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Transcript: John Podesta on 'Fox News Sunday'

The following is a transcribed excerpt from 'Fox News Sunday,' June 20, 2004:

WALLACE: Up next, the book that everyone's talking about, even though almost no one has read it yet.

CLINTON: I think I did something for the worst possible reason, just because I could. And I think that that's the most -- just about the most morally indefensible reason that anybody could have for doing anything.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

WALLACE: That was former President Bill Clinton from an interview airing tonight on CBS to plug his new 957-page memoir, "My Life." Although the book doesn't go on sale until Tuesday, the promotional blitz is already in full force, with snippets appearing in news magazines and papers across the country.

Here to discuss the book now and the Clinton presidency are John Podesta (search), former chief of staff in the Clinton White House, and Congressman David Drier (search), Republican of California.

And welcome to both of you.

Let's start, because it's gotten most of the publicity this week, with the Lewinsky scandal. While the president offers a flat apology for his extramarital relationship, he takes a very different attitude toward his fight against Ken Starr and impeachment.

Here's what he had to say to "60 Minutes" in what he'll be saying tonight. Let's take a look.

"I never thought of resigning, and I stood up to it and beat it back. The whole battle was a badge of honor. I don't see it as a stain, because it was illegitimate."

Mr. Podesta, let's look at the judgments against Bill Clinton during that period of time. He was impeached on one count that he provided perjurious, false and misleading testimony to the grand jury, and on another count that he obstructed justice.

The judge, the federal judge in the Paula Jones case, found him in contempt, and his Arkansas law license was suspended for five years.

Mr. Podesta, do you see a badge of honor in all that?

PODESTA: Well, if there was a badge of honor, I think I earned my stretch in the fox hole.

(LAUGHTER)

But, Chris, I think you left out one important point in that sequence, which is he was acquitted on both of those charges in a trial of the United States Senate.

I think what the president was really trying to say was that Ken Starr abused his power. He did something that I think if legal scholars, independent observers would look at and say he stopped investigating crimes and he started investigating a person. And I think he went over the top in doing it.

I think when history judges what the House of Representatives did -- I'll be interested to see whether David is still proud of his vote -- I think you'll find that the House went too far. The American people stuck with the president; two-thirds of the people opposed impeachment. And that's why I think he was acquitted in the...

WALLACE: All right. Let's ask.

Congressman Drier, are you still proud of your vote? And what about this contention that Republicans really were going after him politically, trying to cripple his presidency?

DREIER: Clearly that wasn't the case. I will tell you, yes, I'm proud of my vote. And the reason is that, as we looked at this -- I mean, the United States Senate decided not to remove him from office. That was the decision the United States Senate made.

I felt that my vote in the House of Representatives was basically to move ahead with this process. He was impeached so that there could, in fact, be a trial on this.

And it all focused on this issue of truth. I would commend to you the -- as President Clinton has talked about this as being some right-wing, you know, effort from conservatives. I'm a proud conservative. I would commend The Washington Post editorials of April 4th of 1999 and April 12th of 1999, both of which talk about the fact that he was held in contempt.

And Susan Webber Wright, who had been a student of his, made this decision, and she talked about the credibility of the judicial system and the fact that this set a precedent not only for this president but also for presidents to come.

PODESTA: Of course, that was about the Paula Jones case, which was thrown out of court, not about what David voted to impeach him on. And even Bob Ray, the independent counsel, said there was nothing to that...

WALLACE: But wait a minute.

(CROSSTALK)

WALLACE: Wasn't what he was found in contempt for was the fact that he had misled in his deposition in the Paula Jones case?

PODESTA: In the Paula Jones case. But that's not what, of course, David voted for. He voted on the charge that in the grand jury deposition, which even Bob Ray, the independent counsel, the special counsel, said there was no validity to.

So, I mean, look, history will judge this one way or the other.

DREIER: That's exactly right.

PODESTA: We spent a lot of time in 1998 talking about it. But I think what this book is really about is a much broader look at Clinton's life, Clinton's presidency. And I think it's very interesting and fascinating.

WALLACE: All right, I do want to move on, but I do want to ask you one little footnote, Mr. Podesta.

In the book, the president says that after confessing to his wife in August of 1998 that he slept on the living room couch for several months. Is that literally true?

PODESTA: Well, he said it's true. I think I believe it is true. It's, you know -- the upstairs in the residence I think is, you know, will probably be -- The Washington Post by tomorrow will have floor plans of where we were...

WALLACE: Aren't there a lot of beds? Aren't there a lot of bedrooms in the White House?

PODESTA: But, you know, who knows why he decided to shack (ph) out on the couch...

DREIER: As opposed to the Lincoln Bedroom.

PODESTA: But I think, you know, it's clear that, as Hillary spoke about in her book, that this was a blow I think to the two of them, and they spent a lot of time patching their marriage up. And, you know, I think that they have shown a remarkable love for each other. And, you know, that's a good thing.

WALLACE: All right. Let's talk about another subject, some might say a more important subject.

The former president also says that in the meeting that he had with the incoming president, George W. Bush, after the 2000 election, that in their private meeting, he said to him, the biggest, the number-one national security threat was Osama bin Laden and Al Qaida. And he says Mr. Bush quickly changed the subject.

Mr. Podesta, if he felt that way, why didn't President Clinton do more about Al Qaida during his eight years in office?

PODESTA: Well, I think he did a lot on Al Qaida during his eight years of presidency.

