Larry King Live
How is the First Family Dealing With the Lewinsky Scandal?
Aired August 27, 1998 - 9:00 p.m. ET
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight: special insight into President Clinton's personal crisis from his own brother. Roger Clinton, talks about the Lewinsky scandal and how the first family is dealing with it. Plus former presidential candidate, Gary Hart, discusses Clinton's credibility as a leader. Also joining us, in Washington, defense attorney and former federal prosecutor, Richard Ben-Veniste, and there is others, next on LARRY KING LIVE.
We begin tonight's program with Roger Clinton, the younger brother of Bill Clinton. I understand you just spoke with your brother?
ROGER CLINTON: Yes, I'm really glad to have spoken to him right before I did this.
KING: Did he have anything to say? Everybody is interested in anything the president says in times of turmoil, a brother is one you can get close to?
CLINTON: Well, let me tell you what meant the most to me: I'm his brother. I'm here speaking from a brotherly standpoint, supportive standpoint and I took the brotherly things that he said to me, not the political things, and he told me how much he loved me and he told me how very proud he was of me and those are the two things that I left the conversation with.
KING: Was he nervous or anything about this appearance here tonight?
CLINTON: No, no. He has complete confidence in me, Larry. He knows that I -- I'm very selective. Normally I don't do interviews and certainly about this topic, I've been very selective.
KING: You did one with "Dateline." It was taped though, right?
CLINTON: I did "Dateline." It was taped, yes.
KING: Were you happy or unhappy with it?
CLINTON: I was happy with it. I think that Maria Shriver did a very fine job. I enjoyed my part of it. I wished it wouldn't have been edited down to five minutes from the one-hour interview that we did, but that was their decision.
KING: What, in all of this, has been the hardest for you?
CLINTON: I guess the disappointment a little bit, and I know the pain that my brother is feeling, the pain that I know Hillary is feeling.
KING: You're very close to her, right?
CLINTON: Well, I think I am. I think I'm as close as a brother- in-law and a sister-in-law can be. I know over the past 12 years -- and it's been sort of synonymous with, just in the same line turning my life around -- I've been able to reflect how hilly really did love me the whole time. And it wasn't that she was just hard to get along with, she was speaking sense and I just wasn't listening.
KING: Roger, what do you do when someone you really love, as you love your brother, does wrong? How do you balance that?
CLINTON: First of all...
KING: What do you do with it emotionally?
CLINTON: First off, it's easy for me to look at it in a positive way, not in a way that I'm condoning anything that he did, you understand, but in a positive way -- as most people, and should be able to, and that is from a human standpoint. I'm a human being. I've made many mistakes in my life. My brother has been greatly disappointed in me several times in my life. There have been times in my life, where I was greatly disappointed in myself, and my brother had no problems telling me that he was disappointed in me, and that, ironically, was one of the things that would help straighten me out, that helped straighten me out 12, 13 years ago -- I know.
KING: So this is in return then?
CLINTON: This is sort of in return, but this is from my heart. To use that old saying that's loosely used so often now is that "I do feel his pain, because it's my pain."
KING: You must have thought -- when this first story broke and there was denials, did you believe your brother?
CLINTON: Yes, sir. I believed him because I wanted to believe him. That was the end of it. I moved on. I didn't want to dwell on it. I didn't want to think about what was going to happen if he wasn't telling me the truth.
KING: What was it like, then, that two weeks ago, 10 days ago Monday night for you?
CLINTON: It was shocking. It was very disappointing.
KING: The speech was very disappointing?
CLINTON: Well, the speech, I think -- how in the world can you expect anyone to be able to deliver something as emotional and as painful as that right then. Yes, I was disappointed that it wasn't -- maybe the timing was off; maybe the content was off. I was disappointed, but the speech was so insignificant compared to the big picture. I was disappointed in what was prompting this speech, what was causing it. But I know, you know one point I want to get across, Larry is that -- and again, I'm not defending my brother's actions in this.
I think his action in this situation was very reckless and very disappointing. But he's a brilliant man; he's a wonderful human being. I love him desperately. I know that most people -- and this is the point I want to make -- most people, if not all people, never want to be judged on their worst day in their life. That's not fair. Let's judge this man on everything that he's done, and I don't care if we throw -- if we investigate and investigate some more on him and find out other things to throw into the mix, but let's weigh the whole Bill Clinton.
KING: Do you think we're not doing that? Do you think we're taking one weakness...
CLINTON: I think the majority of the people are in this country.
KING: Looking aside...
CLINTON: Yes, sir. I think they're treating it very appropriately. I think that the American people are judging him as a human being.
KING: Is it, Roger -- as people -- you've had your problems, you overcome them...
CLINTON: Yes sir.
