George Stephanopoulos and Old Boss Bill Clinton Avoid Benghazi, Charity's Scandal

George Stephanopoulos scored an interview on Sunday with his old boss, Bill Clinton. In return for this exclusive, the former Democratic operative turned journalist avoided any mention of a scandal at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), of Benghazi and how the bungled response to the terrorist attack might impact Hillary Clinton's 2016 run for president.

Instead, Stephanopoulos used the ten and a half minute interview to gently query his former supervisor: "I know you can't answer anything about 2016. But when you look back to the last campaign, if you could boil it down to one, what is the one big lesson you learned from it?" As was common in the two part segment, the This Week anchor allowed Clinton to speak for long stretches. He only broke up the ex-President's answer on the 2008 primaries to murmur, "A pretty titanic battle." [MP3 audio here.]

Questions about improprieties at the Clinton Global Initiative went unasked. The same thing happened in a September 23 Good Morning America segment on Bill and Hillary's marriage. (Stephanopoulos, it should be pointed out, co-hosts GMA.)

In contrast, Jan Crawford on that day's CBS This Morning, actually noted, "The New Republic raising questions about fund-raising and donations to his foundation, the Clinton Global Initiative and some people, of course, well, they're already saying those questions could extend to Hillary Clinton if she does, in fact, decide to run."

Although Stephanopoulos only lightly probed the issue of 2016, he made no mention of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's response in the terrorist attack in Benghazi.

On the issue of a possible government shutdown, the ABC anchor did press Clinton: "You did negotiate over the debt limit back in 1996. They [Republicans] do control the House. So doesn't the president have to negotiate?"

But he also blithely repeated the former President's talking points: "So you're saying you just have to stand up to that no matter what the consequences?"

A transcript of the September 29 segment is below:


total:  10 minutes and 35 seconds 

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: First, the take of the president that has been there. Bill Clinton was in the White House the last time the government shut down in 1995 and 1996. And when it was over, he was on a smooth slide to re-election. His advice to President Obama? Stand firm. 

BILL CLINTON: The president has to take the position he's taken, which is you, not me, you voted to spend this money.  America is one of– maybe the only country in the world that requires two votes to spend money. First, they vote to spend the money.  Then they got to vote again to issue the bonds to, in effect, bar the money from the American people to cover the spending they've already voted for.  You can't negotiate over that.  And I think he's right not to.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But as you know, one of the things the Republicans say is that you did that. You did negotiate over the debt limit back in 1996.  They do control the House.  So doesn't the president have to negotiate?  And they're banking on it.

CLINTON: Well, but the negotiations we had were extremely minor and keep in mind.  There was two different things. Number one is the economy was growing and the deficit was going down.  We didn't give away the store and they didn't ask us to give away the store. What they– it was more like we got out here on this ledge. Please give us some face-saving way to walk back.  And we didn't stop negotiating when we passed the balanced budget bill, for example,. There's no opportunity for that in this forum. We don't have enough time. They don't want– they're mad because they don't want to negotiate.

STEPHANOPOULOS: This deadline is coming, October 17th, says Jack Lew.  We hit that dead limit.  The consequences of not negotiating are so high, default.

CLINTON: Yeah, but there's nothing to negotiate with.  He– he– he shouldn't delay the health care bill.  It's the law and we're in the– we're opening the enrollment on October first.  So, I think that's a non-starter. If I were the president, I wouldn't negotiate over these draconian cuts that are gonna take food off the table of low-income working people, while they leave all the agricultural subsidies in for high-income farmers and everything else.  I just think it's– it's chilling to me.  It seems almost spiteful. 

STEPHANOPOULOS: But doesn't it all come undone if there's a default?  I mean, all the– if you're not gonna negotiate, you're betting on the other side simply caving.

CLINTON: That's right. This is the house Republicans and the Tea Party people saying, “We don't want to negotiate with the Democrats. We want to dictate over the Senate, over the House Democrats, over the speaker of the house of our own party and over the president, we insist on dictating the course of—[the country]

STEPHANOPOULOS: So you're saying you just have to stand up to that no matter what the consequences? 

CLINTON: I think you do. You do. I do.  It's terrible, because all over the world, people say, like, you know, I'll listen to some of Senator Cruz's filibuster on the health care bill.  And he just kept making all these claims that just aren't so and everybody knows they're not. And in other parts of the world, where– where we draw investment from, they think, “Why is America majoring in the minors?  But at some point, if they're gonna change the way the Constitution works and fundamentally alter the character of our country and damage the future of a lot of kids, you just have to say no.  And then hope that there'll be a basis for some agreement.10:45

STEPHANOPOULOS: The whole Clinton family was front and center at his Global Initiative this week which has kept the buzz about Hillary in 2016 a little high for President Clinton's comfort. He did his best to tamp it down in our interview, but opened up about possible threats to another run and his biggest lessons from the loss last time. I was really struck by something Lindsay Graham said– the other day. He said, "From now on, after Tuesday's meeting, I'm gonna call it Clintoncare. If it's a huge success –

LINDSEY GRAHAM: Hillary Clinton will win the presidency. If it's the failure I think it's going to be, then she needs to own the result of embracing this bill."

STEPHANOPOULOS: How worried are you about that for 2016?

