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CNN LARRY KING LIVE
Encore Presentation: Interview with Bill Clinton
Aired September 5, 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, President Bill Clinton, awaiting heart by-pass surgery. And we'll look back at his last live primetime interview. President Clinton for the hour next on LARRY KING LIVE.
Thank you for joining us. Any time now, President Clinton is scheduled to have heart by-pass surgery. And in a bit, we'll show you the interview I did with him back in June.
We found out about President Clinton's condition on Friday. And that night, we got a call from the president himself. His first public statement since the world found out about his condition.
On the line with us now is President Clinton. We thank you, President, for joining us. We're with Dr. Wayne Isom, Dr. P.K. Shah, your friend Paul Begala and Senator Bill Frist. How are you feeling?
BILL CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I feel great. And I've enjoyed this program. And Dr. Isom explained why we are going to delay this surgery for a couple of days. But I feel really blessed, you know, because a lot of people who have a heart attack never get any advance warning, as Dr. Fist said, or Senator Frist said.
I've had some difficulty ever since I got out of the White House in getting my distance up in running. And I just had a feeling a couple of days ago I had to have it checked, when I finally got some tightness in my chest. And I hadn't done any exercise. That's the first time that ever happened to me, and we did this angiogram and found out I had blockage that was too significant to open and put a stent in. We had to do the whole surgery. So I'm trying to get my head in the game.
KING: But you look so great. You lost so much weight. Didn't you think that if you had a problem, it was over?
CLINTON: Well, no. I've also been treating the high cholesterol and then I stopped taking that medicine because I got my cholesterol down low. And I had, in the past, had a little blood pressure problem, which I've treated and then I got it down.
But, you know, some of this is genetic, and I may have done some damage in those years when I was too careless about what I ate. So for whatever reason, I've got a problem, and I've got a chance to deal with it, and I feel that I really got to -- let me just say this, Republicans aren't the only people who want four more years here. KING: Well, the whole world is watching. We appreciate you giving us this time. But I must ask this question, in all fairness. Are you a little frightened?
CLINTON: Well, not as much as I thought I would be. You know, I don't -- I grew up, as you know, in a home where my mother was an anesthetist. I knew doctors. I knew surgeons. I think the first time I ever saw any serious surgery, I was about 12 years old. I know what's involved, and I know what the options are. I mean, I think that -- there is virtually -- my blockage is so substantial, I think if I don't do this, there is virtually 100 percent chance I'll have a heart attack.
And I've been very lucky. I don't have any heart damage now. If I do the procedure, it has been done now for some few decades, and an enormous number of them are done -- you pointed out you've had it, David Letterman has had it, a whole slew of my friends have had it. Without exception, the people I know have good years afterwards. I'm just going to have to be really careful. I've put about 10 pounds of that weight I had lost back on on my book tour, and I've got to take it off, and you know, just do everything I can to try to keep my cholesterol down, keep my blood pressure down.
But I agree with whoever it was that said that we ought to have a lot of these exams, that you got the early warning signs, that you can get your cholesterol and blood pressure down, that's a big thing. And then, at some point, I understand why there is a reluctance to do angiograms here and invasive surgery. But I aced my stress test, four, five years in a row, every year I was in the White House and every year since, so that's more than four or five years.
So about 10 percent of the people, for whatever reason, are in good enough health that they just do fine on the stress test and they still have a problem. And I was one of them. So I think if people have a family history there, and high cholesterol and high blood pressure, they ought to consider the angiogram, even if they don't have the symptoms I had. There is some chance of damage there, but it's like one in 1,000. And I really think it probably saved my life.
And I'm very grateful to (UNINTELLIGIBLE), Dr. Bard (ph), all the great people at Westchester County who did that, and then these people at Columbia Presbyterian. I just feel just grateful. I guess I'm a little scared, but not much. I'm looking forward to it. I want to get back -- I want to see what it's like to run five miles again.
KING: Thank you for giving us this time. You're in the prayers of people all around the world. I know President Bush has called and Senator Frist, the political opponent, that doesn't mean anything, we're all in this world together, joining hands. We wish you nothing but the best. We'll check in when it's over. And stay well.
CLINTON: Thank you, Larry. Take care now.
KING: You too.
Again, that was President Clinton's first public statement since he was hospitalized on Friday. Now, let's go back a bit to the president's last primetime interview. The date, June 24. And we started by talking about his just released best seller, "My Life."
CLINTON: And then, the first part is -- I hope it's an appealing personal memoir, but it's also as a history of America in the last 50 years. So, I didn't know how it would be received, but I was gratified.
KING: Did you also think there was some people have morbid interests?
CLINTON: Maybe. But it's interesting, all the people that have been interviewed, by and large, said, you know, I want to know what happened and what he thinks about it -- about, you know, America, and what happened, how we got to where we are. It was really touching.
KING: Let's -- first thing's first, though. We've got major news today out of Iraq. Today, coordinated bombing and ambush across Iraq. 90 people were killed today in Mosul, Baghdad, Ramadi, Fallujah, and Ba'qubah -- I think I'm pronouncing that right.
