Transcript: Bill Clinton Talks to Bloomberg News

The former president and would-be first spouse defends his foundation and discusses his role in a possible (Hillary) Clinton administration.

CLINTON GLOBAL INITIATIVE

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton speaks during the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014.

Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

On the final day of the Clinton Global Initiative America meeting in Denver, former President Bill Clinton gave an interview to Bloomberg. A complete transcript follows.

BETTY LIU, BLOOMBERG NEWS: Mr. President, again thank you again for inviting us to CGI here this year. It has certainly been -- I have been to many CGI events. In fact I was at your annual meeting back in September. And you do highlight, and as we have seen, some of the great work of the Clinton Global Initiative around the world, helping millions of people out of poverty, fighting childhood obesity and many, many other issues. And I want to get to some of the commitments, Mr. President, that you are excited about to talk about today. But I also want to talk about some of the topics that have overshadowed some of the good work that CGI has done.

CLINTON: Have at it.

LIU: So we know that you have something like 200,000-plus sponsors that have supported CGI since 2001. A few of them have begun to reassess their sponsorship of the Clinton Global Initiative. ExxonMobil has said that they are not going to sponsor CGI this year. Is this because of the funding controversy?

'There are people who just don't like bad press'

CLINTON: Well I think they don't want to be involved in politics. They don't think we were ever political. And there had never been a more, I don't believe, foundation with a prominent political person involved in and like me that had been more nonpolitical. I've had and George and Laura Bush here, Mitt Romney, John McCain. And Sarah Palin came.

I have got all these -- Rupert Murdoch, and his son and his foundation have given money to us, along with Mayor Bloomberg. We just solve problems. But a lot of -- there are people who just don't like bad press. And you can't be involved in modern American politics without somebody attacking you.

And I think that the fact that there are so many other channels like Bloomberg and the social media means that, in effect, if somebody wants to go negative it's I think sort of a tribute to my wife that it all happened now. And we've got all this -- all the social media and the alternative ways of communicating, And I think in the end, the foundation will stand or fall on the work it does. But you're right. We've had more than 300,000 contributors, and 90 percent-plus of them have given $100 or less.

So we have -- we do work all over the world, and in America, and what is really -- I think a lot of the political press have been struck by this because they're not used to Republicans and Democrats working together on things that have nothing to do with politics. So in a political season if you're covering a political story, you can't possibly imagine that anything else would ever anyone's -- enter anyone's mind, when the truth is, most of us never think about it. I have --

LIU: But this year though you don't have any Republicans at CGI this year.

CLINTON: No, just -- well we do have -- we had three -- two mayors and one county official. But we ask --

LIU: But on a national --

'Everybody is sort of changing their tune now'

CLINTON: But they got -- they -- when you've got Senator Graham, for example, whom I like very much, Lindsey Graham, and is running for president, jumping on Hillary is running for president, and he once wrote the tribute to her in one of the magazines when she was being honored, and on here it said she was a national treasure, I mean everybody is sort of changing their tune now. And it's just politics.

And you just can't take it seriously, but I think we just have to keep working through it. It was interesting because [most] of what anybody has complained about now was known about when she ran before, and no one went after the foundation, at least not to this extent. So we'll just see, but I think I'm happy to answer the questions and but I think and have disclosure, and but it ought to be a two-way street, this disclosure thing.

LIU: What -- and I read between the lines on that for sure. But, Mr. President, you did try to put some of -- some of the fires to rest when you wrote a nearly 1,200-word letter to your --

CLINTON: I did.

LIU: -- to your supporters. I'm going to quote from it. You said you would continue to look for ways to improve our reporting systems so that we can operate as accurately, efficiently and transparently as possible, a goal to which we have been committed to since day one. Why don't you think that has put to rest some of these issues?

'We have done a lot of good things with this money'

CLINTON: Well it's not in the interest of my credits -- critics for anything to put it to rest. But do I have the most comprehensive disclosure of any presidential foundation? Yes. Is our -- our disclosures more extensive than most private foundations? Yes, they are, having nothing to do with politics.