CLINTON: Not at all. Not at all. There are some similarities in his bill and the one we proposed. This bill's already produced a lot of good results and every– look, they are desperate for this bill to fail, because if it's not a failure, their whole– everything they've been telling us since 1980 that government's bad is wrong. They so badly want it to fail–

STEPHANOPOULOS: But so many Americans–

CLINTON: Can you remember a time in your lifetime when a major political party was just sitting around, begging for America to fail? I don't know what's gonna happen. But I'll be shocked if it fails– I just think that when all these dire predictions don't come out, if they don't– I believe that pretty soon, within the next several years, this will be like Medicare and Medicaid. And it'll be a normal part of our life.

STEPHANOPOULOS: And a big plus the next election.


STEPHANOPOULOS: I know you can't answer anything about 2016. But when you look back to the last campaign, if you could boil it down to one, what is the one big lesson you learned from it?

CLINTON: Two things, is you've got to have a plan for the future that relates to the people. You know, this is not about the candidates as much as about having a plan for the future. And secondly, you have to have a strategy for presenting your true self to the voters in an environment where there are unprecedented opportunities for those who don't want you to win to paint a different picture of your true self. And yeah, big data helps, it really matters. And you have to merge high-tech with grassroots. I still think we have way too many caucuses. They're not democratic. And unlike primaries, they have no legal enforcement. You can break the rules, nobody's gonna say anything. I think there are way too many of them. But you can talk about all that calendar stuff. And we have learned that it's a strategy in modern life to make– do reverse plastic surgery on people, so that people don't really know who you are. But 2008 was way more complicated than that. You had two extraordinarily gifted people with great political skills, particularly President Obama. He– you know, he'd been in more races than Hillary had, by far. Her first primary election in her life was the presidential primary of 2008. So she– so you know, it was– that was a one-off, exciting thing. That may never– we never– we may never see anything like that again in our life.

STEPHANOPOULOS: A pretty titanic battle.

CLINTON: Yeah, and he had a better grassroots organization in many states. And– one of the things that I totally missed was how much the calendar had changed, for example, from '92 to 2008. But– I don't know if– it's just– I have no idea how to answer your question.

STEPHANOPOULOS: You just answered it pretty well.

CLINTON: The next one will be better. It'll be different. Whether she's in it or not, they're all different. And the main thing is you must learn the lessons of your mistakes and your failures without becoming a general who fights the last war, because every new encounter will be shaped by different forces.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Of course, no final decision from Secretary Clinton whether she's going to make another White House run. In the meantime, she's joined the Clinton Foundation, of course at the Clinton Global Initiative which brings philanthropists and CEOs together with non-profits to make concrete commitments aimed at some of the world's toughest problems. Almost ten years in, they have leveraged billions of dollars in assistance in more than 180 countries and we talked to President Clinton about that too.

CLINTON: The most important thing is it turns out people want to come to a meeting where they know they had to make a commitment. And they're willing to make commitments and try to keep it. They want to have an impact. They don't want to just sit around and talk anymore. I think what we had to do and what we're– we're doing better is to help people keep those commitments. We have all these full-time workers that help people develop their commitments for the coming year and that help them to keep them

STEPHANOPOULOS: So what's the percentage like on– on people following through.

CLINTON: Oh, it's quite good. We get– we get detailed progress reports now on more than 60 percent of the commitments and something less on another significant percentage. We've also gotten better at getting multi-party commitments. For example, we got– first big thing we announced here was built on something I saw at– at Sandy, when we had the relief. And Chelsea said to me one day, said that we ought to just volunteer. We ought to go out. And so I said, ‘How many people you think we can raise?" She said, "A thousand in eight hours." And she did, 1040. And I said, "How– when are we going?" She said, "Next Sunday." I said, "Chelsea, do you know how hard it is to keep 1000 people busy for eight hours?" She said, "We got it covered." So I go out there. And sure enough, they had it covered because Team Rubicon, you know, the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, these young people who are great at deploying.

STEPHANOPOULOS: They spent days down there.

CLINTON: They spent more than they'd ever spent anyplace else.

STEPHANOPOULOS: One of the biggest commitments here at CGI this year, a big project, $1.5 billion– to help fund women and entrepreneurs all across the world. And Secretary Clinton also announced her big project to kind of track how women are doing around the world. Is that the project you're most excited about this time around?

CLINTON: Yes, because it– coming out of this CGI and because it has so many– implications for other things– in– in the poor countries of the world, if we know we can get all the girls in school and all the young women in the labor markets, it would do more than anything else to lift them out of poverty. One of the great, big tests we're all looking at in the rich countries is Japan. What about Prime Minister Abe (PH), this great, aggressive economic program reminds me of us in 1992. Is it gonna work? And the answer is, maybe, but Japan's getting older. They have a very low birthrate and they don't take immigrants yet. They– not comfortable with that. The answer is, it will work. I– in my opinion, it will work. And it'll work for about 20 years, for the– time for them to get used to they're going to have to take immigrants, if they get women in the workforce in the same percentage men are. So here's one of the wealthiest countries on earth and all these poor countries and all the ones in-between. Look at America. What would it do for the American economy if the 25 percent pay gap that still persists, actually 23 cents on the dollar between women and men doing the same kind of work, what would it do for us if we could eliminate it? It'd be good for the economy.

— Scott Whitlock is Senior News Analyst at the Media Research Center. Follow Scott Whitlock on Twitter.