Bernard Nussbaum Discusses the House Committee on the Judiciary Impeachent Inquiry, Part 2

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bjbj Nussbaum: Yeah, 1988, Hillary came into New York. I think she had some other business
in New York although she said she wanted to see me. She comes into New York and we had
dinner together. And she says, Bill s thinking of running for President. Now this is 1988.
This is 14 years after the conversation we had in the car. And Bill Clinton at this point
is I think 43 years old in 1988. He was born in 46. How old was he in 1988? Naftali: Uh,
he s 42. Nussbaum: Forty-two, he s forty-two years old in 1988. He s forty-two years old
and she tells and she s the same age oh no, she s a year younger than him. She s about
41. She was born in 47. He s thinking of running for President and she doesn t want me to commit
to support anybody else [inaudible] as if my support for anybody makes any difference,
which although I ve been a contributor of campaigns now and then, it makes no difference.
So I say to her very tentatively, I says, well Hillary I know we discussed this in the
past, something like that, but he may be very tentative now I don he may be kinda young
as 42 years old to run for President. Although John Kennedy who ran when he was 42, 43. She
says, well he s deciding. You just don t support anybody else. I said, okay, I m not supporting
anybody else [inaudible]. And a week later I get a call from her I believe yeah, I did
saying he s not running in 88. So I said, well, not running. I ended up supporting Michael
Dukakis in 1988 to great effect, as you can tell. I went to okay actually I went to the
convention in 1988. And I was on the floor of the convention in Atlanta in 1988 when
Bill Clinton spoke. Made the turned out to be a disastrous speech in the which I was
there when he made just I didn t even know he was gonna speak. But he and then in 1992
or 1991 1991 October, 1991, 20 years ago from not today but from this month, I get a call
from a partner in Goldman Sachs saying we have to have a I get a call saying we there
s gonna be a meeting re gonna have to have a meeting shortly I know this partner to see
if we can raise some money for Bill Clinton who s gonna run for President. Hillary says
you re onboard. Hillary never called me, never asked me anything. This is 1991. I hadn t
heard from her in a while. She doesn t call me. Nobody from this Ken Brody, the partner
at Goldman Sachs called me. He says you re onboard. Let s have this meeting to see if
we can raise some money for Clinton. So I go down to this meeting. This meeting is in
Tom Tish s office, who s a Republican and wasn t in the meeting in his office. And there
s six people sitting around in this meeting. And Brody s there and I m there and four other
people. I don t remember who they were. They were investment bankers, or maybe one lawyer.
There s very few people. They said, well we could have a re here to discuss the Governor
of Arkansas, Bill Clinton to raise some money. And one of the guys says, who s Bill Clinton
a guy in this meeting. [Inaudible] the Governor of Arkansas. He may run for President. He
said, I m a Republican. Why s a Democrat gov so we have six and then somebody says this
five or six people somebody says m sitting here listening to this, I somebody says, what,
this is crazy, he says. I mean, even if nobody ever heard of this guy. I mean, how are we
gonna raise money for this guy? This is nuts. Well, why he came here only because the Goldman
partner asked him to come. What s the [inaudible] used to raise money for some Governor from
Arkansas? And I starts I get agitated at this point I guess and I say, no, this is what
you re gonna tell people. This is how you re gonna raise money for the Governor of Arkansas.
re gonna go and tell people that when they see him and when they meet him and when they
hear him speak and when they see the quality of his mind, his charisma, his intelligence,
his good looks even, you re gonna tell these people this guy s gonna be the President of
the United States. And if they contribute money now they re contributing very early
for somebody that s gonna be President of the United States. And all they have to do
is see him and come into contact with him and he s gonna win. And I said that to sort
of rouse them up. I what I believed or not I m not even quite sure at that point. They
said, all right. We ll, you know so then we had a party. This group arranged a party in
October at some fancy apartment on Sutton Place. And Clinton showed up and Hillary showed
up, who I hadn t seen in a while. And we started raising money at that party. And the rest
is the rest is history. Okay. You wanna go back to the tapes? Naftali: ll go back to
the tapes. You heard these tapes the special prosecutor hands them over in a satchel, right?
