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Conversation with Bill Clinton and Bob Dole

President Clinton talks with CNN's Larry King on Tuesday night.
President Clinton talks with CNN's Larry King on Tuesday night.  

(CNN) -- Once adversaries in a race for the presidency of the United States, former President Bill Clinton and former U.S. Sen. Bob Dole are now working together.

They've teamed up to head the Families of Freedom Scholarship fund, which has raised over $100 million for families of those killed in the September 11 terrorist attacks.

Clinton and Dole appeared Tuesday night on CNN's Larry King Live for a wide-ranging discussion.

The Families of Freedom Scholarship

KING: These gentlemen have an announcement to make tonight. We'll defer, to begin with the president. What have you to tell us?

In his first TV interview since leaving office, former President Bill Clinton joins former Sen. Bob Dole on CNN's Larry King Live. (September 4)

Play video

CLINTON: Well, Larry, Bob and I decided to co-chair a campaign just shortly after September 11 -- about a month afterward, so about 11 months ago -- to try to raise enough money to guarantee a college education to the children and spouses of everyone who was killed or disabled on September the 11th.

And then we were told that it might take as much as $100 million to do that, because this fund will be operating for 25 or 30 years.

KING: This is for every child of the victims?

CLINTON: Yes. And there were a lot of young women who lost their husbands, and they were pregnant at the time. So this is going to go on a long time.

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Andy McKelvey at was really the spark plug behind this. He got us all involved. And then we got a lot of help from big companies like CitiCorp and others, and 20,000 other people, just ordinary citizens, little kids doing projects around the schools. And now we've raised $105 million, so our campaign is complete.

And I want to thank Bob Dole and everybody else who...

KING: You have $105 million...

CLINTON: We have $105 million in cash-in-hand and hard commitments. And we believe that will enable to us to keep our word.

KING: Senator Dole, what brought you two -- how did it get you two together?

Former U.S. Senator Bob Dole has teamed up with former President Clinton to raise money for the families of 9/11 victims.
Former U.S. Senator Bob Dole has teamed up with former President Clinton to raise money for the families of 9/11 victims.  

DOLE: Well, I think it was through Andy McKelvey. And, again, I want to congratulate him.

But I think Joe Lockhart, who was in the Clinton White House and Scott Reed, who ran my campaign, were friends. And somehow we all got together. They got together and decided it would be a good idea.

And we both thought it would be a good idea that we could do something that would make a difference for the next 25 or 30 years.

And President Clinton has it exactly right. It's going to be a program that is going to last. And it's under the leadership of Bill Nelsen, the Citizen Scholarship Foundation of America, which is located near Minneapolis. They've been doing this for many years, they've got a great track record.

And it's going to be a gift that lasts. And it's going to cover, as the president said, the children of victims or spouses of victims or those who were disabled. And my view is that it was the right thing to do, and we've been successful because we've had a lot of help from a lot of people.

KING: So everybody -- Mr. President -- everybody, when that child comes of age, gets a scholarship?

CLINTON: That's right. And we determine, the people who administer the fund, determine the amount based on need. We've given 108 grants this year already, just in the last 11 months. The maximum grant is $28,000 a year for people that have no other resources that are going to expensive schools. The average grant is over $13,000 a year.

And even people with real resources who have suffered get a minimum of $1,000.

DOLE: As you know, Mr. President, it doesn't need to be a four- year college. It can be pilot training, cosmetology, a two-year program. And so it's going to fit almost every need which, I think, speaks well for the program.

CLINTON: The other thing I want to say that I was really proud of is that any victims' spouses or children, whether or not they were American citizens, are eligible. We had people killed from 70 countries here on September the 11th.

KING: Britain lost...

CLINTON: Yes, Britain lost a couple hundred. That was important to me and, I think, to Bob. We cared a lot about that.

DOLE: That's right.

CLINTON: And the people who gave this money, I mean, I was just amazed that we were able to raise this kind of money.

KING: Corporate and little people?

