Clinton in Exile: A President Out of the White Houseby Carol Felsenthal
On January 20, 2001, the most powerful and arguably most ambitious man in the world relinquished the public stage, reluctantly, at the young age of fifty-four. Since then President Bill Clinton has moved in and out of the shadows of this "exile," leaving the millions who knew him to wonder: How has this man of such outsized talent and passions adjusted to
On January 20, 2001, the most powerful and arguably most ambitious man in the world relinquished the public stage, reluctantly, at the young age of fifty-four. Since then President Bill Clinton has moved in and out of the shadows of this "exile," leaving the millions who knew him to wonder: How has this man of such outsized talent and passions adjusted to leaving power?
Based on more than 150 interviews with the former president's friends, associates, and sometime enemies, Clinton in Exile takes readers from Clinton's last hours in office, through his indulgent personal life and well-publicized humanitarian efforts, to his front-of-camera and behind-the-scenes coordination of his wife's presidential campaign. This is a fascinating and textured portrait of one of the most towering, intriguing, and deeply controversial figures of our time.
Taking on former President Bill Clinton, the perennial object of America's love-hate fascination, biographer and political journalist Felsenthal (Citizen Newhouse: Portrait of a Media Merchant) finds a perfect jumping-off point in Clinton's exit from office, following a scandalous second term, impeachment by the House and George W. Bush's Presidential victory. Chronicling the week of Clinton's transition from President to civilian, through readjustments to suburban New York, working in Harlem, fighting heart disease and supporting Hillary (in the Senate and on the Presidential campaign trail), readers witness a beleaguered "Bubba" rebuild his identity, public and private. Felsenthal uses extensive research and new interviews to present Clinton's story in personal, insightful details; it reads like well-done fiction, starring Clinton as a plucky, unlikely underdog, wildly popular elsewhere in the world while facing an uphill battle at home. Felsenthal is a skilled interviewer, evincing deft moments of revelation; his friend Tom Kean recalls introducing Clinton, shortly after his heart surgery, to a standing ovation from a sold-out crowd: "You could see the color come back into his face...it was almost like somebody had done something for him medically." Felsenthal's own well-considered analysis adds depth, taking in the whole of Clinton's career: "It's as if the missteps and the pain of his presidency were necessary to forge this enormously impressive post presidential product." Anyone curious, but especially those who remain fans, will enjoy Felsenthal's look at Clinton's post-presidency.
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Clinton in Exile A President Out of the White House
By Carol Felsenthal
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. Copyright © 2008 Carol Felsenthal
All right reserved.
Oh, For Just One More Term
Hours before he would hand over the White House to George W. Bush, Bill Clinton was pulling an all-nighter. He was known for sleeping only a few hours a night even during the calmest of times, but this evening, he was outdoing himself.
He would most certainly have run for the presidency again—if it weren't for the constitutional ban on third terms—and even after the Monica Lewinsky scandal and the humiliating impeachment, he would have won.1 He had survived scandal after scandal since late 1991 when he launched his improbable run at the White House, and yet, when his second term ended on January 20, 2001, his approval ratings hit 66 percent.2 Even Republicans who wondered how such a brilliant, empathetic man could be so lacking in basic morality understood that, as president, William Jefferson Clinton had shown just how good he could be. As president, he had eliminated the deficit, coaxed through welfare reform, and presided over years of peace and prosperity.
Jim Guy Tucker, who had competed with Clinton in Arkansas politics (usually landing on the losing side), succeeded him as governor of the state but ended up in prison, tangled in the Clinton-era Whitewater scandal. Nonetheless, Tucker recognizes that Clinton tops the pyramid ofultragifted politicians. He compares him to all-pro NFL Hall of Famer Lance Allworth, who had played for the University of Arkansas. "These really talented athletes have skills that you and I don't even think about," says Tucker. "Their instincts . . . are just different and I happen to think that there are politicians who have those same unique qualities." Clinton is one of them.3
Mark Buell, a wealthy San Francisco businessman and generous supporter of Democrats in general and Bill and Hillary Clinton in particular, remembers the president, then in his second term, giving him and his wife, Susie Tompkins Buell, a Sunday-morning tour of the Oval Office. "I love being president," Clinton said. "I could be president twenty-nine more years."4
In 1999, Bill Clinton grew wistful at the prospect of moving on: "I confess that I love the job, even on the worst days." By then, more than a year after the Lewinsky scandal turned the president of the United States into a dirty joke on late-night television, there were plenty of bad days.5
"It was very hard for him to let go," says Melanne Verveer, First Lady Hillary Clinton's last chief of staff. "He loved being president. He loved the house. He loved his relationship with the American people. He did not leave easily."6
Clinton needed to savor the remaining hours, pride mixed with regret mixed with brooding over the beating his reputation had taken after he admitted that, yes, he did have sex with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky, and not only that, he had it just steps from the Oval Office.7 He was obsessed with framing the historic impeachment that followed as a badge of honor—the right-wingers tried to force him out of office and he had held his ground and would serve until the last minute of the last day of his last term.
As happens at the close of every administration—Clinton being Clinton it was happening closer to the close of his—he was wrestling with the question of pardons and who should get them.
That afternoon of January 19, Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson was in Washington for the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting. Anderson was pushing for a commutation of a fifteen-and-a-half-year prison term for Cory Stringfellow of Salt Lake City. A first-time offender convicted of a nonviolent crime—he sold LSD—Stringfellow had served six years and earned a master's degree while in prison. He was a victim, his parents argued tirelessly, of mandatory minimum sentences.8
President Clinton met with the mayors, and, during the photo op, as Anderson and Clinton were shaking hands, a hundred mayors behind him waiting for their photograph with the president, "I took that opportunity," Anderson recalls, "to remind President Clinton that we had put in for this pardon and really appreciated his personal attention to it." Anderson knew this was Stringfellow's last chance.9
The pardon power, granted to the president in Article II of the Constitution, is subject to no one's review, not the Congress, not the courts. Clinton could have pardoned—or commuted the sentence of—a serial killer if he so chose. The framers recognized that there would be political repercussions for a chief executive who granted pardons that offended public opinion.
Anderson wasn't the only one trying to catch Clinton's attention that last day in the White House.10 His friend Jack Quinn—until 1997, he was Clinton's White House counsel; before that he was Al Gore's chief of staff—telephoned him to push a pardon for one of his clients, commodities trader Marc Rich, a billionaire fugitive-from-American-justice.11 Rich had fled to Switzerland in 1983, living there on loot he accumulated by trading arms to Iran. He remained there rather than face charges—brought by then U.S. attorney Rudy Giuliani—of tax evasion, racketeering, and trading with the enemy, the latter also covering illegal oil deals with Iraq.12
This was not the first time Jack Quinn had lobbied Clinton. During Clinton's last weeks in office, the lawyer/lobbyist plied the president with entreaties and documents. Recognizing that the window of opportunity was closing, Quinn wrote Clinton a letter dated January 5, 2001.13 In a final push, Quinn sent two more letters on January 18 and January 19, and, according to Bill and Hillary biographer Sally Bedell Smith, Quinn had a twenty-minute meeting with Clinton early that evening.14
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Meet the Author
Carol Felsenthal is a journalist whose in-depth magazine articles about numerous political figures have received wide acclaim. She is also the author of several highly praised biographies on such high-profile figures as Alice Roosevelt Longworth, S. I. Newhouse, Jr., and Katharine Graham. She lives in Chicago, Illinois.
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