Former George W. Bush Speechwriter Defends Controversial Book

This is a rush transcript from "Your World With Neil Cavuto," September 25, 2009. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: I think those personnel experts have it wrong. They keep saying hell hath no fury like a worker scorned. Not so. Hell hath no fury like a worker ignored.


CAVUTO: I got a lot of heat on that.

A former speechwriter blasting George Bush in his new kiss-and-tell- all book. So, I take a stab back. And now Matt Latimer, that former speechwriter and author of "Speech-Less," here to respond.

And, Matt, you basically didn't like the way I portrayed you as someone who was dismissed at the White House, who had a vendetta — which is effectively what I was saying.


And, Neil, first of all, I want to thank you very much for giving me this opportunity to come on and to share my views.

CAVUTO: Sure. Sure.

LATIMER: And that's the kind of show you've had. And I really appreciate that.

You know, I do want to say one thing for your viewers: I respect President Bush. I truly do.

CAVUTO: You've got a funny way of showing it in the book.

LATIMER: No. You know, after 9/11, the nation will never be able to forget that the president said he would do everything in his power to keep this country safe from another attack. And he kept that pledge.


CAVUTO: But you weren't there during 9/11.

LATIMER: No, I was at the Pentagon after 9/11. I was in the Senate then.

CAVUTO: I know. But the perception with the year or so you were in the White House is that the guy was an idiot.

LATIMER: No, no, no.

Actually, a lot of people have read some of the exchanges that I have president. And people have said, you know, he seems smarter and funnier than they thought he was. And he's a very smart and funny person.

CAVUTO: Did they read the same book I did? Because you're recounting the whole financial crisis and this big rescue, which was a big anathema to conservatives, as you recall, Matt, that the president didn't even know what he was signing onto.

LATIMER: Well, you know, I — one of the things I wanted to do with this book is to give people an opportunity to draw their own conclusions. They can read what people have said.

And my book, by the way, is not just about the Bush administration. It's about an entire time I have spent as a conservative in Washington, from Capitol Hill to the Pentagon.

CAVUTO: See, I got that. And you are a disillusioned conservative. And you're not — wouldn't — the first one who is disillusioned.

LATIMER: Right. Correct.

CAVUTO: Scott McClellan sort of paved the way here.


CAVUTO: But I got the impression that you were disappointed that the president didn't give you any big assignments. I know the president has only so many speechwriters, like three or four of you. But I'm told by people in the White House, Matt, that you were like the lowest man on that totem poll.

LATIMER: Well, you know, I have heard that, too. And I have read those articles.

I actually was one of the top two writers at the very end of my time with the Bush administration. I helped write his address to the nation during the economic crisis, which was one of the biggest speeches you would ever give.

And I actually — when I left the White House in October, on my own accord, I wrote a letter to the president thanking him because he had asked — he had called me and asked me politely if I would stay a little bit longer.

So, I mean, at least in his mind...

CAVUTO: Well, why did you leave?

LATIMER: Well, I had gone through the economic crisis. I had gone through the — a lot of the 2008 campaign. And, like a lot of people who watch this show, I felt like, you know, we send people who say they are conservatives to Washington and then they disappoint us.

And for all the wonderful things the president has done, I think it is OK to discuss the failings of a conservative...


CAVUTO: But you're there only a year or so.

LATIMER: Well, I was there for nearly two years and in his administration for five.

CAVUTO: I know. I know. But my point was that, you know, there is this talk that you had a West Wing office and then you were moved to the Old Executive Office Building.

I know, in my case, Matt, if they move me out of this building and had me in the nearby Tad's Steakhouse, I mean — well, that wouldn't actually be a bad thing.


CAVUTO: Forget that.

But, you know, like, if you're moved out of the seat of power, or what is perceived to be out of the seat of power, that is a humbling experience.

LATIMER: I have heard that, too. And the reason I was moved — I had a small office in the West Wing. And the reason that I was moved from the West Wing to the EEOB, the Executive Office Building...


CAVUTO: Which is next door.

LATIMER: Right next door with a view of the White House, a much bigger office, in fact, was because they needed room for more lawyers, because the White House counsel was responding to all these subpoenas. So, therefore, they needed that spot to kind of go and organize the subpoenas.

And they apologized to me for doing that, but, actually, I loved having my new office.

CAVUTO: But you might talk about the financial speech, but others say that you were relegated, although a very good writer, to the not-so- important speeches.

And one of the big ones, I know, in some of the e-mails is on Thanksgiving, when the president pardons turkeys.


CAVUTO: Now, you wrote a good...


CAVUTO: Now, this one, I particularly remembered it was very good.


CAVUTO: But Bill McGurn, who was your boss at that time...

LATIMER: That's right.

CAVUTO: ... he says: "He makes it sound like I am praising him for all of these speeches, but it's really specific to the joke about the turkey." He goes on to say, "He did a nice job on certain things," referring to you, "but the freaking turkey was not JFK at the Berlin Wall."


