship with Saudi Arabia, we, of course, must include that in any consideration. I've talked to any number of people, I'm sure you have, Larry, who say, you know, when it comes to Saudi Arabia and the monarchy that rules the country, we are between the proverbial rock and a steel-like place, in that we have to be very careful if we change, if we work to change dramatically, and particularly quickly, never mind cataclysmically, from the government that Saudi Arabia has, we can't be assured of what's to follow, as we have found out in a way in Iraq.
So all of that comes into play. But clearly, you know, we're all outraged and in grief, and, you know, are with the family, the Johnson family, tonight, as they go through this dark valley. And we know better than to say to ourselves, Well, it's somebody else. We weep not for whom the bell tolls because it tolls for us.
KING: Now, how responsible is a country for the occurrences that happen by terrorists inside it? For example, supposing a group of whacko terrorists in Cleveland took hold of a Saudi native in Cleveland, held him hostage and killed him in a weird way, would the United States be responsible?
RATHER: No, because we're...
KING: How is the government responsible?
RATHER: ... a totally different kind of country. No, because we're a totally different kind of country. I don't think that holds up at all. The question in Saudi Arabia, and there certainly is enough at least circumstantial evidence to support this, that if someone did what you just described in Cleveland, we know that it would not be with any encouragement, any involvement, financial or otherwise, of high-ranking members of the United States government or their families. We would know that in this country.
In Saudi Arabia, it's very hard to know, just because the Saudi monarchy, for example, until very recently at least, and I believe it's still true, some of the things they teach in their schools, lower schools, middle schools, even high schools, at least from our viewpoint, are absolutely terrible. Now, the government says that it's tried to do something about that, but this one example they haven't. So I don't think you can compare the two.
KING: All right. Good point.
RATHER: I think a state is responsible for what happens inside its borders. Now, Saudi Arabia is not only a friend but an ally of ours. And of course, we're committed to helping them as much as we can.
KING: And they apparently did kill the perpetrator, or one of the perpetrators, did they not? Is that confirmed? RATHER: They did. But I think the record shows, Larry -- I would like to be wrong about this, but I'm pretty sure the record shows that although the Saudis say that they're doing everything they can in these kinds of situations, in many previous situations -- previous situations (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the Khobar Towers explosion in Saudi Arabia, there's a lot of question whether the Saudis actually did everything that they possibly could to catch the perpetrators. In this case, they killed the alleged leader. Good. And let's hope that they can get better and better at it. But I don't think, Larry, they're going to be able to get much better at it unless we're prepared to give them considerable help. And that, of course, would entail a lot of risk for us.
KING: Dick Cheney said today that we will hunt down these killers one by one and destroy them. Will we?
RATHER: Well, we'll certainly try. I take the vice president at his word. But we know from the hunt for Usama bin Laden and any number of other al Qaeda leaders that, yes, we can hunt them to the ends of the earth, we can find some, but it's very, very difficult to hunt them down, to make good on that kind of promise. You remember when some Americans were killed in Fallujah in Iraq, there was a promise we were going to hunt down the killers, we're going to find them one by one, pretty much the same thing, I think, and that hasn't been done.
It's not because Vice President Cheney or anybody else in the American government doesn't want to find them, it's just a reminder of how difficult this ongoing war, worldwide war against terrorism is.
And one other thing I think perhaps we want to mention before we leave this, that I didn't mention it earlier, but obviously, the goal of the beheaders, these savage people who did this thing to this man today -- their goal is to drive the American expert and technical help out of Saudi Arabia, in hopes of hurting the Saudi Arabian economy, and that, in turn, would hurt ours. We shouldn't let that pass without notice.
KING: Might that goal succeed? Might Americans and others in Saudi Arabia think twice about staying?
RATHER: Oh, they obviously are thinking about not staying. And this was a chilling message. And I think that the Internet and e- mails, telephone lines are burning up tonight with families of people who are in Saudi Arabia, Americans saying to themselves, Look, you know, I want to be a good American. I don't want to cut and run. But on the other hand, I have to look after myself and my family. They have created a lot of fear. One would like to say they haven't, but the fact is that they have.