KING: People are smoke addicts and some people are drug addicts and some people are liquor addicts. Is it an addict -- does your problem have a problem in that area, do you think?
CLINTON: You know something, I'm not a specialist or an expert in that field, I don't know. I do know it's a problem. He has caused a great problem, and aside from the political problem, you know, that's what is so funny to me -- there are so many people and it is and I want to stress this -- it is the minority. However, it is seemingly is always the vocal minority, and there are certain leaders, certain people that have been coming out and judging him on this and from a political standpoint. But the problem here we're dealing with, the problem that he has, and that he's caused is the personal one. That's the main issue is his family.
KING: Can you tell us -- and this is important, as you know yourself -- how he's working on it?
CLINTON: I've talked to him several times while he's been in Martha's Vineyard -- I can't tell you exactly -- I could if I knew, but I...
KING: Getting help of some kind...
CLINTON: That I don't know.
KING: ... and I did wrong and I hope I don't do wrong again.
CLINTON: Yes sir. That I do know. I do know that he's getting help from the people that he needs the most, and that is his wife and his daughter. I do know that. I know that they're having a wonderful time together and I know that they are sharing some incredibly powerful times right now with each other, very emotional, very powerful.
CLINTON: Oh, my God, it's got to be tough.
KING: Have you spoken to Hillary?
CLINTON: No, sir. No, Larry.
KING: Stop with the sir.
CLINTON: No, Larry.
KING: Why not talk to her personally?
CLINTON: I plan on it; I plan on it. Believe me, I wanted to immediately, but timing is everything, not that I'm a perfect judge of timing, but I thought it best to give her a few days as well as Chelsea to give them a few days together as a family. But believe me, right after this show, probably tomorrow morning, I certainly intend to call Hillary and talk to her and tell her how much I love her.
KING: You're very close to Chelsea?
CLINTON: Yes, I wasn't for the longest time for so many years, and that's really been difficult for me, and I've not even talked about that to anyone, really. But it goes without saying to my brother and to my sister- in-law that I wasn't there while Chelsea -- I wasn't there mentally -- I could have been there physically, but not mentally.
KING: Is this a time, Roger, you wish your mom were here? Or wish she weren't, so she doesn't have to see anything in despair regarding children?
CLINTON: No, no, no. This time probably more than any other time, I wish she was here for my brother's sake, because she would -- she would make things right, at least in his heart.
KING: We'll be right back with Roger Clinton on LARRY KING LIVE after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Indeed, I did have a relationship with Miss Lewinsky that was not appropriate. In fact, it was wrong. It constituted a critical lapsed in judgment and a personal failure on my part, for which I am solely and completely responsible. But I told the grand jury today, and I say to you now that at no time did I ask anyone to lie, to hide or destroy evidence, or to take any other unlawful action. I know that my public comments and my silence about this matter gave a false impression. I misled people, including even my wife. I deeply regret that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Our panel, by the way, will be joining us at the bottom of the hour. Roger Clinton will be taking your phone calls. The "Pittsburgh Post-Gazette" reported the other day an Italian woman named Marina Castanoalvo (ph) said that she helped you pick out the tie the infamous necktie that your brother wore in the Rose Garden August sixth. What's the story? I never heard of this. I just you read this.
CLINTON: I know, I know. You know, quite honestly, we're in the middle of examining this situation. It's really taken us all by surprise.
KING: How so?
CLINTON: I buy my brother ties as my brother buys me ties.
KING: He's a tie person?
CLINTON: He's a tie person. I like ties. Over the years, we've continually exchange ties. I got him a couple of ties in Italy, as my brother could probably not identify most of the ties, and identify the place he bought them, likewise for me. So right now I'm having to go back and...
KING: Do you think that was your tie he wore that day?
CLINTON: I would hope that Mr. Starr won't subpoena me to identify this tie. However, I know that bought him some ties in Italy. I have no idea if this is one of them. We're in the middle right now and I really can't comment any further about that.
KING: Have you ever seen or heard of Miss Lewinsky throughout all these months?
CLINTON: No, sir.
KING: Didn't know anything about her.
CLINTON: Never knew her. Never heard the name in my life.
KING: Do you think your brother should have told you about it?
CLINTON: Oh, well, again...
KING: Brother to brother? CLINTON: Well, perhaps, but that's insignificant. I mean, in retrospect, maybe yes he should have told me or he could have told me, let me say that. I certainly not -- should have told me. He shouldn't have done it, you know, and this is so strange that it's sort of the little brother saying, no, no no, you know.
KING: It's turnabout here?
CLINTON: Yes, ironic and wonderful, though, wonderfully human almost.
KING: Do you think that marriage will hold?
CLINTON: Yes, sir.
KING: Any marriage faced with this has to be questioned with this?
CLINTON: Yes, sir.
KING: You think it will?