LATIMER: No, you got it absolutely correct. I hope people read my book, "Speech-Less," because they will see I'm perfectly comfortable with talking about the things that I did for the Bush administration.

But I wrote many of the major speeches. And in the last year I was there, I was one of the top writers. I read, edited or wrote every single speech the president saw. And my name was on every speech.

CAVUTO: Well, then your memory seems to be different than some of the things who were in the same room. Some of them have called me. And particularly with Governor Sarah Palin, you relay the story of how the announcement of her pick by Senator John McCain to be his running mate was received by President Bush. And that — the famous line you come up with, "Who is she, the governor of Guam?" and make it sound like he didn't know her...


CAVUTO: ... when, in fact, he did, and he was joking.

LATIMER: I disagree with you. In fact, I say in the book — respectfully disagree with you — I say in the book, the president said with a twinkle in his eye, "Who is she, the governor of Guam?"

He obviously was joking. The president is a very funny person.

CAVUTO: I didn't get that clear impression.

LATIMER: But a lot of people did, because that's in fact what I meant.


CAVUTO: But then why didn't you go on to say what he also said, that he was impressed with her, that she is going from the minor leagues to the big leagues, and she has no idea what she is in for.

LATIMER: Well, that's not exactly what he says in the book.

But what he was saying was, Governor Palin, who is new on the national scene, was not — and her family were not — probably prepared for the national spotlight that was going to hit her.


CAVUTO: You might be right. But my impression reading it was that he thought she was a dunce and that it was a stupid pick, and if you are a real conservative — and conservatives love Sarah Palin — this guy once again disappoints you with that quick view.

LATIMER: Well, Neil, I welcome you to have your own opinion of that. I hope other people have their own as well.

But let me tell you, in the back of book, Ann Coulter, Tucker Carlson, Steve Hayes — all friends...

CAVUTO: Well, Ann Coulter was not a fan of President Bush.


LATIMER: ... all friends of FOX News, have endorsed this book. And many conservative leaders across the country have.

CAVUTO: You know what, Matt? I have no friends, FOX News or otherwise. I really have no friends at all. So, I have no agenda here.



CAVUTO: I'm just asking you this: Why write a book like this? You know what I'm saying? And I would say this of a former official, Democrat or Republican: You are invited into the White House in a special role.


CAVUTO: And it sounds like you are like a snitch.

LATIMER: Well, you know, there is a wonderful history in this country of many presidential aides writing books of their time in the White House with private conversations. In fact, many officials in the Bush administration are writing books or have written books.

CAVUTO: No doubt. No doubt.

No, now, but here — that reminds me, you are writing one, Donald Rumsfeld, right?

LATIMER: Well, Secretary Rumsfeld and his publisher asked me to help him put his memoirs together, yes, but he's writing his own book. If you know Donald Rumsfeld — and I'm sure you do — nobody writes his book but him.

CAVUTO: I know, but he gets a pass in your book.


LATIMER: I don't agree with that.


CAVUTO: Oh, listen to this. This is from your own words here.


CAVUTO: "Rumsfeld got out of his chopper, which was the same as ours, and look like a million dollars, not a hair out of place. His clothes look untouched by dust. Not a drop of perspiration could be seen. He strolled by us if he didn't have a care in the world. I don't know how we did it."


LATIMER: Exactly.

And it was a funny scene because the rest of us were on another helicopter. And we were pouring with sweat. Our suits were stuck to us.


CAVUTO: I don't dismiss its accuracy at all. I'm just saying that he comes out looking good. You're writing a book with him. I'm maybe a cynical journalist, but I'm saying, hey, you know...

LATIMER: But you know what else — you know, other people in this book come out well. I say very nice things about President Bush, Senator Kyl, who I worked for. I say very — I say he's the kind of senator...


CAVUTO: You say mostly dismissive things about President Bush.

LATIMER: No, I say he was a wonderfully, warm, funny person.


CAVUTO: He didn't grasp the details. He was in over his head in the financial crisis.

LATIMER: No, no.

CAVUTO: No, no, you said that he...

LATIMER: I didn't say he was over his head.

CAVUTO: It was Treasury Paulson was the person running this, and that he deferred to them.

And I thought about that. And I thought, well, why would he not defer to his treasury secretary?

LATIMER: I respectfully disagree. I mean, that's the beauty of this book.

Conservatives can read this and have their own interpretations of events. But I did not say what you just said in this book.

CAVUTO: All right, but — so straighten this out for my simple mind: When Treasury Secretary Paulson was advising the president, you don't think that's a bad idea, for the president to listen to his treasury secretary?

LATIMER: Oh, absolutely not.

CAVUTO: So, when a conservative president is saying, I'm signing onto this, even though I know it's going to — it goes against every fiber of my body and that I'm worried that if we don't do it, we're going to have a Great Depression, is that stupid?

