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tv   Q A  CSPAN  October 6, 2013 11:00pm-12:01am EDT

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>> this week on "q&a," part one of a two-part discussion with the chief of staff, josh bolten as he discusses the duties during the george w. bush administration. in the epilogue to george w. bush's book. you greeted me. you were in his office on the last day of his presidency. he said he greeted me the same
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he did every day in my chief of staff. mr. president, thank you for the privilege of serving? did you say that? >> i did. sometimes there was a variation of it. but i did as chief of staff, i visited with the president first thing every morning. he got to his desk at about 6:45. and i would get five minutes to get settled. our tradition was the first person the president sees was the chief of staff. i would walk in at about 6:50 in the morning. i always said something to the effect of, thank you for the privilege of serving. and it wasn't intended to flatter him or to thank him, it was intended to remind me and to help me remind everybody else what a privilege it was to be inside the white house.
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so i just made it a habit. it was a privilege. >> what did he say back? >> he would just move on. he was a president i think really understood the presidency, understood the privilege of being in the oval office. he didn't need the reminding. he probably didn't even need the reminding that i was appreciative and sensitive to it. but i wanted myself and everybody to be aware of both the burdens and the joy we had of being there. especially since i was president bush's last chief of staff. i served roughly the last three
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years. i wanted everybody around me and myself to be keenly aware that we had limited time, that it wasn't -- we weren't owners, we were tenants and we had to treat every day as an opportunity as well as a privilege. >> there are 4,000 people in this town that were president of their class or student body. they're coming to town, they're all competing. you were president of your class at prince ton? your senior year? >> union your year? >> junior year. >> you're president of your student council in high school? >> yes, i think so. >> yeah. >> you would think you might remember that. but, yes, i was -- i was what they call the senior prefekt. >> so when did you think that you would be involved in leadership and why?
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>> you know why i grew up here in d.c. it's probably didn't sense it at the time. but it's a company town. and i went in to the local business which was all around me as i was growing up. so it seemed perfectly natural. i was always interest in good leadership. i don't think i thought of myself as a particularly brilliant leader. but i was always interested in how that's done and i think i spent a lot of my career helping other people to be good leaders. i hope i ultimately was one myself. >> when you think back about the last three years, what's the first thing that comes to your mind. >> the last three years of the bush administration. >> when you were chief of staff. what's the thing that flashes in
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front of you? boy, a lot of things flash in front of me. there's a trauma and a recency effect to the financial crisis. that was the last thing that happened on the way out the door. for the bush administration. you remember we went through 7 1/2 very difficult tumultuous years, hugely consequential, dramatic changes in the world and in the united states. you know, we'd had a recession. we had a crisis of confidence in american business. we had the 9/11 attacks, the war in afghanistan, the war in iraq, hurricane katrina. all of these things. so when we approached the last year of the bush administration, as we got to 7 1/2 years in,
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most of us thought let's try to wrap this up in a responsible and effective way and for whoever wins the presidency, leave the country and the white house in as good a shape as possible for that next person. and there we're hit with the financial crisis which really exploded in september 20608. it had been festering for a few months. but i don't think anybody expected what happened in september and october 20608 to be on the hour rye rison in the final days of the bush administration. when i served the last few years as chief of staff, the explosion of economic crisis, of financial crisis right at the end is what comes to my mind. >> was there a time in that period that you were just afraid? that's a -- that's a strange
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word. but where you thought this could really be bad? >> yes. i've been asked periodically, when were you the most afraid in your government service? which my service in governments spanned the entirety of bush 43's administration from january 20th, 2001 to january 20, 2011 -- i mean 2009. and including 9/11. when asked what was the scariest moment, people always expected me to say 9/11. in reality, it wasn't the scariest moments. there were more than one. came in september and october of 2008 when it genuinely appeared