CLINTON: Yes Larry.
CLINTON: I think it will because of Hillary, because in my heart, I know she loves him greatly. In my heart I know he loves her greatly. They're a great team. You do not break up a great team. You do not break up a strong family because of a mistake. You just don't do it. I don't care how severe the mistake is.
KING: Do you believe she didn't know?
CLINTON: I believe she didn't know, certainly. I mean, look at the pain on her face, and she just can't -- I believe she didn't know.
KING: When you say they're bonding very much, your brother tells you what? That they are getting closer through this experience?
CLINTON: Yes, sir, yes.
KING: They are?
CLINTON: I believe so. I don't see how -- I certainly don't see how they cannot get closer now. This has got to be classified, I guess, the healing process.
Whatever they're doing to heal, I know that -- and whatever they choose to do, I know that it starts with time together first. You don't automatically start calling in experts and specialists and everything and -- I think you have to regroup, first, as an individual and find peace in your own heart and then with your family, you have to find out if you're really going to work through this together, and I think that's been answered. I think they are going to work this out. I think they're going to do it together, and I think that Hillary is going to be the doggone one to come to the forefront and save the day.
KING: Chelsea go back to school soon? I guess in a couple of days, right?
CLINTON: Yes, I believe so.
KING: She's been non hounded at Stanford. Do you think that might change now in view of this story?
CLINTON: I don't think so. Again, we're dealing with human beings.
KING: The press can be...
CLINTON: Yes, the press can be, because the press is not investigated. There are people on -- there are some of the political people that had best watched themselves because of the old glass house story. Be very careful -- I'm just issuing a statement that...
KING: Do you know of dalliances by other officials?
CLINTON: No, I'm not going to say that. I'm just saying that people should remember -- the people that are being so negatively critical of him being a human being. And again, granted, I am very disappointed in what he's done; they should be disappointed as well, but they should let it go. The country has spoken very loudly, very clearly that they want to move on.
KING: Are you surprised at the country?
CLINTON: No, sir.
KING: There are moralists among us who are shocked this country still holds him in a high regard as to job achievement?
CLINTON: Why shouldn't they? his job hasn't diminished. His job performance hasn't diminished. He's still a great leader.
KING: Character counts I guess?
CLINTON: Character certainly does count and this is a mistake. And human beings know -- most human beings know and will admit that they've also made mistakes in their life. And again, I want to drive home the point that we cant judge -- we shouldn't judge a man or a woman on his or her worst day in their life. We have to judge the whole life, the whole picture, the whole person.
KING: I'll ask in a minute...
CLINTON: And I think the American people are doing that.
KING: We'll take some calls. I'll ask in a minute what you really think is going to happen.
CLINTON: OK. KING: Roger Clinton is our guest. Our panel with be with us at the bottom of the hour. We'll take some calls for Roger as well right after this.
KING: Is it true that Gail Sheehy's '92 article in "Vanity Fair," that said your mother favored Bill over you and that you were always like the second son, and that might have been part of the reason you got into problems?
CLINTON: Well, you know, everybody likes to be a specialist. I think she probably should stick to writing, rather than analyzing. I'll tell you the way my mother always put it: my mother loved my brother the most because he was first born; she loved me the most because I was her baby. So she would always tell everybody she loved us both the most, and that's the way we led our lives.
KING: Bill was always there for you, right? Even when...
KING: ... angry. Our was there a time he turned away?
CLINTON: He wasn't always there for me, and I think that was proven by his disappointment, years ago, when I was at the bottom and when I had really screwed my life up. He felt like he had let me down in some way. Now whether it be because of geographic reasons, whether it be because I sort of put myself, shielded myself away from my brother and didn't include him in what was going on in my life -- regardless of the reasons. But whenever I needed him and he knew about it, he was always there.
KING: Let's take some calls for Roger Clinton. Atlanta, hello?
CALLER: Yes, hello, Mr. Clinton?
CLINTON: Yes, ma'am.
CALLER: You've already said that you don't condone your brother's actions.
CLINTON: Yes, ma'am.
CALLER: Don't you now believe he should put his own agenda aside, and for the good of our national morale, spare the American public this embarrassment and resign?
CLINTON: No, ma'am, not at all. First off, if we're going to -- we have to think about the country as well. His situation is, quite frankly, is very personal. He's been trying to -- he's been trying to get that across to everyone, and most people have gotten that point. That's something for him to work out. But as you can tell by the polls, and certainly I don't believe the numbers to the exact number, but I do believe that polls always show the trends accurately, and the people believe he's doing a great job. He is our leader and we need him as our leader. We can't run on autopilot.
KING: There are those who say, though, that when you keep a thing going, you hold back everything and -- in other words, the process slows down to where we become obsessed with one topic and other things don't get done. Don't think he's given that thought?
