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CNN Larry King Live

Interview with President and Mrs. George W. Bush

Aired January 13, 2009 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, exactly a week before Bush is out and Obama is in.
President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura are here.


GEORGE BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I've given it my all. I've given it my all.


KING: What's his biggest regret, his darkest hour, his advice for the new first family?

Plus, the ultimate question -- is America better off now than when he took office?

The answer from President Bush next on LARRY KING LIVE.

We're in the library at the White House with President George W. Bush and Laura Bush, with a week to go.

Are you going to miss it, Laura?

LAURA BUSH, FIRST LADY OF THE UNITED STATES: I am going to miss it. I'm going to miss this beautiful house and all the people that work here. We're going to miss the people especially.

KING: Are you anxious to go, Mr. President?

G. BUSH: Anxious is a -- I don't know if it's the right word. I am -- I'm not sure exactly what I'm going to feel like on January the 21st. I've been, you know, I've had security briefings -- intelligence briefings nearly every morning for the last eight years. And I'll wake up and...

KING: You're not going to get it.

G. BUSH: ...not have a briefing and realize the responsibility is not on my shoulders anymore.

KING: Is there ambivalent feelings?

G. BUSH: No. I don't think you can be ambivalent. First of all, I am -- I've been looking forward to the inauguration of Barack Obama. I'll have a front row seat in what is an historic moment for the country.

KING: Do you like him?

G. BUSH: I do. Yes, I do like him. And you'd like him, too.

KING: Oh, I know him. He was -- but he was so critical of you.

Do you take that personally or you don't?

L. BUSH: I did.

KING: You did?


KING: Were you -- were you angry at it?

L. BUSH: Yes, sort of. George didn't even really know about it because he didn't watch it that much, I don't think.

G. BUSH: Yes, so what's new?

I mean what...

L. BUSH: Yes, exactly.

G. BUSH: When you make big decisions and tough calls, you're going to get criticized. Yes, I -- during the course of this presidency, of course, I've been disappointed at times by the silly name-calling that goes on in Washington. It's really not necessary that it happened. But I've done my best, though, to make sure I didn't bring the presidency down to that level.

KING: How do you feel?

I know that you had that, you know, wild press conference yesterday.

How do you feel personally when you -- you see the ratings and the polls that -- and have you at 25, 30 percent...

G. BUSH: I don't give a darn.

KING: It doesn't deflect...

G. BUSH: I feel the same way as when they had me at 90 plus.

KING: The same?

G. BUSH: Yes, look it -- these opinion polls are nothing but a, you know, a shot of yesterday's news. And, of course, the opinion polls aren't going to be high when the economy is in the tank. I'm the president during a time of tough economic conditions. And, you know, people aren't happy with the economy. And neither am I.

And -- so you cannot make decisions based upon, you know, popularity polls. I have people come to me and say, you get out of Iraq because you're making us unpopular. And I say, well, pal, you must not know what it means to be commander-in-chief. If the military thinks you're making decisions based upon a Gallup poll, they're not going to follow the commander-in-chief.

And, secondly, you must not have met with those whose kids died in Iraq. If you think that I'm going to say to a mother, your son's -- your son's honor is not going to be -- your son's sacrifice is not going to be honored because of my political standing, then you don't understand George W. Bush.

KING: But do you ever get the feeling -- and everyone has some doubts about some things -- that, you know, if I was wrong, if Iraq was wrong and -- then they died in vain and I sent them?

G. BUSH: Yes, I don't think Iraq was wrong.

KING: No, but do you ever have a moment of feeling where it was wrong?

G. BUSH: No. I was -- what I was worried Iraq was going to fail, not Iraq was wrong -- that Iraq is going to fail. And that's why I put 30,000 troops in when a lot of people were saying get out. And the surges worked. And a young democracy in the heart of the Middle East has taken hold. And, obviously, there's more work to be done.

But Al Qaeda has been denied the -- you know, the base from which they wanted to operate.

KING: But when a boy dies, what is your feeling then?

G. BUSH: I'm sad as heck. Of course, I'm sad. I met with a lot of families of the fallen. And I know every night when a boy or a man or a woman has died. I know that. And I know the emptiness their family feels. I've talked to hundreds of families of the fallen. I also know that the families of the fallen don't want their politicians who are, you know, running this war to be doing -- you know, making those decisions based upon some, you know, Gallup Poll.

KING: How do you feel?

L. BUSH: About -- you know, when I hear or meet families of the...

KING: Yes.

L. BUSH: ...or meet families of the fallen?

Sad, of course. Very sad.

KING: But you don't ever say, maybe -- maybe George was wrong?

L. BUSH: No, I don't. I really don't. I mean, do we really think we wish we had just kept doing U.N. Resolutions against Saddam Hussein and that he was still there? I mean I just don't think people really think that. And I think the people of Iraq are out from underneath a regime -- a tyrannical regime and have the chance to build a country and build a democracy. And I hope that the people of the United States will stand with them while they do that.

