Bernard Nussbaum Discusses the House Committee on the Judiciary Impeachent Inquiry, Part 2
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Bernard Nussbaum Discusses the House Committee on the Judiciary Impeachent Inquiry, Part 2

November 30, 2019


bjbj Nussbaum: Yeah, 1988, Hillary came into
New York. I think she had some other business in New York although she said she wanted to
see me. She comes into New York and we had dinner together. And she says, Bill s thinking
of running for President. Now this is 1988. This is 14 years after the conversation we
had in the car. And Bill Clinton at this point is I think 43 years old in 1988. He was born
in 46. How old was he in 1988? Naftali: Uh, he s 42. Nussbaum: Forty-two, he s forty-two
years old in 1988. He s forty-two years old and she tells and she s the same age oh no,
she s a year younger than him. She s about 41. She was born in 47. He s thinking of running
for President and she doesn t want me to commit to support anybody else [inaudible] as if
my support for anybody makes any difference, which although I ve been a contributor of
campaigns now and then, it makes no difference. So I say to her very tentatively, I says,
well Hillary I know we discussed this in the past, something like that, but he may be very
tentative now I don he may be kinda young as 42 years old to run for President. Although
John Kennedy who ran when he was 42, 43. She says, well he s deciding. You just don t support
anybody else. I said, okay, I m not supporting anybody else [inaudible]. And a week later
I get a call from her I believe yeah, I did saying he s not running in 88. So I said,
well, not running. I ended up supporting Michael Dukakis in 1988 to great effect, as you can
tell. I went to okay actually I went to the convention in 1988. And I was on the floor
of the convention in Atlanta in 1988 when Bill Clinton spoke. Made the turned out to
be a disastrous speech in the which I was there when he made just I didn t even know
he was gonna speak. But he and then in 1992 or 1991 1991 October, 1991, 20 years ago from
not today but from this month, I get a call from a partner in Goldman Sachs saying we
have to have a I get a call saying we there s gonna be a meeting re gonna have to have
a meeting shortly I know this partner to see if we can raise some money for Bill Clinton
who s gonna run for President. Hillary says you re onboard. Hillary never called me, never
asked me anything. This is 1991. I hadn t heard from her in a while. She doesn t call
me. Nobody from this Ken Brody, the partner at Goldman Sachs called me. He says you re
onboard. Let s have this meeting to see if we can raise some money for Clinton. So I
go down to this meeting. This meeting is in Tom Tish s office, who s a Republican and
wasn t in the meeting in his office. And there s six people sitting around in this meeting.
And Brody s there and I m there and four other people. I don t remember who they were. They
were investment bankers, or maybe one lawyer. There s very few people. They said, well we
could have a re here to discuss the Governor of Arkansas, Bill Clinton to raise some money.
And one of the guys says, who s Bill Clinton a guy in this meeting. [Inaudible] the Governor
of Arkansas. He may run for President. He said, I m a Republican. Why s a Democrat gov
so we have six and then somebody says this five or six people somebody says m sitting
here listening to this, I somebody says, what, this is crazy, he says. I mean, even if nobody
ever heard of this guy. I mean, how are we gonna raise money for this guy? This is nuts.
