George Stephanopoulos' Exclusive Interview with Sen. Hillary Clinton

STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, Peggy Noonan accepts the premise of your question this morning in The Wall Street Journal, but she goes on to say that's exactly the reason not to pick you. She says, "Mrs. Clinton is the most dramatically polarizing, the most instinctively distrusted political figure of my lifetime. Yes, I include Nixon."

CLINTON: (LAUGHTER) Oh, George, I mean, I'm not surprised. Are you?

Obviously, I'm running a campaign to try to keep focused on the big issues that the country faces. And I think that people in Iowa and around the country are resonating to that.


CLINTON: But obviously, there are people who disagree with me. They disagree with me ideologically, philosophically, on a partisan basis. That's not a surprise to me or to you.

And for those who now think they're against me, I look to New York, where a lot of people ended up voting for me who never thought they would.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But even our polling here in Iowa shows that this issue of trust is a hurdle for you with Democrats.

CLINTON: Well, that's not what I see. You know, I trust my touch and my feel more than I trust, with all due respect, the commentary that goes on. And whoever becomes the Democratic nominee will face a very high negative, because we know that's what the Republicans are better at, including the person that you quoted from, than anybody else.

STEPHANOPOULOS: On this issue of experience, Senator Dodd took off on you yesterday. He said your experience as first lady was basically not relevant. You were sitting on the sidelines.

And he said, "That's not experience, that's witnessing experience." How do you respond to Senator Dodd?

CLINTON: Well, I'm a big fan of his. I consider...


CLINTON: Oh, sure. Look, it's a campaign. We're getting down to the very end. I've been around long enough to know that people who are friends before and will be friends afterwards are obviously trying to make a political point.

But I think the reality and the evidence is far different. You know, I was intimately involved in so much that went on in the White House, here at home and around the world.

You know, just in the last few weeks, the new leaders of the Northern Ireland government, Dr. Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness, made a special effort to see me. Why? Because I helped in that process, not just standing by and witnessing, but actually getting my hands into it, creating opportunities for people on both sides of the sectarian divide to come together.

When I went to Beijing, I wasn't a witness. I was a spokesperson and proud to be for the proposition that women's rights are human rights. And that cascaded across the world.

I was entrusted with a lot of missions in both paving the way and dealing with very specific challenges our country faced. And I believe since I've been in the Senate, especially serving on the Armed Services Committee, I've deepened and broadened my experience.

STEPHANOPOULOS: How about in the White House? The New York Times wrote this week that you did not attend National Security Council meetings, you did not receive the president's daily briefing, didn't have a security clearance. And that calls your experience in the White House into question.

CLINTON: Well, I just disagree with that. You know, I can imagine what the stories would have been had I attended a National Security Council meeting. You were there. I think you can vouch for that.

But I had direct access to all of the decision-makers. I was briefed on a range of issues, often provided classified information. And often when I traveled on behalf of our country. I traveled with representatives from the DOD, the CIA, the State Department. I think that my experience is unique, having been eight years in the White House, having, yes, been part of making history, and also been part of learning how to best present our country's case. And now, seven years on the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

STEPHANOPOULOS: President Clinton has said, has suggested that you urged him to intervene in Rwanda in 1994.


CLINTON: It is. It is true. And, you know, I believe that our government failed. We obviously didn't have a lot of good options. It moved very quickly. It was a difficult, terrible genocide to try to get our arms around and to do something to try to stem or prevent. It didn't happen, and that is something that the president has apologized for, and I think that for me, it was one of the most poignant and difficult experiences, when I met with Rwandan refugees in Kampala, Uganda, shortly after the genocide ended, and I personally apologized to women whose arms had been hacked off, who had seen their husbands and their children murdered before their very eyes and were at the bottom of piles of bodies.

And then when I was able to go to Rwanda and be part of expressing our deep regrets, because we didn't speak out adequately enough, and we certainly didn't take action.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You called President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan an unreliable ally. Should he step down?