G. BUSH: The other thing about this job, you don't get to do do- overs. Maybe you do if you're one of these guys asking questions. But the president doesn't get to do do-overs.

KING: I don't do do-overs.


G. BUSH: I mean you...

KING: But...


G. BUSH: You make decisions based upon the information you have at the hand -- during the time.

KING: But when there were no weapons of mass destruction...

G. BUSH: I was discouraged.

KING: Were you angry at the people who told you there were? I mean, you didn't go inspect. You didn't...

G. BUSH: I didn't -- I was unhappy. And they're -- but rather than sitting around being unhappy, I decided to do something about it and to -- had a full investigation of why things went wrong. And then we reformed our intelligence services.

But guess who else was unhappy?

Every single intelligence officer who thought there was going to be weapons of mass destruction. And it just wasn't the United States. You know, we -- see, what's interesting about history, people have short memories. And I'm not suggesting you do, but nevertheless, people do.

At the time, we passed a resolution in the United Nations Security Council 15-0 that said disclose, disarm or face serious consequences. That was that was what France and Great Britain and the U.N. Security Council said, including China and Russia -- to Saddam Hussein. And the reason why they said that is because we all thought he had weapons of mass destruction.

KING: So but some -- it had to begin somewhere with someone telling you there are weapons of mass destruction there?

Aren't you...

G. BUSH: Yes, the CIA told me. KING: The CIA -- are you angry at them?

G. BUSH: No. I'm disappointed, you know?

First of all, the CIA is vital in the war against these terrorists. There are still people out there, Larry, that would look to come and kill Americans. And in order to have an effective response, you've got to have an intelligence service that is motivated, that is funded, that uses their skills to help you determine the desires and plans of the enemy. The most important job I have had and the most important job the next president will have is to protect the American people from another attack.

KING: Does he get angry, Laura?

L. BUSH: No. Not really.


L. BUSH: Not really.

G. BUSH: Not at her.


KING: No, I mean -- but I mean it's logical -- the person in charge, when someone tells him something that doesn't pan out, to get angry.

L. BUSH: Well, everyone thought the...

KING: You know, the baseball managers get...

L. BUSH: I mean this...

KING: Baseball managers get angry when the shortstop throws the ball away.

G. BUSH: Yes, they get angry and they argue with the ump and they get thrown out of the game. When you're the president, you've got to stay in the game and you've got to find out what went wrong and you've got to motivate people to make sure we get a -- do a better job next time.

KING: We'll be right back with President and Mrs. George W. Bush. One week to go.

Don't go away.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I, George Walker Bush, do solemnly swear.

G. BUSH: I, George W. Bush do solemnly swear. Two airplanes have crashed into the World Trade Center.

I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you.

On my orders, coalition forces...

You're dealing with one of the worst natural disasters.

Welcome the freely elected leader of Iraq to the White House.

We will continue to act to resolve this crisis.


KING: We're back in the library at the White House with President George W. Bush and Laura Bush, with a week to go and then back to -- to Texas.

Reagan once asked this, so we'll ask it -- are we better off today than we were eight years ago?

G. BUSH: One thing is for certain today, we understand the real dangers that we face. Eight years ago, it looked like the world was peaceful and everything was just fine in the economy. And then we had a recession, then we had an attack and now we've had this financial meltdown. Everything looked like, on the international front that, you know, radicalism might be, you know, a problem over there, but not here.

And so one thing is for certain, that there's a lot of clarity now on the threats we face.

KING: Are you a victim of that?

G. BUSH: I'm not a victim. I'm the president of a great country that dealt with the problems that came our way. And I...

KING: What part is cause and effect?

In other words, what part in the economy's failure does -- is the president to blame?

G. BUSH: You know, it's -- in this case, not to blow my own horn, but I recognized the dangers inherent with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and asked Congress to regulate them, because I was worried a government -- an implicit government guarantee in the mortgage industry and that they were getting a little overextended. And -- but, look, I mean...

KING: And Congress didn't listen?

G. BUSH: No. There's too much -- there's too many special interests here that were protecting Fannie and Freddie.

KING: You were known as anti-regulatory.

G. BUSH: That's what they said in the campaigns. But the truth is...

KING: What is...

G. BUSH: ...the facts are that I actually asked for Fannie and Freddie to be regulated. And I'm sorry that, you know, the purveyors of truth didn't step up and say, well, George Bush was for that. But nevertheless, it's true.

KING: So are you saying you saw this coming?

G. BUSH: No, we didn't see it coming. We saw that there could be dangers in an unregulated Fannie and Freddie and that they needed a regulator and they needed to be reigned in.

KING: Was it waking up one morning and Lehman Brothers, Citicorp -- what's going on?