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and probably was true that the global financial system was on the verge of a collapse comparable to or worse than what was experienced in the great depression. >> what's the first thing you did? when did you know it? when was it right out in front of you? >> probably the immediate aftermath of the collapse of lehman brothers. there's an ongoing cascade of traumatic events that led up to that. but in mid september, over a weekend, lehman brothers, despite our efforts, i say our -- i mean the efforts of the treasury and of the fed to -- to put together some kind of rescue for one of america's big and
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venerated investment banking houses, that failed over a weekend. and as the week opened, lehman brothers declared bankruptcy and folded. abruptly. and i think that was -- that was the first moment that i at least felt that the wheels of the bus might be coming off. >> do you remember what the president said to you at any time and how you got involve in dealing with the crisis? >> you know, i don't -- i don't remember what the president said immediately at that moment. but there were several moments during the crisis when the the president would take in all -- all of the advice he was getting. chew on it, reflect on it. and in those kinds of circumstances, he rarely made a
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decision immediately on the spot. he would think about it and let -- if there was time, let his advisors know what he had decided maybe the next morning something like that after he had had a chance to chew over the advice that he had gotten. and there were several circumstances -- occasions during the financial crisis when the president as scary as the situation was, took the role of the leader and said we'll get through this. he was very sensitive of anyone panicking or getting completely dispirted. he would always make some tough decisions and then say we'll get through this. the one i remember most viftly
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was after the -- after the collapse of lehman brothers, and we started to see a cascading effect of markets seizing up that no banks would not lend to each other, there was no liquidity. the -- hank paulsen, the treasury secretary came in to ask for a meeting with the president with your senior advisors. he -- hank paulsen had with him the chairman of the fed, ben bernanke and the president of the new york fed, tim geithner. we had the chairman of the exchange commission and the president and a couple of other
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officials. it was at that meeting that hank paulsen asked the president for authority to go to the congress and turned out the be almost a trillion dollars in bailout money for the banks. never gets used to buy up the assets but was used to inject equity into a lot of troubled institutions. and what a shocking thing for a good solid republican president to be confronting. we need $780 billion immediately from the congress in order to use that money to rescue banks that were failing and shore up the whole financial system.
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and this was one occasion where the president made a decision on the spot. he asked bernanke, what happens if we don't do this. bernanke being a scholar of the great depression and a very wise economic head, was clear ly ver frightened about the state of the financial system and he said, mr. president, we could be looking at circumstances similar to or worse than the great depression. the president said, that makes it easy. let's go. after that meeting as people were milling around and talking, president bush went around to all of the principles involved and just had a private word with
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each one of them and comforted everybody. it was a shocking decision to have to make. he comforted everybody and said, don't worry, we're doing the right thing. we'll get through this. >> you remember ever watching someone come in to the oval office or talk to the president and become somewhat in his face talk back to him, tell them what they really thought. as you know people say all the time nobody will speak up to a president. >> they encouraged him to speak up to people. they liked him, respectfully, nobody likes to be treated disrespectfully, but he encouraged people to speak candidly with him and tended to reward him by paying attention.
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and there's something about the oval office which president bush was keenly aware which is, you know, people plan to come in and give the president a piece of their mind. you get there and you say, gosh, mr. president, you look great today. and everybody hates to give him bad news. that's part of the role of the chief of staff when everybody's gone, the chief of staff is the one who should say they wouldn't tell them something. the news was worse than what they were saying or that cabinet member is more disappointed than angry than you think and feels strongly that his colleagues are taking us in the wrong direction but didn't want to say so in the oval office.
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a good president has to break through that. you won't get people coming in in the face of the president even sometimes when they should. >> who is your experience around them? at the beginning of the administration, your job was what? >> deputy chief of staff for policy. two years. >> next you did what? >> budget director, three years. >> and then -- >> chief of staff, three years. >> and in all that time, who spoke up? i know you're -- you know -- you never wrote the book. you don't like to talk about this. but who spoke up the most in any meeting? >> interesting question. karl rove is somebody who often had views contrary to what the flow of opinion might be.