It's -- you know, we're Americans. We pride ourselves on facing up to facts. And one fact is that this was, in a way, a victory, as hard as it is to say -- it was a victory for these murderers, al Qaeda and other people, because what they wanted to do was instill fear into so many Americans in Saudi Arabia, and unquestionably and understandably, they have done that. But I think it will be a victory, in the end, that's Pyrrhic for them. I have so much confidence in the American people. Once we mount our will, once we get united and once we vow to ourselves that we are going to stick out, we're going to stay the course, not foolishly -- and we think we're in a bad place and need to get out, we will -- but we may not hunt down these particular killers, we may never find them, but we will be unrelenting in finally getting victory in this war, which may very well be a multi-generational war. It may go more than my lifetime and yours. It could very well do that. I hope it doesn't, but we have to be prepared to stick it out that long.
KING: We'll take a break and come back and talk with Dan Rather about his extraordinary interview with the former president on the publication of the president's memoir, "My Life." That airs Sunday night on "60 Minutes." Right back with Dan Rather after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE WALKER BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: See, they're trying to intimidate America. They're trying to shake our will. They're trying to get us to retreat from the world. America will not retreat. America will not be intimidated by these kinds of extremist thugs. May God bless Paul Johnson.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back with Dan Rather, who has obtained the first interview -- and everyone was after this interview -- with Bill Clinton. We were fortunate to get the first live one, which will take place next Thursday night, with your phone calls. Dan Rather got the first one, though, and that counts a lot. And it airs Sunday night. And how did you get it?
RATHER: Well, we got lucky, Larry. You know, we've worked hard. We had a wonderful team of people at CBS News that started early. We tried to start early, stay late, work hard, work smart in between. But you know, you have to have a little bit of luck when you do these things. Everybody wants to, you know, sort of jump up and down and say, Oh, we got the big get. And you know, I sometimes do that myself. But we got lucky. That's basically what happened.
KING: The decision -- you did this interview in Arkansas? Explain. You spent a weekend with him? How did that all come about?
RATHER: Well, this book is 950 pages-plus. And it's a narrative, and it includes a lot of information about not just Bill Clinton's childhood and growing up into manhood and becoming attorney general in his state and then governor and all of that, but it also tells you a good deal about the times -- what America was, and wasn't, at least as a thread running through this narrative from the 1950s right on through the rest of the century.
So we wanted to go to Arkansas and be with him in Arkansas. We wound up going with him to Hope, Arkansas, where he was born, to Hot Springs, where he grew up, and to the state capital in Little Rock, where of course, he was governor for more than a decade. And we wanted to go to those locations because I think it's important to see Bill Clinton in those places. And indeed, Larry, when you see him in places such as going to his mother's cemetery, his mother's grave, see him in the little house where he was brought to as an infant, right -- by the way, right next door to the late Vince Foster's home, then in Little Rock, he took us to his high school, to his favorite barbecue joint, to the Baptist church, quite a large Baptist church where he spent most of his early years worshipping, and then to the state capital in Arkansas. We wanted to have those locations. Then we, for the major interview, which lasted, I don't know, the better part of two hours, we went to his and Senator Clinton's home just outside New York City.
KING: So you had to edit it down to an hour?
RATHER: Yes. We had, I think, between four and five hours of videotape, certainly 4 hours. And we have edited it down. Larry, you know, you and I both do a lot of interviews. And I will say this, that I've never sat through an interview such as this. And whether you like Bill Clinton or don't like him, whether you hate him, love him or somewhere in between, this is historic, a word that you will not hear me use very often, not because of anything I did, but because we've never had a president or a former president, or for that matter, anybody at anything close to this stature in public life who submitted his or herself to these kinds of questions, and a lot of it questions with follow-ups, over such a broad range of subjects. We've never had one such a person, certainly not a president or a former president, who's talked about what Bill Clinton calls the dark side of his personality and the darkest moments of his personal life. It's just never happened. And whatever you think of him, this is riveting television you're going to see on "60 Minutes" Sunday night.
KING: We've both interviewed him a number of times. He's a great interview subject, right? I mean, that can't be denied.
RATHER: No. He could talk a dog off a meat wagon. He could talk a cat out of a dairy, talk on owl down from a tree. You know, he's a good talker. He's also a good storyteller. And Larry, I didn't know that he could write this well.
KING: You read the book completely, right?
RATHER: I read the book completely. And I think it compares very favorably with Ulysses S. Grant's gold standard of presidential autobiographies. You know, Grant's, which was written, of course, in the 19th century, is over 1,300 pages, well over that. A long time ago, I actually read it. I don't claim to be the best anchorman around, but I do claim to be the only one who's actually read both Ulysses S. Grant's and Bill Clinton's autobiographies.
