Exclusive: Cheney Says He's Changed

Vice president reflects on his time in office and assesses Obama's team.

ByABC News via GMA logo
December 16, 2008, 4:00 PM

Dec. 16, 2008 — -- In an exclusive interview with ABC News, a reflective Vice President Dick Cheney praised President-elect Barack Obama's national security team and admitted he's changed during his time in office.

In his first exit interview and first television interview since the November election, Cheney said the 9-11 terrorist attacks most certainly became "a prime motivation," critically shaping his actions in the years that followed.

"Have I changed?" Cheney asked. "Well, not in the sense that I've gone through some fundamental psychological transition here, but I have been, since that day, focused very much on what we needed to do to defend the nation, and I think the policies we've recommended, the programs that we've undertaken, have been good programs. I think those have been sound decisions, and if that's what they mean by saying I've changed, I'm guilty."

With 35 days left in office, the vice president also weighed in on those who will take the place of the Bush administration, assessing Obama's picks to spearhead national security.

"I must say, I think it's a pretty good team," Cheney said. "I'm not close to Barack Obama, obviously, nor do I identify with him politically. He's a liberal. I'm a conservative."

"But I think the idea of keeping Gates at Defense is excellent. I think Jim Jones will be very, very effective as the national security adviser."

Cheney likewise weighed in on Sen. Hillary Clinton, who Obama has tapped to be the next secretary of state.

"While I would not have hired Sen. Clinton, I think she's tough," the vice president added. "She's smart, she works very hard and she may turn out to be just what President Obama needs."

Cheney said the new administration must carefully assess the tools put in place to fight terror. "How they deal with these issues are going to be very important, because it's going to have a direct impact on whether or not they retain the tools that have been so essential and defending the nation for the last seven-and-a-half years, or whether they give them up," he said.

Obama's team needs to look at the specific threats, understand how the programs were put together, and how they operate, the vice president said.

"They shouldn't just fall back on campaign rhetoric to make these very fundamental decisions about the safety of the nation," he warned.

As for what the vice president himself needs, Cheney said there's "no question" he'll miss the job and has "a few stories" that could warrant writing a book.

"I loved being vice president and I loved my time in government," he said. "Being secretary of defense or Ford's chief of staff."

Still, he conceded, "It's been 40 years since I came to Washington to stay 12 months, and I think it's about time I went and did something else."