What do you make of this whole thing?
CLINTON: I think, first of all, it's a very tough neighborhood. It always has been. When the first President Bush was concluding the Gulf War, there were a lot of people in the State Department and elsewhere who said that they shouldn't even destroy the whole Republican Guard and run the risk of Iraq breaking up, because there would be a lot of internal violence. So, you see that.
It also is more vulnerable now to infiltration from outside terrorists who want to stir things up. I don't know how many of those there are. A lot of this stuff is just internally generated conflict. And there may be people who, for their own reasons, think they won't be very influential when we turn over sovereignty to the Iraqis and they have a kind of a representative Democratic government.
There are all kinds of explanations for this, but it's going to be a long, hard slide.
KING: Does it surprise you?
CLINTON: Not much. I always -- you know, you can't live in the way they lived for so long, under the thumb of Saddam Hussein, with a kind of a controlled state, with various periods of violence being directed against certain segments of the population and then just take it all off. So, you've got some people who resent the United States and don't like us. You've got some people who think that the situation is still fluid and they can -- if they kill enough people and terrify them, they can maybe get a bigger piece of the pie when we're gone or when we turn over sovereignty.
And as I said, there may be some terrorists from outside the country there.
KING: But you have supported the president's statements. I've read -- pretty much say that you might have waited a little longer, but you support him now. Why?
CLINTON: Well, because I think the whole world now has an interest. I don't approve of the timing. I didn't agree with the timing. I think we should have let Mr. Blix finish the inspections. We could have invaded and toppled Saddam Hussein at any time. His military was less than half the strength it was at the Gulf War, and we were in better shape militarily.
And I knew this was going to be quite a project. So, I preferred to let the weapons inspection play out and put more military personnel and more effort into Afghanistan to stabilize Mr. Karzai and to try to get bin Laden and Dr. al-Zawahiri and the other top aides.
But we are where we are. You can't undo history. We've lost over 600 young Americans there since the military victory was declared. So, now that everybody in the world has an interest in seeing a pluralistic, secure, safe Iraq. It may take four or five years, but if they can succeed at self-governance and observing basic human rights and treat the Sunni, the Shia, and the Kurds fairly, if they can do this, it might be a positive thing to promote reform throughout the Arab world.
KING: So, if you were in that seat today, you'd be hanging tough as he is and saying we're not leaving?
CLINTON: If I were in the seat today, I would be -- there might be some differences around the edges, but if I took office as president tomorrow, I'd say pretty much what John Kerry said, that we've lost all these lives, the Iraqis are decent people, they deserve a chance at the future. Whether we did right or wrong before, we are where we are.
So, I think we should turn over sovereignty to a representative government as quickly as we can, consistent with our commitment. I liked it when President Bush went back to the U.N. and got the U.N. to adopt a resolution on the future of Iraq. And then, I would try to internationalize this whole effort as quickly as possible so America couldn't be the source of continuing resentment and violence.
On the other hand, I wouldn't just pull up and leave there if I thought it was going to cause the whole thing to disintegrate.
KING: Would it?
CLINTON: Probably, unless there were a multinational force willing to go in and take our place.
KING: But they're not willing, are they?
CLINTON: Not right now, and a lot of them think that we didn't handle it right. Maybe we did and maybe we didn't, but I always find, you know, in life and in politics, you have to take the facts as you find them. We are where we are. And it would be better if Iraq succeeded, and it might, over the long run, actually help promote reform in other Arab states. But we got to be sensitive to how they feel. I think this idea of saying we'll stay but we want to lower our profile, we want the U.N. to have a mandate on how this thing runs going forward, and we want increasingly the Iraqis to manage their own affairs, I think it's the -- generally the right approach.
KING: Moving on to other areas, were you surprised at the unveiling of your picture and Senator Clinton's picture at the White House, how effusive in praise President Bush was of you?
CLINTON: A little bit. It was nice -- maybe because I was very praising of his father when we did the same thing when the shoe was on the other foot. I always really liked former President Bush, as I say in my book.
KING: I know.
CLINTON: Even when I was running against him, I always liked him. I thought he was a gentleman and a patriot who loved this country and wanted to do the best for it. And I think, you know, the longer you stay in the presidency and once you start to take your own blows, I think the more sympathetic you get with your predecessors. So...
KING: You feel sorry for the things -- when thing goes bad for him?
CLINTON: Well, when he does things that I honestly disagree with, then that's part of politics, and we have these differences. But I know that any president -- I've been there. When you go to war and your bombs go astray and innocent people die and you didn't intend for it, I feel for him. When you pick up the paper every day and a bunch more of your kids have died, I feel for him.
Even when I disagree with his policies, I'm always pulling for my country. And I know that as a human being it hurts to know that however much you believe in what you're doing when there are adverse consequences, intended or unintended, it's exceedingly painful.
KING: If asked, will you fervently campaign against him? If John Kerry were to say, "Tour with me. Go out on the stump?"
