Tali Yahalom: Why did you decide to take on this project? What were your goals and do you think you achieved them?
Well you never think you've accomplished a goal, if you're a writer,
until everybody on Earth has read your book. I wanted to get a preview
of what an unfiltered access to a president being president is like,
trying to preserve memories. This is second best, third best, fourth
best to actually recording his phone conversations and in meetings.
This was his idea -- the project was his idea, it wasn't mine. I'm not
making any judgments about Clinton -- it's too soon and I'm too, I'm
not impartial. But I do think that it's primary record. And the second
goal is that I try to take people inside the White House, to give them
some sense of what it's like to be around a sitting president in the
white house, which it gives a little relief to the book, but also some
primary experience, because I think that we have an unrealistic and an
overly ideological cartoon-images of presidents.
TY: How did President Clinton convince you to do this?
He was concerned about the preservation of [historical] material. I was
stunned that he was thinking about that before he took office, because
I had kind of written him off as a cookie-cutter politician, I was a
little cynical about politics, I had even told him that I wasn't going
to be involved in any more political campaigns after 1972 because I was
disillusioned with politics. There was a little negotiation, because he
wanted me to move into the White House and be his in-house historian. I
told him that I didn't think that would work, that it wouldn't be taken
seriously. We talked about various other alternatives, what he could
do, I recommended that he keep a diary all by himself and he said that
he couldn't do it.
TY: Why not?
TB: He said
that he had a fabulous memory, but that the problem was when he sat
down at the end of the day, there were too many topics to talk about.
He didn't have any sort of sense of where to start, he could talk all
day about any one of 100 things.
TY: How did you manage to keep this project a secret?
I couldn't talk about it, I couldn't tell my friends I was doing it, I
couldn't tell most of my relatives. I had a lame, in my view,
defensible cover story that we had reignited, that we had gotten
reacquainted in occasional conversations about history, and that's what
I would say.
TY: People believed that?
Yes, we had been roommates before, and they didn't know how often I was
going there, and they certainly didn't know I was going in late at
night and doing recordings. A couple of people on his staff
occasionally did see me before I could hide my recorders. I know Leon
Panetta did, the chief of staff did, but they didn't say 'What are you
doing here, what's the nature of that?' I don't really know what went
through their mind.