G. BUSH: Yes, that wasn't very pleasant. It was a very difficult late summer/early fall.

KING: Are you and Obama, by the way, in tune now on what we're doing to help -- help cause and effect here?

G. BUSH: Well, we're in tune that he -- to the extent that he asked me to ask Congress for the 350 -- the second $350 billion. And it's up to him, of course, to explain to Congress how he intends to spend it -- which he's doing right now.

KING: But you said the other day, what, that you're -- you're not the capitalist you were?

G. BUSH: No. I said I tossed out free market principles for a brief period of time in order to make sure that our economy -- the financial markets didn't completely meltdown, which would have hurt the working person a lot worse than he's being hurt today.

KING: Are you both -- are you well within yourselves?

In other words, how does it feel after eight years?

G. BUSH: What does that mean, well within yourself?

KING: You know...

G. BUSH: I'm feeling pretty good.

KING: No, I mean...


KING: You told me at the Ben Franklin Dinner that you never go to sleep at night worried or feeling bad.

G. BUSH: No, that's not an accurate statement. I -- I said -- you asked me if I was sleeping well at night.

KING: Yes.

G. BUSH: And I said I do sleep well. That doesn't mean I'm not worried about things when I go to sleep.

KING: But you sleep -- you sleep well?

G. BUSH: I'm sleeping OK, yes.

KING: Do you worry?

L. BUSH: Sure, I worry. I worried most right after September 11th. I mean for a long time in there I worried a lot. I worried about another attack. I worried about the safety and the security of Americans. And I mean everyone did. I think there isn't anybody that lives in the United States that didn't worry for a long time.

I think we've forgotten what it was like when we all worried and when there was -- when a lot of people had anxiety, most people, probably that had watched television that day or had seen what happened.

I mean I think that's -- because we are more secure today, people are not as worried and they've sort of forgotten what it was like when -- when everyone woke up worried.

KING: Have we stopped...

G. BUSH: If you're president, you worry.

KING: Have we stopped a lot of things that we don't know about...

G. BUSH: Yes.

KING: ...that you know about?

G. BUSH: And we've learned a lot of information about Al Qaeda that we didn't know before. And we have stopped some specific threats. And we're decimating their leadership.

KING: How -- 9/11, what did it do to you?

G. BUSH: It made me realize my most important responsibility is to protect the country from attack. I mean it was...

KING: It changed you?

G. BUSH: Yes, it changed me. It changed the country, too. And it's -- you know, I still have images of those days vivid in my mind. And I told the American people I wouldn't tire and I wouldn't falter and I haven't.

KING: Knowing what we know now, could it have been prevented?

Did someone have information?

G. BUSH: You know, those kind of questions are like -- you know...

KING: Well, we learn for the future, don't we?

G. BUSH: But we didn't know anything. I mean, we -- nobody knew. Nobody predicted that guys were going to fly airplanes into major buildings in New York or the Pentagon, so. But we now have tools in place, if that's what you're asking, that make it more likely that we'll be able to...

KING: That's what I mean.

G. BUSH: I'm sorry. Yes. More likely that we'll have better information. That's why we want to be listening to the phone calls from known Al Qaeda operatives if they're calling in the United States to know what -- you know what's interesting and one of the probably most discouraging periods of the presidency was when at first, right after 9/11, people were getting hauled up there to testify in Congress.

And they say, well, why didn't the Bush administration connect the dots?

And then we started putting tools in place within the law to connect the dots. And then after we got far enough away from September the 11th, they said why are you connecting the dots, you know?

And so it's...

KING: Are you saying you were in a no-win?

G. BUSH: It sounds like it. But I -- you know, and I understand all this noise and all the rhetoric. But the job of the president is to stay focused on the goal. And the goal is to protect this country from getting attacked.

And you asked do I ever worry?

Of course, I do. I worry about an enemy that still wants to hurt us. Now, some out there are saying well, he's just making it up, there's no enemy.

Well, I promise you, the next president is going to realize there's an enemy.

KING: Do you think -- or do you get hurt when a Colin Powell comes out and says things like we shouldn't torture and we should close Guantanamo?

G. BUSH: No, I don't get hurt, because we don't torture.

KING: So does it hurt you that Colin, who worked for you, is saying that?

G. BUSH: I don't think he said George Bush has tortured. I can't remember his quote. But I'm comfortable with what we did and know it was necessary to protect the country. KING: So there's nothing you've done in the area of treatment of prisoners that causes you any kind of pause?

G. BUSH: No. No. Everything we did was -- you know, it had legal -- legal opinions behind it. Look, you're sitting there, you've captured Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. He's the guy that ordered the September the 11th attacks. And we want to know what he knows in order to protect the United States of America.

And I got legal opinions that said whatever we're going to do is legal. And my job is to protect you, Larry. And I've given it my all. I've given it my all.

KING: What are your feelings about Colin Powell?

