Transcript: Charlie Gibson Interviews President Bush

BUSH: What scared me is not doing anything, which would have caused there to be a huge financial meltdown and the conceivable scenario that we'd have been in a depression greater than the Great Depression.

On the other hand, a lot of the -- you know, these -- some of these are investments. I've got faith that the economy will recover. As a matter of fact, I'm confident it will recover. I can't tell you exactly the moment, but when it does recover, a lot of the assets now owned by the government will be sold. And I can't guarantee that we'll get all our money back, but it's conceivable we could.

And the question is, is it worth it to save the system, to safeguard the system? And I came to the conclusion, along with other smart people, that it is.

GIBSON: Do you feel in any way responsible for what's happening?

BUSH: You know, I'm the President during this period of time, but I think when the history of this period is written, people will realize a lot of the decisions that were made on Wall Street took place over a decade or so, before I arrived in President, during I arrived in President.

I'm a little upset that we didn't get the reforms to Fannie and Freddie -- on Fannie and Freddie, because I think it would have helped a lot. And when people review the history of this administration, people will say that this administration tried hard to get a regulator. And there will be a lot of analysis of why that didn't happen. I suspect people will find a lot of it didn't happen for pure political reasons.

GIBSON: How high do you think unemployment will go?

BUSH: Too high. I mean, anybody unemployed is too much. And I -- I'm not a very good economic forecaster. I do know that we are taking steps to make sure -- see, the most difficult thing about this is that a lot of people out there in Main Street wonder why the government is having to act because Wall Street went on a binge. And I'm one, frankly -- at first. I was the guy that inartfully said, "Wall Street got drunk, and we got a hangover."

And on the other hand, though, when you're the President and somebody says, we better move big, Mr. President, otherwise we could have a depression greater than the Great -- we're moving big. And it is hard for the average citizen to understand how frozen the system became and how over-leveraged the system became. And so what we're watching is the de-leveraging of our financial markets, which is obviously affecting the growth of the economy.

GIBSON: You've pushed a lot of money on the table to try to get the banks lending again and to try to get the economy vibrant again. And yet a lot of banks in trouble, we get an indication, are hoarding some of that money, or holding it, concerned about debts that they may have. Are you disappointed the way the banks have dealt with the money that was given them out of TARP?

BUSH: Well, obviously, in a situation like this you'd like to see instant liquidity. But there's a lot of fear throughout our society and the system itself. And slowly but surely the system is becoming unthawed, and it's going to take time for the system to become unthawed. What the American people have got to know is we've taken the steps to unthaw it, which is the first step to recovery.

GIBSON: Your successor said right from the beginning, there's only one President. But he's been holding news conferences; he named his economic team. Is he intruding in any way?

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