CLINTON: President Carter and I have already appeared at a big national unity event for Senator Kerry. And Hillary and I have done several smaller events for him. And I would campaign for him. And I would see it much more campaigning for him than against President Bush, although I have made very clear, very publicly my profound disagreements -- especially with a lot of these domestic policies, as well as my differences about the process of how the Iraq thing unfolded as compared with the rest of the war on terror.
So, I would. I would do everything I could that I was asked to do. I think there's a certain amount that's appropriate and a certain amount where it might even be counterproductive. But if -- I know John Kerry well and I believe he'd be a good president. I think he has a lot of good qualities -- not just because he agrees with me, but psychologically he's well suited to be president.
He's not afraid to be around people who know more than he does about certain subjects. That's good. He's always trying to learn more and do better. That's good. He won't punish people who sit in the Oval Office and look him dead in the eye and say, "Mr. President I think you're wrong about this. I disagree." And that's good.
Especially now. Why? Because we're living in a world that's really changing. There are a lot of apparently disconnected events. We're trying to put a new shape on the world's affairs and work out, in our own minds, what's the role of government in America, what's our role in the world. When you have a lot of things up in the air, it's very important that the president encourage the difference of opinion, honest debate, and keep looking for more truth.
KING: We'll be right back with Bill Clinton, the 42nd president of the United States. The book is "My Life." It's also available in audio version, by the way.
We'll be right back.
KING: We're back. This is the president's first live interview since the publication of the book. And it's an honor to have him with us. He's discussed a lot of things already, so we're going to try to skirt other areas.
Why is it so hard for politicians, mayors, presidents, senators, to say, "I was wrong"?
CLINTON: I think they're always afraid of ridicule. They're always afraid they'll be perceived as weak. I don't think they're afraid to kind of sometimes trust people.
You know, people that read my book, for example, now they're coming up and talking to me, you know. And they share with me their own problems, their own failings. It one of the reasons I wanted to write this book.
Also I think people, sometimes we want people to see all political figures as two dimensional cartoons like so that we deify and glorify the people we like. They're still real people. They're imperfect. And that makes them more interesting to me. And then the people we disagree with, we tend to demonize them.
So when you turn somebody into a deity or a demon you turn them from a three-dimensional human being into a two-dimensional cartoon. And I think people are always afraid they'll be seen as human in the middle or if they admit error they'll actually be demonized.
That's why what I try to do in this book was to say what I thought the major personal mistakes I made were and the major mistakes as president and before as governor I went through that. And then to say, I still think on balance there's more good than bad. KING: But you wouldn't have done it while president, right? You wouldn't have come out and said, I goofed. I made a mistake. I did the wrong thing.
CLINTON: Well I did on occasion. But I don't think -- you know, I've often wondered whether I should have even done it more than I did. But I did so on occasion.
And I apologized for the country, too, on occasion. You know when I went to Africa and said I was sorry for slavery and I went to Rwanda and said I wished that we had intervened and stopped the Rwanda genocide. And I felt terrible about it.
I was actually criticized sized by some in America saying you know the president should never go overseas and admit any error, whatever. Well it's -- we have a great country. And it's the greatest country in human history because it has been flexible enough to change and overcome error. You know we were wrong when we started this country and we only let white male property owners vote and we counted African-Americans as, you know...
CLINTON: ... three-fifths of a human being. We were wrong. It's OK to say we were wrong.
KING: Would you therefore have apologized for the occurrences in the prison?
CLINTON: Oh, yes. Of course. Just like I call Jiang Zemin and apologized for bombing the Chinese embassy in Belgrade during the Kosovo War. Of course I would.
KING: Do you ever say, I should have taken out bin Laden? I could have, should have, should -- shoulda, woulda, coulda?
CLINTON: No. What I say is I tried like the devil to take him out. I knew how bad he was. Even in my first term we were watching him. And we worked hard on terrorism. We had to.
Keep in mind, we had the first World Trade Center bombing in '93. We had the Oklahoma City bombing in '95. We finally passed the big anti-terrorism legislation I'd been pushing for a year and a half in '96. We averted all the terrorist attacks planned for the millennium, plus earlier attempts to blow up the Holland Tunnel and the Lincoln Tunnel and the U.N. building in New York, the L.A. airport. Planes flying from the Philippines to the L.A. airport.
KING: There were plans to blow up the L.A...
CLINTON: Absolutely. All those things.
And after the African embassies were blown up, there was a plan to blow up our embassy in Albania. We did that. There was a plan by many of bin Laden's allies from the mujahideen in Afghanistan, the Afghan War, to take over Bosnia after the Bosnian War and we stopped that.
So we were deeply immersed in this. So what I say all the time is -- and what I told President Bush when we had our little meeting after the Supreme Court decision -- I regret deeply that I didn't get him. I tried everything I knew to get him.
