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TODAY   |  November 08, 2010

Bush: Cheney ‘angry’ I didn’t pardon Libby

In an exclusive interview with TODAY’s Matt Lauer, former President George W. Bush recounts Vice President Dick Cheney’s anger over his decision to let a jury’s verdict of perjury stand against disgraced aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby.

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This content comes from a Full-Text Transcript of the program.

MATT LAUER, co-host: Now our -- to our interview with President George W. Bush , his first since leaving office. He talked extensively about his presidency as he gets set to release his new memoir, " Decision Points," tomorrow. And he told me how his decision not to pardon a type -- a top White House aide almost cost him his friendship with Vice President Dick Cheney . I think, President Bush , you're going to get a lot of attention for a story you put in the book about the last portion of your presidency when you had a decision to make concerning Scooter Libby .

President GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes.

LAUER: And he had been convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice and sentenced to 30 years in prison. And you had a choice, you could've done nothing.

Pres. BUSH: Right.

LAUER: You could've commuted his sentence or issued a full pardon. You thought long and hard about it.

Pres. BUSH: I did. Scooter is a loyal American who worked for Vice President Cheney who got caught up in a -- in this Valerie Plame case and was indicted and convicted. And I chose to commute his sentence. I felt he had paid enough of a penalty.

LAUER: Critics immediately said, you know, if you're loyal to Bush , you don't have to go to prison. So you -- so it didn't come without a price.

Pres. BUSH: That's right .

LAUER: And yet Vice President Cheney wanted more.

Pres. BUSH: He did. He wanted me to pardon him. And this is a decision that was -- it was the last decision of the presidency, really. And I chose to let the jury verdict stand after some serious deliberation. And it -- the vice president was angry and...

LAUER: Yeah. When you went to him and you told him, you said he was furious. He said, 'I can't believe you're going to leave a soldier on the battlefield.'

Pres. BUSH: Yeah, he did.

LAUER: Has your relationship with Dick Cheney ever recovered from failing to give the pardon?

Pres. BUSH: It has. I'm pleased -- I'm pleased to report it has.

LAUER: You're friends today?

Pres. BUSH: We are friends today and he gave a very gracious speech on the way out of town there, at Andrews Air Force Base , and yeah, we are friends. I went by to see him, I've seen him since and talked to him and I'm pleased to report we are. I was a little concerned at one time, but, no, it was a hard decision to make. But that's what you do when you're president, you make hard decisions.

LAUER: President Bush also took me to the church where he married his wife , Laura , and he talked about he called the most important decision of his life, his decision to quit drinking years ago. In the book, you say, you know, faith is a walk.

Pres. BUSH: Yeah, it is.

LAUER: It's a journey and -- toward greater understanding. You said you can't prove that God exists , but that shouldn't be the standard of belief because you also can't prove that God doesn't exist.

Pres. BUSH: Yeah. Exactly.

LAUER: What was it in your life, President Bush , that made you re-examine your own faith and take a deeper look at it? Please, have a seat.

Pres. BUSH: Thank you. I didn't like the person I was. I was drinking a lot. My parents did me a great favor, they planted the seed of faith, but I, you know, I'd go to church so I wouldn't irritate my mother.

LAUER: President Bush says his faith helped him quit drinking cold turkey just after his 40th birthday.

Pres. BUSH: Yeah, I'd have a beer and so the book starts out with Laura saying can you tell me a day in which you haven't had a drink?

LAUER: Right.

Pres. BUSH: And when you drink too much, the answer's, yes, I can. And then I couldn't remember a day. And you know, I could easily have a beer or two or a martini before dinner, bourbons, B&Bs , I was a drinker. Now I wasn't a knee walking drunk.

LAUER: You were like a habitual drinker as opposed to an alcoholic.

Pres. BUSH: Exactly. Nevertheless, in either case, alcohol becomes central to your life and I finally woke up and realized that I did not want to live a life where alcohol was central. And I 'm convinced, I really am convinced, had I not quit drinking, I wouldn't be sitting here as a former president because I chronicle a few incidents...

LAUER: Sure.

Pres. BUSH: ...where alcohol made my quick tongue not only quick, but caused me to be stupid.

LAUER: He'll actually share one of those stories during the interview. You can catch the entire interview with President Bush tonight, it's a one-hour

prime-time special, "Decision Points: A Conversation with George W. Bush ." It airs at 8, 7 Central time right here on NBC . And then he will be here live in our studio on Wednesday morning. If you'd like to submit a question to President Bush , you can just go to todayshow.com or you can also give it to us on Twitter or Facebook .