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NBC's Guthrie Invites Clinton to Slam GOP 'Rooting for the Economy to Fail'

In an interview aired on Friday's NBC Today, former President Bill Clinton began by attacking Republicans: "I'm not sure both sides want the economy to get better....I know what Senator McConnell said, that his number one priority was winning the election." Co-host Savannah Guthrie helpfully added: "It sounds like you're saying the Republicans are basically rooting for the economy to fail." [Listen to the audio]

That teed up Clinton perfectly to proclaim: "No, I didn't say that. Senator McConnell did. Senator McConnell said his number one goal was not to get the economy going again, it was to defeat the President. So I hope they're not rooting for it to fail. I think, you know, they really may believe that austerity now is the right policy."

Guthrie did challenge Clinton on President Obama's plan to raise taxes on higher income Americans: "Not all Democrats agree with the President on this. Some Democrats, and certainly Mitt Romney and Republicans, think raising taxes in a fragile economy is not a good thing to do. What's your take?" Clinton replied: "...the Republicans have made it clear that the most important thing in the world to them is not raising revenues on upper income people. So I think we've not discussed this in a fair way."

Guthrie then lobbed another softball to Clinton about Romney's wealth: "Recently the Democrats have been emphasizing Mitt Romney's personal investments, the fact that he has some accounts in Switzerland, in the Cayman's. And I wonder whether you feel this is a legitimate line of attack against Mitt Romney, if you think this is relevant to his fitness to be president?"

Predictably, Clinton declared: "Oh, yes, I do....because he's put it at the forefront. He said basically, 'I'd be a better president because I know how to create jobs because that's what I did.'"

Clinton also made sure to work in Obama campaign talking points:

I am a little surprised that he [Romney] only released a year's worth of tax returns. That's kind of perplexed me, because this is the first time in, I don't know, more than 30 years, that anybody running for president has only done that. You know, it's typical, I think, that we all release 10, 11 years. And I think Senator McCain released over 20 years of tax returns. That, I think, has been – that struck me as a little odd.

Guthrie explained: "Well, this has to do with whether or not he placed his own money in legal tax shelters overseas." Clinton continued: "The public ought to know that. The voters can make up their own mind about whether they think it's a good thing to – for a person who wants to be president to minimize his own tax liability by putting the money in overseas tax shelters."

Here is a full transcript of the taped interview aired on July 13:

7:07AM ET

SAVANNAH GUTHRIE: And we had a chance to talk to former President Bill Clinton about the state of the presidential race on Thursday, as he prepared to head to Africa on a trip with his Clinton Foundation. And we began by asking him about the economy's role in this election.

BILL CLINTON: Well, our economy doesn't exist in a vacuum. And you've got a slowdown in Europe, unemployment here, on average, is higher than it is in America. And you've got slowdown in China, slowdown in Russia, slowdown in Brazil. And all that affects us. And you know, I'm not sure both sides want the economy to get better. I know the President does. But I know what Senator McConnell said, that his number one priority was winning the election.

GUTHRIE: It sounds like you're saying the Republicans are basically rooting for the economy to fail.

CLINTON: No, I didn't say that. Senator McConnell did. Senator McConnell said his number one goal was not to get the economy going again, it was to defeat the President. So I hope they're not rooting for it to fail. I think, you know, they really may believe that austerity now is the right policy.

GUTHRIE: Let me ask you about taxes. As you know, the President is proposing that the Bush tax rates be extended for the middle class, but he would let them rise – in effect, a tax increase go into effect for wealthier Americans. Not all Democrats agree with the President on this. Some Democrats, and certainly Mitt Romney and Republicans, think raising taxes in a fragile economy is not a good thing to do. What's your take?

CLINTON: If we're going to have long-term debt reduction, we're going to have to have some spending cuts and some more revenues and that's the fairest place to get it. What the Republicans are trying to do is to put him in a position of giving all that up for another year, which I think would be a big mistake. These things have been extended a long time.

And the Republicans have made it clear that the most important thing in the world to them is not raising revenues on upper income people. So I think we've not discussed this in a fair way. The President has said that he's open to tax reform, that he's open to corporate tax reform, that he'd like a comprehensive ten-year settlement. But if they're not going to negotiate with him, which they seem disinclined to do, then he has to stand his ground on this. And I think he's right. They're trying to force him to give away the store before they make any – have any discussions with him.

GUTHRIE: Recently the Democrats have been emphasizing Mitt Romney's personal investments, the fact that he has some accounts in Switzerland, in the Cayman's. And I wonder whether you feel this is a legitimate line of attack against Mitt Romney, if you think this is relevant to his fitness to be president?

CLINTON: Oh, yes, I do. I think for one thing, just as relevant as the going over my record as governor got when I ran for president. I had been governor for a dozen years. And because he's put it at the forefront. He said basically, 'I'd be a better president because I know how to create jobs because that's what I did.' And he's going to take credit for running a successful Olympics, for example. So when all your work life before you run for president is relevant. And I think that will be relevant.

I am a little surprised that he only released a year's worth of tax returns. That's kind of perplexed me, because this is the first time in, I don't know, more than 30 years, that anybody running for president has only done that. You know, it's typical, I think, that we all release 10, 11 years. And I think Senator McCain released over 20 years of tax returns. That, I think, has been – that struck me as a little odd.

GUTHRIE: Well, this has to do with whether or not he placed his own money in legal tax shelters overseas.

CLINTON: The public ought to know that. The voters can make up their own mind about whether they think it's a good thing to – for a person who wants to be president to minimize his own tax liability by putting the money in overseas tax shelters. And they can decide whether they believe that or not.

GUTHRIE: Lastly, I know you're headed to Africa in the coming days. This is a time when America is struggling, of course, and I think it bears reminding why we need to care about this part of the world. What are you looking to do when you travel there?

CLINTON: I want the American people to know that we've had about 15 good years with Africa. Six of the ten fastest growing countries in the world in the last ten years were in Africa. It's projected that in the next ten years, seven of the ten fastest growing countries will be in Africa. And we did a lot to kick that off in 2000 with the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act. So one of the things that I'll be doing is celebrating that act, celebrating and showing what good things it did. What I want people to see on this trip, and what I want to check in on, is the positive things that are happening in Africa and the progress that is being made.

GUTHRIE: Former President Bill Clinton. And we should mention, you can follow President Clinton's trip to Africa on his blog, you can head to today.com.