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Bush/Lauer: Part II

Matt Lauer interviews former President George W. Bush

Matt Lauer interviews former President George W. Bush in his first one-on-one TV interview since leaving the Oval Office. Photo Credit: NBC

Remember that George W. Bush interview with Matt Lauer you heard tell about here in TV Zone - the same one whereby the former president said a lowpoint was when Kanye West said he was racially insensitive, or some such thing?

 Well . . . we now have the second part of the interview. This airs Monday on NBC, and Bush will be on "Today" next week, too...  


BUSH ON KATRINA/AIR FORCE ONE PHOTO:

MATT LAUER:

Let's get to the picture that we may have seen more of you in the last couple years of your Presidency than any other picture. You're sitting in Air Force One, flying back toward Washington. You fly right over New Orleans and you look out the window.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:
Yes. Huge mistake.

MATT LAUER:

Yeah. And in comes the press and they take that picture. And it made you look so out  of touch.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

Detached and uncaring. No question about it.

MATT LAUER:

Whose fault was it?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:
It's always my fault. I mean I was the one who should have said, A, don't take my picture, B, let's land in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, C, let's don't even come close to the area. Let's -- the next place to be seen is in Washington at a command center.

I mean it was my fault.

MATT LAUER:
When the picture's released you write, "I immediately knew it was a problem."

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Of course. I'd been around long enough to know that when it was released. And the reason why we didn't land in Louisiana is because I was concerned that first responders would be pulled off their task and I'd be criticized.

In retrospect, however I should have touched down in Baton Rouge, met with the governor and walked out and said, "I hear you. We understand. And we're going to help the state and help the local governments with as much resources as needed." And then got back on a flight up to Washington. I did not do that. And paid a price for it.

BUSH ON DRINKING:

MATT LAUER: You talk about the role that alcohol played in your life. Sum it up for me. When you think of drinking as a younger man, what role did it play in your life?

GEORGE W. BUSH:
Well it became a love. And therefore, began to compete for my love with my wife, and my daughters. For a while, I was a rootless guy, and drinking didn't compete with anything.

MATT LAUER: So you start in the night, you have a beer, and you were the kind of guy who'd keep drinking 'til you went to bed.

GEORGE W. BUSH:

Yeah. I'd have a beer. And so the book starts off with Laura saying, "Can you tell me a day in which you haven't had a drink?"

MATT LAUER:

Right.

GEORGE W. BUSH:

And when you drink too much, the answer's -- "Yes, I can!" And then I couldn't remember a day. And-- you know, I could easily have a beer or two, or a martini before dinner, bourbons, B&Bs. I was a drinker. Now, I wasn't a knee-walkin' drunk. And I have concluded I was not chemically addicted, like some of my friends were, who required a 12-step program for some.

MATT LAUER:

You were like a habitual drinker as opposed to an alcoholic.

GEORGE W. BUSH:

Exactly. Nevertheless, in either case, alcohol becomes central to your life. And I finally woke up and realized that I did not want to live a life where alcohol was central. And I'm convinced, I really am convinced, had I not quit drinking, I wouldn't be sitting here as a former President. Because I chronicle a few incidents where alcohol made my quick tongue, not only quick, but caused me to be stupid.

MATT LAUER:

Well, was it a cultural thing here in  Midland, Texas? I mean was everybody doing it? You write in the book, "I have a habitual personality." And I'm paraphrasing here. "But I justified my drinking by saying, ‘I wasn't as bad as the other drunks I grew up with.'"

GEORGE W. BUSH:

That's right.

MATT LAUER:

So was it a cultural thing in this town?

GEORGE W. BUSH:

There was a lot of drinking here. There really was. And in the '70s and '80s, it was commonplace for people to, you know, finish work, go start drinking. And I was one. Now in my case, I also was disciplined enough to -- and had a desire to stay fit-- So I would run. But the problem is my running eventually became a hangover cure. I would run to purge my system of the poisons of alcohol. And so eventually, thanks to Laura, and thanks to my meeting with Billy Graham, and just kind of a lot of forces came together, I made the decision to quit.

And so, on my 40th birthday celebration -- I got drunk as a skunk in The Broadmoor Hotel. And the next day, I quit. I said, "I'm through." And Laura, bless her heart, kind of, you know, looked at me like, "I've heard this before."

MATT LAUER:

Right.

GEORGE W. BUSH:

And -- but I did. I ended up quitting.

MATT LAUER:

Tell me the story about the dinner party where you --

GEORGE W. BUSH:

OK. So here's one of the worst. 

MATT LAUER:

That's what we want, we want the worst.