LATIMER: No, it's not stupid, no.

CAVUTO: Well, conservatives hated it. I hated that rescue.

LATIMER: A lot of conservatives...


CAVUTO: So, my point is this, that I can understand why the president did it and why Treasury Secretary Paulson did it. And I could understand all the people a year after it, Matt, saying, well, this was the way to go.

LATIMER: Right. Well, certainly. And people can — I don't draw a conclusion about what happened. I just tell people what happened. And they can draw their own conclusions.

But it's OK for conservatives — as Vice President Cheney said, the statute of limitations for the Bush administration, it's over. We can now talk about some things where conservatives have failed.

CAVUTO: It might be over, but it is barely done.


LATIMER: If you look at where conservatives...

CAVUTO: Did your publisher tell you, Matt, look, we got — you need to have to have some good dirt on this guy or this book ain't going to fly?

LATIMER: No, no, no. What I wanted to do — there's a wonderful — if you are a Civil War buff — and I don't know if you are — there are wonderful stories about generals in the Civil War written by people who worked for them.

CAVUTO: Right.

LATIMER: There are colorful, earthy stories. There are funny private moments.


CAVUTO: Here's the thing with you, Matt. And I read the book, and a couple of passages a couple of times.

And I'm thinking, you are meticulous, that you were well-known for taking notes and well-known for getting everything just right. And the president would go and sort of, all right, where do I stand on this, what have you.

But I am picturing a guy taking notes. I'm saying, I know he's a speechwriter. I know he has to get this right. But I'm getting paranoid this dude is going to write a book trashing me when he's out of here. And he's gathering his notes now.

LATIMER: Well, as I say, first of all, I respect President Bush. I liked him. I do not trash him in this book. I hope people will read it and see that for themselves.

This is a book of a conservative...

CAVUTO: Well, the passage, I can't quote it exactly, when he says, you know, buy low, sell high. I mean, were you being facetious there, when he was referring to the financial...



CAVUTO: Or were you — or — you had to know that he was — he was saying, well, that is how I hope it works out.

LATIMER: Oh, no, no, no, no. That was — if you — in the book, it says this. What the president thought our proposal was, what I thought our proposal was, what we were told by the Department of Treasury our proposal was, was to buy these toxic assets.

CAVUTO: Right.

LATIMER: Buy them low and sell them high.

CAVUTO: Sell them high.

LATIMER: And the treasury secretary changed his position.

CAVUTO: Changed the rules later. But — I understand.


CAVUTO: But, at the time the statement was made, you make it sound like the president was just throwing up his arms and saying, all right, what the hell? I guess I got to...

LATIMER: I absolutely do not make it that way. And I would love people to read the book and see for themselves how I do that.


Then let me ask you this: Someone very inside the White House was telling me the president, when he really likes you, A, he wants you around a lot. And you would go, I guess, to these weekly meetings with the three other...


LATIMER: Right. Sometimes daily, but yes.

CAVUTO: Well, he said weekly.

And that if he wants you around, he will have you around a lot, and he will go back and forth with you a lot.

And they also said, if he really likes you, he will have a nickname for you.

You had no nickname.


LATIMER: I — you know, it's — I may have a nickname now.


CAVUTO: Yes. Now you might, yes.


CAVUTO: So, what is to stop them from thinking, that son of a bitch?

LATIMER: What's to stop them? Nothing. In fact, they are saying that right now.

But, you know, a lot of — there's a strong number of people who are former Bush administration officials — a lot of them are around in the media, they have a lot of friends in the media — and they don't like the fact that this is a critique of the administration from the right.

CAVUTO: But you gave no hint of it when you were there.

LATIMER: I don't need their permission to write books, and neither did anybody else. I didn't see these people complaining when Michael Gerson, another speechwriter, wrote a book about the president, because his is complementary. Mine is a mixed view, probably.

CAVUTO: Matt, here's the deal with me: As controversial and as fickle as the TV business is, I work for Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch. We might have disagreements and differences.

I would never, even if I was thrown out on my ass from this place, and — which is not out of the question — I don't think I would write a bad thing about them. I don't think I would.

LATIMER: Well, that is fine. And I don't think I wrote a bad thing about President Bush. I never say one thing about him that is bad.

I show people what I actually saw from a conservative point of view. And, as I say, nobody who is on the back — none of the conservatives in the back of this book would never endorse the book...

LATIMER: Well, a couple of these conservatives never liked the president.

Well, they would not support a book that is as it's been described.

CAVUTO: OK. All right.

Well, you speak your mind well. Matt Latimer, maybe it's all open to interpretation.

LATIMER: Absolutely.

CAVUTO: But the book is doing very, very well. "Speech-Less" is it. And, well, you have got to a lot of controversy there.

LATIMER: Well, that is true.


CAVUTO: Thank you very, very much.

LATIMER: Thank you.

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