Well, why he came here only because the Goldman partner asked him to come. What s the [inaudible]
used to raise money for some Governor from Arkansas? And I starts I get agitated at this
point I guess and I say, no, this is what you re gonna tell people. This is how you
re gonna raise money for the Governor of Arkansas. re gonna go and tell people that when they
see him and when they meet him and when they hear him speak and when they see the quality
of his mind, his charisma, his intelligence, his good looks even, you re gonna tell these
people this guy s gonna be the President of the United States. And if they contribute
money now they re contributing very early for somebody that s gonna be President of
the United States. And all they have to do is see him and come into contact with him
and he s gonna win. And I said that to sort of rouse them up. I what I believed or not
I m not even quite sure at that point. They said, all right. We ll, you know so then we
had a party. This group arranged a party in October at some fancy apartment on Sutton
Place. And Clinton showed up and Hillary showed up, who I hadn t seen in a while. And we started
raising money at that party. And the rest is the rest is history. Okay. You wanna go
back to the tapes? Naftali: ll go back to the tapes. You heard these tapes the special
prosecutor hands them over in a satchel, right? Nussbaum: Yes, that s right. Naftali: And
that s in March. Nussbaum: March of 1974, right. Naftali: And then in April somebody
decides to enhance them, right, cause it s hard to hear them. Nussbaum: Yes, yes. We
had correct. It s hard to hear certain points, yes. It was hard to hear them. But we listened
and the special prosecutor sent them I don t remember he didn t send up did he send up
a transcript? I don t remember if he sent over transcripts. But the White House did
release transcripts. And this became a big issue because the White House transcripts
weren t accurate in certain key portions. Now, whether it was deliberately inaccurate
or not, even to this day I don t know. People like Buzhardt and other people, they were
under tremendous pressure in the White House too. Listen, 18 years later I was in the White
House. I was in the White House from the beginning of the White Water. I know I mean, you might
think the White House is a very efficient place with dozens of people who perform well.
It s not true. So I don t even I mean, poor Fred Buzhardt and Jim St. Clair and a handful
of people in the White House but in any event they for whatever reason the transcripts they
released were inaccurate. And then we made it our business to try to put together accurate
transcripts. And then we presented that to the committee obviously to demonstrate that
what we were given was not accurate. So they and they could draw whatever conclusions they
wanna draw from that. Obviously we weren t in the business at that point of drawing favorable
conclusions under those circumstances. Naftali: So it was after the White House [inaudible]
[Crosstalk] Nussbaum: I believe so, I believe so. Naftali: — that you start the transcription
process. Nussbaum: Correct. Naftali: And how what kinds of checks and balances do you put
into that process so that your transcripts are better? Nussbaum: Well, we just devoted
a lot of time. People really made an effort just to get it right. And once we realized
the other transcripts were wrong we really the way I remember it this is somewhat vague
in my mind so I don t wanna overstate this, but we really wanted to get it right. We wanted
and also we wanted to be fair. I mean, it s not look, we re good people but that s something
we had a committee to deal with and we had Republicans as well as Democrats. This is
not the special prosecutor s office, the independent counsel, things like that where you have to
answer to no one. We had to answer to a committee. And the committee, while it was the Democrats
were in the majority, they were there were conservative Democrats in the committee who
by no means [inaudible] votes for impeachment unless we could present a case. Jim Mann,
Walter Flowers, people like that are key members of the committee. These are Democrats by no
means whose constituents in South Carolina and Alabama but by no means certain to vote
for impeachment unless there s a case to be made, putting aside the Republicans. So what
we were trying to do is get it right. Make sure that the transcripts were as accurate
as possible so when they make their decision they could make it in a coherent, factual,
logical, accurate fashion. And that s a big even I didn t think of that til recently.
We really were working for both the Republicans and the sure it was a Republican staff, too
that were Bert Jenner and then Sam Garrison. But we had the Republican staffs overlooking.
They were working together with us. That s one of the great things Doar was able to do.
Doar was able to meld the two staffs together and Bert Jenner was very influential in that
process. So we wanted [inaudible]. On the other hand we were being questioned all the
time as to whether this should be done or that should be done or what the consequence
of this is or the consequence of that. Or how do you analyze this and analyze that.
This is a very important concept to understand during that impeachment. This is a real sort
of joint effort in part, but also an effort where we were subject to checks and balances,
as we had to be in that thing. So we tried to get it right. We tried to get the tapes
right. And I think we did get it right. Naftali: Some people have remembered the tapes having
a major impact on Bert Jenner on his thinking. Nussbaum: Yeah, I think that is in accord
with my recollection. Bert Jenner also look, Bert Jenner was a he was a as the way I remember
it, he was a wonderful man, a wonderful guy. He was a very prominent and well known lawyer
who created a great firm, Jennifer & Block. And he wanted to do the right thing. And if
we didn t have a case he wasn t out to get the President, as some Republican s later
accused him of in effect and just pushed him aside. He was out to do sort of an independent
fair investigation. And wherever the facts lead the facts lead. And that s the way I
felt and I think that s the way Doar felt also, again subject to these charges that
he didn t feel it. But he did feel like it. Yeah, once we got the tapes and by the time
— and talked to some of the people, yeah, we did conclude that impeachment was appropriate.
