Transcript: Dick Cheney's First Interview After Heart Transplant
Dick Cheney on His New Heart
JONATHAN KARL: How you feeling?
DICK CHENEY: Excellent. I haven't felt this good in years.
JONATHAN KARL: So this is- you've gone through this heart transplant. You were- you were in end stage heart failure.
DICK CHENEY: Right. Two years ago this time I was- on a respirator, heavily sedated, just had had a pump, a left ventricular assist device installed on my heart 'cause my heart had gotten so weak after six heart attacks and 30-some years of heart disease that- it was, you know, it was at the end. And the transplant is just- it's- nothing short of a miracle what it does for you.
JONATHAN KARL: But when you go in for that surgery, you don't know if you're gonna come out alive.
DICK CHENEY: Well- that's one way to look at it. I've got- one scar, but I've had- three operations through that one scar, a bypass of '88, the pump in 2010, and then this year- the transplant. And the pump proposition, that was the toughest of all the surgeries. I lost 40 pounds. I was- heavily sedated in the intensive care unit for weeks afterwards. I had pneumonia while I was in recovering from the- the surgery. And- by the time I came out from under- I looked in a mirror and what I saw was my dad shortly before he died.
He was in his 80s…when I went in to do the transplant; I was only in the hospital nine days. It was just four months ago. There's not been a single glitch, no sign of rejection. Everything's just gone perfectly.
JONATHAN KARL: And- and you're out, you're fishing again?
DICK CHENEY: Absolutely.
JONATHAN KARL: Incredible.
DICK CHENEY: Yep, every chance I get.
JONATHAN KARL Do you have any idea, do you know anything about the donor?
DICK CHENEY: I don't. They deliberately- maintain anonymity, at least at the outset. I think part of that has to do with the fact that it- it's such a dramatically different situation. From the standpoint of the recipient, obviously- it's- it's a tremendous gift. And- I'll always be grateful to the donor and the donor family for- for having made possible several additional years of life.
From the standpoint of the donor's family at that point- they'd just been through a terrible tragedy and they'd lost a loved one, a family member. And- so they don't encourage contact at that point. But there is a process- where you can go through a third party. It's- an organization that encourages transplants. And they'll be an intermediary to see if the other- party wants to- to- meet or exchange information or be in contact. And- it's something you can do down the road.
JONATHAN KARL: And will you do that?
DICK CHENEY: At some point- I- would be, you know, certainly amenable to- contact with the family. But- but we have not at this point exchanged any information.
JONATHAN KARL: What would you say to them?
DICK CHENEY: Well- the main thing I'd say is thank you. I've done it publicly not knowing precisely who it was or which family- every chance I get publicly is to express my gratitude for what's a magnificent gift. I can't think of- of a more magnificent gift than to be given additional years of life. And that's what it is. The transplant then, you know, gives you- all of a sudden- the- expectation of several years of additional life that I never thought I'd have. I can't think of a more- magnificent or generous gift.
JONATHAN KARL: So what are you gonna do with those additional years?
DICK CHENEY: Well- I'm- spending time with my family… I don't have full-time work - if that's what you're asking. This summer we're enjoying very much being at home here in- in Wyoming. So I'm, I'm sort of back to normal life I guess would be the- the best way to describe it. And- you know, there are all kinds of possibilities out there. Maybe write another book- certainly plan to fish a lot and- probably do some speaking.
Advice for Mitt Romney and Why McCain Picking Sarah Palin Was "A Mistake"
JONATHAN KARL: Beth Myers- told me that she called you- for some advice on handling the vice-presidential search which she's doing for Romney of course. What- what- what is your advice to Mitt Romney as he makes this decision?
DICK CHENEY: Well, that's the kind of thing- in terms of any specifics- it's valuable if I give it to him but in confidence and don't talk to others about what I said to him. I can talk generally about the way I think about the-
JONATHAN KARL: Let me put it this way. How- how important is it for him to do this in a way that is different than the way John McCain handled his vice-presidential search?
DICK CHENEY: Pretty important. That one I don't think was well handled. And-
JONATHAN KARL: Why?
