Hillary and Bill: 'Immediate Attraction'

June 9, 2003 — -- — Hillary Rodham felt an "immediate attraction" for a classmate at Yale who "looked like a Viking," and says she and the then-bushy haired Bill Clinton remain married today because of a mutual intellectual fascination that has never faded.

"No one understands me better, and no one can make me laugh the way Bill does," she told ABCNEWS' Barbara Walters, reading from her new book, Living History, out today. "Even after all these years, he's still the most interesting, energizing and fully alive person I have ever met. Bill Clinton started a conversation in the spring of 1971, and more than 30 years later we're still talking."

In her exclusive interview with Walters — which aired Sunday night as an ABCNEWS special, Hillary Clinton's Journey: Public, Private, Personal With Barbara Walters — Clinton describes meeting the future president when both were students at Yale Law School.

"There was a point at which … I still hadn't really met him, and I was sitting in the library, and he was standing just outside the door," she said. "He was looking at me, and I was looking at him. And I finally thought this was ridiculous, because every time I saw him on campus I just couldn't take my eyes off of him, and he was always watching me.

"So I put my books down, I walked out, and I said, 'You know, if you're going to keep looking at me, and I'm going to keep looking back, we should know each other. I'm Hillary Rodham.' And he told me his name. He tells people that he couldn't remember his name.

"It was an immediate attraction, and it was just a life changing experience to have met him," she said.

‘Tried and Tested’

Eventually, as they collaborated professionally on her successful run for the U.S. Senate, that attraction, admiration and intellectual connection even overcame the marital troubles the couple had as a result of his inappropriate relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

"I reached the point where I decided that I was either going to have to forgive … and let go of the anger and the disappointment that I had felt, or we weren't going to have a marriage," she said. "And both of us worked very, very hard to reach that point.

"We've really been tried and tested, and we are at the point now that we're looking forward," she said. "I hope that we'll grow old together. That's how I look at our future."

From Yale to Arkansas

When she met Bill Clinton, she was one of 27 women among 235 students at Yale Law School.

"He looked like a Viking," she said. "He had this big, bushy, brownish-reddish beard, and longish hair, and he looked very imposing."

As they fell in love, he repeatedly asked her to marry him. She says she hesitated at first, not wanting to hinder her budding career. But eventually, she "followed my heart," and the couple moved back to Clinton's home state of Arkansas, where he soon was elected governor.

At first, it was difficult for her to adjust to the pace and styles of her adopted state.

"I didn't have an accent — a southern accent anyway — and, you know, I'd worn blue jeans and work shirts and … big old sweaters all during law school, so I did have some adjusting to do," she said.

"But I loved Arkansas," she said. "And the people of Arkansas were not only very good to me, but I made some of the best friends that I've ever made."

‘Partisan Campaign to Undermine Bill and Me’

However, her life in Arkansas also contained the seeds of future trouble and headaches — particularly her work for the Rose Law Firm and the Whitewater real estate deal.

Accusations and investigations came much later over those and other activities. At one point, the non-stop probes of the Clintons prompted Hillary to complain of a "vast right-wing conspiracy."

"Now, in retrospect, everything that was thrown at me, everything that was said, turned out to be without basis in fact," she said. "But that didn't help at the time, because we had this out-of-control, zealous prosecutor who was on a partisan campaign to undermine Bill and me and everyone else."

‘I’m Sorry, I’m Sorry, I’m Sorry’

The Arkansas years also contained the seeds of scandal.

She still believes denials by her husband, as president, over a lawsuit by Paula Jones, who claimed he made unwarranted advances toward her in Arkansas years before.

"When her judge threw out her case and said it was without factual or legal merit, I think that about summed it up," Hillary said.

When Bill Clinton ran for president, a woman named Gennifer Flowers claimed she had a 12-year relationship with him in Arkansas. Hillary believed her husband's denials then, too, but eventually he admitted in a court deposition to having a sexual encounter with Flowers.

President Clinton, at first, also denied his dalliance with Lewinsky, and Hillary accepted that, too.

"By that time, Barbara, so many accusations had been made about me that were just extraordinary, outrageous accusations, and I knew they weren't true, and I knew that for whatever reason people felt obligated or compelled to make them," she told Walters. "It didn't seem unusual to me that something like this would be said."

But months later, on Aug. 15, 1998, she said, President Clinton woke her up and finally admitted he'd had a relationship.

"I was furious," she said. "I was dumbfounded, I was … just beside myself with anger and disappointment. You know, I couldn't imagine how he could have done that to me or to anyone else, and that's what I basically told him on that long ago morning.

"He just kept saying that he was very sorry over and over again," she added. "And I could tell that he was, but that wasn't much comfort. I was still furious and stayed furious for quite some time. But he just kept saying over and over again, you know, 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry.' "

The idea of separation or divorce "certainly crossed my mind," but eventually, she forgave him.

"I think I learned a lot during the counseling that we had," she said. "The counseling … led me to believe that this was a marriage and a love that I wanted to try to preserve if it could be. And I was willing to try."

Debating the Clinton Years

The new book has rekindled the partisan fight over the Clinton presidency.

Laura Ingraham, author of The Hillary Trap, said Clinton's account in her book and during the prime-time interview were not consistent with other accounts of some of the controversies during the Clinton presidency. She pointed to Clinton's account of when she learned about her husband's affair with Monica Lewinsky as an example.

"I think a lot of people watching it, whether they like her or not, didn't add up and that's kind of consistent with how the Clintons move on things."

Nevertheless, Ingraham had grudging respect for Clinton's political abilities.

"She's smart, fascinating, certainly the most interesting Democrat on the scene. All nine Democrats running for president have to be wincing that she's getting so much publicity," she said.

For Sidney Blumenthal, former assistant to President Clinton and author of The Clinton Wars, the release of Clinton's new book has simply sparked another round of unfair accusations against the former first family.

"My view is that they had problems in their marriage that never should have been invaded and turned into a political manner," he said.