Former President Bill Clinton told Fox News in an interview on Friday he's planning to attend funeral services for the late South African President Nelson Mandela, the man with whom he forged a close bond when they were both in office in the 1990s and he took advice from during the impeachment drama.
"People who knew him well, as I was lucky enough to do, you could see sometimes in his eyes or in the tone of his voice, all those years would come flooding back to him," Clinton said about Mandela's 27 years in prison. "And just for a second, they would seize him and just as quickly, he let it go. He let it go. .... And it's what gave him that limitless smile, and I think it's what gave him 95 years."
While President Obama will also be flying next week to South Africa with former President George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush among the high-level guests, Clinton said he will not be aboard Air Force One because of a scheduling conflict.
Clinton said he and his daughter Chelsea are doing a charitable event for his foundation in Brazil, so they will fly from Brazil to South Africa. The former president indicated his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, will also attend the funeral but did not give details of when she will fly to South Africa or whether she will fly on Air Force One.
In the interview with Fox News, Clinton spoke emotionally about going back with Mandela in 1998 to visit his old prison cell on Robben Island and asking him how he gave up 27 of the best years of his life and came out a better man.
Clinton recalled that Mandela told him, "I lived on my hatred for 11 years, breaking those rocks every day. And one day I realized that they had already taken so much from me. They had abused me physically and emotionally. .... I realized they could take everything from me, everything except my mind and my heart. Those things I would have to give them."
Clinton said Mandela got serious and pulled him in close: "And he said, 'I decided not to give them away.' And he looked right at me and said, 'Neither should you.'"
The former president said that is what sticks out to him most about his many conversations with Mandela.
"And I saw how he felt -- that he was a free man when he walked out," said Clinton. "He was free before he was released."
The former president was blunt in the interview in saying Mandela's advice to him in the prison cell in South Africa about not hating his enemies was related to what Clinton called the "impeachment crisis" he faced back in Washington late in his presidency.
Clinton said during the fallout from the Monica Lewinsky scandal his vice president, Al Gore, was having a meeting at the White House with Mandela's number two, Thabo Mbeki, and Clinton dropped in to talk.
"So the heat was really being turned up in Congress, and Mbeki looked at me and said Madiba told me to give you a message," Clinton said, using Mandela's clan name. "He said, 'I have no earthly idea what it means, but he said you would know what it means.'"
Mbeki then told Clinton, in a flashback to the jail cell conversation: "He said, I should remind you not to give them away," as in giving away his mind and heart.
Reflecting on the advice, Clinton told Fox News with awe, "And that's the kind of man he was. And he was just amazing."
Clinton concluded that he was always impressed by the fact that Mandela seemed to be able to keep any animosity in check.
"And so, because he trusted other people, like putting the people who put him in jail in his cabinet, they in turn trusted him," said Clinton. "There's a big trust deficit in America today, and all over the world. And Mandela taught us that in order to be trusted, you have to trust and you have to be prepared to be disappointed. It's, it's a choice you make to be free of anger and animosity and resentment. And it's a choice you have to make and work on every day."
Ed Henry currently serves as Fox News Channel's (FNC) chief White House correspondent. He joined the network in June 2011. His latest book is "42 Faith: The Rest of the Jackie Robinson Story."