DICK CHENEY: I sort of think of it as- there are- there are two lists, is the way I always thought about it. And- and I don't know whether the Romney people are- are operating this way or not. I assume they're being very careful and cautious. I certainly would expect that. But there's- there's the big list that's got a lot of folks on it.
I actually, when I was doing it for- well, I did it for Ford in '76. But then again for- George W. Bush in 2000. I had a couple of calls from pro- politicians who'd say, "You know, it'd really help me in my race back home, Dick, if I was on the list." Done. You're on the list. Then somebody could go leak the fact that they were on the list. 00:08:56:00 But that was the big list. It was easy to get on the big list. The tough part is the- the small list, the one that's really under active consideration. And the test to get on that small list has to be is this person capable of being president of the United States? If something happened tomorrow, do they have the experience and the know-how and the qualities you'd wanna have in- in somebody who was asked to take over- the government- at- under one of the most difficult sets of circumstances without election, in effect, all of a sudden that something happens to the president and the vice-president has to step in? And that's usually a very, very short list.
JONATHAN KARL: What about the other considerations? Can you bring a state? You know, can you- can you reach out to a specific demographic, woman, Hispanic? I mean, what- what about some of those other-
DICK CHENEY: Well, I think those will be thought about. And they're important considerations. But I wouldn't waste time focusing on those issues until you've got somebody who- can pass that- that first test. Could they be president of the United States? And- so then you get into the question of geography or certain wing of the party or gender, race, those kinds of issues.
And those are important issues, but they should never be allowed to override that first proposition. And- I think that- that that was one of the problems McCain had. I like- Governor Palin. I've met her. I know her. She- attractive candidate. But based on her background, she'd only been governor for, what, two years. I don't think she passed that test. And I think -
JONATHAN KARL: Of being ready?
DICK CHENEY: Of being ready to take over. And- I think that was- a mistake.
Cheney Released Ten Years of Tax Returns, But Romney is Find Releasing Two
JONATHAN KARL: Romney's said no more tax returns. Two years, that's it. I looked back. You asked every vice-presidential- potential vice-presidential pick to give ten years in tax returns. You released ten years of tax returns.
President Bush, Governor Bush at that time, released ten years of tax returns. What do you think? As a practical matter, should Romney just bite the bullet?
DICK CHENEY: Well, there- there's a standard out there you have to meet. There's a requirement that you put out, what is it? One year? And also release a financial disclosure statement. You have to do that when you become a candidate. And- and he's done that. Now, you can argue should it be one? Should it be five? Should it be ten?
If he had two years out, they'd want four. If he had four years out, they'd want six. If he had six years out, they'd want ten. He's made his judgment. I'm confident- I have great confidence in- in- what he's put out there. He's been a very successful man. And- there's no evidence of any kind that he's done anything improper or inappropriate.
JONATHAN KARL: What would you tell him to do?
DICK CHENEY: It's a distraction. I'd say do what he feels like doing. If this is his decision, fine. Let's get on with it.
JONATHAN KARL: Why did you release ten years?
DICK CHENEY: I have no idea. I didn't really think about it. (LAUGHTER) I think the standard was probably set by- President Bush, then Governor Bush. And I did what he did. In other words, you weren't gonna have the presidential candidate do ten years and the vice-presidential candidate not do that. So.
JONATHAN KARL: That would have been a problem.
DICK CHENEY: Might have been.
On Osama Bin Laden, How "Nobody Trusts" Barack Obama and Why the U.S. Shouldn't "Run for the Exits in the Middle East:
JONATHAN KARL: You- you've had some time to- you had an opportunity to talk to Romney when he was out here for the fundraiser. What's your sense on his foreign policy, national security? Is it gonna be- does he have- is he gonna have the same approach that you had?
DICK CHENEY: Well-
JONATHAN KARL: What's your gut? I mean, what's your- what's your gut?
DICK CHENEY: This- some people might think that's a good idea. Some people might think-
JONATHAN KARL: Some people might not.