Nussbaum: Yes, that s right. Naftali: And that s in March. Nussbaum: March of 1974,
right. Naftali: And then in April somebody decides to enhance them, right, cause it s
hard to hear them. Nussbaum: Yes, yes. We had correct. It s hard to hear certain points,
yes. It was hard to hear them. But we listened and the special prosecutor sent them I don
t remember he didn t send up did he send up a transcript? I don t remember if he sent
over transcripts. But the White House did release transcripts. And this became a big
issue because the White House transcripts weren t accurate in certain key portions.
Now, whether it was deliberately inaccurate or not, even to this day I don t know. People
like Buzhardt and other people, they were under tremendous pressure in the White House
too. Listen, 18 years later I was in the White House. I was in the White House from the beginning
of the White Water. I know I mean, you might think the White House is a very efficient
place with dozens of people who perform well. It s not true. So I don t even I mean, poor
Fred Buzhardt and Jim St. Clair and a handful of people in the White House but in any event
they for whatever reason the transcripts they released were inaccurate. And then we made
it our business to try to put together accurate transcripts. And then we presented that to
the committee obviously to demonstrate that what we were given was not accurate. So they
and they could draw whatever conclusions they wanna draw from that. Obviously we weren t
in the business at that point of drawing favorable conclusions under those circumstances. Naftali:
So it was after the White House [inaudible] [Crosstalk] Nussbaum: I believe so, I believe
so. Naftali: -- that you start the transcription process. Nussbaum: Correct. Naftali: And how
what kinds of checks and balances do you put into that process so that your transcripts
are better? Nussbaum: Well, we just devoted a lot of time. People really made an effort
just to get it right. And once we realized the other transcripts were wrong we really
the way I remember it this is somewhat vague in my mind so I don t wanna overstate this,
but we really wanted to get it right. We wanted and also we wanted to be fair. I mean, it
s not look, we re good people but that s something we had a committee to deal with and we had
Republicans as well as Democrats. This is not the special prosecutor s office, the independent
counsel, things like that where you have to answer to no one. We had to answer to a committee.
And the committee, while it was the Democrats were in the majority, they were there were
conservative Democrats in the committee who by no means [inaudible] votes for impeachment
unless we could present a case. Jim Mann, Walter Flowers, people like that are key members
of the committee. These are Democrats by no means whose constituents in South Carolina
and Alabama but by no means certain to vote for impeachment unless there s a case to be
made, putting aside the Republicans. So what we were trying to do is get it right. Make
sure that the transcripts were as accurate as possible so when they make their decision
they could make it in a coherent, factual, logical, accurate fashion. And that s a big
even I didn t think of that til recently. We really were working for both the Republicans
and the sure it was a Republican staff, too that were Bert Jenner and then Sam Garrison.
But we had the Republican staffs overlooking. They were working together with us. That s
one of the great things Doar was able to do. Doar was able to meld the two staffs together
and Bert Jenner was very influential in that process. So we wanted [inaudible]. On the
other hand we were being questioned all the time as to whether this should be done or
that should be done or what the consequence of this is or the consequence of that. Or
how do you analyze this and analyze that. This is a very important concept to understand
during that impeachment. This is a real sort of joint effort in part, but also an effort
where we were subject to checks and balances, as we had to be in that thing. So we tried
to get it right. We tried to get the tapes right. And I think we did get it right. Naftali:
Some people have remembered the tapes having a major impact on Bert Jenner on his thinking.
Nussbaum: Yeah, I think that is in accord with my recollection. Bert Jenner also look,
Bert Jenner was a he was a as the way I remember it, he was a wonderful man, a wonderful guy.
He was a very prominent and well known lawyer who created a great firm, Jennifer & Block.
And he wanted to do the right thing. And if we didn t have a case he wasn t out to get
the President, as some Republican s later accused him of in effect and just pushed him
aside. He was out to do sort of an independent fair investigation. And wherever the facts
lead the facts lead. And that s the way I felt and I think that s the way Doar felt
also, again subject to these charges that he didn t feel it. But he did feel like it.