CLINTON: Yes. CitiCorp, under Sandy Weill and Bob Rubin, they have built up a huge amount of money, nearly $20 million that they were going to give. They put it into this fund. So they gave us -- after Andy came in with the leadership, they gave us a lot of seed money.

KING: Twenty percent.

CLINTON: Yes. But the rest of it was literally 20,000-people plus. All kinds of things.

DOLE: All kinds of people. You know, I'll put a plug in for Kansas University, the Kansas Chamber of Commerce raised $1 million. I think we had -- I think the president has already indicated I think a total of 20,000 contributors, some 1,900 corporations, 16,000 individuals.

But the important thing is that, you know, we've written letters, we did a public service announcement, we've had a press conference. But a lot of the work, as the president knows, was done by Bill Nelsen and his crew and a lot of good people across the country.

And as a result, we can announce, as the president has announced we've reached our goal, and we hope it's going to be a great program for the future.

September 11

KING: Where were you on September 11, Mr. President?

CLINTON: Australia. But I had an unusual experience because my former staff members Cheryl Mills and Bruce Lindsey were in Cheryl's office down in Tribeca with a full view of the World Trade Center. So they called me between the time the first tower was hit and the time the second tower was hit and talked me through it.

KING: Were you watching it too?

CLINTON: Later I turned it on. But I was downtown in a little town in Port Douglas where I had taken my family for vacation after the '96 election.

KING: Did you come right back?

CLINTON: I did. The White House was kind enough to give me military transport, and I left the next day and got home as quick as I could.

KING: To New York?


KING: Was it difficult coming into New York?

CLINTON: Yes, it was very sad. I went down as quickly as I could, took my daughter down to the crisis center. Hillary was in Washington already at work trying to figure out what needed to be done for the state and the city.

KING: Senator Dole, where were you?

DOLE: I was on my way for a little physical checkup at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington. I had just walked out the door of the apartment building. I live in Watergate South.

And the doorman has said, you know, there had been -- a plane had flown into a building in New York. And they said, well, that's a terrible thing. And we didn't know, of course, the enormity of it until we arrived at the hospital and I learned more about it, and the second plane.

And it's sort of like other dates that we, you know, that are going to be etched in our memory forever. And this is certainly an important one.

KING: What's the first thing you did?

DOLE: The first thing I did?

KING: Yes.

DOLE: Well, the first thing -- I was at the hospital and I noticed all the people at Walter Reed were scurrying around because by then there had been the crash into the Pentagon. And they were getting ready to move a lot of the staff and other people at the Pentagon, getting ready to open up the hospital. And I was just sort of trying to get out of the way because it was a busy, busy place.

But you thought about it, you prayed about it. That's about all you could do from where I was.

KING: Do you remember what you were thinking, Mr. President?


KING: What would go through the mind of the immediate former president watching this?

CLINTON: I remember exactly what happened. Bruce Lindsey said to me on the phone, my God, a second plane has hit the tower. And I said, bin Laden did this. That's the first thing I said.

He said, how can you be sure? I said, because only bin Laden and the Iranians could set up a network to do this, and [the Iranians] wouldn't do it, because they have a country and targets. Bin Laden did it.

KING: Did you also think of the same time where you came pretty close to getting him?

CLINTON: Yes. I thought that my virtual obsession with him was well-faced, and I was full of regret that I didn't get him. I mean, I immediately thought that he had done it.

KING: You were obsessed with him?

CLINTON: Yes I was. Some people thought I was obsessed.

KING: Now the current president is obsessed with him.

CLINTON: Well, he should be. And I've supported everything he's done in Afghanistan. I think it's very important. [Bin Laden] is smart. He's got access to money. He's got a lot of the fanatic supporters around the world, and has to be completely defeated and eradicated.

KING: Senator Dole, do you think we're going to get him, or do you think maybe he's already been gotten?

DOLE: Well, I was going to ask the president that question because, you know, I think he may not be alive. I don't know, but there's been no sightings. Maybe he'll reappear one of these days to let somebody in the world know that he's still around and still spreading terror wherever he goes.