KING: Didn't Mark Twain help him with that?
RATHER: Well, certainly, there have long been rumors of that. Grant generally claimed to have written it himself, and historians differ a bit. I think the general read on Grant, by this time, is that he wrote most of it and that Twain helped him and sort of, you know, doctored it up a little bit.
But with Bill Clinton, I did see the notebooks in which he wrote out in longhand -- I emphasize longhand, which surprised me. I don't know of anybody writes longhand that much anymore. He said he wrote it in longhand rather than using a word processor because he found as a student a long time ago that he thought better when he wrote a little slower and wrote it out by longhand. But at any rate, by any reasonably objective standard, the book is well written.
KING: You mentioned the dark side. Let's show a clip as you ask President Clinton an interesting question about the Lewinsky matter. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP - "60 MINUTES")
RATHER: A central question, if I may. I know this is difficult. A central question is why?
WILLIAM JEFFERSON CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I think I did something for the worst possible reason: just because I could. I think that that's the most -- just about the most morally indefensible reason that anybody could have for doing anything, when you do something just because you could. And I've thought about it a lot. And there are lots of more sophisticated explanations, more complicated psychological explanations, but none of them are an excuse. Only a fool does not look to explain his mistakes.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Does he devote a lot of the book, or does he devote a lot of pages to it?
RATHER: Well, yes, Larry, he does. But I feel obliged to underscore that this is not the major focus of the book, by a long way. He does spend considerable time in the book from, you know, childhood forward, talking about how sort of the duality of his personality developed, as he sees it. And he does -- he goes through -- and in the "60 Minutes" interview, I was surprised, among my many surprises, as he sat through questions about, you know, Paula Jones, Gennifer Flowers, Monica Lewinsky, about how it affected his family -- this is why I say nobody has ever been on television, a president or former president to talk about these things.
But he -- the book also talks a lot about foreign policy, a lot about the decisions in his presidency, how he made decisions, why he made certain decisions, what he considers the strong points. Remember, it's a 950-plus-page book. So while this dark side of his personality, as he calls it, what he continually said was, I have no excuses for it, and it was morally indefensible, and then to say what you just heard him say in that clip, that, you know, I did it for the worst possible reason, just because I could -- a lot of people have an exclamation point in their mind after saying that because he could have said a lot of other things that would have been easier on himself. And certainly, in that answer, he was tough on himself. I'm not saying he's tough on himself all through the book and all through the "60 Minutes" interview, but he's done a lot of reflecting on this. He's reached deep within himself to at least figure out what it is he wants to say about what he knows was morally indefensible.
But the book is a big, deep, book, and while there's a lot of Lewinsky-type material in it, and he does talk about it on "60 Minutes" Sunday quite a bit, there's a lot more to it than that.
KING: We'll take a break and be back with more. We'll take your calls for Dan at the bottom of the hour. The interview airs Sunday night. Our live interview airs next Thursday. He'll make a couple of other appearances in between, but the first live one will be with us, and the first one you'll see is with Dan on Sunday. We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RATHER: Notebooks over here?
CLINTON: Yes, these are the books that I wrote the book in. I bought them at a little stationery store downtown. And they normally came in three sections, and I just write away. And then along toward the end, when we were in a bigger hurry, I'd tear them off so I could keep writing. Usually, what'd happen is I'd write at night, then Justin (ph) would come in in the morning and put it in the computer.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Dan Rather -- was this interview conducted, Dan, before he got his portrait unveiled by President Bush at the White House?
RATHER: Part of it was. The part in Arkansas was. Then he went to the White House, had his portrait unveiled, and then we did the interview at his suburban New York City home the next day.
KING: So you were able to get his reaction to the laudatory comments of the president.
RATHER: Well, he was still in very good humor about that, Larry. I think it was fortunate we interviewed him the next day because, you know, he loved that scene at the White House. He was very appreciative in comments to me which were off camera, but I don't think he'd mind my relaying them. He was honestly touched and very appreciative of what President Bush said and how he said it. But you know, Bill Clinton, for whatever else you may think of him, he enjoyed being president. And he enjoyed being back in the White House, even for that short period of the unveiling of his portrait and that of the former first lady.
KING: Does he miss it?