GEORGE W. BUSH:

Well, you found it.

MATT LAUER:

Yeah.

GEORGE W. BUSH:

So I'm drunk at the dinner table at Mother and Dad's house in Maine. And my brothers and sister are there, Laura's there. And I'm sitting next to a beautiful woman, friend of Mother and Dad's. And I said to her out loud, "What is sex like after 50?"

MATT LAUER:

Silence.

GEORGE W. BUSH:

And I mean total silence. And not only silence, but like serious daggers.

MATT LAUER:

From your mom.

GEORGE W. BUSH:

Yeah. And my wife. And then I end the anecdote by saying, "I call her to apologize, of course." The after dinner remorses.

MATT LAUER:

But the point of the story is to say alcohol had a control of you, you didn't have control over alcohol.

GEORGE W. BUSH:

That's right. And I was a wiseass, and I would do stupid things, and alcohol had control over me. The interesting thing -- I end the anecdote with her writing me a letter on my 50th birthday, when I was governor of Texas, "Dear Governor: Well, what's the answer?"

MATT LAUER:

Yeah. You quit cold turkey.

GEORGE W. BUSH:

I did.

MATT LAUER:

A lot of people can't do that. Why were you able to?

GEORGE W. BUSH:

'Cause I don't think I was chemically addicted. And therefore, I was on that one-step program. And some people require a different approach. And for those, I have great admiration -- who had a more difficult time of quitting than I did. I hope somebody reads this book and says, "If Bush can quit, I can quit."

MATT LAUER:

You know, there -- throughout your presidency, there were times, because people knew your background drinking, where the rumors would start to go around.

They'd say --

GEORGE W. BUSH:

"You're drinking again."

MATT LAUER:

"He's drinking again."

GEORGE W. BUSH:

Sure.

MATT LAUER:

During the most stressful times of your presidency, 9-11, Iraq, Katrina, you never fell off the wagon?

GEORGE W. BUSH:

No. Of course not.

MATT LAUER:

Not a sip.

GEORGE W. BUSH:

No. I haven't had a sip of alcohol since 1986.

MATT LAUER:

Temptation? Did you ever sit in the White House on some of those terrible nights and think about drinking?

GEORGE W. BUSH:

No. I was through. Listen. I -- right after I quit drinking I was thinking about drinking. But by the time I got to the White House, I hadn't had a drink in a long time. No, I've never had a drink of alcohol since then. When I go to church, if there's a wine in the communion, I don't take the wine in the communion. I mean I really have not had alcohol.

********************

PREVIOUSLY RELEASED EXCERPTS BELOW

BUSH ON SEPT. 11, THE SEVEN MINUTES IN THE CLASSROOM

MATT LAUER:

It was a Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001. Before I get into the details of it, what is your most vivid memory of that day?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

I had a lot of memories that day. It was Andy Card whispering in my ear.

MATT LAUER:

ou were in a school in Florida.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

I was. And I was listening to children read a book. And Andy says, "A second plane has hit the World Trade Center, America's under attack." My first reaction was anger. "How dare they do this to America?" And then I looked at the kids, and their innocence in contrast to the evil of the attackers became apparent to me. And I just knew that my job was to protect them.

MATT LAUER:

That videotape of you sitting there, and now that we know in hindsight you had just been given that news, and you sat there.

And it was seven minutes.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

Yeah, that's right. I made the decision not to jump up and create a chaotic scene, because right after -- These are quick reflections, anger, duty to protect the country, and then all of a sudden the cell phones are ringing. Now -- the noise -- 

MATT LAUER:

The press in the back of the room?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

Right. And the noise was off. But it clarified to me that people were going to be watching my reaction. And I'd had enough experience as governor of Texas during some disasters to know that the reaction of the leader is essential in the first stage of any crisis.

MATT LAUER:

Yeah, but it's also in the eye of the beholder, because the supporters of George Bush look at those seven minutes on tape and say, "He was trying to restore calm and show an air of calm." The critics of  George Bush say, "He was in shock."

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

I'm not going to debate the critics as to whether or not I was in shock or not. I wasn't. And they can read the book, and they can draw their own conclusion.

BUSH ON IRAQ DECISION:

MATT LAUER:

Not everybody thought you should go to war, though. There were dissenters.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

Of course there were.

MATT LAUER:

You know, there were questions at the Pentagon. Colin Powell had questions. Brent Scowcroft, your father's former National Security Advisor, and dear friend, wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, I'm paraphrasing here, saying, "It's not a good idea to go to war in Iraq." So there were dissenting voices.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

I was a dissenting voice. I didn't want to use force. I mean force is the last option for a president. And I think it's clear in the book that I gave diplomacy every chance to work. And I will also tell you the world's better off without Saddam in power. And so are 25 million Iraqis.