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he is a brilliant man with eclectic knowledge. so he -- he had confidence both from his own abilities and knowledge and from his long standing close relationship with the president to speak up in ways that others might not. he would be -- he would be the first person i think of who would sometimes tell the emperor that his clothing was frayed, at a minimum. >> you got your law degree where? >> stanford. >> you worked for goldman sachs for how long? >> five years. >> where? >> london. >> doing what? >> i was -- part of the law department there. but my role was principally with public policy and government
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policy. so i had the opportunity to give both advice on what was happening in public policy that was relevant to the banking business and to work on issues of public policy that affected the banking business that goldman sachs was doing in europe. >> you know a lot of americans are suspicious of the connection between a josh bolten that worked with goldman sachs, the relationship to new york and the bankers. george bush says in his book you were responsible for bringing him ken paulsen. >> i am responsible for bringing in hank paulsen. >> did i say ken? i meent snang he used to run "usa today," yeah, go ahead. the conspiracy theory doesn't hold up. i didn't know hank paulsen when i worked at goldman. i wasn't -- i wasn't -- i had a
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good job. lots of interesting responsibilities, but i was not a big cheese. at goldman sachs in the five years i worked there in the late '90s. as my government career took me higher and higher positions, i found that also tended to elevate what i had done before so that in the telling of it, i went from being, you know, moderately senior official at goldman sachs to being a run in europe for goldman sachs, which i didn't. what i did know when i became chief of staff was that we had gone already five years, already five years in the bush administration without a significant financial crisis.
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i knew from my experience from goldman and elsewhere that it's very rare that an administration can go for years without some kind of internationally significant financial crisis. so when i came in as chief of staff, i told the president that as our incumbent treasury secretary was beginning to come to tend of his -- >> john snow? >> john snow. he had served for three years and was beginning to come to the end of his time, i told the president that i thought that it was very important in the final three years of his presidency that we bring in a treasury secretary who had real market credibility. experience, gravitas, preferably at the head of one of the large wall street institutions. at the wake of the enron crisis and other things, there was a great deal of reticence in
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government generally of bringing in wall street people to serve in government because their reputations had fallen so low. i thought we found somebody of integrity the who we thought both sides of the aisle could find confidence because knock wood, maybe we'll be lucky enough to get through the next three years without a financial crisis. but we'll be the first ones who have. >> so how did you go after him? >> he was a tough sale. a very tough sale. i went straight in the front door and said we're starting to look at who could replace john snow as treasury secretary and the president would like to consider you. and anybody who gets approached for that kind of thing would be
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flattered. and his reaction was, you know, not really. he was sitting on top of the world. he was the leader of at the time was possibly the most successful enterprises in the history of man kind. he's not a mercenary guy at all. but he's -- he's success hfl driven. he was a successful leader of one of the most successful institutions in the history of the world. >> i read he's worth $730 million at least? >> probably. if you know hank, you know that's not what animates him. he's a very aggressive, success-driven person. and the money to him personally is not significant. but that's the way you measure success in banking is money.
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he looked at the bush administration in 2006. not hugely popular. probably not a great deal of an agenda to pursue. so i tried to woo him partly with the assertion i just made which is we're not likely to be lucky enough to go another three years without a financial crisis, number one, and number two, there are interesting things to be done. we're aggressively pursuing social security reform, we want to aggressively pursue reform of our government sponsored enterprises, fannie mae and freddie mac, which turns out we were too late to try to get control of that situation. they were at the core of what triggered the financial crisis.
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>> did you know that was coming at the time? >> i don't want to say -- in saying i didn't predict the financial crisis, i don't want to give myself too much credit. i had no idea what was coming. if you forced me, i would have said probably a foreign currency crisis. that's what typically happened in the past. >> when did george bush the president stop appointing people, nominating them for the board of fannie and freddie. >> i don't remember what year it was. but i thought it was an important statement of principle which is that we believed those organizations were getting too large and that the -- that the government involvement with them was creating an untenable situation in which the markets would -- would continue to pour money into fannie and freddie without the market disciplines because everybody figured there would be a government backstop. and governments had always