Has anybody proved that we did anything objectionable? No. Have we done a lot of good things with this money? Yes. One of my Republican supporters who has not yet been subject to public criticism called me the other day, and he said, here is the message I get from all this coverage. If I put my money in a tax shelter in the Cayman Islands and don't pay taxes, I'm a great man. If I give my money to one of these black box committees where you never have to reveal the contributors, I'll never get any grief.

If I publicly give my money to you to help poor people, there's something really wrong with me. He said, I just don't agree with that. I'm proud of the work we do, and I think people support it because they like what we do. And that's what I think. 

LIU: But knowing what -- but knowing what you know now, and being that you've said, we have not -- never done anything knowingly inappropriate at CGI --

'Treated with a presumption of wrongdoing'

CLINTON: That's right. But one of the -- let me just say this. We started all of this disclosure and everything, which I was fine with, somebody -- I don't have any problem with it at all. But this also was -- for many years, there were two or three years in a row it was the fastest-growing foundation in the world. And it wasn't like every day we were working on the assumption that one day Hillary would run for president and then we would be treated with a presumption of wrongdoing, --

LIU: (INAUDIBLE)

CLINTON: -- and therefore we should divulge ever -- I've already spent more money than I ever intended to on central staffing to do all this compliance stuff and everything. I started this foundation with way under 10 percent overhead, and because I wanted to pick good people to run the initiatives and push all the money out the door (INAUDIBLE).

We were still under 10 percent, but not as much as I would like, although a lot of foundations have more. I just think we should be as small as we can. And so I will give you an example. There was a lot of brouhaha in the beginning because our foundation did not report as we had -- we had said we would report contributions from foreign governments, which I think we should.

And there -- then they said, oh, he got $500,000 from Algeria at the very time they were lobbying the State Department in 2010. That -- those two facts are accurate, but if you put them back to back they're incredibly misleading. Here's why.

I never considered that the Algerians gave me the money. On January 10, 2010, when the Haiti earthquake occurred, I was not only -- I was the United Nations special envoy for Haiti. And it was total chaos. A lot of you will remember the coverage.

'Zero overhead'

The major hospital was broken and operations were taking place outside on the grass at night with a flashlight with vodka being used for amputations, for the anesthesia and for the antiseptic. So we put out the word that if anyone wanted to send me money, I would forward it on quickly to Haiti, where it would do the most good and would take zero overhead.

And that's a big issue with me what the overheads that NGOs take. And I would just do it. And -- and we still do that. And I still raise money for Haiti and invest it there. But, anyway, that was just an accident. So to me it was like a pass-through. I didn't even think about it.

LIU: So you would do that again, knowing -- knowing the scrutiny that your --

CLINTON: Oh I would take the money from Algeria again? Two days after the earthquake with all the money they needed and people still being buried under the rubble, there are very few countries in the world I would not accept for help to Haiti, because they weren't giving it to me. They were giving it to the UN coordinator as a global effort to put these people back in a position to live again. And I would do that.

LIU: Well -- well is there anything though, Mr. President -- 

CLINTON: And now I'm not going -- and let me hesitate to say -- not hesitate to say I don't blame whoever saw that reported -- 

LIU: For making the connection.

CLINTON: -- for asking a question about it, yes, because they would have no way of knowing the context. But I mean I just -- so I tell people how it happened. And I think it was the right thing to do.

LIU: But knowing some of the optics now, is there anything that you would differently with the foundation?

'Money we didn't take'

CLINTON: I'm sure, but I can't -- what I tried to do, there were a lot -- there have been a lot of money we didn't take. There have been the things I didn't do, one or two places we didn't go into, because we have a strict no corruption policy in our own operations everywhere.

But by and large, I think what's really at issue here and what bothers --  for example, if -- if you're a political reporter primarily, or you're a business reporter you tend to see -- tend to see the world through that lens. And it's hard to imagine that there are businesses and individuals that contribute money for things that have nothing to do with politics.

Look, I was in politics a long time. I get that. But the truth is most of us have big parts of our lives that don't have anything to do with politics. And that's why I have tried to do these global initiative meetings. So I don't think that it's a bad thing that you have diverse businesses, and philanthropists, and NGOs and governments working together to solve problems. I think that's a good thing.