But, you know, the last picture I saw, he didn't look well. And then he had this -- apparently had this kidney problem, maybe he needed dialysis, maybe not. But I'll bet it's 50/50 whether he's alive or dead.

CLINTON: Could be. He had a serious health problem.

DOLE: Right.

CLINTON: And God forgive me, I think he's the only person I ever prayed would succumb to his health problem. And, you know, the world would be a lot safer place if he had.

So I don't know. But I think we have to assume he's still alive. And according -- all I know is the press reports that we have intelligence that the al Qaeda network is still trying to plan attacks around the world.

KING: You fellas fear more? Mr. President, do you think we're going to see more?

CLINTON: I think there will be, but I think our defenses will improve, too.

Look, there's never been a time or age free of danger. Bob Dole served this country with great distinction in World War II when all of civilization could have been destroyed if his generation hadn't saved us and saved freedom.

But no terrorist attack has ever succeeded, and none ever will, I don't believe. But could there be more? Of course there could be. Can we do a better job of defense? Yes, we can. Have we learned a lot since September 11? We have.

And so I'm basically very, very confident about the long-run future of this. I just think we've got a lot of diligent, difficult work to do.

Clinton the talk show host?

KING: We have just a little while left.. do you want to be a talk show host?

(Clinton laughs)

KING: My job, I signed a contract, so I'm OK.

CLINTON: I think I'll leave that to you.

KING: You're not going to do it?

CLINTON: I don't think so. You know, maybe sometime later in my life I'd like to do it.

It would be intriguing to me because I like to talk to people. I'd like to have Dole come on my show and tell me what I did wrong about things. I'd like to have you come on my show. But I've got a lot of questions I always wanted to ask you.

KING: Cut that out!

CLINTON: I think, you know, you have to be here every day. And there's -- a lot of the work I do requires me to travel. You know, I'm going to Africa at the end of this month, I'm going to India at the end of November. And I really believe I should always spend more than half my time on public service, so I just don't see how I can do it.

KING: But a side of you wanted to?

CLINTON: Yes, because I'm interested in a lot of different things and I like to discuss things, and I also don't like -- one of the reasons I like what you do is you have all different kinds of people on and you give them a chance to have their say and have honest discussions.

So much of the debate today in America is so harsh, and people are trying to get market share by confirming the pre-existing convictions of people. I think we all ought to be questioning all the time and learning and growing. And I think that's what we need.

But it's not my deal...

KING: Senator, would you have gone on his show, had he done it?

DOLE: Certainly. I would have gone on with a couple of Pepsi commercials and a few other things. We would have had a great time.

I think public service -- you know one thing when you ask about leaving office, and the president knows, and I know in a lesser way, you can devote about half your time to public service, and it's the right thing to do. And, you know, people -- I think we have -- I think you have even more credibility when you're out of office. People tend to have -- to give you the benefit of the doubt. Your numbers go up and all those things.

So why shouldn't we be doing public service? That's what we started doing when we were -- well, a long time ago when we first ran for office.

The Iraq controversy

KING: Senator Dole, do you think we should go into Iraq?

DOLE: I tried to outline that recently. I think he should not only consult with Congress, but have a vote, and I think I would try the arms inspection one more time, but not let Iraq delay and dither and all those things, trying to...

KING: But congressional approval?

DOLE: Congress approval, not just consultation.

KING: Mr. President?

CLINTON: I think that our policy to change regimes is a good one. We should support a new regime in Iraq. And I think we should try the arms inspection one more time, because I think we also have big long-term benefits in cooperation with our allies through the United Nations.

I don't think it will be a great military problem if we do it. You know, our guys did great there the last time, in the Gulf War. We're stronger, and he's weaker than he was then.

The security challenge will be, you can't surprise him. You've got to move a lot of people in. And if he has chemical and biological agents, and I believe he does, he would have no incentive not to use them then, if he knew he was going to be killed anyway and deposed. He's got a lot of incentive not to use them now because he knows he'll be toast if he does.

So I think the question is not whether he should go, but how, and under what circumstances.

And I agree with Bob, we ought to give that inspection thing one more shot.




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