MATT LAUER:

You know the question. If you knew then what you know now --

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:


That's right.

MATT LAUER:

-- you would still go to war in Iraq?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

I -- first of all, didn't have that luxury. You just don't have the luxury when you're president. That's a very hypothetical question. I will say definitely the world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power, as are 25 million people who now have a chance to live in freedom.

History judges you on the decisions you make. Sometimes history doesn't judge you on the absence of a decision. And I believe Saddam Hussein in the Middle East today, if he were there in power he would be enriched, he'd be emboldened. He would still have the capacity to make weapons of mass destruction, whether we found the vats of weapons of mass destruction. And I believe it's likely you'd be seeing a nuclear arms race between Iran and Iraq.

And the world would be much more unstable. And America would be-- less secure.

MATT LAUER:

Your words. "No one was more sickened or angry than I was when we didn't find weapons of mass destruction." You still have a sickening feeling when you think about it.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

I do.

MATT LAUER:
Was there ever any consideration of apologizing to the American people?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

I mean apologizing would basically say the decision was a wrong decision. And I don't believe it was the wrong decision. I thought the best way to handle this was to find out why. And what went wrong. And to remedy it. And that's why we had the Silverman Robb Commission.

BUSH ON KANYE WEST:

MATT LAUER:

About a week after the storm hit NBC aired a telethon asking for help for the victims of Katrina. We had celebrities coming in to ask for money. And I remember it vividly because I hosted it. And at one part of the evening I introduced Kanye West. Were you watching?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

Nope.

MATT LAUER:

You remember what he said?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

Yes, I do. He called me a racist.

MATT LAUER:

Well, what he said, "George Bush doesn't care about black people."

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

That's -- “he's a racist.” And I didn't appreciate it then. I don't appreciate it now. It's one thing to say, "I don't appreciate the way he's handled his business." It's another thing to say, "This man's a racist." I resent it, it's not true, and it was one of the most disgusting moments in my presidency.

MATT LAUER:

This from the book. "Five years later I can barely write those words without feeling disgust." You go on. "I faced a lot of criticism as president. I didn't  ike hearing people claim that I lied about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction or cut taxes to benefit the rich. But the suggestion that I was racist because of the response to Katrina represented an all-time low."

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

Yeah. I still feel that way as you read those words. I felt 'em when I heard 'em, felt 'em when I wrote 'em and I felt 'em when I'm listening to 'em.

 MATT LAUER:

You say you told Laura at the time it was the worst moment of your presidency?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

Yes. My record was strong I felt when it came to race relations and giving people a chance. And -- it was a disgusting moment.

MATT LAUER:

I wonder if some people are going to read that, now that you've written it, and they might give you some heat for that. And the reason is this --

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

Don't care.

MATT LAUER:

Well, here's the reason. You're not saying that the worst moment in your presidency
was watching the misery in Louisiana. You're saying it was when someone insulted you because of that.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

No --- that -- and I also make it clear that the misery in Louisiana affected me deeply as well. There’s a lot of tough moments in the book. And it was a disgusting moment, pure and simple.

BUSH ON RUMSFELD RESIGNATION:

MATT LAUER:

It was the spring of 2004 when you first  learned that American soldiers operating as guards at a prison called Abu Ghraib had terribly mistreated prisoners. Can you just give me your first reaction, your first emotions when you heard the news?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

I was sick to my stomach. Not only have they mistreated prisoners, they had disgraced the U.S. military and stained our good name.

MATT LAUER:

You said you felt blindsided by the information?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

Yeah. Because I wasn't aware of the graphic nature of the pictures until later on. And some people in the White House expressed that -- my view into the newspapers, which then caused Secretary Rumsfeld to come in and offer his resignation.

MATT LAUER:

Twice.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

Yeah.

MATT LAUER:

He came with -- I think a handwritten note the first time -- 

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

Right. And then he wrote a very gracious letter the second time.

MATT LAUER:

And basically what he said in that gracious letter is he said, "Look, this happened on my watch, I'm responsible and here is my resignation."

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

Right. Which speaks to his character.

MATT LAUER:

When you say, "I seriously considered accepting his advice. I knew it would send a powerful signal to replace the leader of the Pentagon after such a grave mistake. But a big factor held me back. There was no obvious replacement for Don."

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

Right.

