George Stephanopoulos' Exclusive Interview with Sen. Hillary Clinton

ByABC News

December 30, 2001— -- STEPHANOPOULOS: You know, Peggy Noonan accepts the premise ofyour question this morning in The Wall Street Journal, but she goes onto say that's exactly the reason not to pick you. She says, "Mrs.Clinton is the most dramatically polarizing, the most instinctivelydistrusted political figure of my lifetime. Yes, I include Nixon."

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

Obviously, I'm running a campaign to try to keep focused on thebig issues that the country faces. And I think that people in Iowaand 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 partisanbasis. That's not a surprise to me or to you.

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

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

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

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

And he said, "That's not experience, that's witnessingexperience." 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 downto the very end. I've been around long enough to know that people whoare friends before and will be friends afterwards are obviously tryingto make a political point.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


CLINTON: It is. It is true. And, you know, I believe that ourgovernment failed. We obviously didn't have a lot of good options.It moved very quickly. It was a difficult, terrible genocide to tryto 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 hasapologized for, and I think that for me, it was one of the mostpoignant and difficult experiences, when I met with Rwandan refugeesin Kampala, Uganda, shortly after the genocide ended, and I personallyapologized to women whose arms had been hacked off, who had seen theirhusbands and their children murdered before their very eyes and wereat the bottom of piles of bodies.

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

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

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

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

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

STEPHANOPOULOS: Are we getting to the point, as the UnitedStates faced back in 1979, when we stood behind a leader who doesn'thave the trust of his people, for too long?

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

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

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

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

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

CLINTON: Well, you know, by the time Bill ran, he was the seniormost serving governor in America, and he'd had tough elections everytwo 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 ofus.

What people know about me is that I've been vetted and I've beentested. I've been on the receiving end of a lot of Republicanincoming fire for 16 years, and I have, much to their dismay, survivedand 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 Idon't think there's much doubt that I'm ready to go the distance.

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

STEPHANOPOULOS: You want to be judged on your own terms, and ofcourse you will be in the end, but President Clinton does play a bigrole 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 excitedabout it than he thought he would have been. I think that you know heloves being out with people.

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

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

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

Probably not. I think he would play the role thatspouses have always played for presidents, which is a very importantrole. 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 aformal official role. But just as presidents rely on wives, husbands,fathers, friends of long years, he will be my close confidant andadviser, as I was with him.

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

But I expect to rely on him in a personal way, and I expect toask 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 fewmonths 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 ofgetting ahead of ourselves. We haven't even had the first people showup at the caucuses in Iowa.

I'm going to rely on him. I would expect that people in myadministration will turn to him and rely on him, as we do with manypeople 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 intimatelyinvolved with a broken system, as they put it, can't bring change.

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

That's a false choice for the people of America. I believe Ihave the experience to bring change. I think you can look at myrecord in the Senate and all of the bipartisan accomplishments thatI'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 aboutchange in our system.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But John Edwards says...

CLINTON: You know, some people think you can bring change bydemanding 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 theirpoint 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 throughthis campaign.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLINTON: But I feel very encouraged by what I see in the crowdsand the kind of reports that I'm getting about the support that I havearound 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 Istarted here, I was in single digits. I mean, nobody expected me tobe doing as well as I'm doing in Iowa.

I was running against one opponent who has been campaigning herefor four years, another opponent from a neighboring state. So Ibelieve that this campaign will be bunched up. I think that thehistory 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 hardas I can to make the best case, in these closing days, and to try toget 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 acampaign that is posed and ready for the long term. We are competingeverywhere through February 5. We have staff in many states. We havebuilt 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 insecond 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 outthere and you make your case, and you reach as many people aspossible. 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.

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