G. BUSH: He's a great man.

KING: You hold him in high regard?

G. BUSH: Absolutely.

KING: We'll be right back with George and Laura Bush.

Don't go away -- the president of the United States.



G. BUSH: Thank you very much. I look forward to future press conferences.


QUESTION: ...against Iraq?

G. BUSH: All options are on the table.


QUESTION: People now believe it was a mistake.


QUESTION: Mr. President, you say you're making progress.

Can you explain why you approved...

G. BUSH: Is that your question?

The answer is no.


You stand by your decisions and you do your best to explain why you made the decisions you made. (END VIDEO CLIP)

KING: We're right back with President George W. Bush and Laura Bush.

Apparently, one of the first things the Obama administration is going to do, apparently, is close Guantanamo. It's not going to happen overnight, but they're going to issue the order.

What do you think of that?

G. BUSH: I think they're going to have some very difficult choices to make.

KING: That's the wrong choice?

G. BUSH: I didn't say it was wrong. I said -- I said we were going to try to close Guantanamo, too. And...

KING: What's the problem?

G. BUSH: The problem is you've got a bunch of cold-blooded killers down there that, if they ever get out, they're going to come and kill Americans. And I'd hate to be the person that made that decision.

KING: But at one time you wanted to close it?

G. BUSH: I still want to. I still want to have a procedure where people, you know, have their day in court and -- but it's got to be done under the right circumstances. These are illegal combatants. These aren't people who wear a uniform. These are cold-blooded killers. And in order to convict some, we're going to have to -- they're going to have to use some very sensitive intelligence. And it's very important that that intelligence be -- be safeguarded in a proper fashion.

Look, we don't want...

KING: Laura, how are...

G. BUSH: We don't the -- we don't want our intelligence secrets out there for everybody to look at it. There is still an enemy that wants to strike us, Larry. And, therefore, it's important to have the tools and the intelligence necessary to protect the American people.

KING: How much a part of all this decision-making were you, Laura?

L. BUSH: Well, none of any of this decision-making.

KING: None at all?

L. BUSH: No, of course not.

KING: Were you... L. BUSH: That's not my expertise or my -- you know, I'm not privy to any of those briefings, obviously.

KING: But did he keep you posted as to events?

L. BUSH: Not really. You know -- no, not really. I mean I'm -- I know what everybody else knows that reads the newspaper and watches the news. But that's not all of the briefings, obviously.

KING: Do you ever disagree with him?

G. BUSH: No, not really. I mean I know the burden on him. I know what his responsibility is. And everyone wants a president who has that responsibility and knows what it is. And he -- he didn't get to shirk it. Other people can say, oh, we should have done this, we should have done that.

But the president himself has very, very serious responsibility. And George knows that.

And I'm proud of the way he's shouldered that responsibility.

KING: But you do make certain decisions, because I got a tip that while you were in Philadelphia, the president was asked about his new house in Dallas. And he has never seen it.

L. BUSH: He's never seen it. That's right.

KING: So you go to...

G. BUSH: That's faith.

KING: You bought this house that he doesn't know where he's going to live?

L. BUSH: That's right. I showed him some pictures before we bought it. Well, actually, maybe I had actually already committed...

G. BUSH: I trust her judgment.

L. BUSH: ...before I showed him the pictures.

G. BUSH: I trust her judgment. You know, this thing about, you know, consulting with Laura on -- you know, on a lot of matters.

First of all, as she alluded to, there's a lot of intelligence that she's not privy to. When we have secrets here in the United States, there's only a select few that get to see them.

And, secondly, of course she knew what was taking place, because oftentimes I'd say I'm wrestling with this or I'm thinking about that. And she doesn't know it, but she helped me a lot when decision-making by just comforting and by just standing with me, being a love.

KING: So she was aware without necessarily being specifically aware? L. BUSH: Well, that's right. I mean, of course.

G. BUSH: She knew. Look, when you get with -- Larry, when we're getting ready to -- she -- 1441 in the United Nations, she knew exactly what was taking place. And she knew exactly when I stood up and said you've got X number of days to get rid of the Taliban, that -- that when those days were up, I'm a man of my word. Or the Taliban had X number of days to get rid of Al Qaeda, excuse me.


G. BUSH: So she knew what was going on.

KING: How, by the way -- you're a couple. You have interests other than just -- you've got a job of running the country, but you're also a family.

How has the economy hit you?

G. BUSH: I'm in a blind trust.

KING: So you don't know how it's hit you?

G. BUSH: So I can't tell you. But I'm confident it has.

KING: When do you find out, on the 21st?

G. BUSH: The 21st of January.


KING: When you're in a blind trust, does that mean you don't know what stocks you might have...

G. BUSH: I have no earthly idea.

KING: And who controls the trust?

G. BUSH: Northern Trust.

KING: Of Texas?