The whole CGI model, and a lot of what I do in my own foundation is based on innovative partnerships. And you can say, well, I mean on these things that were done, I didn't even know if Hillary was going to run for president again. And neither did they.

So but if you think all that matters is politics and everybody is running all the time, --

LIU: So that's (INAUDIBLE).

'A thing or two that I would change'

CLINTON: -- and they always know what they're going to do, then you should reengineer yourself from, and imagine what it's going to be like on this day, and we should walk around on tippy toes from now until then and not worry about the mission. And I think that's an error.

So there may be a thing or two that I would change, but the basic idea I think it's right. I still believe it's the right thing to do to solve as many problems as possible through cooperative networks that are inclusive across political party lines, and business, and government and nongovernmental groups' alliance.

 LIU: Well let's talk about some of the work that's done at CGI, that has been done at CGI America. Tell me the commitment that you think is going to have the biggest impact that has been made so far at CGI America.

CLINTON: Well, a lot of them -- I'm going to answer that, but let me -- and there are basically at all these CGI events there are commitments that either fall into discrete categories or share all the foundation. They all -- more than 90 percent of them now represent partnerships with the diverse people going. So they have a chance to grow.

Green buildings

And some of them that are really exciting are those that have a chance to grow. There was a fascinating commitment involving the financial institutions putting in developmental funds to bring clean energy jobs to Native Americans. They're still the poorest group of Americans, the Native Americans who live on tribal lands that don't have casinos.

So that's like got a chance to really blow up. And there are several like that. But the biggest one in terms of dollars and jobs, by far, is the continuation of the original $10 billion commitment by the -- the American Federation of Teachers, the building trades and the AFL-CIO --

LIU: Infrastructure.

CLINTON: -- to retrofit buildings.

LIU: Yes.

CLINTON: So it was going so well, and it's funny. This just happened in a conversation. I asked [AFL-CIO] President [Richard] Trumka one day, I said I'm on the president's council on retrofitting buildings, and a lot of these businesses are just not doing it, and this is good money. You can get good return.

And you've got all this pension money. You could create more construction jobs, and we could fight climate change. We could do while this. You ought to look at it. And he said, okay, I don't know anything about it. Go to the building trades

And [American Federation of Teachers President] Randi Weingarten had an interest in it, partly because and there's a commitment this year announced they were going to build affordable housing for teachers in San Francisco where housing costs are very high. And they will also have lower utility bills because they will be greener.

Union commitment

So the first $5.6 billion of this $10 billion commitment has been deployed and spent, and they created 50,000 jobs. That's a lot of jobs.

LIU: It's amazing -- it's amazing with infrastructure. Almost everyone can agree we need better infrastructure.

CLINTON: Yes.

LIU: We just don't agree on how exactly we're going to fund it --

CLINTON: Well that's why --

LIU: -- and where we're going -- where we're going to deploy it. So --

CLINTON: So -- and so I figured if I could start at almost any substantial pension fund, --

LIU: Right.

CLINTON: -- would have a board that would agree that you need some x amount, modest amount that's low risk, steady return, and that if it also happens to benefit your members that's more funds coming into the pension fund. So I thought it was a win-win deal.

 Now they have upped the thing to $14 billion, and they're building housing developments and doing all this. It's amazing, and it all started with a simple idea. There was -- when we opened CGI there was a young woman who is working with a group of religious groups, faith-based groups across all faiths --

LIU: Right.

CLINTON: -- to try to get them to do the same kind of investments. You just go out and you look and see. And Willie Sutton said he robbed banks because that's where the money was. And if you look at where the money is, where people are looking for prudent investments that have a return that also advance the social good.

LIU: And you can see it.

CLINTON: Yes. There is a lot money there.

LIU: See it very well. So, Mr. President, what happens, though, to the foundation's work, which the great, as I mentioned, the great work that you have done, what happens, as you have mentioned many times this year is different because you do -- your wife is running for president. What happens if she does in fact win the election and enters the White House? What happens to the foundation's work? What happens to you at the foundation?