CLINTON: Well, I can promise you that the American people are only obsessed with moving on. The majority of the American people are obsessed with one thing, and that's getting this behind us and moving on with the situation of the country.
KING: St. Louis, hello.
CALLER: Yes, Larry, I have a commented to make. The Clintons preach family values, what about Chelsea and the legacy that she will have to live with, like the Kennedy kids, they have to live with their dad's legacy for the rest of their lives.
Do you think this is fair? Don't you think Mr. Clinton should do the right thing and resign?
KING: For Chelsea.
CLINTON: Well, for Chelsea's sake, I don't think whether my brother resigns or not, is going to change her view of her father, whom she loves dearly, as she does her mother. I think his legacy will go down as a positive one because, quite frankly, the history books are not written by the tabloid writers. So, consequently, the historians will reflect on his entire job performance, and his entire situation as president of this country.
KING: But, unfortunately, if you're in pain, you're not around to see the history?
CLINTON: Well, absolutely, but I don't think that that's going to ease Chelsea's pain. You know, I think that's a stretch, trying to tie-in the need for him to resign, which I think is ridiculous, and try to tie that in to make Chelsea happy in the future.
KING: Phoenix, Oregon, hello.
CALLER: Hello, Larry.
CALLER: This question is for Mr. Clinton.
CLINTON: Yes, ma'am.
CALLER: Mr. Clinton, I was wondering if and where you were planning to maybe visit with the president and his family some time before his trip to Russia, to offer some additional support?
KING: You are the brother.
CLINTON: Yes, ma'am. Because of my business and because of my life here in Los Angeles, I'm not going to be able to see him before he leaves. I will talk to him, probably every day, as I have been recently, and I will probably talk to him up until his trip. But I will see him immediately in September, when he returns from his trip.
KING: Is he, for want of a better term, down?
CLINTON: Oh, yes, he's down. He's way down personally.
CLINTON: And emotionally, certainly -- certainly.
KING: Is he able to compartmentalize? Will that affect the trip to Russia, and all the problems Russia is having, you think?
CLINTON: Well, you know he's got to be thinking that. You know he had to be thinking that that had to be going through his mind today when he made his appearance. Who knows?
I can't tell what's in his mind. I know -- I have a better idea of what's in his heart than what's in his mind.
KING: Have you ever heard him in your life with him troubled like this?
CLINTON: No, sir.
KING: Nothing ever like this?
CLINTON: No, but you know something -- he had never heard me -- there's a bottoming out, believe me, there's a point, whether it's an addiction or not, there is a time when you bottom out.
KING: As happened to you.
CLINTON: Absolutely. And it is so -- it is such a fine-line that once you cross it, you're not dwelling on it anymore. All you're dwelling on is getting better and healing. That's were he is now.
KING: Well the old statement of alcoholics is, we have to hit bottom before we can go up again.
CLINTON: Absolutely -- and he hit bottom the other day. But now he's on his way back up, and you can hear that in his voice, just as you can hear the disappointment, you can hear the positive feel in his voice, too.
KING: And we'll ask about where up is and then we'll meet our panel, as Roger leaves us. We'll have one more portion with Roger Clinton and we'll be right back.
KING: I'll sum up on where we go from here in a moment, but first, one more call for Roger Clinton.
Bangor, Maine, hello.
CALLER: Hello, Larry.
CALLER: And hello, Roger.
CALLER: I just wanted to let you know, I support President Clinton and his family completely, and I don't think he should be kicked out of office and my question is: Do they -- the Clinton family, plan on getting counseling?
Marriage counseling, psychological counseling?
CLINTON: It's a good question. I really don't know. It certainly can't hurt, coming from somebody that has received counseling, and big brother has also received counseling because of our family situation many years ago, when I was at my lowest point at my life, and thank goodness, I got a second chance.
KING: We've got a little over a minute. Where do we go? What's going to happen? What do you want to say?
CLINTON: Well, I'll tell you where we go, we doggone listen to the people is what we do, Larry. We listen to the people. They can't be anymore clear than what they're trying to say.
KING: They like him, but they don't like what he did?
CLINTON: Exactly. Let it go.
KING: They think he's a good president, but...
CLINTON: Let it go. Let it go. Ken Starr needs to let it go. The die hard right-wing that has been after him since 1992, and before, really, they need to let it go. I listened to a man -- I'm not even going to mention his name, but I listened to a man that was on your show a couple of nights ago that said, you know, something, it really -- I don't really -- it was hard for me to believe when he was saying, I really don't think -- I really don't want him to get out of office, I really don't want him, but -- and then sort of placed on all this emphasis, and then he summed it up by saying, we're just going to have to look at and it do what's best for the country. Please, please do that, that's all I'm asking.