G. BUSH: I don't know. Northern Trust is like a big national outfit. It probably came out of -- I met the trustees eight years ago and I haven't talked to them since.

KING: Does that concern you?

L. BUSH: Sure.

KING: Well, you might...

L. BUSH: I mean, but that's just a fact of life. When you run for political office, and especially when you serve as president, then your holdings are in a blind trust and that -- we knew that. And, you know, that's something you accept. KING: Are you confident about the economy?

G. BUSH: In the long run, absolutely. I'm confident that the steps I had to take were necessary to make sure that the financial system didn't seize up so bad that -- that we could have been heading into a much worse situation than we're headed into.

Let me take you to the Roosevelt Room last fall. Ben Bernanke and Hank Paulson -- two extremely bright, smart people -- they were briefing me on the economy. They said, Mr. President, if we don't act strongly, it is conceivable that we're heading into a depression greater than the Great Depression. That got my attention big time.

And I said, well, what do you all recommend?

And we went through the series of recommendations. And they came up with the $700 billion TARP. And a lot of my friends are saying, you know, why are you doing this?

I mean, Wall Street caused the problem. Let them fail. And we considered all those options.

But the -- my biggest worry was is that a financial system that had a kind of a series of collapses to it could have thrown this country into a -- into the Great Depression, as they warned. And I wasn't going to let that happen to the working people.

KING: Oh...

G. BUSH: And so I'm confident that we have taken steps to begin to help heal the system. And credit spreads are down and credit is beginning to move.


KING: Obama says 2009 is going to be still pretty bad.

G. BUSH: It probably is. It probably is. He'll learn not to become an economic forecaster once he gets to be president.


G. BUSH: He can do that...

KING: That's not a good idea to say?

G. BUSH: I don't think so. I think you can say it's going to be a tough period. But, you know, to start trying to predict what the economy is going to do is...

KING: In other words, you wouldn't use the word bad?

G. BUSH: No. I'd say it's going to be bad. It is going to be WOMAN: Ad. But, you know, how bad, how long?

It's -- what he ought to be saying -- and I know he feels this way -- is that he's going to take the steps that he thinks is necessary to get us back on the road of recovery. And we will recover.

KING: More with President Bush and Laura right after this.


KING: Touched some bases as quick as we can in our remaining moments. In the exit interview of President Bush and Laura Bush, the president will address the nation on Thursday night.

G. BUSH: True statement.

KING: Like I haven't said true statements so far. What do you think of Hillary Clinton's appointment of secretary of state?

G. BUSH: She is a very strong, capable woman.

KING: Laura, you have a thought?

L. BUSH: Same thing. I think she will do a good job.

KING: Did you watch any of her testimony today?

L. BUSH: I didn't hatch a chance to.

KING: Did you read any of Obama's books?

G. BUSH: No.

KING: I want to get to something --

G. BUSH: Trying to figure out this line of questioning?

KING: Well, I have been told --

G. BUSH: My favorite color is blue and I love enchiladas.

KING: Dark blue or light blue?

G. BUSH: Not that blue. That is a good look, just a good look.

KING: You really hurt me. You don't like this shirt, that's it.

G. BUSH: No, it's a beautiful shirt.

KING: I am trying to look up something. I will get to it in a minute. Are we ever, ever going to find bin Laden?

G. BUSH: Yes, of course. Absolutely.

KING: You are confident, based on --

G. BUSH: Because we have a lot of people looking for him, a lot of assets out there. He can't run forever. Just like the people who allegedly were involved in the East African bombings, couple of them were brought to justice recently.

KING: Did we ever come close?

G. BUSH: I don't know. I can't answer that.

KING: You don't know.

G. BUSH: I really don't know. I'm not trying to hide anything.

KING: You -- you had two girls in the White House? What advice would you give Mrs. Obama on having two girls in the White House?

L. BUSH: Well, I would tell her this is a wonderful and grand home. That it is a very nice home for a family. And we know that both from having been the children of a president ourselves, and then of course from having Barbara and Jenna here. But Barbara and Jenna took Sasha and Malia on a tour of the White House, showed them all the fun, you know, great things to do. This is a terrific house for hide- and-seek. And they showed them how to slide down the ramp from the Solarium. I think those little girls will have a wonderful time living here.

KING: It has got to be an abnormal place, isn't it, Mr. President, to raise children?

G. BUSH: Well, ours were gone. They were college kids.

KING: Wouldn't you guess?

G. BUSH: No, I don't think. I think they're going to find that this is really conducive to family life. President-Elect Obama has got a 45-second commute to see his girls. I mean, he is right here. And presidents can -- you can set your schedule. I made sure that there was time on my schedule to exercise every day. And I bet he'll make time to exercise and make time to be with his little girls.

KING: What do you make of the criticism that has been leveled throughout the eight years against Dick Cheney?