RATHER: Oh, he misses it terribly. He misses it, I think, every minute of every day, Larry. And I'd be surprised if he didn't tell you that when it comes to your interview next Thursday. Of course, he misses it. However, he says that he -- you know, he feels these days more relaxed. He's in a different place in his life now. And let's keep in mind, as "The Washington Post" pointed out, Larry, that if -- if Bill Clinton is lucky enough to live as long as Ronald Reagan -- let's hope he does not have the sad thing that happened to President Reagan at the end with Alzheimer's -- but if he lives to age 93, we'll be having his state funeral in 2039. So one of the things he's thinking about, in addition to, you know, his legacy and how future historians will see him, is what he wants to do with his life now. For the next few weeks, perhaps months, he's going to be out selling this book and selling it hard. But taking a medium and long-range view, he's trying to decide what to do, things like he's already launched his campaign to help with AIDS on a worldwide basis. And it was very clear to me that he's turning over in his mind a number of other things that he wants to make the centerpiece of his life from here on out.
KING: Were aspects of it awkward? Was it awkward to ask the former president about Paula Jones?
RATHER: Yes, it was, Larry. I was not comfortable with any of those kinds of questions, and I found myself going into the interview and doing the interview, saying, I wish I didn't have to do this. But you know, I'm a professional. I had a reporter's job to do. My job was to draw him out on what he'd written about in the book, and he'd written about all of these things in the book.
And yes, I know that he was uncomfortable. However, he didn't try to cut off any question. He didn't abruptly deal with any question. He sat, he listened to every question, including follow- ups, and tried to give a full answer to it. Now, I want to pause again, Larry, and say that, you know, I've never been through an interview like this. And for anybody who watches "60 Minutes" on Sunday night and this Clinton interview, you give us 60 minutes, and I guarantee you we'll give you a Bill Clinton like you've never seen him before, and we'll also give you a former president talking about intimate details of his life in a way that no president or former president ever has.
KING: Might it change some people's thoughts about him?
RATHER: It's hard to say, Larry. Clearly, those people who feel more strongly about Bill Clinton -- and he has been a polarizing figure as a politician -- just a rare politician who plays the game anywhere near or at the top who isn't a polarizing figure one way or the other. But I'm inclined to believe that those people who deeply hate Bill Clinton or just can't stand him and everything he stands for are unlikely to have their minds changed.
On the other hand I think those people for whom Bill Clinton can do no wrong, they, of course, will applaud the book, but their minds aren't going to change. But let's face it, that most Americans are fair-minded, particularly about presidents after they leave the presidency. I was reminded at Ronald Reagan's funeral last week about -- there was a Waylon Jennings song, country music song that -- I'll paraphrase Waylon Jennings, with apologies to his memory, that Washington is hell on the living, but it usually speaks well of the dead. And so it was with Ronald Reagan. So it has been with every president that we've had. And even when the president leaves office and he's still living, usually, the country is kind, as kind as they can be for them. The broad middle, the red, beating heart of the United States of America, likes its former presidents, generally speaking. They liked President Reagan. And many people like President Clinton. So with that broad middle, if you will, people who have not -- are not partisan politically or ideologically strongly motivated, I think it could change some minds both ways, if you will, after they read this book, or read any parts of the book, or after they see the interview on Sunday night.
KING: He's not a person that carries grudges, but Ken Starr is not on that list, is he.
RATHER: That's interesting, Larry. I think people will find it interesting. President Clinton has said, and his book pretty generally reflects this, that he didn't want to write a get-even book. The inference was, well, maybe sometime he'll write a get-even book. But he didn't want this book to be seen as a get-even book. And certainly, in the "60 Minutes" interview on Sunday, you will hear him -- I think it'll surprise some people -- he has some rather encouraging things to say about President Bush and what President Bush is now trying to do in Iraq. However, the one -- at least one big notable exception is Ken Starr. He's unrelenting, scathing on Ken Starr.
Now, mark well that this is what the president was saying, not what Dan Rather is saying. But he has the view, and he says it directly -- you'll hear him on "60 Minutes" Sunday night -- and he speaks with passion and forcefully, never stronger than when he's talking about this. It's his view that Ken Starr represented some partisan political and ideologically-driven what he calls extreme right-wing people who he says were exceptionally well financed, who, in his view -- I'm paraphrasing now, but this was the spirit of it. In his view, they couldn't beat him in the elections, that he was twice elected president, and failing to beat him at the polls, they dedicated themselves to trying to destroy his presidency at the maximum and diminish it.