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claimed there is no -- there is no backstop. so we tried to withdraw that from the government. >> anyway, what i -- this is the case i was making to hank paulsen. and he said that doesn't seem big to me. the one thing he was interested in, it was china. i said there's a lot to be done there to -- to deepen the economic relationship and try to make sure that china proceeds along a responsible path with its explosive economic development. i could tell that tweaked his interest. he said no. and i went back to him and persuaded him that, well, come visit with the president. and he kind of gotten -- he warmed back up to the idea -- this is over a period of two or three months. he warmed back up to the idea and so i'd arranged an
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appointment for him to visit with the president. i thought if he got to know the president a little better, he would feel like this is a team that i want to be on. he called me up the day before, he thought about it. he talked to some people in his own team, washington, told him you don't go visit with the president until you say yes. he didn't expect to say yes. but he couldn't in good conscious take the visit with the president. so he fell off the radar screen for a couple more weeks and so we headed to a lunch at the white house, a state lunch, not a state dinner, a state lunch, for president hu of china. that got his juices flowing again. and after that lunch, i asked to visit with him again, put the
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hard sale on him. he said yes, subject to conditions and meeting the president. they really hit it off. it took a long time to sell him. and in his very interesting book, he discloses that when -- when his mother found out that he was going to go work for george w. bush, she burst into tears. >> he did or she did? >> she did. >> because she wasn't a republican? >> was he a rebe un? >> yes. but -- but that's a -- at the time, certainly there was a pretty rare breed, even in maybe especially in wall street. sand his wife was not a republican. was a friend of hillary clinton's from college. so he was swimming against a pretty strong cultural and familial tide. >> five board seats every president had. not a lot of publicity on it at
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the time. i found it on "the new york times" piece that george bush stopped appointing people. but two of the predecessors, i think rahm emmanuel went on the freddie mac board afterwards before he got to the chief of staff. never seen any work for fannie mae and was on the board. but outsiders don't see this. there's so many insiders like -- i don't mean to go into all of the names but they made a tremendous amount of money for all of that. it's still there. you saw this up close. how did it get away from us as people that the institutions were created and people in politics were making that kind of money. >> really good question. it happened over a period of decades. fannie and freddie were very successful at their mission of creating and stable and
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inclusive mortgage market so all americans could own their own homes. presidents of all stripes including george w. bush signed up to the american dream -- everybody gets to own their own home. and in the bush administration, we saw homeownership rates rise to the highest level in history. the president was especially proud that those homeownership rates were high among minorities. it's a general political push. and the intertwining of basically public risk and private gain just -- just developed over time and it's something that in the bush administration, we recognized was problematic and tried to unwind. there were powerful voices
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within the white house, including our economic advisors -- larry lindsey was one. ed lazier at the chairman of economic advisors. they beat the drum and said this is dangerous. the size of the balance sheet of these operations is -- is really getting out of control. and yet, you know, the system kept rolling on. house prices kept going up. fannie mae stock keeps going up. the sort of the intertwining of public sector appointees to the private board for private gain was produce iing good news and d pay for everybody. so it was a situation where
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nobody had a strong interest in blowing the whistle. we tried to blow the whistle. we had proposals. but the -- you know, the -- not just fannie mae and freddie mac, but the whole concept of government support of a mortgage finance system so popular on capitol hill that it is just an iron grip that even today is hard to break. >> a couple of things that i never heard anybody answer. larry lindsey who was in the white house economic advisor predicted that the iraq war was going to cost a couple hundred million billion dollars. and paul wolfowitz i think was saying $60 billion. all of a sudden, lindsey was gone. was he fired? >> larry -- first of all, the assertion that larry was fired because of his prediction about
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the -- about how much the war would cost is just flat wrong. i've seen that in print all over the place. just flat wrong. it doesn't mean it won't cost. it said if history is a guide, this is what a war of this nature has tended to cost. he was given basically an academic historic answer. turned out the be somewhat controversial. but no, that wasn't it. larry had the -- had the misfortune of trying to be the -- be the coordinator of an economic team in the first couple of years of the bush administration that resisted coordination. so at the end of the first two years in office, president bush decided new team. >> as we're on iraq, the general also said we're going need a lot
