Between a drunk Boris Yeltsin trying to hail a cab in his underwear on Pennsylvania Avenue, angry finger-pointing with Al Gore and the real story behind Monica Lewinsky, it seems we haven't heard all of the juicy details from the Clinton presidency after all.
A new book based on eight years of taped interviews with Bill Clinton sheds new light on old scandals and blows open ones that have been kept quiet up until now. "The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling with the President," by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Taylor Branch, is due out next week. Among the gems:
- Yeltsin, who was staying at the Blair House during a 1995 visit, was found in the middle of the night on Pennsylvania Avenue trying to hail a cab. He slurred to the Secret Service agents who found him that he wanted a pizza. The next night, the Russian president again got plastered and sneaked down the stairs of his quarters. A guard mistook him for an intruder and Russian and U.S. agents had to bail him out.
- After Al Gore lost the 2000 presidential race to George W. Bush, Clinton told Gore he could have helped his former veep -- if he'd only been asked. When Gore replied that Clinton's sex scandal with intern Monica Lewinsky had doomed his bid, the conversation degenerated into an angry, two-hour shouting match.
- As for the Lewinsky affair, Clinton rarely spoke about it. But one day, he opened up to Branch, telling him "I just cracked" amid the pressure of the Whitewater investigation, his mother's death and the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994.
- George W. Bush was unqualified to be president, but had a crack team around him, in Clinton's view. John McCain might have made a good commander-in-chief, but had no idea how to run, according to Clinton.
Clinton was such a brilliant multi-tasker that he once gave Branch an interview while doing a crossword puzzle, consulting with Secretary of State Warren Christopher about air strikes in Bosnia and playing solitaire. Another time, on the night of the Oklahoma City bombing, Clinton interspersed thoughts about Pakistan and Newt Gingrich with the Branch interview and even helped daughter Chelsea with her school paper, a book report on Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein."
Branch got unequaled access to Clinton because the two had worked -- and bunked -- together decades earlier when they ran George McGovern's 1972 presidential campaign in Texas. Clinton would regularly summon him to the White House during his presidency, unburdening himself as Branch took notes and let his tape player roll.
Branch has been sending page proofs of his 707-page book to Clinton, who seems to have had second thoughts about some of the material included in the book. But Branch insists he did not change anything at the former president's demand.
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