I wish -- the only real regret I have in terms of our efforts is nearly everybody in the world knew that he did the USS Cole in October of 2000. I knew what our options were, I knew what our military options were, I knew what our covert options were. And I felt I couldn't take strong military action against Afghanistan because the FBI and the CIA didn't officially agree that bin Laden had done it until after I left office.
If they had done so when I was in office, I would have taken stronger action -- even as a lame duck president.
KING: Do you know why they didn't?
CLINTON: I think they just had a process they wanted to go through. And keep in mind, you know, when Oklahoma City happened, which before 9/11 was the worst domestic terrorist incident, a lot of people immediately jumped to the conclusion that it was a Muslim militant terrorist. And I remember standing in the Rose Garden of the White House pleading with the American people not to jump to any conclusions.
So I felt if I launched a full scale attack, violated air space of countries that wouldn't give me permission, had to do the logistics of doing that without basing rights like we had in Uzbekistan and other things we had after 9/11, I would have been on grounds without an approval.
But I don't think -- I don't know of anything that I could have done that I didn't do at the time that would have dramatically increased the chances of getting bin Laden because I wanted to do it and I regretted not doing it.
KING: Did you ever let your personal problems affect your political decisions or executive decisions when you're living in the kind of torment that you admit to having lived through?
KING: You could separate them?
CLINTON: I could separate them. And I try to explain in the book that my very difficult or occasionally difficult childhood, living in an alcoholic home which was -- suffered from sporadic violence, where I had to sort of wall off my private life from the life I gave to the world, including my life with my friends and my school, my church my activity, everything.
While it got me into a lot of trouble later on because it was an automatic reflex whenever I felt exhausted or under stress or angry, you know, to sort of start living those lives again, it also made me particularly well suited to endure the years of what we went through with Whitewater, both with the Congress and with Mr. Starr.
I just could deal with it that way. We organized the White House that way and I went to work.
And I believe the 9/11 Commission will publicly say that my political problems had no impact on the decisions I made in fighting terror.
KING: You were able to separate that? When the Lewinsky story was breaking and other stories. And you agree these stories are -- hear making charges against you. A woman charging rape. Another woman saying when...
CLINTON: By and large, though...
KING: ... with it emotionally and run a country?
CLINTON: Well, I had little systems. First of all, in terms of the time we spent, we had a defense team. If they needed time with me to answer questions they ask and we set it aside. And it was as little time as we could possibly give them.
Secondly, when people ask me questions, by and large, you go back and remember I never said anything. I said that's all being handled by somebody else. Let's talk about the public's business.
Thirdly, when the really, you know, outrageous stuff was flying and all those charges were coming out, I literally didn't read them.
CLINTON: I arranged to get clips every morning from all the major papers on the editorials, the op-ed pieces and the news stories that related to my public performance as president -- including critical ones. Somebody said, "I think Bill Clinton's got a terrible policy in Bosnia" or something, I read that.
But that personal stuff, I never read because I knew that all it could do was to keep me from doing my job. And I knew in part my adversaries were piling all this on hoping that I wouldn't be able to do my job and that that would help get me out of office. And then the third thing I did was at night I always took some more time alone at night. I spent a lot of time alone in my office, as I detail in the book, reading books of philosophy, books of theology and...
KING: Did it help you?
CLINTON: Oh, a lot and praying. And focusing on trying to get through my anger and focus on what I had done wrong and trying to fix it personally without losing my ability to fight against the forces that I disagreed with. So I really -- I had a whole discipline plan, and I worked it. But frankly, if it hadn't been for the, you know, love and loyalty of my family, my friends, my cabinet, my staff, the Democrats in Congress, the American people hadn't stayed with me by more than two to one through the whole thing, I don't know if I would have done as well as I did. But I do know my childhood prepared me to live with personal torment and public success.
KING: We'll be right back with Bill Clinton. The book is "My Life." Don't go away.
KING: The president describes in his book something that happened with the both of us. I bring it up only not because it relates to me but because it relates to the death of a friend. We were on the air. I had asked the president if he would like to stay on an extra half hour. He said, of course. Aides came over and said, you got to get off. The reason you got to get off, we found out later, was the death of Vince Foster. And we were the only two people in the White House that didn't know about it. And they were afraid someone would pick up a police call, hear about it, call in and tell you on the air. We know the shock of that night to you, your friend. What did you make of all the things that happened after? The accusations that he was murdered. The stories about relationships?
KING: What was that all about?
CLINTON: First of all, I just went home. You know, I did this television program with Dan Rather so I went home and I was in the little yard where I lived when I was 4 and Vince Foster had the adjoining yard when he was 6. We used to sit on the grass between our two houses and throw a knive into the ground and try to make it stick. I'd known him all my life and I really loved him. I mean, he was a remarkable human being. We now know one afflicted with depression, which we now know is a condition that has to be treated and can be with some people and can't be with others. His severe depression was triggered by some critical editorials he'd gotten.