Not an easy decision

CLINTON: Well I don't know. I'll be almost grown by then. I will give you, but my serious answer is this. I believe if you have been president, and the current president of either party asks you to do anything, if in good conscience you can do it, you should do it. Now that's the truth, quite apart from our being husband and wife.

That will be not an easy decision, should she be elected president. And she will have to decide what's my highest and best use, including being around to buck her up every morning. I mean really if she wins, and I think it would be a very good thing for America if she did win I think, but -- but --

LIU: You mean there will have to be a hard decision made on -- on the foundation.

CLINTON: Yes I know. But we'll have to talk about it. But I don't know. But what I have tried to do, I never -- I always took all the money people gave us and put it right into the work. So my foundation, which is helping now, soon will be soon over 100,000 farmers in Africa, we've got the -- we -- I separated in 2010 the health work, which is what gets most of the government work.

LIU: Right.

'Chelsea is there'

CLINTON: So it -- it will run regardless. And it has a board, an independent board, really good board. And it's fine. The -- the work we do with small entrepreneurs in Haiti, Mexico, Colombia and Peru through the Clinton Guistra Partnership, that will be fine. All these things can run.

Donna Shalala came in to become president of the foundation to make sure that we were in really good shape, if it's appropriate for me to leave altogether or I need to. And Chelsea is there. So I think the foundation will be just fine.

But I am determined to stay at it for as long this year as I can to make sure we're in the best possible shape. And the reason I finally went out and tried to raise the endowment is I thought there were so many lives riding on the work of both the foundation and the health access initiative, which is separate from the global initiative where we get everybody else to do it, that it would be irresponsible for me not to have an endowment.

Before that, President Bush opened his endowment, his library with a $250 million endowment. President Carter has got like a $500 million endowment. He has been working at it 20 years longer than I have, the endowment. But I didn't ever care if I had one at all. I figured if we were doing good work people would support it. And if we weren't, fine. But I decided in the end --

LIU: But now you have to think about this.

CLINTON: Well I decided in the end --

LIU: Yes.

'A modest endowment'

CLINTON: -- that my successors and interest, including my daughter, if she decides to stay doing this, they may not be able to raise the money necessary to do the work. And so I wanted at least to have a modest endowment. It's just not responsible to have something that has gotten as big as this is with no endowment. So we did do that.

LIU: Would you still give paid speeches?

CLINTON: Would I still what?

LIU: Give paid speeches if your wife is in the White House?

'I don't just tell war stories'

CLINTON: No. I don't think so. I don't think that -- because once you get to be president then you're just making a daily story. I will still give speeches though on the subjects I'm interested in, and I've really enjoy those things.

And I get to go meet with smart people. I met with Oracle's major investors twice in the last two years. God, they are fascinating. I learned so much. If anybody had ever told me in 2001 that people would still want me to come talk, I would have been stunned, but I think it's -- really, I did. But I think it's because I spend a couple hours a day studying what's going on in the world, and I don't just tell war stories.

I don't talk about what happened when I was president unless someone asks me a specific question. I think people want to live in the present and look to the future. But already I was just for all the records since now I'm getting ready on this little dry run here on the foundation has kind of prepped me up.

I have done more appearances for other people than I have given paid speeches, and I give 10 percent of my paid speeches, a little more actually, have gone directly to the foundation. And then we've given 10 percent of our income and way over that. And Hillary gave even more of her paid speeches to the foundation.

'We've raised a lot of money'

And then I have given more events than that I have done for other people already where I go and just speak for them, or go to a fundraiser or do something else. We've averaged -- I just had them pull all this, and more than a month events for other people since the day I left office. It's been immensely rewarding, because I -- I never thought my foundation -- I never thought it would get as big as it is because it's a doing foundation, not a funding foundation. And the Gates Foundation has helped us a lot in health care. 

LIU: And you've raised something like, what $2 billion. Is that right, for the foundation?

CLINTON: Yes. We've raised a lot of money, but we also have directed a lot of money because we've entrusted, particularly in health care, for example, --

LIU: Yes.

