Bill Clinton just doesn't know when to hold his tongue.
Shortly after his inauguration in 1993, the former president arranged to have monthly discussions with longtime friend and author Taylor Branch recorded for posterity, keeping the tapes in his sock drawer. Branch's book, The Clinton Tapes, comes out next week and some tidbits, from Clinton comparing Al Gore to Mussolini to a drunk Boris Yeltsin sneaking out of the White House for pizza, have been making headlines.
But what comes across most clearly from the book is Clinton's complete lack of self-censorship, especially when it comes to the two subjects that consumed and enraged him: the media and the scandals that dogged his two administrations. Almost every chapter of the 668-page book is marked by the president's increasing frustration and anger at the press, including the New York Times, the Washington Post and CNN, for putting a negative spin on every revelation from Travelgate to the Asian donor scandal. "Clinton said the scandal machine had taken a lot of the joy out of being president," Branch writes.
As a service to our readers, here's a handy guide to the Clintons' enemies (and other major nuisances):
Clinton called the paper his chief tormentor for decades and claimed that the paper's owners carried on a racist crusade against Arkansas basketball coach Nolan Richardson.
Osama Bin Laden
Because of intelligence reports that Bin Laden may be moving to Bangladesh, Clinton said the Secret Service was "going bananas" about the president's plans to visit India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, overruling them when they said they could not ensure a reasonable margin of safety for him. "I hope I'm sitting here with you again next month," Clinton told Branch in early 2000. After new intelligence arrived indicating that Bin Laden had diverted some or all of his assassins from Bangladesh to Pakistan, a covert "snatch team" raided a safe house but bin Laden's men escaped. Clinton's security team activated its most elaborate precautions - Clinton landed off-schedule in an unmarked plane while pilots flew an empty decoy plane with the markings of Air Force One.
Senator Jim Bunning:
Clinton felt that Bunning, a GOP Congressman who won an open Senate seat in Kentucky in 1998, was so mean-spirited that he repulsed even his fellow know-nothings. "I tried to work with him a couple of times and he just sent shivers up my spine," said Clinton, adding that he was "beyond the pale."
George W. Bush
Though he admired Dubya's political skills, Clinton found him to be cold in private. At a White House dinner, Clinton found Bush "miserable and hostile the whole time." "Of course, he's never forgiven me for beating his father," Clinton told Branch, "but that's about as deep as his political conviction gets. All this 'compassionate conservative' business is phony."
Senator Robert Byrd
Longtime Democratic Senator Robert Byrd shocked his colleagues with his homophobic views during a meeting with Clinton to discuss gays in the military. Byrd related a story from Roman historian Suetonius about how Julius Caesar never lived down reports of a youthful affair with King Nicomedes of Bithynia, leading to gossip that the mighty emperor was "every woman's man and every man's woman." Branch writes:
Byrd told his colleagues and Clinton that for one senator, at least, this homosexual seed had something to do with the fall of the world's greatest military empire. Byrd said homosexuality was a sin. It was unnatural. God didn't like it.
This classical foray "rocked everyone back in their seats... some noted that Roman emperors won brutal wars for centuries while indulging every imaginable vice."
The former president's interference in foreign policy could be maddening to Clinton. Carter took a group into Haiti during that country's political crisis in 1994 and quickly started to screw up Clinton's aims. Carter became so smitten with top Haitian general Raoul Cedras's wife that he insisted "that these pleasant people could not possibly rule by murder and mutilation" as alleged in a speech by Clinton. Carter then resisted instructions to break off talks and leave Haiti even after Clinton warned him that he was in danger of being captured. At one point, Clinton even threatened to have Carter evacuated against his will. When Carter returned to Washington, he annoyed Clinton by calling CNN's Judy Woodruff to arrange an interview before reporting to the president on his mission.
The Democratic Leadership Council
After DLC leader Dave McCurdy blamed Clinton for losing a tight Senate race against arch-conservative Jim Inhofe, Clinton dressed down the group after an event, telling them to "suck lemons," and calling them ingrates and sunshine patriots.
Maureen Dowd (New York Times)
Clinton said Dowd was so jaundiced that she dumped on Tiger Woods after he won the Masters by 12 strokes. After Woods' regretful decline of a White House invitation, Dowd slammed the golf star for "dissing" the president and then managed to attack Clinton for craving the aura of celebrity athletes. Clinton told Branch that Dowd "must live in mortal fear that there's somebody in the world living a healthy and productive life."
The former House Majority Leader neglected to call up Clinton after an important budget speech and refused to take the president's call when Clinton sought to explain the reasons for the speech. "Gephardt is an asshole," snapped Hillary. When Clinton pointed out to her that her comment was being taped for posterity, she shrugged with a smile: "Well, he is."
Jeff Gerth (New York Times)
Clinton fumed that longtime nemesis Cliff Jackson, who helped spread scandal stories about the president, was boasting that he had NYT investigative reporter Gerth "eating from his hand." Gerth was the reporter who wrote the original Whitewater stories for the paper. Later, Clinton condemned Gerth's reporting on the Wen Ho Lee case, the nuclear scientist accused of espionage, calling it "shameless hype."