But I think that, you know, people who say that I act paranoid when I talk about the far right and how they treated us and how we were treated by a double standard have only to look at Vince Foster. Everybody knew that he'd taken a family heirloom revolver and gone out and blown his brains out at Fort Marcy Park in the grip of the depression and instead of all of us being able to nurture his family and grieve, you know, some of the right-wing Republicans, Rush Limbaugh, a lot of the other talk show people immediately said he was murdered, he was murdered in an apartment that belonged to the Clintons...
KING: Where would that idea even come from?
CLINTON: They made it up, Larry. Absolutely because they knew there was no consequence, there was no consequence to any horrible attack they leveled against...
KING: Now, here we go back to Bill Clinton. Didn't you want to go on and lambast back? CLINTON: Sure I did. But whenever I was asked about it, I said, look, there's nothing to this. But I mean, look at -- it was a mad time where you could say anything you wanted about the president or anybody that had the misfortune to know me, and they were fair game. I mean, it was stunning to me. And so Robert Fiske, the Whitewater special counsel, who was a career professional Republican prosecutor, looked at all the evidence and, because the Congress was demanding that he investigate Vince Foster's suicide. It's like how in the world could a man be guilty of depression and have it triggered by critical newspaper articles? They demanded that he looked at it. So he looked at it and he said Vince Foster killed himself, which everybody in the wide world knew.
As soon as he did, they turned on him like a dog in the night. They called him every name but a blue goose. And that's when Jesse Helms and Lauch Faircloth went to see Judge Centel and said, "you got to get rid of this Fiske guy. He's too fast and too fair. We need somebody political guy in there." Surely he could see that we could drag out Vince Foster and make his family miserable and do all this stuff. It was hideous. I couldn't believe it but it shows you that -- it's like how unfeeling they were. It's like none of us were people to them because since I won the presidency, they thought I had interrupted the natural order of things and we weren't human beings and didn't deserve to be treated like human beings.
KING: I do you remember your shock that night.
CLINTON: Oh, God, it was awful.
KING: I was standing there when he told you, Mac McLaudy (ph) told you.
CLINTON: Well, Mac and Vince and I had known each other all our lives.
KING: Did you know he was depressed?
CLINTON: Yes and no. I knew that he was upset. And ironically, the night before he killed himself, I called him because I knew he had been really upset because the "Wall Street Journal" was saying all these terrible things about him. It was all a bunch of huey, but they were saying it. But only on the editorial page. And then I call him and I said, "Vince, hardly anybody reads the editorial page of the "Wall Street Journal," the news columns are straight. It's an old- fashioned newspaper like that, you know, they don't read the news columns. Anybody who reads the editorial page is not for us anyway. But if you've never been attacked before personally your integrity, if you've never done it before and you never lived in Washington or New York before, you know, your tendency is to think everybody in the world has read this that I know and they all believe it. And it just wigged him out. Same thing happened later to Admiral Borda (ph) who killed himself.
KING: On a park bench.
CLINTON: One of the great men I ever knew in the military. Had his patriotism and his honor questioned...
KING: Over one ribbon.
CLINTON: Yes, after a lifetime of service to his country, it sent him off the deep end. But this happens to people. Some people are more sensitive than others. And so I called him. And I talked to him about it. Then I said, "Vince, why don't you come over here and watch a movie with me." Because when Hillary and his wife Lisa were out of town on occasion, we were young men, we were living in Arkansas together, we'd go to the movies together because we both liked movies. I just liked being with him. We were both busy, we didn't get to do that very much so I said...
KING: Did he come over?
CLINTON: He said, you know, After I got him it was about 7:30 or 8:00 and he always worked late. He said, "I just got home and I think I'd like to spend the night with Lisa." And I think he'd already decided what he was going to do the next day.
KING: We'll take a break and be back with more. We'll also include some of your phone calls for Bill Clinton. The book is "My Life." The 42nd president of the United States. Don't go away.
KING: When you next return, maybe after all this is over, at the end of the trip, you come back and tell us all about the tour. I'd like to do more on depression.
CLINTON: You know, I'd like to too.
KING: You've had another friend kill himself.
CLINTON: Yes, one of my roommate, the man I lived with Strobe Talbott who was my deputy secretary of state and I had a third roommate, a magnificent man who committed suicide in 1971 33 years ago. And I still every September I think about it all over again.
KING: It's boggling, isn't it?
CLINTON: Yes. But I learned -- you know, we were talking during the break. William Styron who is a friend of mine and I think you know him well, wrote a book on his depression called "Darkness Visible" which helped me more than anything I've ever read to understand it.
And it's really -- people are looking at us tonight and they've got loved ones, friends, depression in their family, or in a circle of friends. I'd recommend you start there and you'll get it, because Styron tells you what it is like and why it is important to treat it.
KING: What was your biggest mistake in the office?
CLINTON: That's pretty hard. I think my biggest mistake as president as opposed to as a person -- we know what my biggest personal mistake was. But certainly one of the biggest mistakes I made was continuing to push in the first two years of my presidency to pass healthcare reform when it was obvious that the Republicans had made a decision that no healthcare reform would pass, or at least the leadership had. If instead I had done what my instincts should have told me to do and pass welfare reform first and then said after the election we'll try to get a bipartisan healthcare reform bill through, we might not have lost the Congress. And that might have been a good thing. You know, I think that was a significant mistake.