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more troops over there. and then all of a sudden, he was gone. was he fired? >> i wasn't privy to the details but he feels on the way out anyway is my recollection. he didn't endear himself to the civilian leadership in the pentagon by speaking out with a -- with a view that is legitimate to be given internally but probably not externally. >> again, how many people speak back and get away with it in government? and i mean what was -- what are some of the let sons you might have learned if you're watching it up close if you're advising others. you get to be the chief of staff, you have to watch out for this. >> you've got watch out for it. it happens. you need an environment that
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promotes dissent. george w. bush always did that. internal dissent. you don't need a lot of people squawking outside. because that not only doesn't help the process of decision making, it undermines it because people won't feel comfortable giving their candid advice in the private session of the president if they feel like somebody else in that room is going to be talking outside about what is said. so you do need people who are going to say, no, i disagree. this is how it ought to be done. and the lesson i have taken away from that experience is really advice for those who had the kinds of jobs i had, deputy chief of staff and chief of staff. in both roles, i viewed it as often my most important responsibility to generate
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disagreement in front of the president. now, a lot of the time is spent in those roles of trying to generate agreement among the cabinet and the senior advisors on issues that aren't presidential. because you don't want to take up the president's time with sort of the second tier -- important, but second tier issues. so as deputy chief of staff of policy, i spent a fair amount of time saying, okay, can't we work it out short of the president, how about this, how about that? if it's truly a presidential issue, i found that i was doing -- i was serving the president best when i was doing the opposite, which is that i would come to the meeting and i would intentionally needle the participants, many of whom got mad at me. because of it, i would needle to disagree more sharply with each other than i was accustomed to doing with the president. that's because i trusted the
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president. i thought he had among the best skills, the best judgment of being able to sort out an argument and make a decision based on conflicting advice. and if you trust the president, then needle everybody to disagree with each other and then let the president decide. the stint of -- instinct of a lot of the cabinet officers was we failed the president. we're dumping this problem in his lap without a resolution. and what the cabinet needs to appreciate and what i told every cabinet officer, you know, when they came in and when i had a chance is that's why he's here. that's the part of the job he likes. that's -- that's why we have presidents is to make some of those tough choices so make it as hard as you want for him. that's -- that's when he's
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really being presidential and you're being a good cabinet officer. >> i'm going to run for you a piece of the recorded video from several years ago. rick hertz berger wrote speeches for bill clinton. near the end of the interview, he said this about this being in the white house and watching the process. >> but you realize how little -- how there isn't anybody in charge. that these are just hubs. that i believed before i went there before i went there that somebody was in charge, that things were being taken care of. and i don't think this is just carter. i think this is true of every white house. you learn that it's just people up there. and they're not that different from the people you know. and they're not gods. they don't know everything. they get tired and irritable. they want to pull it out of
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their minds when it gets too stressful. you learn that while you're in the white house. when you leave, you forget it again. i'm back to thinking that somebody -- even the bush white house, i think, otherwise i go out of my mind. i think there's got to be somebody up there taking care of things. the glimpse you get -- the biggest glimpse you get before working in the white house is that there's nobody home. that it's just fallible human beings out there. >> there is somebody home. and it's the president and it's his senior advisors. >> i never had the feeling that, you know, holy crap, we have big issues going on and we're not paying attention to them. i never had that feeling.
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but where i do agree with him is that it is fallible human beings. you know, i remember in school that the -- when you study history, you learn -- at least i developed a sense there was a dialectic to history, a sort of determinism that was born of economics and demographics and big -- big flows of uncontrollable -- humanly uncontrollable factors. that would determine outcomes in history. and the thing -- i think that the -- the most striking thing about having served in senior levels at the white house is how important individuals are, fallible, brilliant, whatever.
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time and again, i saw individuals through the force f of -- of their arguments, through the force of their intellect, through the force of their passion, through the force of their faith, time and again, i saw individuals slightly bend the course of history, sometimes radically bend the course of history in ways that would not have occurred but for the presence of that individual. so on that, i agree with rick. it's -- it's much more human and much more individual than most people sense. >> can you remember an individual, other than hank paulsen we're talking about, who had an impact on the course of history? or when you were in the white house? >> i mean, sure, i think in any number of people did, you know, condy rice did, steve hadley did. her successor is the national security advisor.
