Dozens of taped conversations between then-President Clinton and historian Taylor Branch will be edited into a book, tentatively titled “Wrestling History: The Bill Clinton Tapes,” to be published in 2008, Simon & Schuster announced Thursday.
Clinton has “full knowledge” the book is being written, but “will have no editorial input or approval,” according to Simon & Schuster. The conversations will range from Middle East peace negotiations to the Balkan war, to, yes, Monica Lewinsky.
“Oh, sure, he talked about it, not at length, but I think we had a conversation on the night the whole Monica Lewinsky thing broke,” Branch, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for “Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63,” told The Associated Press.
“Obviously, it’s there, but it is not going to dominate this. There is a lot more talk about Boris Yeltsin and the leaders of China than about Monica Lewinsky.”
Branch, a longtime friend who met periodically with the president throughout his two terms, says Clinton also discussed his marriage, the 2000 election between Al Gore and George W. Bush, the controversial pardon of financier Marc Rich and a great deal about a foreign foe who had yet to capture headlines: Osama bin Laden.
“I was surprised, going back through my notes, how much he talked about Osama bin Laden,” he said.
The book is scheduled to come out in late 2008. But Simon & Schuster spokeswoman Victoria Meyer said that the publisher didn’t know yet whether it would be released before or after Election Day, a potentially major difference should Clinton’s wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, be the Democratic candidate for president.
“I’m conflicted on that,” Branch said of the book’s publication date. “Maybe (if it came out before Election Day) it would get a lot of attention, but it would get a lot of attention that would be a laser beam focus on whether there are things in there pertinent to the election.
“I think of this book as being about how a president works, not about a president who’s married to a woman who is now running for president.”
Financial terms of the book deal were not disclosed.
Branch, who became friends with Clinton in the early 1970s when both were working on the presidential campaign of Democrat George McGovern, said Clinton had reached out to him not longer after he was first elected, in 1992.
Clinton, noting Branch’s research into the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, was anxious to determine what kind of records should be kept for the sake of future historians. One of Branch’s suggestions was that the president keep a diary. This led to a series of taped conversations, 79 in all, each around 90 minutes long. Duplicate tapes were made, with Clinton storing his in his sock drawer.
Branch said he saw himself as historian, adviser and friend, roles that admittedly became complicated over time — from Whitewater and Paula Jones, to the Lewinsky scandal and Clinton’s impeachment.
“From his point of view, the scandal stories started in 1993 and went on all the way until the day he left office,” Branch said, declining to offer details on specific conversations.
“There’s no way I could have predicted what would happen. The only thing that was a constant was I felt it was a service for demonstrating how the government works. Part of it also comes out my own belief in my profession. I was always, from the very beginning, telling myself that this is important, just trying to get the record down.”
Asked if he ever became disillusioned with Clinton or with the project, Branch laughed and said, “I’m not going to go near that question.”