One of my great regrets in foreign policy is not sending troops to try to stop the Rwandan genocide when I realized how severe it was. It happened very fast, 90 days, 10 percent of the country, 700,000 people killed with machetes. I feel terrible that we didn't do it. We were still kind of reeling from Somalia and we were trying to get into both Bosnia and Haiti. So that the whole thing was never seriously considered. And when I finally came to grips with the magnitude of it -- I will always regret it.
KING: On the personal level, when you say you do it -- of course you did do it, you did it because it was there. A lot of people -- I think we need elaboration because people are taking that.
KING: What did you mean?
CLINTON: Everybody who reads it in the book will see that I was rebuking myself, not being flippant. What I meant by that -- let me get into what I said. First, I said when you make a mistake past the age of accountability, there's no excuse for it. So I never offer any excuses in my book. On the other hand, only a fool doesn't try to understand and explain to himself why he made mistakes he made.
So it's the government shutdown, the first or second one. I have been through a period of a couple of years where I've lost the Congress and I think I've done terrible damage to it where the Republicans had taken over the Congress and they're trying to change my country, I believe, for the worse. We're in the middle of the first government shutdown ever or right at the beginning of the second one. And I don't know who is going to win. We're in this titanic struggle for the future of the country.
And meanwhile, I got this guy Starr who is trying to put me and Hillary in jail and all these guys in Congress now in the majority holding hearings acting like it's serious and tormenting people who work for me, people who have been friends of mine. It was like crazy half the time. I thought man, I'm lost in the funhouse.
And people who live parallel lives, as I describe that, grow up in alcoholic homes, for example, very often when they're angry, exhausted or under great stress or vulnerable, to go down the wrong track of their parallel lives. And that's what I meant by that. I knew better than to do it. I didn't really want to do it at some level, but I could do it. It was there. And I did it.
So when I say I did it because I could, if you take it out of context it sounds jolting and snippy and arrogant and unfeeling toward Monica Lewinsky or my family or anything else. That is not what I meant. I meant if you -- well, you know you've lived long enough to make a few mistakes. Anybody who's lived a certain time has made some mistakes, if you look back on your life and you think about the things that you did wrong that you knew at the time you shouldn't do, about the best explanation is you did it because you could. Not just in this context, in many contexts.
And I said that hoping that a lot of young people who still look up to me and believe in my politics and believe in what I tried to do would guard against making decisions just because they could. I said that in the hope of showing people why that's not a good reason to do things.
KING: And do you think it's also due to immediate gratification?
CLINTON: Yes. I think when you think that everything you've lived for and worked for may crumble, that may be part of it, too. But it doesn't matter, I still knew better than to do it.
KING: Then living after it, you said theology helped and prayer helped. Were you really able to turn things around? Because that seems with a lifetime of this, a very hard thing to do.
CLINTON: Well, I try to describe in my book, there were different periods in my life when I didn't have parallel lives where everything was integrated. When I went off to Georgetown, I had four great years because the violence in my home was at least subsiding. And I loved my life. And it was pretty coherent.
But whenever things were really -- when it was an emotional highwire act, it was a lot of pressure, I was under threat, I was under a constant attack it tended to trigger all that again. But as you get older, maybe it is biology, but it gets easier as you go along. To me it does anyway.
And I was lucky. You know, Hillary worked through it with me. I talked about the counseling we went through a little more than she did in her book. And I hope not so much as to reveal any unnecessary confidences.
I said that because I concluded when I went through all this stuff that this counseling was good for me and would be good for anybody where they have problems in a marriage even if the marriage subsequently ends in divorce. And I feel more strongly about that today than I did back when I was going through it.
Because I think, you know, when two people get married, they normally really do love each other and they care for each other. And then especially if they've known each other a long time, half the time it's real easy for the relationship to get on automatic. You know, at least half the time I could look at her and she could look at me -- and today it's the same thing, she doesn't have to say a word. I know what she's thinking. I know how she's feeling. You know, you raise a child, you go about your business, you work and if you're not careful, you just sort of taking everything for granted. And then all of a sudden you got a different life.
So I think to examine all that was really helpful to me. And I hope that by writing about it I encouraged other people again, whether they get divorced or not, at least to try to think about what happens to relationships and what it takes to keep them together. Because you know, I mean, guys aren't very good at talking about this stuff anyway. You know, we're just by nature not. That old business about men are Venus and Mars and all that, there's something to that, I think.
KING: Did you ever fear divorce?
CLINTON: I just didn't know. What I feared is that I had hurt Hillary and Chelsea irrevocably, and that they might not ever be able to make it all right again. I mean, I was actually lucky. I said one time I was probably fortunate in my tormenters, because when they decided to go ahead and pursue this impeachment thing Hillary thought what they were doing to me and the country and the constitution was even worse than what I had done to her. And I joked in the book, but I was halfway serious that those guys that were after me were probably the only people on the face of the earth that could make me look good to Hillary again. And so in a way I was kind of -- I guess I owe them a big debt of gratitude.