G. BUSH: They don't know him like I know him. He is a good, solid guy, a great patriot, very capable, very smart.

KING: Was he running the show? Come on, everyone said that. So you --

G. BUSH: Of course not.

KING: You ran the show?

G. BUSH: Absolutely.

KING: Do you think -- and on him too, do you think you have been bum-rapped?

L. BUSH: I think he has been.

G. BUSH: Thank you, darling.

KING: Why? It's not nefarious. It's people who obviously think decisions were wrong?

L. BUSH: A lot of times I think a lot of it was very personal and demeaning. And I don't think that serves our country well. It was not all on decisions, by any means. I think there was a very strong and critical voice from the other side. I think it was smaller than it seemed like, because it was so loud. But I think that's -- I don't think that's good for our country.

KING: You felt bum-rapped, that they were like out to harm you, get you?

G. BUSH: I don't know.

L. BUSH: He didn't pay that much attention.

G. BUSH: Look, Larry, when you are the president of the United States in traumatic times and you have got a lot of the issues coming your way, you spend time solving problems. There is no such thing as short-term history. I mean people are -- people will look back and put this administration in perspective to those that have come before me and those that will come after me. And they will analyze whether or not decisions I made the country safer and, you know, more secure. And I am comfortable that I have given every decision a good hard look and that I have given it my all and that I put my country first.

KING: Do you care about --

G. BUSH: Do I care that Hollywood is out there bloviating about me? Not really. Do you like to be liked? Of course.

KING: Don't you want to be liked?

G. BUSH: Kind of. You really want to be liked on the day that really matters, when you are running for president, election day. See in 2004, I really wanted to be liked a lot that November, where I got over 50 percent of the vote, the first president to have done so since 1988.

KING: That's liked?

G. BUSH: That's what matters. That is the one poll that counts. The rest of the stuff is just -- you can make a poll say anything you want. And it's just -- it doesn't bother me. What bothers me is knowing that I made decisions based upon principles and that I would not sell my soul in order to chase popularity.

KING: Our remaining moments with the president and Mrs. Bush after this.


KING: We're back with our remaining moments with the president and first lady of the United States. Pardons; are we going to have some? You are not going to be specific. Will pardons come?

G. BUSH: I am not going to talk about them. KING: Why? They're logical.

G. BUSH: Because I don't feel like talking about them and I'm not going to. If there are any coming, you will find out about it in due course.

KING: Due course, meaning you have a week.

L. BUSH: Exactly. You will find out soon.

G. BUSH: Actually less.

KING: So it will be less than a week.

G. BUSH: Yes.

KING: You don't have to? It's not required?

G. BUSH: No.

KING: You don't have to do any pardons?

G. BUSH: I don't have to do any. I can do some. Nor do I have to talk about it.

KING: What is life going to be like? I know how much you love baseball. We spent two hours in the Oval Office once talking baseball.

G. BUSH: Right.

KING: If Bud Selig retires, which he probably will pretty soon, would you be commissioner?

G. BUSH: No, no.

KING: Would you get back into the game?

G. BUSH: No. I'm going to be a fan. I'll keep knowledgeable so I can hang in there with you when it comes time to talk modern, current baseball.

KING: You know it pretty good.

G. BUSH: Not as well as you do. But thank you. I am going to be involved with building a Presidential Center at Southern Methodist University, to which will be attached a library and archives. And I'm probably going to write a book. I intend to write a book. And other than that, I will be -- become involved with different projects that I'm interested in. I'm interested in HIV/AIDS, help dealing with HIV/AIDS on the continent of Africa, dealing with the malaria initiative that we started on the continent of Africa. I'm interested in good ocean policy. I like my mountain bikes. I like national parks. There will be a lot of things to do.

KING: What are you going to do, Laura? L. BUSH: I'm going to do all those same things. I'm going to write a book. I'm going to keep working with women in Afghanistan, keep talking about how important it is for the U.S. to stand with them as they try to build a life after they finally were freed from the oppressive Taliban.

KING: You will be active?

L. BUSH: I am going to be active. Yes, sure, we are both going to be active. We're looking forward to it.

KING: Upon reflection, two more things: was Katrina the lowest point beyond foreign the entanglements and 9/11.

G. BUSH: I think being called a racist because of Katrina was a low point. I can remember people saying George Bush is a racist because of the response, when in fact, the truth of the matter is the response was pretty darn quick, if you think about the fact that the Coast Guard and a lot of brave kids were pulling 30,000 people off of roofs as soon as the storm passed, as soon as they found people on those roofs.

KING: But a lot of mistakes happened too.

G. BUSH: Well, yes, at all levels of government, absolutely.

KING: Do you think those mistakes, that we learned from them?