But that took a while to get there and it took a while for Jenner to get there too.
And I think the tapes had a big influence on all of us. And that s why the irony is
if the tapes wouldn t have been there who knows what would ve happened. Naftali: When
you put together the subpoenas did you were you hopeful were you hopeful or optimistic
or you just felt you had to do it but you didn t think the White House was gonna give
you anything? Nussbaum: No. I well, I was the way I remember it one of the key people
not the only one. No person was totally in charge of anything other than Doar was in
charge of sort of everything overall. But I was one of the key figures in putting together
the subpoenas. And that was led ultimately Article 3, which as I told you I was deeply
involved in. No, we felt we had to do it and we felt we were entitled to the material.
And knowing the way the White House was reacting we felt they would stonewall us because they
wanted to turn this into a political process. This was a huge battle here. They wanted to
say this is like this is a political fight. And what the Democrats were trying to do is
pervert the impeachment process really just to reverse the last election. And we were
resisting that at all times. So we were trying to get the facts. And that and we were trying
to keep the Republicans we tried to satisfy them that really we were trying to do it in
a fair way. But the White House was gonna stonewall the committee, and it did stonewall
the committee to a large extent. The mistake the President made was having an independent
counsel, a special prosecutor who then took him to court and secured the tapes in effect.
Although it s my view that, as I expressed to you one other occasion, that the Supreme
Court and the United States v. Nixon probably made the wrong decision in ordering the tapes
to be tolled over. That the President s executive privilege is absolute except in impeachment
proceedings. That s the right way. It probably wouldn t have come out but the way it came
out if what I consider the right way was followed. The fact that the Supreme Court did rule,
the President did decide to turn over the tapes, which in retrospect was probably the
historic mistake from his point of view. And turning over the tapes resulted in the impeachment
of the President. If he d have destroyed the tapes he probably would not have been impeached.
Other people can argue that differently and maybe I m wrong on that. Actually I hope I
m wrong on that but who knows. I mean, it he did turn them over, we did get them and
we did present them to the committee and we laid it all out. And the tapes combine with
all the other facts we gathered or collated. I m not I don t even take credit ll have our
staff take credit for sort of uncovering all these facts. There s nothing that I remember
we uncovered that wasn t obtained by from somebody else. What Doar understand is that,
as I indicated earlier, our process was to gather, to collate, as I said before and to
present. Naftali: And you made the case before you had the smoking gun transcript. Nussbaum:
Yes, we made the case. I did actually we we actually that s a very we described to the
committee and I was involved in that along with others what we thought happened on the
basis of witnesses we had talked to or seen or heard, on the basis of documents we ve
seen, what probably happened in these crucial meetings. And I remember in one committee
session we were sort of giving our analysis hypothesizing, giving our analysis based on
other things. This is then when you put these things together this will probably happen.
