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CBS Plays Softball with Bill Clinton on Hillary's Future, Global Initiative Questions

Charlie Rose and Norah O'Donnell broke out the kid gloves for Bill Clinton on Tuesday's CBS This Morning. Rose and O'Donnell failed to press the Democrat on the possible conflicts of interest surrounding his Clinton Global Initiative, as well as his wife Hillary's possible 2016 presidential run. The two anchors granted over 12 and a half minutes of air time to the former president.

Rose played up the "human side" of Clinton, and wondered if Hillary would "rather be – today – she can do both – president or grandmother?" O'Donnell pointed out that Mrs. Clinton "said you guys are watching movies together and taking long walks. And so, how is life different now?" [MP3 audio available here; video below]

The CBS morning show split the pre-recorded interview into three segments. Rose began the first segment with the terrorist attack in Nairobi, Kenya, and how an employee of the Clinton Global Initiative, along with her husband, were killed by the Islamist attackers. He followed up by asking about the possibility of President Obama and Iranian President Rouhani having a "conversation" at the annual U.N. General Assembly meeting. O'Donnell also raised how "the Israeli prime minister believes that no deal is better than a bad deal with Iran – that this could be a trap. Do you agree with Prime Minister Netanyahu?"

The former NBC correspondent led the second segment with the issue of Hillary's potential run for president: "Your wife Hillary Clinton said...that she is going to take her time deciding whether to run for president. Do you think her work here at the Clinton Global Initiative could be a stepping stone...for a future run for president?" O'Donnell, along with Rose, then spent the rest of the segment playing softball with Clinton:

O'DONNELL: ...[Hillary] said you guys are spending a lot more time together. And I think she recently said you guys are watching movies together and taking long walks. And so, how is life different now?

CLINTON: ...Hillary is on a constant self-improvement project, you know? She's always trying to improve me. So, I'm having to get used to being improved more regularly.

O'DONNELL: (laughs) Specific....how is she trying to improve you?

CLINTON: Well, you know, she's just on me all the time to, sort of, tone up my exercise program, or do this or do that. (O'Donnell laughs) It's – but we have – we have so much fun. We still have a lot of fun together.

ROSE: She can do both of these things, clearly-

CLINTON: What things?

ROSE: I'm going to tell you now. Do you think she'd rather be – today – she can do both – president or grandmother?

CLINTON: (laughs) If you ask her, I think she'd say grandmother. (Rose and O'Donnell laugh) But I have found it best not to discuss that issue. (Rose and O'Donnell laugh)

ROSE: Sounds like Chelsea may have influenced you.

CLINTON: I'm just trying to – my goal is to live to be a grandfather. (Rose and O'Donnell laugh) The rest of it's out of my hand.

The CBS anchors brought up the financial questions surrounding the Clinton Global Initiative and the possible conflicts of interest surrounding the organization (the New York Times spotlighted these concerns in an August 2013 item). But Rose and O'Donnell still kept up the chummy atmosphere with former President Clinton. Rose got the closest to asking a tough question when he raised the issue of transparency:

O'DONNELL: This is a sprawling philanthropic organization, and you have helped hundreds of millions of people. However, as you know, there have been reports about financial mismanagement, infighting-

CLINTON: Which have been clearly disproved, I might add.

O'DONNELL: No deficits?

CLINTON: No! There was never a deficit....

O'DONNELL: And the reports that Chelsea was coming in to clean things up. (O'Donnell laughs)

CLINTON: No. Chelsea came in – first of all, Chelsea's been working around the foundation for two or three years now, and she did suggest and – something that I warmly embraced – which is that we have a – a review of where we were – which is typical for a new organization at age 10 –  and several years of our first decade, we were the fastest growing foundation in the world.

ROSE:  But is this a reminder – when you've got fundraising for the foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative and some of the same people are doing both – that it's important to be both transparent and vigorous in the accounting, so that the impression doesn't develop?

CLINTON: Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely – but we are transparent. I – I believe in – in transparency. But if you are transparent, then you have to depend on the good faith of people who are looking at your documents.

ROSE: You and I were on stage at Davos when you announced this [in 2005] – the Clinton Global Initiative – and it was a surprise to people at that time. What has it not done that you believed it could do?