DICK CHENEY: -it's a bad idea, yeah. I- you know, for what- I have obviously strong views about- what's going on in the world based on past experience. And people I think for the most part- anybody who knows me- knows what those views are. I believe that- as we go forward, there's no question in my mind but what- Mitt Romney would be much better as a commander in chief than- is Barack Obama.
I think Obama's made some big mistakes. I look, for example, at the Middle East situation today. It's- seems to be growing increasingly chaotic. We've seen the Muslim Brotherhood elected in Egypt. We've got the ongoing conflict in Syria where thousands of people have died. Looks like the Assad regime's gonna collapse. We don't know what ultimately is gonna replace it.
There's continuing problems in Iraq. I look at what the Obama administration's done and it's basically head for the exits. I think we have a significantly diminished capacity to influence events in that part of the world because of the way this administration has operated or failed to operate. I think what is crucial is to remember that the U.S. still has vital interests in the Middle East and those haven't gone away. We've got a lot of good allies and friends out there- both the Israelis obviously but also a number of our friends in the Arab world, the Saudis, the United Arab Emirates and- and so forth.
And- those folks- I think have doubts about how valuable a U.S. commitment is at this point because, you know, Barack Obama, among other things, went to Cairo and apologized for past U.S. behavior in the region. He has withdrawn everything from Iraq and failed to negotiate the follow on agreement that had been the cornerstone of what was gonna be left behind to make certain that the Iraqis could take care of their own situation.
And- with respect to Afghanistan, you know, we're in a similar situation now. It's tough. It's hard. It's difficult. I know the public's tired of conflict. But- if we turn our backs and walk away- we're just headed for trouble down the road eventually. And- this administration is not in a position- frankly, to do anything about it because nobody trusts them.
JONATHAN KARL: Doesn't President Obama deserve credit for the long term? I mean, you've got 20, 24 so high-value al-Qaeda targets have been taken out. Bin Laden's dead. I mean, you can't say he's been soft on terror, can you?
DICK CHENEY: I have- I wouldn't say he's been soft on terror. But I think there- I think he's made a number of mistakes. Bin Laden, fine. I went out and congratulated him when he did it. Said it on camera. A lot of that, as Leon Panetta said at the time, he was CIA director, and-others was- a lot of that intelligence that laid the groundwork for what ultimately led to the capture of Bin Laden came as a result of programs we had in place in the Bush administration.
Took a long time and a lot of groundwork by our intelligence professionals and by the military to get to the point where we could take down Bin Laden. So it was- a continuous effort over a ten-year period of time. Fine. What I worry about is that- where if you remember what happened, for example, back in Afghanistan, we were actively involved there in the '80s after the Soviets withdrew. Everybody was involved in helping the Mujahideen against the Soviets, turned around and walked away.
Taliban came to power. Then there was a civil war and they- they won. They invited in Osama bin Laden in '96. He set up training camps, trained 20-some thousand terrorists in the late '90s. And that was the base from which they launched the attack of 9/11 that killed 3,000 Americans. That's the reason we went in back in- in 2001. And- as we now turn our backs and walk away and say, "Gee, we've been there a long time or it's been too costly," we very much run the risk of seeing bad things happen in that part of the world.
That is the part of the world where we're most likely to see the proliferation of nuclear capability come from. AQ Khan, who was running the black market operation, we took him down our watch in our first term. He said- within the last year in- in the press, in public, that the Pakistanis had sold uranium enrichment technology to the North Koreans. And we know the North Koreans now have 2,000 centrifuges operating enriching uranium to- to- weapons grade status.
That is- a cesspool, if you will, of the kinds of developments in WMD. Today we see the Syrian situation- civil war and- the government talking about the possibility of using chemical and biological agents against their own people. Can you imagine what would have happened if they had the nuclear rector that the Israelis took out five years ago? I mean, it is a very important part of the world for us to be actively and aggressively engaged in.
We should not be running for the exits. We should not be turning our backs on our friends in that part of the world. We ought to be prepared to aggressively engage, if we have to, to- halt the further spread of nuclear capability.