And he goes through saying, Look, they tried to find that I committed some crime or somebody around me committed some crime, and they didn't. And so President Clinton -- you'll hear him say this Sunday night -- that's when they went after the only other thing (UNINTELLIGIBLE) could go, my personal life. He resents that, and he said -- this is a direct quote -- "I wear it as a badge of honor." What he was talking about, the badge of honor he wears is -- in his judgment, is that when they were trying to destroy his presidency, destroy what people had voted for, he stood up and fought back.
Now, a lot of other people see that situation another way. And certainly, we may hear from Judge Starr sometime very soon along those lines. But that was the position he took. At the same time, saying that, I -- what I did personally, what I did in my personal life, was morally indefensible, inexcusable. Think of me what you will about that, but it wasn't good for the country to have this ideologically and partisan politically motivated movement to try to bring me down for a personal reason because that wouldn't have been good for the presidency.
So you will hear him make that argument Sunday night. And among the most interesting parts of the interview, possibly the most interesting part, including what he said about, oh, Monica Lewinsky and how he broke the news to Mrs. Clinton and all of that, is this section where he makes his bid to present and future historians for his making a fight against conviction of impeachment that was good for the future of the country. Of course, it was also good for him.
KING: We'll take a break and come back and go to your phone calls for Dan Rather. The interview airs on "60 Minutes" Sunday night. We'll be right back.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM CLINTON, FRM. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: After accepting Boy's Nation (ph) t-shirt, Kennedy walked down the steps and began shaking hands. I was in front, and being bigger and a bigger supporter of the president's than most of the others, I made sure I get to shake his hand, even if he only shook 2 or 3.
It was an amazing moment for me, meeting the president whom I had supported in my 9th grade class debates and about whom I felt even more strongly after his 2 and a half years in office.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We're back with Dan Rather of CBS News. His Clinton interview the first with the former president since the publication of the book, and the official publication day I believe is Monday.
KING: Tuesday. Will take place Sunday night on "60 Minutes." He'll be with us live next Thursday night. Let's go to some calls for Dan Rather. Gig Harbor, Washington, hello.
CALLER: Hey Larry, big fan of your show.
KING: Thank you.
CALLER: My question is, how will history view current President Bush versus Bill Clinton? And what they did or do not do for our country. And I hope they carry the same scrutiny for President Bush that they did for President Clinton.
RATHER: Well, thank you for the call. It's too early to tell. It's not that anybody wants to duck the question. But, where presidents rank in the pantheon of our presidency, high or low, it takes awhile for that to settle in. And then even after, say, half a century, there are frequently adjustments.
Nearly everybody puts Washington and Lincoln right at the very top. Arguments begin below that. Far too early to tell where Bill Clinton is going to rank. Or for that matter President Bush. But I do believe one thing, and let me say in answer to your question, that I think the kind of scrutiny that President Clinton has gone in -- gone -- undergone since he's been president, I think that will be matched when President Bush is out of office, whether he has one term or two terms.
KING: Before you judge quickly, Truman went out with a popularity rating of 20 percent. Lincoln had a very low popularity the day he was shot, his ranking was very low in the country.
RATHER: Well, that's true. Larry, it's just another version of -- it takes time for perspective and context to form a frame around anyone's presidency. And it changes.
When I was in school, generally, the teachers rated Washington, Lincoln and Jefferson all at one level as the top three presidents of the United States. Well Jefferson in recent years as more has come out about him, including his personal life, his presidency has dropped, sort of dropped off that top shelf with a lot of historians.
KING: Agreed. Rockford, Illinois, hello.
CALLER: Hi. How are you?
CALLER: My question is, what do both of you think -- well I should ask Dan, because Dan met with Clinton, what do you think in the point of view would he handle the situation that's going on different than Bush is doing it now?
KING: Well, you did discuss Iraq with him, correct?
RATHER: I did discuss Iraq with him. And notwithstanding the whole, dark side of his personality and what he has to say about the Ken Starr prosecution, I found this one of the more interesting sections of the interview. And I'd be surprised if you don't, do, ma'am.
That, as I said a little earlier in the broadcast, President Clinton has a little bit different, I think he would say well considerably different view of what perhaps should have been done before we got into Iraq.
