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George Bush/Matt Lauer: Excerpts

  George W. Bush gave his first post-presidency interview to Matt Lauer, as part of his book tour. We have excerpts. Best to go to the jump. There's much here. Looks like a good interview...

 


BUSH ON SEPTEMBER 11, THE SEVEN MINUTES IN

THE CLASSROOM:

MATT LAUER:
It was a Tuesday, September 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:
You 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 somehow 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
like 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 you're 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:
You 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 ten miles an hour, 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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