CLINTON: -- UNITAID, which is not very well known in America. It's a small -- is funded by primarily by a small tax on every airline ticket outside of France. And it was set up -- the first people the French talked to about it were in my living room after they decided to do this, but the -- the leader of UNITAID, a man named Philippe Douste-Blazy, was foreign minister in President Chirac's government.

And then he became head of the UNITAID group. And they -- the French government passed this airline tax. Then a couple of other dozen countries have put in a little money, but it does one thing only. They buy medicine for poor people in poor countries who could otherwise not have it. And they just established a fund.

'Crowdfunding in a clever way'

And it's crowdfunding in a clever way. So they asked us if we would buy the second line AIDs medicine, and kind of about 10 percent of the people in need who have AIDs who the old medicine didn't work anymore, and the children's medicine, because they knew we had already driven the prices down to the lowest level in the world.

And so the health group did that. They did a good job. And they got a little administrative fee for doing it, but the point is they directed a lot more money than was actually there.

LIU: Right.

'I don't want to touch the money'

CLINTON: Same thing was true -- and when we started the Clinton Foundation it was to deal with AIDs. And -- and I got the Canadian and the Irish governments to promise before there was any money going into this that they would spend $20 million a year for five years each in countries they could pick, but we had to say we could operate there. We had to work this out.

LIU: Yes.

CLINTON: And I said I don't want to touch the money, I want you to give them the money so we'll build their ability to do it.

LIU: Mr. President, before we go, one last question here. Our Bloomberg politics poll just a few weeks ago found that if Hillary Clinton were to be elected to the White House that 83 percent of those voters polled said it was mostly good for her to turn to you as a chief advisor.

CLINTON: Well that's nice. And I appreciate that.

LIU: What would you advise her?

'She will make good decisions'

CLINTON: I -- first of all, I'm -- if she gets elected president she will make good decisions. She works hard. She is on top of things. She will make good decisions and she will consult widely. She will be inclusive, which we need.

The whole world today is suffering from the lack of inclusive economics and inclusive politics, inclusive social policy. But and how -- what would I advise her?

LIU: What would you advise her on? What do you think -- well what -- where could you be most valuable to her as President of the United States? 

'One thing she knows more about than anybody'

CLINTON: If there's one thing she knows more about than anybody on earth about it's on what subjects I should be listened to and what subjects I shouldn't. She knows that. But look, and let's take something seriously that in the years when I had the honor of serving the only time in 50 years we had broadly-shared prosperity. And we had plenty of millionaires, and billionaires and record numbers of new jobs, but the prosperity was broadly shared.

This gaping hole has opened up again between productivity growth and the fact that it's not widely shared anymore. We need to get back to that, but we need to get back to that with a strategy that is innovative, future-oriented, growth-oriented, and it -- it's different from what it was in the '90s. The economy is different. The technology workings are different. The relationship to technology, to job growth is somewhat different.

And yet there are all these new opportunities that did not exist then. So I hope that I will be asked to help support her main determination, which is to try to give the country a middle-class again and give poor people a chance to work into it, and make it a dynamic, again, inclusive society. I think it's really important.

We -- the good news about all this technological revolution is we have more options than ever before. The bad news is if we're not careful we get siloed. We get isolated from one another. One of the things that's heartbreaking about in all these horrible instances where these young people have been killed by and instances -- encounters with law enforcement is that it has revealed that it's almost total lack of trust in neighborhood, after neighborhood after neighborhood in America.

And somehow, if -- if to succeed we have got to be able to create a sense of inclusion where people at least feel safe in their basic functions and safe expressing their opinions, and safe to disagree, safe to argue, safe to do. And I think she will do that. And if I can help, I would like to. But believe me, she has got better judgment about the highest and best use of me is than anybody else, I think. She has been stuck with it for 40 years. She's about to figure it out.

LIU: On that note, I want to thank Mr. President Bill Clinton for joining me here on stage and appreciate --

CLINTON: Thank you.

LIU: -- again for allowing me to join the stage with you here at CGI America. Thank you.

CLINTON: Thank you. 

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