Talk about a complicated relationship. Clinton advised his vice president on his 2000 presidential campaign and sympathized with Gore's need to distinguish himself from Clinton's personal flaws (i.e. Lewinsky). He once told Gore, "if you thought it would help in the campaign, I would let you flog me at noon right on the doorstep of the Washington Post," and they joked about various dramatic effects: prostate or kneeling, shirt on or shirt off. He also joked with Branch that to gain votes, he would let Gore cut off his ear and mail it to reporter Michael Isikoff of Newsweek, who broke the Monica Lewinsky story. Later in the campaign, his feelings started to turn and he felt hurt that Gore didn't call him that often: "I think maybe he's slipped off into a trance or something." Eventually, the two got into a heated argument with Gore letting his long-simmering rage spill over about having his integrity questioned in the Buddhist temple fundraising scandal, and telling Clinton that he had never apologized personally to him about Lewinsky.
William Greider (Rolling Stone/The Nation)
Clinton exploded in rage during an interview with Rolling Stone's William Greider when the journalist confronted him about the economic impact of NAFTA on America's working class. He yelled at Greider, telling him "You are a faulty citizen. You don't mobilize or persuade, because you only worry about being doctrinaire and proud," and lumping him in with "bitchy and cynical" liberals." Clinton told Branch: "I did everything but fart in his face."
When Clinton asked the noted Harvard Law School professor to withdraw her nomination after a firestorm erupted over her advocacy of racial quotas, Guinier refused. "Then I will have to pull you down," Clinton told her, meaning he would have to retract her name, a stance that "heated the awkward showdown."
Senator James Inhofe
After Inhofe led the opposition to the appointment of openly gay Chicago-heir James Hormel as an ambassador, Clinton said that Inhofe has passed Jim Bunning on the misanthrope index.
CNN president Tom Johnson
Accusing CNN of succumbing to scandal fever ("the convergence of the cash-paying tabloids and mainstream outlets"), Clinton said Johnson was determined to get even with him after he and Hillary switched their famous Gennifer Flowers interview from CNN to CBS at the last minute. Clinton told Branch that his political nemeses in Arkansas had leaked to CNN a list of five women alleged to have had affairs with him. Another alleged paramour - a judge's wife - who had flatly denied an affair to the American Spectator told CNN that the charge was a "slander garnished with absurd details." CNN's Johnson was not dissuaded from running the story, telling her, "Well, I guess that means you won't let us use your name," recounted Clinton.
Clinton liked his press secretary but complained about his overly solicitous stance with the press. "I'm tired of this limp-dick shit," Clinton exploded once, pleading for an aggressive army to back him up in combating the relentless Whitewater prosecutors.
New York Times
"Clinton said the Times was determined for two reasons to allege something crooked about the [Whitewater-related] windfall. First, true or not, charges of scandal would boost the scoop into Whitewater's journalistic surf. Second, the Times relied on political sources who promoted interpretations of corruption at every level. Clinton said he was disillusioned by the Times and the Washington Post, groping for words to comprehend their motives and express his dismay - they had fallen prey to a political agenda, or been stampeded or turned cynical. Later, news coverage of the indictments of Whitewater figures led Clinton to declare that the Times and Post had "corrupted themselves over Whitewater." After the NYT called the Asian donor scandal the biggest ethical crisis since Watergate, Clinton fumed that the paper had dropped all pretense of objectivity and he "speculated darkly about the relationship between his nemesis, editor Howell Raines, and a stable of indignant Times columnists."
The doyenne of the Washington social scene spread rumors that Hillary had not written her own book, It Takes A Village. When Branch explained that Quinn had told him that she could help the Clintons learn the social mores of the Beltway, Hillary snapped: "You know, she has been hostile since the moment we got here. Why would we invite somebody like that into our home. How could she expect us to?" She claimed that Quinn invented gossip for the dinner circuit - such as the story of an affair between Hillary and the female veterinarian attending to Socks the presidential cat.
Brimming with resentment over how his Attorney General had handled requests for special prosecutors, Clinton said "he had not been able to trust her for four years. If he tried to have an honest conversation with her, she would leak it." When she was quoted expressing her desire to stay on the job, Clinton hauled her in for a tongue-lashing, telling Branch, "I told her I didn't like that one damn bit. I didn't hire her to work for the New York Times and Washington Post. I hired her to work for me."
Clinton recounted that he once pulled aside the senior Republican senator to ask him whether he really believed that the president had done something terrible in Whitewater. Simpson's response: "Oh, hell no. But our goal is to make people think you did, so we can pay you Democrats back for Iran-contra."
Wall Street Journal
Stung by the tragic suicide of aide Vince Foster after reports emerged questioning Foster's integrity, Clinton believed that the paper's editors "had hounded Vince Foster to death with malice."
The Washington Post
One of Clinton's alleged paramours told him that a Post reporter threatened to expose her, after promising her confidentiality if she confessed an affair with Clinton. When Bob Woodward broke the story that the Chinese government may have funneled clandestine money into Clinton's reelection campaign, Clinton went on an extended rant about scandalmongers, comparing them to cocaine addicts on the street.
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