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>> you remember an incident when that one person in the room changed the discussion? >> you know, a guy i like to think of is tony fouchy who's the head of the infectious disease institute at nih. president bush wanted to -- was shocked and frustrated with the prospect of aids wiping out a whole generation in africa on a whole continent. the inability to that point of the rest of the world to respond to that. and so we asked tony to come up with a plan as if money were no
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object of, you know, is there something that could be done about this? and i expected tony to come back with -- he had been an aids researcher for many years. he was directing people to work hard to find a vaccine for aids, i expected tony to come back and say, yeah, put a few billion more in the vaccine research and eventually we'll beat this thing. he didn't. he came back and said, you know, maybe a little bit more for a vaccine research, but i can't tell you that will advance by a single day, the date on which we end this disease forever. but we can now treat it. and in the process of treatment, we will -- we will be on the road to prevention. right now the aids pandemic is
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sweeping africa in part because nobody could get treated. why would you get tested if the only result of the test is a death sentence? >> so tony came back and constructed the president's emergency relief plan. but for tony fouchy and gary ed sen and mike gurson and a couple of people in the white house, that plan would have never been. probably there are millions, literally millions alive in africa today because of the plans they approved. >> president 43 tells the story of you introducing him to bono. where did you meet bono? and he also tells the story about -- i'm sure you remember
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it from the book where as you were bringing him to the oval office, he said you were going to bring him in the oval office, he said you turned to him and said do you know who bono was and he said yeah, wasn't he married to sherr? tell the bono story? >> true story, as i'm sure everything in the president's book is. but bono, in my eight years in the white house, i don't think i saw a single lobbist better than bono. and his team and the organization called the one campaign. i should disclose on whose board i now served. i joined it after leaving government because ill thought they were the best advocates i
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saw in the white house on a cause they believe. bono and his team were pressuring the white house persistently from that relief from africa and on the relief of aids crisis. out so i got to know him. both condy rice and i were impressed with him. always prepared, always passionate. typically knew more about the details of the issues on which he feels lobbying than some of the details in the room whom he was pressing. and he brought a movement and a history of being able to because of his celebrity being able to bring people on both sides of
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the aisle. he was a moving force on development assistance and the alleviation of extreme poverty in africa. so condy and i. wanted to visit with the president. we wanted his help to support the initiative that the president was coming out with. so conaty and i started to work on the president to visit with bono. and the president was recisse tent. that wasn't his style. he didn't really like hollywood and rock stars coming in to the white house because he always suspected, with some justification in many cases, that the celebrities were using their cause to enhance the
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celebrity. condy and i always felt that bono was the latter. we finally persuaded the president to meet with him. i met with him. i met with the president before the meeting with bono. and said here's what he wants, here's what we want. a good outcoming of the meeting would be "x." as he was leading, you know who bono is? he said, oh, yeah, yeah, i read him. rock star, my kid love his music kind of thing. i said, good. as i was putting my hand on the door, he said, and used to be married to sherr. and i turned around and looked at him and in his book, he says he was joking. as i looked at his face, i couldn't tell.
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bono came in and he looked like bono. one of the few people who go to the oval office without a necktie. but he's wearing a black suit, black everything. and bush gives me a look that it better be good. and bono is very smart. he -- he brought with him a -- i think it was an irish bible. people often give the president a gift when they visit with him. but it's usually a very little note and significance. but it triggered the conversation between the two of them in the initial meeting about faith and the importance of faith and good works. and i think that helped to establish the bond between two
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men of faith. george w. bush and bono, a bond that persists to this day. >> if you're chief of staff or take your own example, how closely are you tied on the day-to-day and on hour-to-hour basis to the president of the united states. how are you tied to him? >> close. at least in the way we ran our white house. and especially in the template that was set up by my fabulous predecessor, andy card, who is one of the great human beings ever to have served in government. andy made himself extremely close to the president. andy has a great memory. he feels an invaluable resource not just for the president, but for the entire rest of the government. because he tried to make sure he saw and heard everything significant that the president
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saw and heard. and everything significant that the president said and did so he could interpret what the rest of the president's intentions were. that means basically living most of the president's schedule. i didn't spend as much time with the president as andy did. that meant for me spending 2/3 of the regular working day, or at least a half of the regular working day living the president's schedule with him, his security briefings in the morning, to visit with the cabinet officer, maybe a visit with members on the hill. going to a speech somewhere. and for the chief of staff what that means is that, you know, you don't get a lot of desk time until the president goes up for dinner. so it's a long hours job.