If you'll just weigh the entire situation and then put it into perspective as a human being and as a severe mistake, as a ridiculous, disappointing mistake. This man is a brilliant man. He's a brilliant leader. You cannot argue with facts, and argue with success. Do what the people want. Do what's best for the country, leave him right where he is. And not only just leave him right where he is, leave this where it is and let's move on with this -- with the progress that this country's been making under my brother's leadership.
KING: You think he will survive it?
CLINTON: Absolutely, he'll survive this. We'll all survive it, Larry.
KING: Roger Clinton.
When we come, an outstanding panel, diversified, too: Gary Hart, Richard Ben-Veniste, E.J. Dionne and Lars-Erik Nelson, all next. Don't go away.
KING: We now welcome to LARRY KING LIVE, from Denver, the former presidential candidate, former United States senator, and author of a terrific new book, "The Minute Man: Restoring An Army Of The People," published last May by Simon & Schuster, Gary Hart. In Washington, Richard Ben-Veniste, the well known defense attorney and former federal prosecutor. Also in Washington, E.J. Dionne, the syndicated columnist, and in Washington, the very outspoken Lars-Erik Nelson, the Washington columnist of "The New York Daily News."
First an opinion from each of you on Roger Clinton. What do you think, Senator Hart?
SEN. GARY HART (D), COLORADO: Oh, I think he did a fine job. I think the real question is: "Where -- what's going to happen with the president in Russia?" frankly.
KING: What do you think, Richard, about the way Roger handled that?
RICHARD BEN-VENISTE, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: I thought he was very articulate and he made a lot of sense. This is a country that is founded on, and still embraces the concept of, second chances in that I think this is what we're now going to have to deal with with President Clinton.
E.J. DIONNE, SYNDICATED COLUMNIST: He was a very loyal brother and he did a good job for him.
KING: Something you would have expected, then, of a good brother to do?
DIONNE: Yeah. I mean, I'm not sure Roger Clinton is going to carry the argument for the president for the country, but if I had a brother, I'd want him to behave like that, too.
LARS-ERIK NELSON, "THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS": I agree, he's a very engaging young man, and he made as good a case as you can make, and I would expect a brother to do that for a brother. KING: Gary, Richard said everyone deserves a second chance, do you think you got one?
HART: Oh, I don't know and I don't think it's material. I've tried to make a contribution as a private citizen to the public life of this country in writing and speaking and I will continue to.
KING: But do you feel that you were brought down by something that a lot of people were doing and that it's like five people speeding and one gets caught?
HART: I don't think it's profitable to go back over that, frankly, Mr. King.
KING: Not profitable -- why wouldn't it be profitable? In view of what's going on in the nation today it would be extremely profitable.
HART: Well, my opinions on what happened 12 years ago are fairly immaterial. I -- as I say...
KING: But how do you relate what happened 12 years ago to today?
HART: As I say, I think what's happening in Russia tonight's an awful lot more troublesome to me.
KING: I know, but it's not the topic. We'll discuss Russia, but the topic tonight is the presidency and who can relate it better than what happened to you 12 years ago to what's happening to Bill Clinton today?
HART: Well, I would let the other panelists respond to that.
KING: Richard, are you going to be -- there's a rumor that you're going to be called in as a -- the new lawyer on the case if it gets to impeachment, true?
BEN-VENISTE: Well, it's always nice to be considered in that kind of a context, but David Kendall has done an absolutely stupendous job. He's a wonderful lawyer and I have expressed no interest in that. My partners at Weld, Gotch, Oldkin (ph) can rest easy that the 14 months that I did spend as counsel to the -- minority counsel to the Whitewater Committee at the Senate, were going to have to suffice for the time being.
KING: If asked, you would not take it?
BEN-VENISTE: That's correct, Larry.
KING: Not take it. All right. E.J., where does the -- in your opinion, the president -- what happens? Where do we go now? We await the report?
DIONNE: Well, I think his biggest problem for the next couple of weeks, at least, is going to be his own party. And you had a show on that, and I think what you sense, especially among House members, who are the people who'd be the first to decide on impeachment if it ever got to that point. An awful lot of House Democrats are upset about this. They're upset about what happened in and of itself. They're upset because of what this does to their possibility of getting any case across on their agenda for the fall elections. And they're mad at him for putting him in this position.
On the other side, there's still a lot of anger among House Democrats at the whole process, at Ken Starr and at the way this has unfolded, but I don't -- until the president's speech, he could play the anger against Ken Starr as the dominant card and Democrats in the Congress were going along. I think that works a lot less well now than it did a couple of weeks.
KING: Lars-Erik Nelson of "The New York Daily News," you turned, did you not, from a strong supporter of Clinton, and still a strong supporter of his policies, to someone who thinks he should quit?