Yeah, once we got the tapes and by the time -- and talked to some of the people, yeah,
we did conclude that impeachment was appropriate. But that took a while to get there and it
took a while for Jenner to get there too. And I think the tapes had a big influence
on all of us. And that s why the irony is if the tapes wouldn t have been there who
knows what would ve happened. Naftali: When you put together the subpoenas did you were
you hopeful were you hopeful or optimistic or you just felt you had to do it but you
didn t think the White House was gonna give you anything? Nussbaum: No. I well, I was
the way I remember it one of the key people not the only one. No person was totally in
charge of anything other than Doar was in charge of sort of everything overall. But
I was one of the key figures in putting together the subpoenas. And that was led ultimately
Article 3, which as I told you I was deeply involved in. No, we felt we had to do it and
we felt we were entitled to the material. And knowing the way the White House was reacting
we felt they would stonewall us because they wanted to turn this into a political process.
This was a huge battle here. They wanted to say this is like this is a political fight.
And what the Democrats were trying to do is pervert the impeachment process really just
to reverse the last election. And we were resisting that at all times. So we were trying
to get the facts. And that and we were trying to keep the Republicans we tried to satisfy
them that really we were trying to do it in a fair way. But the White House was gonna
stonewall the committee, and it did stonewall the committee to a large extent. The mistake
the President made was having an independent counsel, a special prosecutor who then took
him to court and secured the tapes in effect. Although it s my view that, as I expressed
to you one other occasion, that the Supreme Court and the United States v. Nixon probably
made the wrong decision in ordering the tapes to be tolled over. That the President s executive
privilege is absolute except in impeachment proceedings. That s the right way. It probably
wouldn t have come out but the way it came out if what I consider the right way was followed.
The fact that the Supreme Court did rule, the President did decide to turn over the
tapes, which in retrospect was probably the historic mistake from his point of view. And
turning over the tapes resulted in the impeachment of the President. If he d have destroyed the
tapes he probably would not have been impeached. Other people can argue that differently and
maybe I m wrong on that. Actually I hope I m wrong on that but who knows. I mean, it
he did turn them over, we did get them and we did present them to the committee and we
laid it all out. And the tapes combine with all the other facts we gathered or collated.
I m not I don t even take credit ll have our staff take credit for sort of uncovering all
these facts. There s nothing that I remember we uncovered that wasn t obtained by from
somebody else. What Doar understand is that, as I indicated earlier, our process was to
gather, to collate, as I said before and to present. Naftali: And you made the case before
you had the smoking gun transcript. Nussbaum: Yes, we made the case. I did actually we we
actually that s a very we described to the committee and I was involved in that along
with others what we thought happened on the basis of witnesses we had talked to or seen
or heard, on the basis of documents we ve seen, what probably happened in these crucial
meetings. And I remember in one committee session we were sort of giving our analysis
hypothesizing, giving our analysis based on other things. This is then when you put these
things together this will probably happen. And the tapes, it was one of those amazing
things when the tapes came out, they confirmed it. It confirmed it. I remember feeling so
proud that and I wasn t the only one doing this. I mean, others on the Watergate task
force were we were putting together. Chronologies are very important. John Doar was very big
on chronologies and he was right. Chronologies are important, this fact, that fact, this
date, that date, this event, that event. You just that s how you sort of analyze and it
was a good way of doing it. That was a good way of doing it. And then there were certain
little lacuna, you know, certain gaps, to use a famous word. And we had to sort of use
our analysis to fill in the gaps. What the President probably did at this point, what
was probably said here. And a view of what happened afterward, a view of what was said
before. And we sort of provided that analysis of the committee even though we didn t have
direct evidence of that. And then when the tapes came out the tapes provided the direct
evidence. It was I mean, Dean s testimony was very important. Dean s testimony in front
of the Senate Watergate Committee was very important in the study of events that occurred.
And we used that to help us create this matrix of facts. And ultimately it worked. It was
a wonderful process ultimately. As I saw us convince I saw us convince the conservative
Democrats who were very important here. As I mentioned earlier, the Walter Flowers from
Alabama whose constituents were very pro President Nixon, and the Jim Mann s of South Carolina.