PODESTA: You know, we learned a lot more about this network and about bin Laden as the course of the presidency wore on. But after, particularly after the embassy bombings in 1998, he tried to kill him, he assigned authorities to try to go after him in Afghanistan. We bombed the camps in Afghanistan. We arrested over 50 top Al Qaida operatives. We rolled up cells in 20 countries. We stopped in the Millennium Plot, the bombing of LAX airport, of the arrest in a hotel in Amman, Jordan.

So I think and a lot was done. And I think that our administration, quite frankly, learned a lot more and focused a lot more toward the end of the administration than at the beginning.

DREIER: Seven and half months after Bill Clinton left office, we saw the September the 11th bombings. And it was tragic.

Within two weeks of George W. Bush taking the oath of office, he did something that was dramatically different than what had been done before. He said to General Musharraf in Pakistan that the ties with the Taliban were not acceptable.

And in fact, I remember that the Clinton administration made it clear that dealing with Pakistan was a very difficult thing for them to do because of those ties. And we began, this administration began, immediately to turn the corner on that. And we've obviously seen, since that time, an unwavering commitment to winning the global war on terrorism.

So, you know, I think it's important, Chris, for us to note that obviously there were real differences. You know, we spent last week saying goodbye to Ronald Reagan, and this week we're saying hello again to Bill Clinton. And, you know, I'm very proud of the fact -- I was asked during one of the interviews during the memorial of Ronald Reagan if it's like nothing happened between Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

In fact, I believe that Bill Clinton in many ways stood on Ronald Reagan's shoulders. One of the great famous speeches of Ronald Reagan's was when he said the best social welfare program is a job. And after two vetoes, President Clinton actually signed the welfare reform bill.

He had the temerity to stand up to organized labor just before the election in 1992 in a speech in North Carolina when he embraced the North American Free Trade agreement. Now we have a quarter of a trillion dollars of trade between Mexico and the United States.

WALLACE: So what are you saying, that Bill Clinton was a closet Reaganite?

DREIER: What I'm saying is that I'm very proud of Bill Clinton's embrace of core Republican principles. And I was proud to work with him on the trade issue, on getting a balanced budget. I mean, we in the Congress did that. On tort reform, when it came to dealing with the challenge of Y2K...

WALLACE: Let me bring in John Podesta.

DREIER: Aren't you proud of those things, John?

WALLACE: I mean, the fact is that Bill Clinton was the president who said the era of big government is over. I mean, that would have been unimaginable pre-Ronald Reagan.

PODESTA: You know, I think that what characterizes Bill Clinton's presidency was that he cared about real people. And again, that's what this book is about, his interweaving of the stories of people he met and the causes that he championed as president.

And I think if you look at his stewardship of the economy, we are proud of some of the things that David just mentioned. But I think and what we're most proud of is that people across the board, people from the lowest end of the economic spectrum through the middle class grew together, that it wasn't a bifurcated, you know, two-economy, trickle-down approach to governance.

We tried to implement policies that really helped people succeed in life, and I think we did that.

WALLACE: Let me just interrupt, because we're running out of time here. Let's talk about the political impact of this book, because it comes out just as the presidential election campaign is heating up. Some people are saying it's going to overshadow John Kerry. Some people are saying that it's a platform to attack George W. Bush.

Congressman, how do you think it will play in the campaign?

DREIER: It's interesting the distinction made. John just said that Bill Clinton cared about people. This week's Economist said that John Kerry can't relate to people unless they're snowboarders. I mean, the fact is, John Kerry is much more Howard Dean than he is Bill Clinton. And I find it very, very challenging to see how -- I mean, a great challenge for John Kerry, to see how he can try and emulate, you know, the Clinton view.

Again, on the NAFTA itself, John Kerry voted for it. And yet John Kerry says that he would against it if he had that vote to face again today, when, in fact, we've seen tremendous improvement from it.

So, yes, Bill Clinton is going to overshadow John Kerry in the coming weeks.

PODESTA: Well, you know, I think this book -- we can make too much of the political impact of this book, quite frankly. I think that it will remind people that when you got somebody in the Oval Office that won't (ph) close the door, that care about the middle class and care about poor people, they can make a difference in their lives.

That's what this book is about. And I think that'll probably help John Kerry a little bit.

WALLACE: Well, we're going to have to leave it there. It's good to see that even though almost none of us have read the book, we're already talking about it.

DREIER: Yes, we're experts on it.

WALLACE: Thank you both. I appreciate it. Debate to continue.

We should also point out that The New York Times reviews the Clinton book on the front page today and calls it, quote, "sloppy, self-indulgent and often eye-crossingly dull." That will sure sell a lot of books.

Up next, stories you won't find on any other Sunday show, what we've accomplished in Iraq. And our panel: Paul Gigot, Mara Liasson, Bill Kristol and Juan Williams. Stay tuned.

WALLACE: Now let's check out some stories you won't find on any other Sunday show.

Last month we paid tribute to American troops who have died in Iraq with a segment we called, "What We've Accomplished." And we promised to follow up with stories about how U.S. soldiers are making life better in that country.

A reserve unit from the 478th Civil Affairs Battalion noticed that children in Baghdad did not have access to such basic health products as toothbrushes and toothpaste, so they got supplies for the kids. Now teachers help students brush their teeth every day after snack time.

In Al-Anbar province, part of the Sunni triangle, American soldiers are helping distribute equipment that was donated to southern Iraqi television stations by a group called the Spirit of America. One station now does man-on-the-street interviews. One more example of a free press.

And thanks to the generosity of several American universities, U.S. GIs delivered 34 crates of books to the library at the Iraqi National History Museum. It had been 20 years since new books were added to the library.

And we promise to keep looking for more stories.