KING: We'll take a break and come back and take some of your phone calls for Bill Clinton. The 42nd president of the United States. The book is "My Life." Don't go away.
KING: We're back with Bill Clinton. By the way, there is a William J. Clinton Presidential Foundation. And the Web site is www.clintonpresidentialcenter.org. That's for the building of the library?
CLINTON: Yes, it's for the building of the library but also has policy papers, background information on my speeches on current issues of the day and it will have the three-dimensional tour of my library and basicly show how America made its transition in the 20th century. So I think it's going to be a Web site unlike any other. I hope a lot of people will visit it.
KING: How old are you now?
CLINTON: In August, I'll be 58.
KING: Sierra Madre, California. Hello.
CALLER: Hello. Mr. President this is a great honor for me. If you were asked by John Kerry to be the vice presidential candidate in this election, would you accept?
KING: Could you accept, though?
Can you be vice president?
CLINTON: I don't believe so. No...
KING: By law?
CLINTON: There's a conflict of opinion. The law says -- the 22nd amendment says that the president can only be elected twice or if you succeed as vice president you can only serve if you serve like a day more than 18 months or day more than 2 years, then you can only be elected once.
So arguably, a former president could become vice president. However, I disagree with that for the following reason. It's an elemental principle of constitutional construction that you should treat every part of the constitution consistent with every other part. The part that gives you the qualifications for president and vice president early on in the constitution says that basically the vice president, the qualifications for vice president are the same as those for president. So I think a reasonable reading is that the 22nd amendment modified the original provision and that a former president can't run for vice president. So I don't think that will happen. I think Senator Kerry, however, will pick a good vice president.
KING: Any thoughts on who?
CLINTON: If I had them, I'd share them with him. Because this is the most intensely personal decision. And the only presidential decision a candidate gets to make. I've been there. I challenged a sitting president. He can be president every day. President Bush can be president every day. John Kerry only gets to make one presidential decision, who is his running mate. Everything else about a challenger's campaign is words. So the most important thing is that he picks somebody that he believes with all his heart would be a great president if he dropped dead, got shot, was in a plane crash.
And the second most important thing is that he pick somebody that he likes and has confidence in, that he'll give a lot of responsibility to and form a real partnership with. If those two conditions are met, everything else is secondary because you will see, you, Larry King, and the America people will see, you'll see it all over John Kerry. You'll see it in his body language. He'll wake up every day and be a little bit prouder. I did the country right on my first big decision. And that's more important than what state they're from or any of this other stuff. If he feels good, if he feels I did right by my country with this decision, that will help him more politically than anything else.
KING: Would you want your wife to be president some day?
KING: Knowing what you know the job. Knowing what it would entail for you?
CLINTON: First of all, I would want -- I believe politics is a noble profession. And one of the things I tried to do in this book by trying to be more generous to my adversaries is to say that most of the people I have known in politics, Republican and Democrats, conservative and liberal, were good honorable people who did what they thought was right. And I think it's a grave mistake that we've let politics degenerate to the point where we're often arguing who is good and who is bad rather than who is right and who is wrong. So I think there is no higher calling. I think that I personally have ever known anybody more able than her. So I hope Senator Kerry wins this time, so if that happens for our side, there won't be another presidential race for eight years.
If she wanted to present herself and if she got elected, she would be magnificent. Therefore for my country, I would love it. Because she's really able. For her, you know, I'd rather take trips with her, but I mean, you know, I'd want that for my -- I never met anybody -- I knew this -- you know, we almost didn't get married. I mean, I told her I thought she was nuts to keep fooling around with me because she ought to have a political career of her own. And she thought I was nuts for suggesting it. She said, no, you're a politician, I'll never be a politician. This was when we were in our 20s. She never thought she would run for anything.
KING: Turned down a job at Edward Bennett Williams law firm. And Ed Williams told her, you'll never amount to anything going to Arkansas?
CLINTON: Yes, a lot of people told her she wouldn't amount to anything going to Arkansas.
KING: What do you want to do?
Are you signing to do another book?
CLINTON: Not yet.
KING: Do you want to do another book?
CLINTON: Oh I, might write another one. I might write several more. My number one goal is to -- after I do what I'm obliged to do to sell this book and you know, travel around the country and the world and do what I can for Senator Kerry, my number one goal is to get back full time to my foundation work. We're going to dedicate my library in November. We will then launch an education program offering graduate degrees in public service. And I hope training programs of shorter period for people who want to go work in state, local, national government for a year the way the White House fellows do now. We've got great education and citizen service programs around the world in the Middle East and Africa, elsewhere. I'm working on racial and religious reconciliation, something I care a lot about. On bringing economic opportunity to poor countries and poor communities through free enterprise, Africa, India, the United States. And most importantly in the short run I'm trying to get AIDS medicine out, life saving AIDS medicine out at the cheapest prices available anywhere in the world. We now work in 13 Caribbean, 4 African countries and China. And we're going to sell the drugs in 10 or 20 other countries.