G. BUSH: No question. And that's a good thing about government. By the way, we have had -- I don't know, we've had -- I want to say -- I know of, sitting right here, eight hurricanes, major hurricanes, and seven and a half were dealt with the way everybody expected them to be dealt with. The Mississippi part of Katrina was dealt with well, even though it was a really horrible hurricane.

My brother was governor of Florida, and seven major hurricanes hit there. And the response was always pretty good. It's the response out of New Orleans and Louisiana which was not as good as we would have liked.

KING: What's Jeb's future?

G. BUSH: I don't know. It's bright, if he chooses to go into politics. He is a good guy.

KING: He is not going to run for the Senate. Did that surprise you?

G. BUSH: Yes, a little bit. I haven't talked to him since he made the decision. It did -- I was hoping he would run. He is a really good guy, very smart and capable.

KING: Anything -- I know you will be talking Thursday night. We have a couple second left. Anything you want to say, and say? Hard to say good-bye? L. BUSH: Well, I wanted to say I am very grateful for the opportunities I have had because George is president. I have met wonderful people all over our country. And I appreciate all of their prayers and all of their support and all of the millions of people who have thanked me. I appreciate that a lot.

G. BUSH: I want to say it has been a huge honor to be president. I have enjoyed it. And I have -- I've been amazed at the character of the American people.

KING: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, Laura.

We'll have reaction to our interview with the president and Mrs. Bush when LARRY KING LIVE returns. Stay with us.



KING: Let's welcome an our outstanding panel to discuss some politics. David Gergen is with us in Indian Wells, California, senior adviser on CNN and is a former adviser to five presidents. Jim VandeHei is executive editor of Politico. Hillary Rosen is a CNN political contributor, and editor at large at the "Huffington Post." And Kevin Madden, Republican strategist and former senior adviser to Mitt Romney's campaign. He's senior vice president of the Glover Park Group.

David, what is going to be, in your opinion, the legacy of George W. Bush?

DAVID GERGEN, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, I thought the most interesting thing about the conversation you had with George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, Larry, was the disconnect between the two of them, especially the president, and the rest -- much of the country. He out there very proud, self-assured, confident about his record, thought there were not many mistakes made. And you have got a public that, for the most part -- of course, there are Bush partisans. But the public, for the most part, is very unhappy with his record, very eager to see him go, really, really wants to turn a page, start a new chapter, looking forward to Obama and not to bush.

So, you know, in that sense, the public would make very harsh judgments today. I think -- I think historians would make even harsher judgments. As of the moment, he would be on probably the lowest rung among failed presidents for historians. Things may change. Attitudes do change, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., the historian, taught us. If Iraq turns out better than it has been, things really improve in the Middle East, and other things turn around, history may look upon him more kindly.

But right now, the verdict is extremely harsh and negative.

KING: Jim, it is kind of an enigma the way he reacts to what is really happening? JIM VANDEHEI, POLITICO.COM: It is. Listen, since 2001, you asked him the question, did you change after 9/11. Of course he changed. He changed profoundly. I think both he and Dick Cheney did. They became obsessed with prosecuting the war on terror and then obsessed with prosecuting the war in Iraq. He does that almost not paying attention to other issues, often.

You asked him about the economy or he's asked about the economy yesterday in the press conference, it's not that he dismisses it. But it's clear he has so much more passion and so much more interest and so much more focus on fighting terrorism. I think he rationalizes -- I'm not a psychologist, but I think he does tend to rationalize his presidency by saying, listen, nobody got hit. You have no idea how much danger lurks out there. We've kept you from getting attacked on my watch.

KING: Kevin, what's your read?

KEVIN MADDEN, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: Jim uses the word obsessed. I think that the president after 9/11 became very focused on the war on terror. He did see that his most important job was to keep this country safe and that he and Dick Cheney were largely successful in that endeavor. And it was not just done by George Bush, but it was done in concert with other folks who helped us redevelop our policies for a stronger posture.

KING: Why isn't the public buying it?

MADDEN: To David's point, I don't believe legacies are -- they're not made in an instant. Legacies grow. Legacies take time. They take oxygen and they essentially take a little bit of hindsight in order to establish and really fully weigh a person's legacy. I think, in the end, that this president will be remembered for actually strengthened for the executive institution and for keeping this country safe at a very dangerous time.

KING: Hillary?

HILLARY ROSEN, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: I think there's somewhat of a disconnect, which is in part why the public doesn't buy it, between really why we went to war in the first place and what we're doing there now. You know, we went there to find weapons of mass destruction and then he said, well, I was disappointed about not finding them. Are you angry? I don't get angry, he said.

You pressed him on the point, I thought, very well. You send our young men into harm's way and you're not angry that our purpose wasn't achieved. And then he did what I think the Bush administration did for several years, which was then made it be about you're disloyal to the troops if somehow you question whether or not we should have been in the war. Well, Larry, I talked to the parent of these soldiers and they believe in this war; well, it becomes a circular argument.

