Bill Clinton on AIDS, Iran, Secret Spying and His Wife's Career

Jan. 12, 2006 — -- In an exclusive interview with "Nightline" co-anchor Terry Moran, former President Bill Clinton discussed his foundation's initiative to cut the cost of AIDS drugs, which was announced today.

Clinton also gave his take on the limits of presidential power, Judge Samuel Alito's Senate confirmation hearings, tensions with Iran, the impact of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's illness on Middle East peace, and his wife's plans for 2008.

When asked if the president should have constitutional authority to order domestic surveillance without a warrant during wartime -- a controversy President Bush currently faces -- Clinton said it is "a decision the Supreme Court would have to resolve."

"My attitude was that once the Congress had spoken on it and given us the tools that we needed, we used it," he said. "We used the law. We either went there and asked for the approval or, if there was an emergency and we had to do it beforehand, then we filed within three days afterward and gave them a chance to second guess it, because I thought it was a good -- I think in the country you always have to try to balance these things out, so that's what we did."

Clinton also said the effect of Sharon's illness on the struggle for Middle East peace remains to be seen. "It depends on what the Israeli people do with it, and what the political leaders do with it," he said. "First of all, I have an enormous respect for him ... I found him utterly fascinating, completely frank and completely open where we had differences."

Alito, Iran and Prospects for 2008

When asked if the Democrats are right to go after Alito as aggressively as they have during his Judiciary Committee hearing and whether he's right not to answer all questions, Clinton said he believes he has answered "quite a bit," adding that "they haven't gone after him personally, which I like."

"But I think we know on balance from what he said and from his writings and his 15 years on the bench and his career as a government lawyer that he's probably going to be a more conservative judge than Justice O'Connor," he said, "and what the hearings should be designed to do is to flesh out what that means ... so that the senators can make intelligent votes."

When discussing whether military conflict is likely in Iran, Clinton said he hoped not and added that it is probably not in the immediate future.

"Iran is a much more formidable opponent than Iraq, and because we have our troops tied down in Iraq and Afghanistan and they're pretty stretched, and because it would not be an appropriate thing to do under these circumstances," he said. "There's no kind of imminent threat. On the other hand, potentially, it's a much more dangerous situation for us long-term than Iraq."

Finally, when asked whether his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., would run for president, Clinton said, "I don't know if she's going to run."

"First of all, she's got to get re-elected," he said. "People laugh at me when I say this, but I did have a fairly good, long career in public life. It is a disastrous mistake for any politician to assume that any election is in the bank and to ever think about the next election before you get past the one you're in."

He said he'll support whatever decision she makes. "She's just good, and I knew she'd be a good senator," Clinton said. "She's been better than I thought she'd be, and so whatever she wants to do, I'm for, but it's all up to her."

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