And the tapes, it was one of those amazing things when the tapes came out, they confirmed
it. It confirmed it. I remember feeling so proud that and I wasn t the only one doing
this. I mean, others on the Watergate task force were we were putting together. Chronologies
are very important. John Doar was very big on chronologies and he was right. Chronologies
are important, this fact, that fact, this date, that date, this event, that event. You
just that s how you sort of analyze and it was a good way of doing it. That was a good
way of doing it. And then there were certain little lacuna, you know, certain gaps, to
use a famous word. And we had to sort of use our analysis to fill in the gaps. What the
President probably did at this point, what was probably said here. And a view of what
happened afterward, a view of what was said before. And we sort of provided that analysis
of the committee even though we didn t have direct evidence of that. And then when the
tapes came out the tapes provided the direct evidence. It was I mean, Dean s testimony
was very important. Dean s testimony in front of the Senate Watergate Committee was very
important in the study of events that occurred. And we used that to help us create this matrix
of facts. And ultimately it worked. It was a wonderful process ultimately. As I saw us
convince I saw us convince the conservative Democrats who were very important here. As
I mentioned earlier, the Walter Flowers from Alabama whose constituents were very pro President
Nixon, and the Jim Mann s of South Carolina. People like that were very important and we
reached them. And we were desperate not to have a partisan committee vote if at all possible,
even reaching them and then voting I don t know 17, 14 or something like that. I think
that would ve been the figures for the Democrat and Republican split. That would ve been a
disaster. Disaster s too strong a term. It was the wrong way to go about it. That, of
course, happened in the next impeachment, the Clinton impeachment in 1998. But we really
in order for it to be accepted by the country, to be accepted by history for the good of
the country we really felt we really strove so hard to achieve bipartisanship in this
thing. And Doar and I give a lot of credit to Doar and a lot of credit to Rodino. Those
are the two key figures in this thing. Doar and Rodino really just handled it right. I
mean, it was useful to have a person like me who was aggressive. I mean, I wanted to
go hard, and once I was convinced that there was a case to be made. But their balance,
their judgment I think really kept this process going along the right direction. And I m very
proud that not only we reached the southern Democrats, which were important, the conservative
Democrats there not all southern, but also the Republications. And all of a sudden we
started reaching some of the Republicans. Bill Cohen and Tom Railsback and people like
that who then spoke really from the heart. It was a very moving thing ultimately to see
that. And then of course after the smoking gun tape came out, the June 18th tape then
the whole Republican that s when the President had to resign. The whole committee sort of
the whole committee then decided that impeachment was appropriate. So many key Republicans Wiggins
was the President had very able advocates on the committee on the Republican side of
the committee. He became a judge, Wiggins, in the 9th Circuit I think. Very able guy.
Different. Naftali: But you must ve seen the emotion that Wiggins [inaudible] [Crosstalk]
Nussbaum: Yes, yes, there was. I remember I do remember the emotion. The emotion particularly
the Republic side. That s where the emotion really was. The Republicans who really voted
for impeachment before final analysis, were very torn. They understood they were in the
process of potentially bringing down a Republican President. And there was agony. There was
really agony in their faces because many of them and this is really interesting. I used
to have these discussions even in our staff, especially with the Republican members of
the staff, especially Sam Garrison, who was a very intelligent guy who unfortunately later
on he got into trouble after the impeachment way after. But he in effect was Bert Jenner
was sort of pushed aside by the Republicans because they felt he wasn t sufficiently Republican
enough or partisan enough. So they put Garrison Garrison was a quite intelligent guy and Garrison
expressed a view that even if some of these things happened and even if you even if there
was this abusive power or the misuse of the FBI and the CIA, the fact is he s a good President.
And isn t that a fact to be taken into account? He was a good President of foreign affairs.
He did very important things. He did the opening to China. He was hugely important in the Arab
Israeli war in 1973. Don t you have to make a judgment about that as well? And the answer
s yes. You really sorta do. But on the other hand, he did do all these things that we he
really did abuse his powers as President against his political opponents and is contrary to
our system of government. The answer to that was other Presidents have also done similar
things. The answer to that is true. To some extent there has, you know but the fact is
he sort of put it all together in a way that nobody else quite did it before. And you can
t do that anymore. And that was a debate. Garrison made some interesting arguments and
I think this was reflected in the agony of the Republicans, I mean, when I watched this.
They thought many of them thought he was a good overall a good President. Not only was
he a President of their party but he was a good President, certainly in foreign affairs
and maybe even in domestic affairs they thought. And in some ways he was a good President.
He probably didn t like me because I told you I mentioned a book that he spoke and this
is years later after I was in the White House with Bill Clinton. He made some derogatory
comments about me after my deputy Vince Foster committed suicide. He said in this book called
Conversations with Monica Crowley that he thought I was a to use his language a tough
shit and consequently maybe I drove my deputy Vince Foster to suicide, which of course is
not true. Vince Foster was a wonderful man who unfortunately had a breakdown. But President
Nixon was a very able guy but he did what he did and we did what we had to do. And the
Congress reached the decision it had to reach. Naftali: Sam Garrison s office, was it close
to yours? I mean, was he in the Congressional — [Crosstalk] Nussbaum: Well, yeah, yeah,
yeah. We were all we worked out of the Congressional Hotel. It was a very small place and we were
constantly together. And Garrison was a good advocate. I have for I don t believe he s
alive anymore still alive. Naftali: No [inaudible]. Nussbaum: He died, didn t he? He was young
he was not old. He was little older than I was at the time. But he was you should really
well, you did track down some of them, Bill Weld I guess. You should track down some of
those Republican staff members and see what they remember. By the end we were all on the
mostly on the same page, which is an amazing feat, which I full didn t appreciate. I know
it was important at the time but I didn t appreciate how amazing in this day and age,
impossible, impossible to have done today what we did then. I think it s impossible.