CLINTON: Well, actually, it's grown bigger – faster than I thought it would. But I think we just have to keep working on it. But one of the things we started doing last year – that we'll do more of this year – is to give more progress reports on the commitments already made. And I'm hoping if we highlight the progress reports on an equal footing with the initial commitments – that maybe that will attract more interest. That's the only thing that I thought would happen that hasn't. Otherwise, C.G.I. itself has affected more lives in more countries than I ever dreamed it would.

After the third pre-recorded segment, Rose and O'Donnell, along with co-anchor Gayle King, spent over a minute and a half discussing the interview. King raved about Clinton and the entire interview in general:

GAYLE KING: He [Clinton] seemed very relaxed, and it was such a wide-ranging interview, guys. I loved, Charlie, when you said, will it be president or grandmother? And it almost looked like he was choking on his drink of water at that particular time. (O'Donnell laughs) But you all covered everything, and he was very comfortable in answering anything you had to say.

Back in August 2013, correspondent John Blackstone boosted Hillary's possible presidential run on CBS This Morning, and minimized the ongoing questions about her leadership before, during, and after the attack in Benghazi. Rose and O'Donnell also have a record of softball interviews of liberals/Democrats, while hounding conservatives/Republicans.

The full transcript of the Bill Clinton interview from Tuesday's CBS This Morning:

09/24/2013
07:11 am EDT
CBS This Morning

CHARLIE ROSE: The President will also speak today at the Clinton Global Initiative. Former President Bill Clinton is hosting that annual meeting here in New York.

Norah and I spoke with Mr. Clinton yesterday about Iran, the terror attack in Nairobi, and other issues facing the United States.

[CBS News Graphic: "Clinton's View: Former President On Kenya Terrorist Attack"]

ROSE (from pre-recorded interview): Let me begin with Kenya – first, the personal. We've learned that someone close to the family – the Clinton Global Initiative family – was killed, showing you that terrorism is indiscriminate.

FORMER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: Yes. We – we lost one of our employees in our health access program, which works on getting the world's cheapest AIDS and malaria drugs, and building health systems around Africa. She actually worked in Tanzania. And I saw her just a couple weeks ago in Dar es Salaam, when I was there. But she was nine months pregnant, just a couple of weeks away from delivery. So, she and her baby's father were walking in that mall in Nairobi, because she wanted to have the baby in Kenya – she thought that would be best – and they were both killed.

ROSE: With – with great sense of the tragedy that happens, do you believe, if you look at terrorism today, it's taking on dimensions that will bring it here to our shores?

CLINTON: Well, it's been here once. And then, we've had some home-grown action. But I think, with al-Shabab, I think that – that they clearly were targeting Kenya, because the Kenyans had gone into Somalia to try to stop al-Shabab from spreading to Kenya. It appears to be that the Kenyan government has been quite resolute and done a good job. And I know that President Obama's administration has supported them in their efforts.

And I think this is kind of a long-term deal. We have to go on with our life – plan our normal lives and – and do our best to stop these things before they start, and answer appropriately when they do.

ROSE: Let me turn to what's happening here at the U.N. General Assembly meeting. What's the risk for the President of the United States meeting with the president of Iran – just meeting with him, to have some conversation – not an agreement, but a conversation?

[CBS News Graphic: "Clinton's View: Fmr. President On Possible Obama, Rouhani Meeting"]

CLINTON: I think there are lots of things going on now that the rest of us don't know. And the President is calculating – and was required to calculate – whether the benefits – which would be enormous, in terms of the atmospherics of seeing these two people meet and talk – would more likely trigger positive future developments, or more likely compromise the Iranian leader with his own conservatives. And also, we don't know enough about exactly where they want to go. Do they really want to get in a position where they're not ever going to have nuclear weapons – which is what they say – or are we being, basically, diverted?

I think it's just a decision we have to leave with the two principals – with the President and the Iranian president. But clearly, there's a thaw going on, and they're rethinking their positions, and we ought to do what we can to explore it. We ought to get caught trying, because we have nothing to lose by getting caught trying.

NORAH O'DONNELL: In fact, the Israeli prime minister believes that no deal is better than a bad deal with Iran – that this could be a trap. Do you agree with Prime Minister Netanyahu?

CLINTON: I just don't know. That's why I think we need to let the people who have responsibility for the decision see it. In general, no deal is always better than a bad deal. But I don't know enough about what options are available, and my guess is, we're well away from a deal. This is a question of if we should start talking now. Should there be a conversation at the top, or should there be other conversations which lead to a meeting?