Obama: Worse than Carter
JONATHAN KARL: Your overall assessment of President Obama. We're almost through a first term.
DICK CHENEY: I obviously I'm not a big fan of President Obama. I think he's been one of our weakest presidents. I just fundamentally disagree with him philosophically. I- be hard put to find any Democratic president that I've disagreed with more-
JONATHAN KARL: Really?
DICK CHENEY: Than Barack Obama. Yeah.
JONATHAN KARL: Worse than Jimmy Carter, from your perspective?
DICK CHENEY: Yes.
Gay Marriage and His Daughter Mary's Wedding
JONATHAN KARL: Does he deserve some credit on the issue of gay marriage, being the first president to come out and say he's in favor of gay marriage?
DICK CHENEY: You know, that's- that's- up to him. I made my statement on that subject 12 years ago.
JONATHAN KARL: What's your stance? Is that a generational thing? I mean, are we getting to the point- one thing President Obama said is that- his daughters were kind of influential in- in coming out. They- they didn't understand why could there be a problem. I mean, is- is that issue even gonna be relevant in 20 or 30 years?
DICK CHENEY: I don't know that it's relevant now. You know? There are a lot of big issues. And I'm sure that's a big issue for some people obviously. But I don't think the election's gonna turn on that issue.
JONATHAN KARL: Do you wish you had pushed a little harder on that issue?
DICK CHENEY: Why?
JONATHAN KARL: Well, I mean, it's-
DICK CHENEY: If I was out there 12 years ago in the first- campaign in 2000- in the debate with Joe Lieberman in front of millions of Americans on live television and I laid out my position then and it hasn't changed- no. I've addressed it and moved on.
JONATHAN KARL: How was- how was Mary's wedding?
DICK CHENEY: I'm sure it was fine. We wished them well. She wanted to avoid- having it be a media circus or having it become part of the political debate. And- so- Lynn and I were very proud and happy and congratulated them. They've been an important part of the family for a long time. Provided us with two of our seven grandkids.
JONATHAN KARL: And you're proud of her?
DICK CHENEY: Absolutely.
The Legacy of Cheney and the Bush Administration
JONATHAN KARL: How is Dick Cheney gonna be remembered?
DICK CHENEY: Oh, I- I- let somebody else- worry about that. I wrote my book, John. You- you ought to read it. It's a good book.
JONATHAN KARL: I have read it.
DICK CHENEY: You have read it. But- no, I- you know, the historians, others will decide on what my legacy is. I had- had a fantastic career. I went to Washington to stay 12 months in 1968. And I spent the better part of the last 40 years there. I got to be White House chief of staff, ten years of congressman, secretary of defense, vice-president.
If you're a political junkie like I obviously am- that was- every one of those was just a tremendous experience.
I'm very comfortable with what I did and why I did it and how I did it. And- I'll let others judge- whether they liked it or not.
JONATHAN KARL: Do you have any regrets?
DICK CHENEY: Not really.
JONATHAN KARL: Really?
DICK CHENEY: Unh-uh (NEGATIVE).
JONATHAN KARL: I mean, you left office as one of the most unpopular vice-presidents modern time.
DICK CHENEY: You can't be judged and shouldn't judge- people in those senior levels by the polls. Journalists do it all the time. That's one of the- the things that's out there that's sort of quantitative and there's a lot of people spending money on polls and so forth. And so, you know, once a week or twice a week when new polls come out, there's probably, you know, a couple polls every day.
It gives you something to work with. But it's not a very effective way to judge- the performance of individuals. And- I never worried about the polls. If I had, you know, I- I was in the wrong line of work.
JONATHAN KARL: Well, I- I get the sense we haven't heard the last from you. So.
DICK CHENEY: Well, that- that could be. I probably- Democrats out there- I saw one commentator the other day on- who shall remain unnamed saying, "My gosh, he's back." (LAUGHTER) They were of the more liberal persuasion.
JONATHAN KARL: Yeah, yeah. Well, you're back and you're with us. And thank you very much, Mr. Vice-President.
DICK CHENEY: All right, John.
JONATHAN KARL: Really appreciate your time.