Naftali: What changed? Nussbaum: Well, the enormous partisanship that exists today, which
even existed 20 years ago when I was in the White House with Bill Clinton, when I was
council to the President. It became worse and worse. I mean, there s no middle anymore.
There s no moderate Republicans. There s some moderate Democrats but there s no moderate
Republicans. And the notion of people coming together to make a joint decision. That s
why the country has all the difficulties it has now, the economic situation and things
like that. It s a really big problem. Then maybe it was the maybe historians will look
back they can already look back and it was one of the last times that people can sort
of come together. Again it s a tribute to — as I keep saying, to Doar and to Rodino
but we came together. And also what I was very what I m very proud of I think I mentioned
this before, if not in this interview is that I always thought there would be a historical
backlash against the impeachment process, against the Nixon President Nixon resignation.
Because we forced him out of office this was a partisan gang that sort of put it all together
for it was never that backlash never came. Nobody ever writes that somehow there s no
meaningful position, I m sure some people have written, but that somehow error was committed.
This was wrong what happened. This was wrong. I mean, this shouldn t have happened. This
was sort of a President being driven out of office and he shouldn t have been driven out
of office. Nobody no respectable authorities have ever really said that. And that s another
tribute to that process that we engaged. I m very proud of that too. I always thought
there would be. I though history that s the way it ll go 20 years from 20 years from now
the people who start writing all this was we in a moment of hysteria, using the tapes
we forced the President out of office and we shouldn t have done. Nobody s ever said
that. The decision is basically accepted by history as, yes, this is the correct judgment
under those circumstances and those times. And that s something look how the people are
gonna look back at the Clinton so called impeachment. He was impeached, President Clinton. He was
impeached by the House of Representatives. He was acquitted sort of by the Senate but
he was impeached. But everybody looks at that as a joke. It s a joke. It s an absolute joke.
It s a misuse of the impeachment process. There s been no punishment by the American
people of the party that did that but it s a joke. You look back at that as a joke, not
as a legitimate process. But nobody looks back on most people don t look back, maybe
some people do but most people don t look back on the Watergate impeachment, the 1974
impeachment and the ultimate resignation as a joke. Actually President Nixon wasn t impeached.
The House Judiciary Committee voted out all articles of impeachment. And prior to being
voted on the floor of the House he resigned because the Senators went to him and said,
the article s gonna be voted out and the Senate will probably vote to convict, so he resigned.