ROSE (live): We'll have much more of our conversation with Bill Clinton throughout the morning. The former president talks about Hillary Clinton's potential bid for the White House, and he responds to reported problems at his Global Initiative organization. That's ahead.


09/24/2013
07:31 am EDT
CBS This Morning

NORAH O'DONNELL: More now of our conversation with Bill Clinton – he and Hillary Clinton are working together these days. They both face a lot of speculation about the next presidential campaign. Well, we asked the former president about a recent interview where the former secretary of state talked about her future.

[CBS News Graphic: "Clinton's View: Former President On Hillary And 2016 Plans"]

O'DONNELL (from pre-recorded interview): Your wife Hillary Clinton said that – for the first time, that she is going to take her time deciding whether to run for president. Do you think her work here at the Clinton Global Initiative could be a stepping stone – a foundation for a future run for president?

FORMER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: No – but I don't think she needs that. I mean, you know, she's been a senator from New York with a good record – a secretary of state with a very good record. I think that her work here will remind people of her domestic interests, and what she can do with her too-small-to-fail initiative. But she feels, as I do, that we've worked very hard to keep this whole thing out of politics, and to invite Republicans, as well as Democrats, and to not get it involved. And – I don't think so.

I think it – it's – it's a natural fit for her to come to work here, because when we met a long time ago – before you were born – (Rose laughs) when we met, Hillary was already really active in non-governmental organizations. Not me – I just cared about politics. She was a walking NGO. So, it's kind of fitting. We're coming full circle here. But I don't think it's part of her calculus.

CHARLIE ROSE: Go ahead – then, I have a question.

O'DONNELL: Oh, yeah. I was – you know, she said you guys are spending a lot more time together. And I think she recently said you guys are watching movies together and taking long walks-

CLINTON: Yeah-

O'DONNELL: And so, how is life different now?

CLINTON: Well, it's funny. You know, for a dozen years – give or take – she was a senator, and then, a secretary of state. And we basically had the weekends – except when we didn't. So, we were together about half the time – maybe a little less – and not. Now, you know, Hillary is on a constant self-improvement project, you know? She's always trying to improve me. So, I'm having to get used to being improved more regularly.

O'DONNELL: (laughs) Specific-

ROSE: Speaking – go ahead.

O'DONNELL: I was going to say, how is she trying to improve you?

CLINTON: Well, you know, she's just on me all the time to, sort of, tone up my exercise program, or do this or do that. (O'Donnell laughs) It's – but we have – we have so much fun. We still have a lot of fun together.

ROSE: She can do both of these things, clearly-

CLINTON: What things?

ROSE: I'm going to tell you now. Do you think she'd rather be – today – she can do both – president or grandmother?

CLINTON: (laughs) If you ask her, I think she'd say grandmother. (Rose and O'Donnell laugh) But I have found it best not to discuss that issue. (Rose and O'Donnell laugh)

ROSE: Sounds like Chelsea may have influenced you.

CLINTON: I'm just trying to – my goal is to live to be a grandfather. (Rose and O'Donnell laugh) The rest of it's out of my hand.

ROSE (live): A human side of the President.

O'DONNELL: It is. And we'll have much more on Chelsea's role at the Clinton Global Initiative. She's taken a much larger role there, and another – couple other topics. We'll talk about that piece coming up.


09/24/2013
08:03 am EDT
CBS This Morning

NORAH O'DONNELL: President Obama will also talk about his health care law today with former President Bill Clinton. His ninth annual Clinton Global Initiative begins this morning in New York. The gathering brings together world leaders, high-profile CEOs, and celebrities to tackle global issues.

We spoke with President Clinton about the organization and its recent reports of problems.

[CBS News Graphic: "Clinton's View: Former President On CGI And Rumored Problems"]

NORAH O'DONNELL (from pre-recorded interview): We're here at the Clinton Global Initiative. This is the first year that your wife, Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state-

FORMER PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON: Yeah-

O'DONNELL: And your daughter, Chelsea Clinton, are co-hosting. What's different this year?