MATT LAUER:

Given the damage that Abu Ghraib did to our reputation around the world, couldn't you have found someone to occupy that position? Wasn't that the right message to send?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

Now here's what happens. We're in the middle of war and if I couldn't have found somebody quickly to replace Secretary Rumsfeld, you'd have been on TV saying, '
"There's a vacuum at the Pentagon. How can the president possibly not have found a
Secretary of Defense with whom he is comfortable? And it's sending terrible signals to our troops." And so I was mindful of what the consequences would be in trying to find a suitable replacement for Don. And the answer is I couldn't.

BUSH ON HIS DUI:

MATT LAUER:

ou write in the book about Labor Day Weekend 1976.

GEORGE W. BUSH:

Yeah.

MATT LAUER:

You're --

GEORGE W. BUSH:

Drunk driving.

MATT LAUER:

Yeah. I mean you get pulled over. You’d been drinking heavily. I think you called it an Aussie kind of drinking.

GEORGE W. BUSH:

With John Newcomb (PH). I'm -- here's the former president telling you. But I'm drinking no hands at a bar, yeah.

MATT LAUER:

Reaching' down with your mouth, grabbing the glass.

GEORGE W. BUSH:

So he's taught me how to do this. And of course I have to be a follower at this point in time. And so -- yeah, I drink it. I'm going 10 mph both wheels on the sidewalk. And I get pulled over by  Calvin, the local policeman, plead guilty, paid my fine.

MATT LAUER:

DUI.

GEORGE W. BUSH:

Yeah, DUI.

MATT LAUER:

You didn't tell anybody. I mean I guess the person closest to you knew. But it's not a story you related to anyone of importance for a very long time.

GEORGE W. BUSH:

Yeah. I mean everybody knew.

MATT LAUER:

Right.

GEORGE W. BUSH:

But it -- for a while, it didn't matter. And then, all of a sudden, I'm in politics, and my girls are getting ready to drive.

MATT LAUER:

Right.

GEORGE W. BUSH:

And I make the decision not to go public with this story because I didn't want them to say, "Hey, Dad did it, and so can I." I mean I was worried about them driving and drinking. And it was -- I made a huge political mistake, and a miscalculation.

MATT LAUER:

And remember when it came up. So it came up -- 

GEORGE W. BUSH:

Four days or five days before.

MATT LAUER:

The 2000 election.

GEORGE W. BUSH:

Election Day. Yeah.

MATT LAUER:

Became a scandal. It was like, "How could he not have thought that this would get out?" And it came out at the worst possible time.

GEORGE W. BUSH:

I know. It's a stupid mistake.

MATT LAUER:

So the book is called "Decision Points." When you look back at that decision not to reveal that episode to anyone when you became a public figure-- where does that rank into decisions?

GEORGE W. BUSH:

One of the top stupidest decisions I made.Was really a bad choice. And if I had to do it --look, you don't get to do it over again. But if I had to do it over again of course I would have disclosed. I mean there was nothing to hide. I -- yeah, I drank too much. I had been pulled over. And I quit. It was a good story with a good ending, poorly timed.

BUSH ON POSSIBLE BOTULISM ATTACK:

MATT LAUER:

There's a story in the book that I didn't know about. At some point in the days and 
weeks after 9/11 you're in China. And Dick Cheney comes to you on one of those video 
lines, and he says, "Mr. President, we have a problem."

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

Yeah.

MATT LAUER:

"One of the bio hazard detectors at The White House has gone off."

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

I decided to fly to China for an APAC Summit. And Condi, Andy Card, Colin Powell, and I are sitting in a cramped tent in a Chinese hotel. The reason we're in the tent is because Chinese listeners cannot penetrate the tent. Steve Hadley and Dick Cheney are on the 
 video in front of us. Dick is getting ready to give a speech to the Alfred E. Smith dinner in New York. And he says, "The bio detectors have gone off. We think there's been a botulism toxin -- a potential botulism toxin attack." Now that is --

MATT LAUER:

At The White House?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

At The White House. And we had all been exposed to it. And it -- BT is a very lethal poison. And had we inhaled it we could easily be dead. Steve Hadley reported, very formal, really good man -- says, "Mr. President, we'll have mice tested soon." And we kind of chuckled and said, "Well, if the mice are feet up, we're goners. And if they're feet down, we're fine. 

MATT LAUER:

So some of the most powerful people in the country are waiting to see if a bunch of lab mice die.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

Up or down.

MATT LAUER:

And if they die, you're dead.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

Yeah. That's what it was. And the reason I tell the story is because it's hard for people to remember that right after 9/11 we were inundated with threats. A lot of threats. And I put that one in there, one, because I think it's an interesting anecdote, and two, because it shows how serious -- and how often these threats were coming into The White House.

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