Naftali: Did you think that the lessons you d learned in 1974 were useful or not in 1993,
94. Or had the world changed so much by then that [inaudible] [Crosstalk] Nussbaum: No,
no. They in 1993, 94 when I was in the White House I was affected by what happened in 73,
74. And this is, of course, also part of history right now in various books. The office of
the Independent Counsel is a very dangerous office. It was conducted well in 73, 74. Cox
and Jaworski did a good job, they did a fair job. It was the proper thing to do but it
was a unique circumstance at the time. There was clearly evidence and significant abuses
of power. We had the tapes ultimately. But normally that is a dangerous office to exist
in for a President to have to face. When you start appointing independent counsel the dynamic
is such that you wanna make a case. You wanna make when you only have one target and your
reputation s sort of at stake you wanna make a case. It s a the impeachment process is
a proper process but the Independent Counsel is a dangerous thing to have because you have
to have a unique person in that position who can walk away without making a case, especially
when the President s involved. Maybe with other lower officials is a so I was very wary,
and when I came into the White House in 93, 94 of the institution of special prosecutor
of the Independent Counsel. And when this outcry arose in late 1993 when I was counsel
to the President after my deputy Vince Foster committed suicide, this outcry arose about
White Water, this so called investment that President Clinton and Hillary Clinton had
made a long time ago, which they lost money on, that somehow there was some sort of corruption
involved in that or Madison guarantee. And then Jim McDougal and people like that [inaudible]
happened, had nothing to do with abusive power, no mis none of this same kinda stuff that
happened in 73, 74. And it was an outcry for an independent counsel to investigate these
acts. I was vehemently opposed to that vehemently opposed. It was there was no Independent Counsel
Act. I mean, the Democrats will introduce one in place vehemently opposed to that. And
I argued vehemently in the White House to the President that he should not appoint an
Independent Counsel. I said, this is a dangerous institution. I said, there s no basis to appoint
you did nothing wrong in office here. You did nothing wrong in Arkansas 20 years ago
or 15 years ago, but it has nothing to do with your being President right now. You appoint
this it will be like a knife in your heart. Whoever s appointed Independent Counsel will
take years. I said, you know who should appoint? If you ll appoint me as Independent Counsel,
appoint me, me, your counsel, Bernie Nussbaum. Make me Independent you know what I would
do, I said? I ll tell you what I would do. I would spend three or four years investigating
everything in Arkansas. I would turn over every rock, because I m not gonna go back
to New York not having explored m sure I ll find people who committed criminal acts in
Arkansas in the last 20 years. I have a feeling, Mr. President, that probably happened. And
maybe those people that, in order to avoid trying to go to jail, will find will remember
something about you, which didn t happen but will remember something about you and say
things like this is crazy. There s no basis to do this. All you will do is create an institution
which will haunt you as long as you re President and beyond. Don t do this. Don t do this.
The others were saying, oh that s ridiculous. The Republicans, even Democrats are coming
[inaudible] it ll end the media. It ll end the media storm that s going on now with respect
to White Water and things like that. I said, no. And we had a big debate on the telephone.
It s all mentioned in the recent book. I said, you have to do something? I said, I ll tell
you what you do. I ll tell you what you do, Mr. President. You and Hillary go down to
the Senate Judiciary Committee [inaudible] and testify. Ford testified after the Nixon
pardon. Go down and testify. Let them ask you any question they want about White Water.
And they started screaming, I d rather the other staff members, Stephanopoulos and others
started screaming, this is crazy, vast publicity, you know. I should d rather have vast publicity.
You ll be able to handle any testimony cause there s nothing here in any event, than set
up an institution with 25 assistant U.S. attorneys and 25 FBI agents who will start investigating
you and your friends in Arkansas for the rest of your presidency. When I said this, by the
way, Monica Lewinsky was a junior in high school. She wasn t even around in this time.
This was six years don t set up this institution. They ll be after you, your friends and everything.
Oh, I can they keep asking me about it. He folded, he folded. Even Hillary folded. Hillary
was on my side and then she couldn t deal with it. And they appointed the Independent
Counsel who the first one was replaced, Bob Fisk by Ken Starr. I then left the White House
because I was now a very controversial figure who gave bad advice about not appointing Independent
Counsel as well as other allegations. So I left after a year-and-a a year-and-a-quarter
in the White House. And what happened happened. The rest is history. He did write it as a
memoir the biggest mistake he made was appointing the Independent Counsel. So but that s a dangerous
institution to be used very sparingly, especially with respect to a President. And but that
s what happened. But that affected me. I understood the dangers of 74 did affect me for 93 and
94. And I also Hillary was involved in 73, 74 and with me in 93, 94. She understood it.
But the great pressure in the White House, the other staff members and foolish Democratic
Senators, they folded. If they didn t fold the Clinton that d change history too. The
Clinton Presidency would ve receded. I m not justifying any conduct that President Clinton
committed or may have committed with respect to Ms. Lewinsky later on. That s, you know
the fact is it wouldn t have had the impact on his presidency it had. There would ve been
no impeachment. Al Gore would probably have been elected President in 2000 and the world
would ve been different. But that s what happens. If Nixon destroyed the tapes the world would
ve been different. If President Clinton had listened to me with respect to appointing
the Independent Counsel the world would ve been different. But I I lead a good life.
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