NELSON: Yes, I don't think that there's any way he can serve as president with this on his record. This is was just wrong, and it's so wrong to me that I don't see how he can be the leader of the country. I had said from the first that if she had sex with this young woman, it's an abuse of power. It's not a private matter between two consenting adults. She was an intern in the White House. She was an unpaid person there as a student, basically, and he had a position of authority and power, and that's just not forgivable to me. I still like him. I still think he's a super president, but there's a price to be paid for this.
KING: Your feelings would be different if it were a 45-year-old woman in a hotel somewhere?
KING: So the fact of where it occurred and who it occurred with...
NELSON: Yes, right. Where it occurred, and to do that with a subordinate. We have an Army sergeant named Delmar Simpson who went 25 years in prison for consensual sex with a recruit. That's considered rape in the Army, when you have that disparity in power. And if he was a college president having sex with a graduate student, the college president would be fired. If it was one of his Cabinet officers caught doing that in an official office, Clinton would fire him.
KING: Senator Hart, since you want to stay in the international arena, what's the effect on this on a trip to meet an embattled president in Russia?
HART: Well, first of all, the president is twice-elected as the leader of the most powerful nation on Earth. Second, most other countries on Earth define scandal much more narrowly, and privacy much more broadly. And third, the crisis in Russia overwhelms, I think, any of -- almost any of the things that we're discussing here this evening. So it would be well, I think, if this country were to focus, and its leaders were to focus on an emergency plan to rescue Russia -- Marshal Plan overnight if you will. It should have been done in '91, '92, any of the past seven or eight years. It has not been done, and we're all paying the price for it now.
KING: Can, senator -- can an embattled president sell that plan today?
HART: Absolutely, for the reason that I said. Virtually every other nation on Earth defines scandal more narrowly than we do, and certainly, private acts of this sort -- now, that may be immoral, or we can judge other nations and other cultures for that, but that's the way they look at things. I've had the pleasure of traveling the world for the last 10 years as a private citizen, and as recently as last week, and virtually no one that I talked to offshore could understand what's going on here.
KING: Is Yeltsin on the way out?
HART: Oh, I certainly hope not. It would be very bad for us. If the established -- the shaky established political order there collapses, one of two things will probably happen: there will be an authoritarian government, or there will be civil war. In either case, there will be calls by all the members of Congress to increase defense spending, and that's going to come out -- right out of every taxpayers' pocket.
KING: We'll take an break and we'll ask Richard Ben-Veniste what the next legal move is, and on whose part. We'll be including your phone calls for our panel as well.
Saturday night, our subject will be George Wallace who now turned 80 years old. We'll have an interview with the governor, and a discussion with his son, and Jesse Jackson and Mike Wallace. We'll be right back.
KING: Before I ask Richard Ben-Veniste. E.J., do you agree with Senator Hart that the president can still carry weight? You wrote a column recently saying it's going to be difficult for him in Russia?
DIONNE: Well I recently read a biography of Dean Anderson (ph), who was Harry Truman's secretary of state.
KING: Just out?
DIONNE: Just out by James Chase (ph) and when you look back at that period, what Anderson (ph) and Truman did was extraordinary. The world was on it's back. We were the most powerful country in the world and we reconstructed the whole world economic system and we passed the Marshall Plan to construct western Europe. As senator Hart says, Russia now is in a very dire state and they really need something like a martial plan and I think the challenge for the president and the question is: can he push something like that through now? It's not popular for the United States to send a lot of money to another country.
KING: It wasn't when Truman and (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...
DIONNE: Exactly. And it took a lot of authority and a lot of willingness to fight and a real task for the Clinton presidency -- Roger Clinton said we have to do what's best for the country. And the question is: can the president, is he in a position to take certain decisions that need to be taken and push them through. And I think his trip to Russia is going to be the first test of that.
KING: Richard, if you were his legal adviser, would you ask him to make another statement on this matter due to the incompleteness of the statement of the 17th?
BEN-VENISTE: Well, I think probably the common belief is that he could have done better under different circumstances, but I don't think that's the real issue. I think the real issue is where we go from here, Larry, and what I'm hearing...
KING: Where do we go from here?
BEN-VENISTE: And I think there are two ways to go. If we simply follow where the bouncing ball is bouncing, we're going to have further leaks of grand jury material, further revelations, finger pointing, the most sanctimonious people will be horrified at all of this and we will be in total gridlock.
The point now is to determine whether the national interest can be identified as Senator Hart has been talking about and the gentleman here have been talking about, and whether we can rise above partisan, political gain and find the kind of national leader who has the national self-interest most at heart and can put this behind us, whether a resolution is passed, rather than spending two years torturing President Clinton, whether we will allow the business of this government to go forward and allow the president to do his job as well as he has done it previously.