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that for me started at 6:15. for andy card, at 5:30. >> you were at the white house by 6:15? >> no, no. -- do you have a family? >> no. no. maybe there's an explanation there. to be ready to talk to the president at 6:45 when he gets to the oval office, chief of staff needs to be there, i found, at least a half hour. andy would be there at least an hour, usually more before the president got there. but then to get my desk time, to do e-mails, to do reading, i would find i was typically at the white house until 10:00 or 11:00 at night every night. >> were you ready for it to end? >> yes, not from fatigue or discouragement, but i had the blessing of knowing that if
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everything went great and i was, you know, one of the most fortunate people in the world to serve out that entire administration with president bush, i knew the exact date and hour my service would end. so there's a certain amount of preparation in that. i had a feeling i tried to make sure i felt every day. as i said before, i tried to instill in the rest of the staff which is we are here for a limited time. so make the best use you can of every possible day. and when it's done, try to be -- to put yourself in a position to have said, i did my best, i tried -- i tried to make the best use of every hour i had in this privileged place. shortly after i became chief of
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staff, we were -- we were approaching 1,000 days left in the administration. so i gave everybody on the senior team of the white house a little countdown clock that started at 1,000 days and just counting down the minutes. and it turned out the be kind of a bad p.r. move because i didn't advertise it but somehow the word got out so there were blogs and things all over the place and other people and they had a similar clock and they were just thrilled about it. but i had -- i had passed it out to the other members of the staff. and just to give people a reminder after five years, you know, this is not the permanent state of things. we're here for a short time. because you would -- it's amazing. you would see that clock and sort of notice it and it would say 900 days and then all of a sudden it would say 850.
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i always had the feeling, boy, we got a lot to do. >> everybody remembers -- almost everybody remember where is they were at 9/11. where were you? >> i was deputy chief of staff. and on 9/11, i was acting chief of staff at the white house because andy had travelled with the president to florida early that morning. so i was in the white house. a lot of our senior people were gone travelling with the president who was promoting an education initiative that we had -- that we had thought would be the central piece of the early part of his presidency was a major piece of the federal education reform. so i ran the senior staff meeting on the morning of
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september 11. and it was a -- it was a relaxed and peaceful moment in a presidency that had been fairly turbulent on the way in. because of the controversy over the election. and had a lot of activity in the -- in the early months of the presidency. because of the recession that was coming in and disputes over political -- political disputes over taxes and so on. but i remember the morning of september 11 as a fairly relaxed day because people were getting back from holiday. congress was just beginning to get back into session. things at the time seemed pretty good with the world. >> so? what happened at that moment when you found out? and how did you find out if the plane had gone into the world trade center? >> i saw -- i saw on television in my office after the senior
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staff meeting that, you know, just out of the corner of my eye, i saw the television picture of what at the time was thought to have been a small plane hitting the trade towers. i have thought, oh, gees, that's very sad. what a freak accident. but then the tv pictures kind of made me wonder. i walked down to the situation room which is in the ground floor of the white house which is under the main floor of the west wing. in the situation room, there are -- there's supposed to be information nerve center of the white house where they're monitoring all of the tv stations, all of the intelligence sources. it's where, you know, it's where the defense department and cia and everybody funnels in information to the president and to the white house. so i just wandered down there to see what they were -- what they
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were picking up. and while i was there, in the situation room, the -- the second plane hit the second tower. and it was at that moment that i realized that this is not an accident. there's a large conference room in the situation room where condy rice would hold a staff meeting of 20 people. i walked into the room. condy was leading the meeting. she said, you know, here's josh bolten. she started to introduce me and i gave her the time-out signal and asked for me to step out for a minute. and i said the second plane has hit. this is not an accident. it's an attack.
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we went upstairs to the vice president's office. which is right next to the chief of staff's office. we talked with him. then we reconvened in the vice president's office. and while we were there in the vice president's office, a large secret service agent whose face i could still remember, a kind of a shaved head, big guy, came in and said to the vice president, we have to leave now. the vice president was reluctant. he's having a conversation and stuff. he's not interested in fleeing his office. and so the secret service agent came around behind him and got him in a bear hug. and picked him up off of the ground and started running with him, with the vice president sort of helping out along the
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way. they disappeared off to what is now publicly disclosed as a bunker that's underneath the grounds of the west wing. >> what happened to you? >> you know, i -- deputy chief of staff, you know, had a secret service detail, so nobody was watching out for me. but i had -- before i was in the vice president's office, i had been in my office. and in the deputy chief staff's office. and i had -- i walked in. and the phone was ringing on the inside line. a number that i don't think i'd given out to anybody. i probably wasn't aware i had an inside line. so i picked it up and it was one of my predecessors from the clinton administration. very nice guy whom i didn't noel.
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but it was very kind to me in the transition. named steve richete. and steve said, are you watching tr? and i said, yes. he said, do you see what's going on? i said yes. he said, do you know about the bunker? .


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