CLINTON: I'm not calling for him to step down. I'm calling for him, number one, to agree with an independent investigation of Benazir Bhutto's death. I am calling on him to hold free and fair elections with independent monitors. I believe that it will take a little time to get that ready, because Benazir's party will have to choose a successor leader...

STEPHANOPOULOS: So we don't need the elections on the 8th?

CLINTON: Well, I think it will be very difficult to have a real election. You know, Nawaz Sharif has said he's not going to compete. The PPP is in disarray with Benazir's assassination. He could be the only person on the ballot. I don't think that's a real election.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Are we getting to the point, as the United States faced back in 1979, when we stood behind a leader who doesn't have the trust of his people, for too long?

CLINTON: Well, that's very possible. We don't know. We know that there is a very strong, pro-democracy, anti-Musharraf movement.

You know, when you have people demonstrating in the streets who are wearing coats and ties, you know, those are the people we should be standing with, the civil society, the middle class of Pakistan, that at this point, if Musharraf were to step down, who would take his place? How would that ever be worked out? This is not a country that has a history of peaceful succession.

This is an opportunity for President Musharraf to step up and actually fulfill many of the words and promises that he's made to me and to many others over the course of a number of years.

STEPHANOPOULOS: On the issue of experience, Barack Obama's taken to quoting Bill Clinton, 1992.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Is Barack Obama as qualified for the White House now as Bill Clinton was then?

CLINTON: Well, you know, by the time Bill ran, he was the senior most serving governor in America, and he'd had tough elections every two years, and then two more after that.

But I'm running on my own qualifications and experience.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So the answer is no?

CLINTON: Well, I am going to let voters make that decision, because ultimately, voters are trying to weigh each and every one of us.

What people know about me is that I've been vetted and I've been tested. I've been on the receiving end of a lot of Republican incoming fire for 16 years, and I have, much to their dismay, survived and thrived. I don't think that...

STEPHANOPOULOS: And he hasn't yet.

CLINTON: I think I'm talking about what I've been through, and I don't think there's much doubt that I'm ready to go the distance.

CLINTON: You know, I have all of this support from officeholders in so-called red states. Now, they might like me personally, but they're not on suicide missions. They have assessed the field, and they have concluded, as Governor Strickland has said, I am the person who can win Ohio. I am the person best ready to run a winning campaign and to be the best president for America.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You want to be judged on your own terms, and of course you will be in the end, but President Clinton does play a big role in this campaign and a big part of your appeal here, right?

CLINTON: Right. Right.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, has he had a hard time, in your view, adjusting to the role of surrogate?

CLINTON: Not really. I think he's been actually more excited about it than he thought he would have been. I think that you know he loves being out with people.

He loves making a case. And he's been a tremendous asset in this campaign.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And a lot of people wonder what kind of role he will play in the White House. You've spoken about his role as a roving ambassador.

Take us inside the White House. Something happens like the assassination of Benazir Bhutto the other day. President Bush had a teleconference with his national security team. Would President Clinton be on that call in your White House?

Probably not. I think he would play the role that spouses have always played for presidents, which is a very important role. And I know that firsthand. But I also know from his...

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, no National Security Council meetings.

CLINTON: No. That wouldn't be appropriate. He will not have a formal official role. But just as presidents rely on wives, husbands, fathers, friends of long years, he will be my close confidant and adviser, as I was with him.

I doubt that there will be an important issue that I won't talk to him about. I don't think there was an important issue that he didn't talk to me about. I don't talk about everything we talked about, because obviously I don't think that's appropriate.

But I expect to rely on him in a personal way, and I expect to ask him to take on some very important assignments.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You had an office in the West Wing. Will he?

CLINTON: If he wants one. I don't know he'll want one. (LAUGHTER)

STEPHANOPOULOS: (inaudible) No, I asked him about that a few months ago. He said he'll go wherever you want him to go.

CLINTON: Oh, well...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Even in the basement.

CLINTON: ... well, you know, this is kind of -- it's kind of getting ahead of ourselves. We haven't even had the first people show up at the caucuses in Iowa.