KING: What about President Bush's statement yesterday on AIDS and extending now to Vietnam as one of the countries that will be covered? CLINTON: Good. We've got to stop it from growing in Southeast Asia and we have got to stop from growing in Russia and the former Soviet Union and we have to stop it in...
CLINTON: Well, in Africa, but at least the Africans are alive to it now. They have two-thirds of the cases, but they're on the case. It is growing faster and in order in the former Soviet Union and the Caribbean and India and in China and it's been quite prevalent in southeast Asia. So
So I was thrilled when they added Vietnam, which we normalized relationship with. And I was thrilled when I was given a chance to work in China and the Caribbean and in Africa. And I'm trying to do a little work now with some people who were working in the former Soviet Union, because that's where it's growing fastest. And we've got to stop it.
Look, there are basically 43, 44 million people who are HIV positive. Over 6 million have full blown AIDS, they're facing death. Only about 350,000 to 400,000 are getting any medicine. Of that 400,000, 130,000 are from Brazil because Brazil has a government policy to supply the medicine and a pharmaceutical industry that can produce it. The whole rest of the world is getting maybe a quarter of a million dosages. It is madness. And we need 6 million.
We know the medicine keeps people alive. And so what I do is we go in with volunteers, teams, we've got about 80 who are people working with us. We set up health systems to provide care and treatment. Then we get this medicine in there. And now, I just met with the head of the global fund on AIDS, TB and Malaria today, Mr. Richard Feachem, we've worked out a deal where other countries that I don't have enough volunteers to go into can still get the medicine off our contract. So it is 70 percent cheaper than it used to be, even than the generic drugs.
KING: We'll be back with former president Bill Clinton right after this.
CLINTON: You don't like any of your questions?
KING: Time flies. Chicago for President Clinton. Hello.
CALLER: Hi, Larry. Mr. President it is an honor to speak with you. I hope you know that so many of us miss you very much.
CLINTON: Thank you.
CALLER: My question has to do with the Israel/Palestinian conflict. As you know, Ariel Sharon has taken the initiative with some really bold decisions lately. So now what would you like to see happen next?
KING: We don't have a lot of time.
CLINTON: Yes. Well, I'll try to do this briefly. First I think Prime Minister's Sharon's decision to unilaterally withdraw from Gaza is the right decision. I think it's important now that it be done in the right way, that is not in a way that humiliates the Palestinians left behind, and that sends a clear signal to them that this is the beginning of a comprehensive peace process, if they will help him fight terror.
I believe there's a good chance that Shimon Peres and the Labor Party would be willing to enter into some sort of national unity government with him if it is part of a comprehensive long-term plan. I think that this deserves a strong response from the Palestinians and I hope they'll give it to him.
KING: Okay. On a lighter note, but an important note to a father. The retiring White House pastry chef Roland Misnier reported at the recent unveiling of your portraits, Chelsea asked if he'd make her favorite pastry dessert a fruit cobbler for her wedding. Misnier said in an interview, she didn't give me a date, but something's in the air. What do you think of her boyfriend?
CLINTON: I like him, but -- I like him a lot. And I'm reluctant to say that, because she had another one that I said I liked him a lot and it didn't last long after I expressed an opinion.
KING: Will she marry Ian Claus, is that his name?
CLINTON: If so, she hasn't told me. And she was probably...
KING: She was talking to the pastry chef and not her father?
CLINTON: Yes, but she probably was asking Roland in generic terms like when I get married some day would you make this. Because we gobbled down the fruit cobbler. I felt like a total horse there, because I was trying to be polite the nice reception the Bushes put on for us. And after we all took pictures I went in there and I thought, oh, my God, there's our fruit cobbler which I hadn't seen in 3 and a half years. I tried to avoid at least grabbing it with my hands and I tried to be somewhat dignified, but Chelsea and I even more than Hillary, we really loved that fruit cobbler.
KING: Do you like Ian?
CLINTON: Very much. He's a fine man. He's a really fine man. And comes from a fine family. Whenever I go to northern California, I try to have dinner with his parents whom I find fascinating.
KING: Sounds serious. We're out of time.
CLINTON: Oh, I don't know. That's my daughter's deal. Thank you.
KING: Former President Bill Clinton. The book is "My Life." And I'll be back to tell you about tomorrow night right after this. Don't go away.
KING: You know, I went through the same experience that President Clinton is about to go through 17-years-ago. It's not a walk in the park, but it's completely safe. And you can get back real fast. I had my surgery on a Tuesday, I was walking on Wednesday, climbing stairs on Thursday and released from the hospital a couple of days later.
So, good luck Mr. President. Have a great Labor Day. See you with Tim McGraw tomorrow night. Thanks for joining us. And good night.
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