There is a big difference between recklessness and personal conduct and recklessness and foreign policy, and this president has satisfied most Americans that he has been doing a splendid job in terms of running the country.
KING: Lars, Gary Wills (ph), another admirer of the president said that it would be the biggest, boldest, bravest and most courageous thing he would do would be to resign.
NELSON: I thought the resignation -- I still think resignation is probably the best thing. In dealing with Russia, you have two leaders now, Boris Yeltsin and Bill Clinton, both of whom have lost whatever moral authority they once had. Yeltsin for his own misdeeds, both public and private, and Clinton because of this scandal.
It is an important issue. The collapse of Russia at the time when borders are open and you can have, you know, millions of refugees fleeing into western Europe. That's a big thing. You can't bail him out by sending them more money. Money won't help them because the money that goes there goes to banks; the banks are owned by bankers; the bankers put it in their Swiss bank accounts and it leaves Russia (UNINTELLIGIBLE) as it goes in. So you need someone there in the White House who has got the strong moral authority to persuade this country to do what has to be done.
KING: What Lars, if that somebody -- Mr. Gore is being investigated himself.
NELSON: Well, there is that and that's one of the problems is that there seems to be a full bore assault on the Democrat and the White House that will not stop until Newt Gingrich, the speaker of the House and third in line -- second in line is sitting in that seat. That's the one draw back of the resignation is you have President Gore and you have Newt Gingrich looking at (UNINTELLIGIBLE).
BEN-VENISTE: That's exactly why the Framers of the Constitution did not provide for a parliamentary system, Larry, where you have a vote of confidence which may be based upon the kind of shortcomings that have been demonstrated here. This is a president who has been elected directly by the people twice, and the idea of a president having to be forced to resign under these kind of circumstances for this kind of lapse, seems to me to be out of proportion with what has occurred.
DIONNE: And I think that's one of the reasons why Speaker Gingrich has been so mild in his public statements. I think part of that is politics, because he knows it would be risky -- it would do no good for the Republicans to turn this into a partisan fight, but there are a lot of Republicans you talk to quietly who say, they don't like the idea of easily overturning the results of election, and that an impeachment is not something the country should do lightly, which is why the talk this week has been of some sort of resolution, of reprimand, or something of that sort and I think people they'll be a lot more talk about because are going to say, do we want to go all the way down that road.
KING: Senator Hart, what should he do, do you think?
HART: Well I think he ought to put forward a very, very bold agenda, and I don't mean by way of distracting attention or anything else. He's got two years to serve. He was elected to serve. Bringing Russia into the West should be at the top of that. Obviously, restabilizing Social Security and Medicare. There are a lot of big items out there to do, and I think if he got on with it, and had to divide his time between testifying before Mr. Starr and moving this country forward, the American people would decide which job they wanted him to do.
KING: We'll be back with more moments with our outstanding panel and your phone calls after this.
KING: Toledo, Ohio, as we include your phone calls. Hello.
CALLER: Yes. (UNINTELLIGIBLE). I'd like to know if anybody has assessed analyzed what effect his resignation would have on the country. KING: E.J., what do you think?
CALLER: I believe when Nixon resigned, the stock market went down 40 percent.
KING: E.J., what would happen if he resigned, do you think?
DIONNE: Yes, talking about the stock market. I was watching a speech today on CNN and as he was talking, the market lost 40 points in about 15 minutes.
KING: But that was (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...
DIONNE: It was. But that seems already to have happened. I mean, I think that if he were -- if he resigns or is forced from office, there is going to be an incredible backlash as well from the Democrats, just as you had from Republicans when President Nixon was forced from office. And we were talking in the break. I think there are a lot of Republicans who are not crazy about that resolution of this, and not just for political reasons, not because they want to have Al Gore be president.
I mean, if the Starr report has more in it than we know about now and proves to be more devastating, then there may be no choice. But short of that, I think a lot of people sort of have that tugging back that that lady reflected, that they just don't want to go to the -- that far to the break, even though many of them -- a lot of Americans are furious at the president.
KING: Lars, why does this basically moderate president -- you would have to be a little wack that you would think he was a right- wing or a left- wing, create so much hostility? What are they so angry at?
NELSON: It sort of baffles me. I think part of it was his youth, but there has been about 30 percent and all the polls have just despised the man -- and have despised him since day one.
NELSON: Well the draft dodging charge was part of it. The way he handled the allegation that he smoked marijuana in college and didn't inhale. And you know part of it's cultural. He's very popular in the northeast and people in the south hate him, I think probably because of his racial policies down there. So I tell you one of the things -- I thought Clinton's best assets, probably his best single assets is the kind of enemies he attracts. He gets really the most lonesome people in this country.
KING: It makes you like him more?
KING: If they backed -- they're his best friends?