People like that were very important and we reached them. And we were desperate not to
have a partisan committee vote if at all possible, even reaching them and then voting I don t
know 17, 14 or something like that. I think that would ve been the figures for the Democrat
and Republican split. That would ve been a disaster. Disaster s too strong a term. It
was the wrong way to go about it. That, of course, happened in the next impeachment,
the Clinton impeachment in 1998. But we really in order for it to be accepted by the country,
to be accepted by history for the good of the country we really felt we really strove
so hard to achieve bipartisanship in this thing. And Doar and I give a lot of credit
to Doar and a lot of credit to Rodino. Those are the two key figures in this thing. Doar
and Rodino really just handled it right. I mean, it was useful to have a person like
me who was aggressive. I mean, I wanted to go hard, and once I was convinced that there
was a case to be made. But their balance, their judgment I think really kept this process
going along the right direction. And I m very proud that not only we reached the southern
Democrats, which were important, the conservative Democrats there not all southern, but also
the Republications. And all of a sudden we started reaching some of the Republicans.
Bill Cohen and Tom Railsback and people like that who then spoke really from the heart.
It was a very moving thing ultimately to see that. And then of course after the smoking
gun tape came out, the June 18th tape then the whole Republican that s when the President
had to resign. The whole committee sort of the whole committee then decided that impeachment
was appropriate. So many key Republicans Wiggins was the President had very able advocates
on the committee on the Republican side of the committee. He became a judge, Wiggins,
in the 9th Circuit I think. Very able guy. Different. Naftali: But you must ve seen the
emotion that Wiggins [inaudible] [Crosstalk] Nussbaum: Yes, yes, there was. I remember
I do remember the emotion. The emotion particularly the Republic side. That s where the emotion
really was. The Republicans who really voted for impeachment before final analysis, were
very torn. They understood they were in the process of potentially bringing down a Republican
President. And there was agony. There was really agony in their faces because many of
them and this is really interesting. I used to have these discussions even in our staff,
especially with the Republican members of the staff, especially Sam Garrison, who was
a very intelligent guy who unfortunately later on he got into trouble after the impeachment
way after. But he in effect was Bert Jenner was sort of pushed aside by the Republicans
because they felt he wasn t sufficiently Republican enough or partisan enough. So they put Garrison
Garrison was a quite intelligent guy and Garrison expressed a view that even if some of these
things happened and even if you even if there was this abusive power or the misuse of the
FBI and the CIA, the fact is he s a good President. And isn t that a fact to be taken into account?
He was a good President of foreign affairs. He did very important things. He did the opening
to China. He was hugely important in the Arab Israeli war in 1973. Don t you have to make
a judgment about that as well? And the answer s yes. You really sorta do. But on the other
hand, he did do all these things that we he really did abuse his powers as President against
his political opponents and is contrary to our system of government. The answer to that
was other Presidents have also done similar things. The answer to that is true. To some
extent there has, you know but the fact is he sort of put it all together in a way that
nobody else quite did it before. And you can t do that anymore. And that was a debate.
Garrison made some interesting arguments and I think this was reflected in the agony of
the Republicans, I mean, when I watched this. They thought many of them thought he was a
good overall a good President. Not only was he a President of their party but he was a
good President, certainly in foreign affairs and maybe even in domestic affairs they thought.
And in some ways he was a good President. He probably didn t like me because I told
you I mentioned a book that he spoke and this is years later after I was in the White House
with Bill Clinton. He made some derogatory comments about me after my deputy Vince Foster
committed suicide. He said in this book called Conversations with Monica Crowley that he
thought I was a to use his language a tough shit and consequently maybe I drove my deputy
Vince Foster to suicide, which of course is not true. Vince Foster was a wonderful man
who unfortunately had a breakdown. But President Nixon was a very able guy but he did what
he did and we did what we had to do. And the Congress reached the decision it had to reach.
Naftali: Sam Garrison s office, was it close to yours? I mean, was he in the Congressional
-- [Crosstalk] Nussbaum: Well, yeah, yeah, yeah. We were all we worked out of the Congressional
Hotel. It was a very small place and we were constantly together. And Garrison was a good
advocate. I have for I don t believe he s alive anymore still alive. Naftali: No [inaudible].