The other one point I thought you asked him, which I was kind of shocked at his answer, was when you asked about bin Laden. Have we ever been close to finding bin Laden? I don't know. I don't know, he said. It's kind of shocking, though, that he would be so cavalier about that response. I was impressed with the honesty.

KING: Let me get a break and we'll come back with Gergen, VandeHei, Rosen and Madden. Sounds like a law firm down the street. We'll be right back.


KING: We're back. Hillary Clinton was grilled today about Bill Clinton's global fund-raising and the potential for conflicts of interest as she becomes secretary of state. Watch.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The core of the problem that I perceive with regard to the Clinton Foundation is that it may be perceived as a means to gain favor with the secretary of state.

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: I will certainly do everything in my power to make sure that the good work of the foundation continues without there being any untoward effects on me and my service, and be very conscious of any questions that are raised.


KING: David Gergen, did she handle that well?

GERGEN: I thought she did. One thing ought to be clear up front. Bill Clinton's foundation has done lots of good things overseas, HIV/AIDS, a number of other causes to which it's contributed significantly, very much in the footsteps of what Jimmy Carter has done with his center, but different. Are there going to be conflicts of interest? Sure. But I think that they have tried to button it up, with an agreement for transparency, for accounting, for clearances in advance in the future.

They've made the 200,000 names available for everybody to see. And it's sort of -- I think it's going to become a story of the past. We're going to be focusing far more on can she solve Gaza within a week, and much less on the foundation.

KING: David Gergen, thanks always for joining us. We'll be here for another nine days in Washington. We'll be calling on you a lot. Jim VandeHei, how do you read the Hillary thing? She's going to be almost unanimously approved.

VANDEHEI: Listen, she's probably the most scrutinized woman in American history. She knew exactly what she was going to be asked, so we all knew that she would do fine in these hearings. I think Republicans have a legitimate concern about the fact that foreign entities can still move money into Bill Clinton's foundation. Yes, there will be more disclosure and certainly more disclosure than we have had in the past.

It's an unusual situation, because it's a former president overseas, in some ways, a bigger personality than his wife, who will be secretary of state. I think that's what Dick Lugar was trying to get at. They're not going to try to do anything else. She made it clear they have gone as far as they're going to go on the disclosure side. I think she'll easily be confirmed.

KING: Why is she so popular with Republicans, Kevin? It appears --

MADDEN: Now, she's popular now.

KING: She's popular in the Senate with Republicans.

MADDEN: She is. I think she has done a -- I think Senator Clinton has done a very good job of carving out a niche as a pragmatist. And she's also shown a certain level of hyper-competency on a lot of these issues. In the Senate, it's a very collegiate place. Folks like to at least genuflect towards those that are -- that show they have a great deal of knowledge and a willingness to learn and also adhere to the protocols and cadence of the Senate. I think Senator Clinton has done very well there, and I think there are similar obstacles -- I should say challenges at State Department, that they do have certain protocols and cadences there that I think she's going to be very adept at navigating.

This is a sort of new Hillary. The old Hillary was a very ideological partisan. And the new Hillary is seen as a pragmatist and a centrist on a lot of these issues.

KING: Does that lend us to think that she'll be -- your other Hillary friend -- a terrific secretary of state?

ROSEN: I think she's going to be a great secretary of state. I think she showed why today. The Senate respects a work horse and I think America respects a work horse. And they saw today, I think, somebody who was extraordinarily prepared, really thoughtful, really loyal to President-Elect Obama, and very much sees herself as part of the Obama national security team. And that's how she was in the Senate. She was a team player with really focused goals.

KING: I guess you'd know better than the rest of us, Kevin. We only have a minute left. Are the Republicans going to take on Tim Geithner?

MADDEN: I think that these are very -- this is a vetting process that is going to go through and it's going to go forward. I do think that there is not a lot of an appetite for blood on this and that --

KING: Even though he didn't pay taxes for --

MADDEN: Right. I think that's whey it -- somebody who is going to be the head of the department that has the IRS in it is going to have answer some of these tough questions. I think right now the mood is very weary, given the economic conditions that we face, that this is not going to derail. Typically, issues like this derail nominations when they're a surprise. I think the Obama campaign knew about this, had fully vetted it, and had a robust explanation for senators, as well as the public. KING: He knows his stuff, apparently.

MADDEN: He is very well respected and admired up on Capitol Hill.

KING: Thank you all very much. We'll have you back. We'll be here for a number of days in Washington, despite the fact that it is cold. We'll be in Washington this week and next. And if you have questions or comments, go to and click on our blog.

Tomorrow, the mystery pilot is here -- the mystery pilot's friend is here. And he'll help us unravel the tangled mess that began as a plane crash and has now turned into a nation-wide manhunt. It's a wild one, for sure. Speaking of wild ones, always wild, he's Anderson Cooper, the host of "AC 360." Anderson, what's up?