But he has no basic argument with President Bush about the -- the center of President Bush's policy, which is President Clinton, this is a paraphrase pretty much what he says, I hope you'll tune in Sunday night to hear exactly, but he pretty much says look, we have to go on from here. What has gone on before is one thing, but we're there now and what's ahead of us is to see if we can establish a stable Iraq, and one that holds itself together, is not split apart by civil war.
I repeat, I think people are going to be surprised. He doesn't criticize President Bush, certainly not overtly or heavily, and in many ways he's very supportive of what the president is trying to do.
KING: Gimli, Manitoba for Dan Rather. Hello.
CALLER: Good evening, gentlemen.
CALLER: First of all, Larry, let me tell you how much we enjoy your show.
KING: Thank you.
CALLER: Mr. Rather, does Mr. Clinton appear to answer your questions honestly and forthright? And did he come across to you as he does to us in Canada, the kind of gentleman that you could meet on any street corner, and just shake his hand and say hi, how are you Bill? Thank you for your answer, sir.
RATHER: Thank you very much for the call, ma'am. You know, as to the first, each person is going to have to make up their mind themselves about whether they think he's sincere and whether he's telling the truth when you see the broadcast on "60 Minutes" Sunday. That's the advantage of having him in a television interview, as opposed to just reading the book.
I do -- anybody can read the book, by all means do so, but to see him on television, you can make up your own mind about that. I will say that I think to most people, he will come across at the very least as trying, trying to dig as deep into himself as is possible, and to, without making excuses, saying that he was -- what he did was morally indefensible, as best he can to either explain what he did and why he did it, and in his view, being pretty scathing on himself.
Now, anybody who gets elected to two successive terms in the American presidency is in one way or the other a charmer. Ronald Reagan was in almost completely different ways from Ronald -- from Bill Clinton. But in answer to the second part of your question, everywhere he goes, he makes sure he shakes every hand, he looks people in the eye. He's a very experienced campaigner. So the answer to the second part of your question is, yes, he is the kind of person you'd meet on the street and you would say, you know what, he's former president of the United States, but, he ties his shoelaces one set of laces at a time just like everybody else.
KING: Was he hurt by the fact that Al Gore didn't use him a lot in the campaign?
RATHER: I asked him about that, Larry. And I'm not sure that it's in the cut that we're using Sunday night. I'm trying to think. But I will say that basically what he said was you have to ask Al Gore about that.
The inference to me was that he was certainly disappointed that he wasn't used more in the 2000 campaign. I think that he's holding a lot in, holding a lot back. That's one area which I think he holds back. He's just -- he doesn't want to be critical of former Vice President Gore. And after saying well you have to ask him, you know, as to why president Clinton wasn't used more in the campaign, President Clinton quickly sort of caught himself and said keep in mind he did get more votes than the person who eventually became president and then gave you that big Clinton smile.
KING: St. Paul, Minnesota. Hello.
CALLER: How, Dan, how are you doing?
RATHER: I'm doing fine, ma'am.
CALLER: I just want to ask a question for you and President Clinton. If Clinton was in office today, what would he do differently for our country, positively?
KING: Well, that's a broad question. But he'd agree with him a lot on Iraq. He'd be different on the economy, wouldn't he?
RATHER: Yes. Although he doesn't say that. It's a good question, ma'am, in this sense, that it's good to speculate about it. However, Bill Clinton is determined that he isn't going to be critical of President Bush any more than he absolutely, positively has to. And in the interview from "60 Minutes" Sunday night you will see. I thought he sort of went out of his way to agree with President Bush where he could about Iraq.
But in talking about his own economic accomplishments during his two terms as president, as he saw them, he did accentuate the positive, including most importantly, in his view, one of the major accomplishments of his presidency, was to reduce the deficit, and leave as president with the country having a large surplus, which a lot of people, when President Clinton came into office, would have considered an impossibility. And so by making -- by pointing to that as one of the achievements of his presidency, I think it's clear that he has a different view of what the economic policies of the day should be, but he was in no way critical of President Bush about that.
KING: We'll take a break and be back with more of Dan Rather. More of your phone calls. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RATHER: What a beautiful place.
CLINTON: When we moved into this place, this was an old farmhouse built in the late 19th century. There you go, come in.
RATHER: Thank you, Mr. President.
CLINTON: So we redid this space. This is my office. And for, I don't know, 30 years, I've been collecting Native American...