Nussbaum: He died, didn t he? He was young he was not old. He was little older than I
was at the time. But he was you should really well, you did track down some of them, Bill
Weld I guess. You should track down some of those Republican staff members and see what
they remember. By the end we were all on the mostly on the same page, which is an amazing
feat, which I full didn t appreciate. I know it was important at the time but I didn t
appreciate how amazing in this day and age, impossible, impossible to have done today
what we did then. I think it s impossible. Naftali: What changed? Nussbaum: Well, the
enormous partisanship that exists today, which even existed 20 years ago when I was in the
White House with Bill Clinton, when I was council to the President. It became worse
and worse. I mean, there s no middle anymore. There s no moderate Republicans. There s some
moderate Democrats but there s no moderate Republicans. And the notion of people coming
together to make a joint decision. That s why the country has all the difficulties it
has now, the economic situation and things like that. It s a really big problem. Then
maybe it was the maybe historians will look back they can already look back and it was
one of the last times that people can sort of come together. Again it s a tribute to
-- as I keep saying, to Doar and to Rodino but we came together. And also what I was
very what I m very proud of I think I mentioned this before, if not in this interview is that
I always thought there would be a historical backlash against the impeachment process,
against the Nixon President Nixon resignation. Because we forced him out of office this was
a partisan gang that sort of put it all together for it was never that backlash never came.
Nobody ever writes that somehow there s no meaningful position, I m sure some people
have written, but that somehow error was committed. This was wrong what happened. This was wrong.
I mean, this shouldn t have happened. This was sort of a President being driven out of
office and he shouldn t have been driven out of office. Nobody no respectable authorities
have ever really said that. And that s another tribute to that process that we engaged. I
m very proud of that too. I always thought there would be. I though history that s the
way it ll go 20 years from 20 years from now the people who start writing all this was
we in a moment of hysteria, using the tapes we forced the President out of office and
we shouldn t have done. Nobody s ever said that. The decision is basically accepted by
history as, yes, this is the correct judgment under those circumstances and those times.
And that s something look how the people are gonna look back at the Clinton so called impeachment.
He was impeached, President Clinton. He was impeached by the House of Representatives.
He was acquitted sort of by the Senate but he was impeached. But everybody looks at that
as a joke. It s a joke. It s an absolute joke. It s a misuse of the impeachment process.
There s been no punishment by the American people of the party that did that but it s
a joke. You look back at that as a joke, not as a legitimate process. But nobody looks
back on most people don t look back, maybe some people do but most people don t look
back on the Watergate impeachment, the 1974 impeachment and the ultimate resignation as
a joke. Actually President Nixon wasn t impeached. The House Judiciary Committee voted out all
articles of impeachment. And prior to being voted on the floor of the House he resigned
because the Senators went to him and said, the article s gonna be voted out and the Senate
will probably vote to convict, so he resigned. Naftali: Did you think that the lessons you
d learned in 1974 were useful or not in 1993, 94. Or had the world changed so much by then
that [inaudible] [Crosstalk] Nussbaum: No, no. They in 1993, 94 when I was in the White
House I was affected by what happened in 73, 74. And this is, of course, also part of history
right now in various books. The office of the Independent Counsel is a very dangerous
office. It was conducted well in 73, 74. Cox and Jaworski did a good job, they did a fair
job. It was the proper thing to do but it was a unique circumstance at the time. There
was clearly evidence and significant abuses of power. We had the tapes ultimately. But
normally that is a dangerous office to exist in for a President to have to face. When you
start appointing independent counsel the dynamic is such that you wanna make a case. You wanna
make when you only have one target and your reputation s sort of at stake you wanna make
a case. It s a the impeachment process is a proper process but the Independent Counsel
is a dangerous thing to have because you have to have a unique person in that position who
can walk away without making a case, especially when the President s involved. Maybe with
other lower officials is a so I was very wary, and when I came into the White House in 93,
94 of the institution of special prosecutor of the Independent Counsel. And when this
outcry arose in late 1993 when I was counsel to the President after my deputy Vince Foster
committed suicide, this outcry arose about White Water, this so called investment that
President Clinton and Hillary Clinton had made a long time ago, which they lost money
on, that somehow there was some sort of corruption involved in that or Madison guarantee. And
then Jim McDougal and people like that [inaudible] happened, had nothing to do with abusive power,
no mis none of this same kinda stuff that happened in 73, 74. And it was an outcry for
an independent counsel to investigate these acts. I was vehemently opposed to that vehemently
opposed. It was there was no Independent Counsel Act. I mean, the Democrats will introduce
one in place vehemently opposed to that. And I argued vehemently in the White House to
the President that he should not appoint an Independent Counsel. I said, this is a dangerous
institution. I said, there s no basis to appoint you did nothing wrong in office here. You
did nothing wrong in Arkansas 20 years ago or 15 years ago, but it has nothing to do
with your being President right now. You appoint this it will be like a knife in your heart.