I'm going to rely on him. I would expect that people in my administration will turn to him and rely on him, as we do with many people who have experience.

I happen to think using former presidents makes a lot of sense. So, I expect to ask him to do many things for our country.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Both Barack Obama and John Edwards this week -- you're talking about experience. They're talking about change.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And they both say that someone so intimately involved with a broken system, as they put it, can't bring change.

CLINTON: Well, I don't think there is this distinction between change and experience. I know that's what they've tried to make this campaign about. It is not an either-or choice.

That's a false choice for the people of America. I believe I have the experience to bring change. I think you can look at my record in the Senate and all of the bipartisan accomplishments that I've been able to achieve, working across the aisle. I know how to find common ground. I know how to stand my ground. And I think it does take some experience to know how to bring about change in our system.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But John Edwards says...

CLINTON: You know, some people think you can bring change by demanding it. And some people think you can bring change...

STEPHANOPOULOS: That's John Edwards, right?

CLINTON: ... by hoping for it.

STEPHANOPOULOS: That's Barack Obama, right?

CLINTON: I think you bring change by working really hard for it. And that's what I've done my entire life.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And that is the frame you've set up. But their point is, you know, you take money from the system as it is right now. You take money from lobbyists. You've heard that argument all through this campaign.

And because you're so wedded to it, it's just not possible.

CLINTON: Well, I think those are artificial distinctions. You know, they take money from people who employ lobbyists, who are married to lobbyists, who are the children of lobbyists.

We need public financing. You know, we need a total overhaul of how we fund our campaigns. I'm in total agreement with that.

But I think it would be hard to find anybody who has incurred the wrath of the special interests more than I have: the drug companies, the health-insurance companies, the oil companies. You just go down the list.

I don't think they waste their time or effort targeting someone that they think is already in agreement with them. They know I mean what I say. They know I have a track record of bringing success.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We're in the Quad Cities here. The Quad City Times this morning, "Five Days Left, Caucus Races Tight, Edwards, Obama 29-29, Clinton 28."

You are world famous here. Biggest organization in the Democratic Party. Why is it so close here?

CLINTON: Oh, it's supposed to be close. I mean, this is a great contest. We don't have any heir apparent in the Democratic Party. I'm out there fighting for every single caucus-goer. I'm out making my case to everybody that I can reach.

CLINTON: I think this is what elections are supposed to be about. Caucuses are, you know, a different breed, but it still is how you persuade people to come out on a cold night and actually stand up in public and declare their allegiance to you as a candidate.

CLINTON: But I feel very encouraged by what I see in the crowds and the kind of reports that I'm getting about the support that I have around the state.

STEPHANOPOULOS: David Yepsen writes, in the Des Moines Register, "There's no third-place ticket out of Iowa for a Democrat this year." He calls third place "a dead zone." Is he right?

CLINTON: I think, because it's so close -- you know, when I started here, I was in single digits. I mean, nobody expected me to be doing as well as I'm doing in Iowa.

I was running against one opponent who has been campaigning here for four years, another opponent from a neighboring state. So I believe that this campaign will be bunched up. I think that the history out of Iowa is that a lot of people live to fight another day.

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you may not win?

CLINTON: I'm not expecting anything. I'm just working as hard as I can to make the best case, in these closing days, and to try to get the folks who say they're for me to actually be able to turn out.

STEPHANOPOULOS: If you don't win here, how do you recover

CLINTON: I don't think it's a question of recovery. I have a campaign that is posed and ready for the long term. We are competing everywhere through February 5. We have staff in many states. We have built organizations in many states.

You know, George, you and I went through an experience, in 1992, where Bill Clinton didn't win anything until Georgia. He came in second time and time again, in a much less, you know volatile and...

STEPHANOPOULOS: much less compressed, also.

CLINTON: ... much less compressed environment.

So, from my perspective, you get up every day and you get out there and you make your case, and you reach as many people as possible. That's what I intend to do. So I'm in it for the long run. It's not a very long run. It will be over by February 5.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator, thanks very much.

CLINTON: Thanks. Great to see you.