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Before we get back to matters about Clinton, I guess you were reading this book during all of the Reagan funeral coverage? RATHER: That was eerie. It's true that I started (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I got a manuscript, I didn't get the book, I never got the book, we had a full manuscript just without the pictures of the Clinton book, and I'd made a pretty good dent into it, Larry, reading late at night and sometimes early in the morning. And then when President Reagan, of course, died my responsibilities at CBS News had me spending a good deal and part of the night of most days of the funeral but I found myself trying to, you know, read a chapter or half a chapter of the Clinton book here and half a chapter there, and then in between handling the anchor duties for the Reagan funeral. It was, I don't know, it's hard to describe the feeling. But it was strange. It's never happened in my career before.
KING: Let's take a look at a clip from Dan's 1982 interview with Reagan a long time ago. Watch.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
RATHER: Your estimate of where inflation is going to be come the fall? Let's talk about September, October, November. Is the inflation rate going to be higher or lower than it is now in your judgment?
RONALD REAGAN, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Lower.
RATHER: Unemployment, higher or lower?
RATHER: What would be unacceptable unemployment to you? Would 10 percent unemployment be unacceptable?
REAGAN: I think as long as there are any working workers who want to work, and are not able to find a job, that's unacceptable.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: What comparisons can you make between these two presidents, elected twice, popular individual figures, well-liked, what else would you draw between them?
RATHER: Both of them were terrific campaigners, each in his own way. President Ronald Reagan, late President Ronald Reagan was very quick with his wit, delivered lines extremely well. He had the timing of lines. He knew how to frame a line so well. But he was very good with people. You don't get elected president for two terms unless you have the ability to be very good with people. Bill Clinton also has a very good sense of humor. It's a different kind of sense of humor. He's more in the southern, southwestern storytelling, yarn spinning strain, whereas President Reagan, a very good storyteller, was more the -- the radio voice storyteller, if you will.
But the big similarity, and the biggest similarity, Larry, is clearly, is that each in his own way knew how to connect with people, and knew how to campaign. Boy, did President Reagan know how to do that. And boy, whether you like it or not, Bill Clinton knew how to do it as well. And that's the reason, not only was he elected in 1992 against the odds, unseated an incumbent president, but let's not forget that when he was facing his re-election in 1996, a lot of people thought he was toast. That the so-called "Revolution" in 1994 had given the Republicans control of the House and Senate in a way they hadn't had it before, but you know both of them came against odds in their first presidency, Larry.
It's worth noting that a lot of people thought that Ronald Reagan, you know, quote, "that actor from Hollywood," of course, he was much more than that, but that's the way he was often framed, would never unseat an incumbent President Jimmy Carter. And President Reagan unseated an incumbent Jimmy Carter. And President Bill Clinton unseated the first President Bush. So both were powerful campaigners.
KING: This book and all the appearances hurt or help John Kerry?
RATHER: Boy, Larry, I've thought about it. And I -- I -- as bad as I hate to say, I don't know, the fact is I don't know. I think it may wind up to be a wash. That would be my guess for what it may be worth. I think that, in some ways, it detracts from the Kerry campaign as he's trying to build a little momentum toward the convention, and particularly if the book becomes a blockbuster, megabuster best-seller which it may do, it may stretch on through the summer and even in the fall, and in that way possibly, possibly could hurt Senator John Kerry.
On the other hand that it creates a remembrance in people, a memory in people that well, you know, a Democrat did get elected two times and a Democrat did beat incumbent Republican president in 1992 and that way may help Kerry. But having babbled away at all that, sort of blathered about it, the simple fact is I don't know.
KING: Boston for Dan Rather who hosts Ronald Reagan Sunday night on "60 Minutes." Hello. Hosts Bill Clinton. Forgive me.
CALLER: My question is to Dan. In the interview or in the book, does the president bring up his possible presidential library, and the legacy he hopes it represents?
RATHER: Yes, he does. And I should have mentioned earlier when we talked about what he's -- how he's going to spend his years, how he's going to spend his time now that he's out of the presidency. Clearly he's going to spend a great deal of time with the No. 1 thing in the world, not person, but the No. 1 thing in the world he now loves which is the Clinton Library in Little Rock which is still under construction.
I walked through it with him. He loves this place. It is, I think, the largest, certainly the most expensive, of the former presidents' libraries. Each one seems to get more expensive than the one before it. But one of the things that struck me in that library when you see President Clinton in there, you say to yourself, you know, this man, if his health holds, is going to spend a lot of time in this place. Now, Ronald Reagan didn't get to spend much time in his presidential library, and for that matter neither did Lyndon Johnson. But Bill Clinton is young enough that he's hoping to spend a lot of time there. And I think he will spend a lot of time there.
