Friday, January 08, 2016

Blunt Political Assessments in Bill Clinton Transcripts

By PETER BAKER, NYT
JAN. 7, 2016

WASHINGTON — He thought George W. Bush was perpetrating “a fraud” on America as a presidential candidate, Vladimir V. Putin had “enormous potential,” and the people of Wyoming would be “shooting at me” if he visited.

He railed about “reactionaries in Congress,” ruled out assassinating Saddam Hussein or Slobodan Milosevic and fretted about becoming “a meandering old man.” At one point, he felt so beaten up by world events that he jokingly suggested becoming a British citizen.

Fifteen years almost to the day since former President Bill Clinton left office, a newly released batch of documents from his library offers a fresh look at his later years in the White House even as his wife, Hillary Clinton, seeks to win the post for herself. The documents transcribed phone calls and meetings between Mr. Clinton and Tony Blair, then the British prime minister and perhaps Mr. Clinton’s best friend among foreign leaders.

With bracing bluntness and a smattering of R-rated language, the private conversations reveal a president sometimes unseen by the general public, one who veered from wonky discussions of the Northern Ireland peace process to serrated assessments of his American political opposition. Like a time capsule, the transcripts capture the priorities and perceptions of the moment that, judged with the harsh certainty of hindsight, look prescient or wildly off base.

The release of the transcripts also emphasized the complications for Mrs. Clinton in her second campaign for the White House. Not only does she have her own record as senator and secretary of state to promote or defend, she is also campaigning against the backdrop of her husband’s record — often to her advantage but sometimes not, as in the last few days when Republicans focused attention on Mr. Clinton’s sexual misconduct.

The phone calls with Mr. Blair, from May 1, 1997, to Dec. 13, 2000, cover the period when scandal led to Mr. Clinton’s impeachment by the House and acquittal by the Senate, but there is little hint of that in their conversations. Mr. Clinton prided himself on “compartmentalizing,” or walling off the furor stemming from his attempts to cover up an affair with Monica Lewinsky, a young White House aide.

Some of the conversations, released in response to a request by the BBC, were redacted according to exceptions in federal law. But in 532 pages of transcripts, Ms. Lewinsky’s name was never mentioned. Kenneth W. Starr, the independent counsel, was cited only once in passing, as evidence that American leaders do not control law enforcement.

(More here.)

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