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Clinton: ‘I paid a big price’

Brian Williams speaks to former president Bill Clinton about his legacy, his wife's political future and his health.

CHAPPAQUA, N.Y.— Former president Bill Clinton is just back from a grueling 14-day, 12-nation, 16-stop tour — part of his role as U.N. liaison for tsunami relief. He's also updated his autobiography, by writing about his heart trouble and the last election. Its for the new paperback version of the book, called "My Life."

I spoke with Mr. Clinton today at his Chappaqua, N.Y. home. Inside the barn where he wrote the book, he sat down for an exclusive interview, beginning with those reports that he suffered from exhaustion during the trip.

Bill Clinton: I think most normal people would have been tired after doing 11 countries and 13 to 14 stops in 13 days.

Brian Williams: How's your health generally?

Clinton: Oh, I feel really good. I don't think I'm quite back to 100 percent. I started jogging a little, right before I left, but I felt kind of like, I'm not sure everything's settled in there yet.

With rumors swirling about his wife's political future, I asked the president directly whether Senator Clinton was right now deciding whether or not to run for president.

Clinton: I am quite confident that she has not decided to do that. Or if she has, she hadn't told me. I really believe that.

Williams: Is that possible?

Clinton: Unlikely. I do not know what she's going to do. I know that she is focused on finishing this term and getting re-elected. And that's exactly what she should focus on. If she loses that focus, she might not get to the next election. And she won't do that.

Williams: If elected, what would you do? Remember, two for the price of one.

Clinton: I think I would do what I would hope any citizen would do. What if George Bush asked me to do something, I'd try to do it, you know? And he's been very nice to ask me to do some things. But, again, that's not anything we have — we never even come close — not within 100 miles of that discussion.

I asked the president a blunt question about his legacy and any regrets he may have that impeachment will always play a prominent role in how his presidency is remembered.

Clinton: It probably would, because — but to be fair, you said you're being blunt with me. People in your business like that very much. And they like what Ken Starr did because they thought it made good ink. And they didn't do a very good job of reporting for years all the innocent people he persecuted and indicted because they wouldn't lie...

Williams: And yet...

Clinton: ...and the assault on the American Constitution that he waged...

Williams: This was...

Clinton: ...or that I was acquitted. And that the charges that the House sent to the Senate were false. So I did a bad thing. I made a bad personal mistake. I paid a big price for it. But I was acquitted because the charges were false.

Williams: Guantanamo Bay, Amnesty International says it's become the "gulag" of our time. The president yesterday said that's absurd. Where do you fall on this issue between those two?

Clinton: Just like you said, between those two. My own view is just based on what I read — is that it's part of this kind of gray area we've been in since 9/11.

There are reasons for these international rules. And one of them is that if you go too far in roughing people up, they may in the end wind up telling you what you want to hear. But it may not be true. And if you have the wrong people, then the right people may elude you.

Williams: Last night in a televised interview, President Bush 41 said, "You know, he's crazy." And he was joking. But he was kidding about the fact that you will go until you have to just stop. This has been a hallmark of your adult life, going until you just collapse.

Clinton: I wrote about this, you know, in my book. I thought most of the major errors I made in my life, both political and personal, were made when I was too tired. Now, if you work harder and you work smart, you can make more decisions and do more good. But if you work so hard that you can't be smart anymore and you outrun your organizational and management capacities, then you make mistakes. But that's not what's going on here.

The former president is resting, but only until a weekend trip to Arkansas, and then, on to Europe.