In his new book Man of the World: The Further Endeavors of Bill Clinton, published today by Simon & Schuster, National Memo editor Joe Conason tells the remarkable story of the 42nd president’s emergence from the dark days of his White House departure to become, perhaps, one of the most recognizable and admired men in the world. Conason examines Clinton’s achievements, his failures, his motivations, and why he continues to inspire (and infuriate) on a grand scale.
What follows is an exclusive excerpt from the book’s opening pages.
On the first morning he woke up as a private citizen there was nobody around to serve breakfast to Bill Clinton. For eight years he and Hillary had lived in the White House, where staffers and servants rushed to meet every need; and for ten years before that, they had lived in the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion, where similar if not quite equal personal service had always been available at any hour.
It was Sunday, January 21, 2001—and that was all over now.
Both Clintons rose to face their new life somewhat exhausted from the long ordeal of Inauguration Day, which had begun in the White House greeting the new occupants, then continued through the ceremonial investiture of President George W. Bush amid snow and sleet, a protracted farewell with hundreds of friends and staffers at Andrews Air Force Base, and an unusually long journey from Washington to their new home.
Under the foreboding sky, a freezing downpour had grounded the Marine helicopter that was supposed to transport them from the capital, and had later slowed the usual hour’s drive from John F. Kennedy Airport to Chappaqua, roughly forty miles north of the city. There they had ended the day dining late at a local restaurant with daughter Chelsea, their close friends Terry McAuliffe and his wife Dorothy, and Douglas Band, a former deputy assistant to the president who had agreed to stay with Clinton into his post-presidency.
Nobody had known just how tired the former president was until he fell fast asleep in the Chevy Suburban that brought them all from Kennedy Airport to Westchester.
When the Clintons came downstairs on that first morning, the former president and first lady realized that not only was there nobody available to prepare breakfast for them, but that they had no idea how to make even a cup of coffee in their sparsely furnished and rarely occupied new home. Neither did any of the others standing around in the kitchen with them. But everyone needed caffeine, badly.
“Let’s go get some coffee,” said Clinton.
The first executive decision of William Jefferson Clinton’s post- presidency was to venture into the snowy little town to visit the local delicatessen and bring back some coffee and sandwiches. Pulling on a bright yellow fleece sweatshirt over his T-shirt and jeans, Clinton joined Band in an armored Cadillac limousine, driven by a Secret Service agent, followed by another vehicle with four more agents.
Clinton noticed the first hint of trouble a few minutes later, when they arrived at Lange’s Little Shop and Delicatessen on King Street, the town’s main drag. The deli’s Sunday morning crowd of customers was friendly enough, with a few people shouting “Eight more years!” and “We love you, Bill!” But reporters were milling on the sidewalk, too. When they spied Clinton’s small entourage pulling up, a few began to bark questions. At first he could barely hear what they were saying.
“Why did you pardon Marc Rich?”
Alarmed, Doug Band leapt out of the back passenger seat and walked around to the other side of the car, where Clinton already had stepped out. He put an arm around Band’s shoulder and whispered softly but firmly: “I’ll give you five minutes to clear all this away.” He didn’t want the armored limousine and all the agents swarming around the closed street. He wanted to arrive in his new hometown more in the style of an ordinary citizen.
Minutes later, Clinton ventured into the crowded deli, where spontaneous applause lit his face with a smile. While Band placed their order, including an egg-salad sandwich for Clinton, he shook hands with his new neighbors, posed for cell phone snapshots, and signed autographs on scraps of paper.
There was no means of escape from the gang of perhaps a dozen or so reporters, which felt to Clinton and Band like a horde of hundreds who suddenly had total access to the former president. Nor did Clinton feel he could simply walk away without answering any of their questions—some friendly, some not so friendly. New York Times reporter Adam Nagourney, who had covered both Clintons for years, would later write that the president appeared “in a chatty mood,” relaxed and rested as he mingled with neighbors and reporters.
With pleasantries out of the way, what ensued was an impromptu press conference. The journalists peppered a wholly unprepared ex-president with inquiries about the scores of pardons and commutations—totaling 177—he had signed during his last day in the White House. Mostly he responded to the questions in generalities, offering a promise to prepare a memo on the “pardon process” for his successor, and a short lecture on compassion toward former sinners.
“The word ‘pardon’ is somehow almost a misnomer,” said Clinton. “You’re not saying these people didn’t commit the offense. You’re saying they paid, they paid in full.” In fairness, he suggested, “we ought to be more open-minded” about individuals who have discharged their debt to society.
Perhaps those deserving of compassion included people like Susan McDougal, the Whitewater figure who had refused to implicate the Clintons in wrongdoing and spent miserable years in jail, or Henry Cisneros, the former housing secretary convicted of paying off a mistress with public funds, who had left office in disgrace. He had pardoned both of them. Arguably even a repentant narcotics smuggler who had done serious time might deserve consideration. That “paid in full” category, however, most assuredly did not include Rich, the “fugitive financier” holed up in a luxurious Swiss chateau while refusing to face multiple charges of tax fraud and violating the U.S. embargo against Iran.
Why would you pardon him?
“I spent a lot of time on that case. I think there are very good reasons for it,” Clinton replied, and referred further inquiries to Rich’s Washington attorney, Jack Quinn, who had formerly worked for him in the White House counsel’s office. Quinn could explain the legal theory behind the pardons of Rich and his business partner, Pincus Green, who had faced similar charges, fled to Switzerland with Rich, and received a pardon, too.
At last Clinton said he needed to go home, to continue the weekend’s work of unpacking with Hillary, who was thrilled to have a private home again and always loved to organize anything and everything. Sitting in the house were well over a hundred boxes of books alone. He needed time to get himself together, he chuckled, and get some more sleep.
But back on Old House Lane, reporters and TV crews would soon line up on the street, outside the tall white security fence surrounding the Clintons’ rambling Dutch colonial residence. Notoriously unfriendly to the press and sensing a media emergency, Band placed a call for help to Howard Wolfson—a tough and loyal pro who had handled press and communications for Hillary’s Senate campaign the year before. Wolfson dutifully drove up from the city and, before sundown, Clinton stepped into the chilly air outside for a photo opportunity and a few offhand remarks so that everyone else could finally could go home, too.
The newly sworn junior senator from New York stayed inside all day, wisely insulating herself from even the appearance of entanglement in her husband’s latest burgeoning crisis. That afternoon, a familiar atmosphere of tension loomed over the house, a feeling that things might be descending once again from bad into much, much worse.
Excerpted from Man of the World: The Further Endeavors of Bill Clinton, by Joe Conason. Copyright © 2016 by Joe Conason. Excerpted by permission of Simon & Schuster.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.