Whoever s appointed Independent Counsel will take years. I said, you know who should appoint?
If you ll appoint me as Independent Counsel, appoint me, me, your counsel, Bernie Nussbaum.
Make me Independent you know what I would do, I said? I ll tell you what I would do.
I would spend three or four years investigating everything in Arkansas. I would turn over
every rock, because I m not gonna go back to New York not having explored m sure I ll
find people who committed criminal acts in Arkansas in the last 20 years. I have a feeling,
Mr. President, that probably happened. And maybe those people that, in order to avoid
trying to go to jail, will find will remember something about you, which didn t happen but
will remember something about you and say things like this is crazy. There s no basis
to do this. All you will do is create an institution which will haunt you as long as you re President
and beyond. Don t do this. Don t do this. The others were saying, oh that s ridiculous.
The Republicans, even Democrats are coming [inaudible] it ll end the media. It ll end
the media storm that s going on now with respect to White Water and things like that. I said,
no. And we had a big debate on the telephone. It s all mentioned in the recent book. I said,
you have to do something? I said, I ll tell you what you do. I ll tell you what you do,
Mr. President. You and Hillary go down to the Senate Judiciary Committee [inaudible]
and testify. Ford testified after the Nixon pardon. Go down and testify. Let them ask
you any question they want about White Water. And they started screaming, I d rather the
other staff members, Stephanopoulos and others started screaming, this is crazy, vast publicity,
you know. I should d rather have vast publicity. You ll be able to handle any testimony cause
there s nothing here in any event, than set up an institution with 25 assistant U.S. attorneys
and 25 FBI agents who will start investigating you and your friends in Arkansas for the rest
of your presidency. When I said this, by the way, Monica Lewinsky was a junior in high
school. She wasn t even around in this time. This was six years don t set up this institution.
They ll be after you, your friends and everything. Oh, I can they keep asking me about it. He
folded, he folded. Even Hillary folded. Hillary was on my side and then she couldn t deal
with it. And they appointed the Independent Counsel who the first one was replaced, Bob
Fisk by Ken Starr. I then left the White House because I was now a very controversial figure
who gave bad advice about not appointing Independent Counsel as well as other allegations. So I
left after a year-and-a a year-and-a-quarter in the White House. And what happened happened.
The rest is history. He did write it as a memoir the biggest mistake he made was appointing
the Independent Counsel. So but that s a dangerous institution to be used very sparingly, especially
with respect to a President. And but that s what happened. But that affected me. I understood
the dangers of 74 did affect me for 93 and 94. And I also Hillary was involved in 73,
74 and with me in 93, 94. She understood it. But the great pressure in the White House,
the other staff members and foolish Democratic Senators, they folded. If they didn t fold
the Clinton that d change history too. The Clinton Presidency would ve receded. I m not
justifying any conduct that President Clinton committed or may have committed with respect
to Ms. Lewinsky later on. That s, you know the fact is it wouldn t have had the impact
on his presidency it had. There would ve been no impeachment. Al Gore would probably have
been elected President in 2000 and the world would ve been different. But that s what happens.
If Nixon destroyed the tapes the world would ve been different. If President Clinton had
listened to me with respect to appointing the Independent Counsel the world would ve
been different. But I I lead a good life. I m a happy man. hRe" hc\h [Content_Types].xml
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