"Nyet," he responded.
"I'm very brave on camera. I'm a pussycat off camera," she said. "Surprising that I'm not still in Russia to this minute."
It took more than a year, but she finally earned enough trust for Monica Lewinsky to agree to an interview.
"When I finally met Monica, and thought that I had her trust, she had no money, and she was going to sell her story," Walters said. "And the biggest challenge was how to get her to do it with me free because I said, 'Your credibility is the most important thing.'"
During the March 3 interview in 1999 Walters didn't beat around the bush.
"You showed the president of the United States your thong underwear," Walters said to Lewinsky. "Where did you get the nerve? I mean, who does that?"
On the "The View," the daytime roundtable that Walters invented 11 years ago, they talk about hot topics that can erupt into firestorms. But this forum would have been unthinkable when Walters was growing up.
"View" co-host Whoopi Goldberg marvels at what Walters has accomplished.
"Every now and then I mess with her. I said, 'Have you got any idea how many women are in the media because you made it OK? Because you have all the scars on your back that they didn't have to get?' Then she'll say, 'Oh, Whoopi.'"
Correspondents Joan Lunden, Diane Sawyer and Connie Chung have all suggested that their careers wouldn't have existed had Walters not paved the way.
"Many of the things that happened, I guess over time would've happened anyway," Walters said. "I never set out to be a trailblazer. I never said, I'm gonna do this, you know, for women. I had no mentors."
Among Walters' fans is Oprah Winfrey, who said, "I don't think Barbara knows how enormous of an impact she's had on this industry, on women in particular. I don't think she'll ever really fully get it."
"I don't think we'd be here, if it weren't for Barbara., when I first auditioned for my first television job, I got through my entire audition pretending to be Barbara Walters," Winfrey said. "I mean, the spirit of Barbara, the image of Barbara, for the first year of my television career, I thought I was Barbara -- Black!"
After establishing her own legacy as one of the most influential black women on television, Winfrey agreed to an interview with Walters in 1988 where she described the horrific events of her childhood for the first time. In describing her conversation with Walters, Winfrey said it felt "safe."
"There was a veil of protection and sincerity that made me feel like it's OK to open up, that if you're gonna do it, if you're gonna do it, if you're ever gonna do it, this is the time to do it," Winfrey said.
What's the secret to her interview technique?
"I listen," Walters said. "That's the most important thing."