NELSON: Yes. KING: Richard, do you think he's going to resign?
BEN-VENISTE: I don't think he should resign.
Unless there is something that we don't know about, the kind of behavior that we have seen here is, in fact, worthy of some criticism or official sanction. But in the national interest, unless we come to our senses here, and say in the immortal words of Roberto Duran, "no mas." We're going to be in trouble. We've seen a preview now in Africa and Afghanistan and Russia of what the effect on the national interest will be if we continue to torture Bill Clinton and ourselves over the next two years with this.
KING: We'll ask Senator Hart what he thinks is going to happen with regard to Russia and some closing comments from all of our guests after this.
* (COMMERCIAL BREAK)
KING: Senator Hart, by the way, his new book, "The Minute Man: Restoring an Army of the People" is still out Simon & Schuster. What's going to happen, do you think, when the president goes to Russia?
HART: Well, it's impossible to know, of course. I have no idea what the president's advisers are telling him. I don't think it won't help anyone if they go and have an inconsequential summit. It won't help Yeltsin; it will not help Bill Clinton. I think the president must, in the next few days, very, very quickly and very strongly put together a rescue package involving the western world, and he can do that, but it's going to take a supreme effort.
KING: Lars, can he sell it to the country?
NELSON: This president, I don't think so. The amounts of money that would be required are enormous and there is no guarantee that money would work. There is no guarantee that Boris Yeltsin would be in power next Tuesday.
KING: So what does he do?
NELSON: Ah, I'm damned if I know.
KING: Wait a minute, we have a history making television moment. You don't know?
NELSON: Larry, I was a correspondent in Moscow for two years in the 60s. I was a Russian major in college. I'm a former professional translator of Russian. I have no idea. This is something we've never seen before in history. When a superpower collapses where the money is no good, where the leaders are totally discredited -- the country is run by a bunch of thieves who've stolen state property and privatized it for their own advantage and now it's all falling apart. There is really nothing you can do simple that would fix that.
KING: E.J., do you know?
HART: Mr. King?
HART: Mr. Yeltsin keeps emphasizing spending money. That's not all there is. It's not just backing up a truck full of money. There are a lot of other institutional support mechanisms that we can do and by the way, the Marshall plan in the grand scheme of things didn't cost that much. Think of the military buildup in this country if Russia has civil war.
KING: E.J., what do you think is going to happen?
DIONNE: Well, just in terms of Russia, I have to agree with my colleague in his admirable willingness to say I don't know to a complicated question. But I do think there is a lot of rebuilding both -- I mean, Russia needs so many fundamental things, like a system of law which we could help on. They need a whole new financial system and we could be of help with money and more than money.
But to go back to the president, I think his fate hangs on two things: with one is facts, whatever comes out now and then, and the other is trust. He's lost the trust not only of Republicans -- in some sense that's less important because, a lot of them didn't like him anyway -- he's lost trust from Democrats who have been very loyal to him, and believe he let them down in a fundamental way and misled them. If -- he can govern, unless he can restore that trust and I don't have any magic formula for doing that.
KING: And Richard, do you have a formula?
BEN-VENISTE: My formula can only exclude the export of the independent counsel statute. That's the one thing they don't need.
KING: Well, what would you say to him?
Lars doesn't know. Gary Hart has a good idea and says it doesn't take money. E.J. who knows the tougher doesn't know either. Do you want to guess?
BEN-VENISTE: Let's be serious: this is a very, very dangerous and volatile situation where nuclear weapons are available, and this is a time where we must come together as a nation, and work this through. It's nothing to -- the tabloidization of the American political process has got to stop now and we've got to deal with very serious threats in the world. It's still a dangerous place.
KING: Do you think we will?
BEN-VENISTE: I very much on hope so, Larry. DIONNE: Larry, also, we have been successful. I mean, Treasury Secretary Rubin put together some bailout packages that really helped prevent a financial collapse in Mexico. I mean we are capable...
KING: Yes. He can do it.
DIONNE: ... of taking some short-term steps that prevent a complete catastrophe.
KING: Thank you all very much for a terrifically informative half hour. I'm Larry King in Los Angeles. Up next is "NEWSSTAND: CNN & ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY," a report on possible movies coming out of the Clinton investigation -- no foolin'. Stay tuned.
Friday night on LARRY KING LIVE, as Ken Starr prepares his report for Congress, President Clinton faces questions about his personal integrity and ability to leave. We'll take a look at the toll taken by the Starr investigation and where it goes from here. And our guests include former Clinton special counsel Lanny Davis; motivational leader Tony Robbins; Rich Galen, the director of GOPAC; Bill McDaniel, attorney for White House aide Sidney Blumenthal; and Jonah Goldberg, contributor to the "National Journal." All Friday night, 9:00 Eastern on CNN.
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