KING: We'll take a break
By the way, Ron Reagan the son of the former -- of the late president will be our guest Wednesday night, the night before Bill Clinton's our guest, Ron Reagan, young Ron Reagan will be our guest on Wednesday night. Gene Hackman on Tuesday. Back with our remaining moments with Dan Rather. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
CLINTON: Much has been made of that brief encounter and its impact on my life. My mother said she knew when I came home that I was determined to go into politics. And after I became the Democratic nominee in 1992, the film was widely pointed to as the beginning of my presidential aspirations. I'm not sure about that.
I have a copy of the speech I gave to the American Legion in Hot Springs after I came home, and in it, I didn't make too much about the handshake. I thought at the time, I wanted to become a Senator, but deep down, I probably felt as Abraham Lincoln did when he wrote as a young man, "I will study and get ready, and perhaps my change will come."
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Maryville, Tennessee, for Dan Rather. Hello.
CALLER: Thank you, Dan, for all that you do. You have just been years bringing us the news, just the best. Thank you. In your conversations with Clinton, did you determine that he may sometime join the U.N.? Would that be a possibility? And I don't know the answer to this, I'm asking you, could he serve as Secretary of State?
RATHER: Well, first of all, I thank you for you, what you said in the beginning, I'm unworthy of that, but I deeply appreciate it. And in spite of that I'll return to my work and try as hard as I can to come as close as I can to living up to that kind of confidence. About whether he could serve in office again, yes.
And he doesn't say much about this when you ask about it. It's clear that he does not intend to run for another office not at this time. It isn't to say that at some future time -- do I think in some future time he might run for mayor of New York or Senator? I wouldn't rule it out with Bill Clinton. But he doesn't indicate that now. Certainly he could serve as secretary of state. Say, in a future Democratic administration.
KING: Would he?
RATHER: Would he, I'm inclined to think that he would entertain the notion, Larry, provided a little more time has gone by. But I just don't know. But I think he would certainly entertain the idea.
But a better job for him, I believe in his mind, he did not say this, this is my opinion, that he would prefer to have a job like be head of the World Bank. That or something like it is -- would be in -- in his mind and my belief, the almost perfect job. Rather than some elective or appointed position.
KING: She asked U.N. How about secretary-general?
RATHER: Secretary-general of the United Nations?
RATHER: I doubt that that would -- would be possible. But if it were possible, again, that's the kind of job that, yes I think he'd take it if it were offered. But that's probably not going to happen.
KING: Detroit, hello.
CALLER: Hi, first I want to say congratulations to our Pistons.
KING: You betcha.
CALLER: As a housewife in the book or interview did he say when or how Hillary reacted -- in simple terms, did she want to smack him when she found out?
KING: We have a minute left, Dan.
RATHER: In simple terms, yes, he talks about that. And he said that she looked like she had been kicked in the stomach. And he made it pretty clear that she would have hit him with a skillet if a skillet had been handy. He was moved out. He had to sleep on the couch. And it was a long, long way back.
She was clearly mad as a mama wasp about the whole thing. And he said she was every bit as angry or angrier about the fact that he had lied about it and lied about it for a long time as she was about the fact of what he did.
KING: Clinton sure has a lot of association with "60 Minutes," going back to that historic interview, he and his wife when all the stories broke about the initial affair, and now, the book and Dan Rather we look forward to seeing it. Thank you so much, Dan.
RATHER: Larry, I'll see you Sunday night. Thanks a lot.
KING: Sunday night, Dan Rather on "60 Minutes" with former President Clinton. He'll be our guest next Thursday night, live with your phone calls.
And when we come back we'll tell you about the weekend and what's ahead. Don't go away.
KING: Tomorrow night the family of Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman will be with us. A big book show coming up Sunday night. Monday night, we'll look at the Peterson case. And then Tuesday night, Gene Hackman. Wednesday night, Ron Reagan, young Ron Reagan. And Thursday night, former President Clinton. Next Friday, it will be our pleasure to, once again, interview John Stewart.
It is always my pleasure to turn this mantle of leadership over to one of my favorite folks, Mr. B. Aaron Brown in New York as he entertains another hour of "NEWSNIGHT." -- Mr. B.
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