CLINTON: Well, first of all, we're – we're having a good year. We've got more members coming in. We have more, really interesting new commitments. And we're going to have a lot of impressive progress reports. That's important to me, because when I agreed to start this, I said I don't want to just have another meeting. I want people to commit to do something, and I want us to check. So, I think it will be more and better, I think, and it will be focused on – how do you mobilize people to actually get done what you want to do? And a lot of our commitments will feature that – will feature big partnerships – the kind of thing we need more of in Washington –  (O'Donnell laughs) you know, big partnerships – people walking, working across lines.

O'DONNELL: This is – this is a sprawling philanthropic organization, and you have helped hundreds of millions of people. However, as you know, there have been reports about financial mismanagement, infighting-

CLINTON: Which have been clearly disproved, I might add.

O'DONNELL: No deficits?

CLINTON: No! There was never a deficit. And we do – we did have a rough year in 2009, because of the financial crisis. But we've always saved enough operating money for a whole year. So we never ran a deficit.

O'DONNELL: And the reports that Chelsea was coming in to clean things up. (O'Donnell laughs)

CLINTON: No. Chelsea came in – first of all, Chelsea's been working around the foundation for two or three years now, and she did suggest and – something that I warmly embraced – which is that we have a – a review of where we were – which is typical for a new organization at age 10 –  and several years of our first decade, we were the fastest growing foundation in the world.

CHARLIE ROSE:  But is this a reminder – when you've got fundraising for the foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative and some of the same people are doing both – that it's important to be both transparent and vigorous in the accounting, so that the impression doesn't develop?

CLINTON: Absolutely, absolutely, absolutely – but we are transparent. I – I believe in – in transparency. But if you are transparent, then you have to depend on the good faith of people who are looking at your documents.

ROSE: You and I were on stage at Davos when you announced this [in 2005] – the Clinton Global Initiative-

CLINTON: Yeah-

ROSE: And it was a surprise to people at that time-

CLINTON: Yeah-

ROSE: What has it not done that you believed it could do?

CLINTON: Well, actually, it's grown bigger – faster than I thought it would. But I think we just have to keep working on it. But one of the things we started doing last year – that we'll do more of this year – is to give more progress reports on the commitments already made. And I'm hoping if we highlight the progress reports on an equal footing with the initial commitments – that maybe that will attract more interest. That's the only thing that I thought would happen that hasn't. Otherwise, C.G.I. itself has affected more lives in more countries than I ever dreamed it would.

ROSE: It's a metric of accountability?

CLINTON: Yeah.

O'DONNELL (live): It was interesting to hear the President talk about Chelsea Clinton – his daughter's involvement – because he did acknowledge she was a former – worked at McKinsey doing consulting – that she wanted to bring in an outside group to look at the books and – and suggest some changes. And she's playing a big role.

ROSE: Indeed. I was struck by the earlier part of this conversation we've had this morning, where – when he talked about Mrs. Clinton and what he said about her. And he said, I was only interested in politics. I think that's still his primary interest.

I was reading a story this week about he's constantly on the phone with members of Congress – you know, just finding out what the latest intelligence is – what's happening in the political end of the world.

O'DONNELL: Yeah, and his point, I think, during – that contrast – was that Hillary Clinton, when she was at NGOs, was more interested in helping people-

ROSE: Than policy-

O'DONNELL: Yeah, but I think-

GAYLE KING: He seemed very relaxed, and it was such a wide-ranging interview, guys. I loved, Charlie, when you said, will it be president or grandmother? And it almost looked like he was choking on his drink of water at that particular time. (O'Donnell laughs) But you all covered everything, and he was very comfortable in answering anything you had to say. I was wondering about the issues that were raised about the money, though, of the foundation.

ROSE: Yeah. That came up-

O'DONNELL: And he also – which we – we've posted online – gave a full-throated defense of one of his longtime personal aides, who – there's been some scrutiny about – about money raised for a company that he has. And he spoke up for his former aide. So, we have more of that online.

KING: What were you saying, Charlie?

ROSE: Oh, I was going – I was going to simply say that – that the idea of being a grandmother, I think, she has expressed time and time again, was something that she really looks forward to.

O'DONNELL: Yeah. But Chelsea is, I think-

ROSE: Exactly- (laughs)

O'DONNELL: 'Stop talking about it; stop talking about it, Mom and Dad.'

ROSE: He said I can't talk about it anymore.

KING: She'll have some say in that.

— Matthew Balan is a News Analyst at the Media Research Center. Follow Matthew Balan on Twitter.