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Bill Clinton's late-night White House bull sessions -- new book reveals secrets he tried to keep secret

September 21, 2009 |  1:31 pm


Taylor Branch is a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, a specialist on civil rights issues, who lives in Baltimore, about an hour's drive from Washington.

During the Clinton administration, he was down in Washington a lot. In fact, President Clinton called 79 times and asked him to come down and chat. The two were old pals, having roomed together in an apartment in Austin in 1972, managing George McGovern's presidential campaign in Texas.

Their candid conversations were so secret that Clinton put the tapes in his sock drawer. But Branch made notes, and as he drove home to Baltimore the historian would record his own impressions of their conversations, summoning every verbatim quote he could remember.

Now, Branch is reporting on the conversations in a new book, "The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President," due out next week. Clinton is apparently "nervous" about the results and, when he saw the page proofs, argued for some deletions. Branch said he made no concessions to presidential ego.

"The former president has been on the phone with Branch for hours since he got page proofs of Branch's new book," Susan Page reports in today's USA Today. Clinton is "running 'hot and cold' about the account based on Branch's recollections of their conversations."

In an interview today with Page, Branch laid out some of the book's highlights:

--Clinton said he did not want to talk about his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, except to say that he "cracked" under personal and political pressure.

--Clinton and former  Vice President Al Gore had an explosive conversation about the 2000 campaign. Clinton said that if Gore had utilized him to campaign for the ticket in Arkansas or New Hampshire he would have won the election. Gore blistered that Clinton's impeachment over his affair with Lewinsky had been a "drag" on the campaign. Branch reports the two "exploded" at each other in mutual recrimination.

--Russian President Boris Yeltsin, while staying at the government guest quarters at Blair House, once got so drunk he ventured out onto Pennsylvania Avenue wearing only his underwear, trying to hail a cab to get pizza.

-- Johanna Neuman

Photo: Former President Clinton and former Vice President Al Gore on Aug. 5 in Burbank after Clinton escorted back from North Korea two American journalists who worked for Gore's Current TV. Credit: Reuters

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