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George W. Bush Recalls Katrina, Racism, and 9/11 in Leaked Lauer Interview

November 3, 2010

Matt Lauer interviews George W. Bush for an upcoming special. (Photo via Mediaite)In a leaked transcript of Matt Lauer’s upcoming interview with George W. Bush, the former president recounts his anger over being recalled a “racist” after Hurricane Katrina, and describes what he was thinking when he first heard America was under attack on 9/11.

In the excerpts leaked today, Bush also offers a candid glimpse behind his Iraq war decision and explains why he never went public with his DUI arrest.

Excerpts below:

On September 11 and how he received the news:

MATT LAUER:
It was a Tuesday, September 11, 2001. Before I get into the details of it, what is your most vivid memory of that day?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:
I had a lot of memories that day. It was Andy Card whispering in my ear.

MATT LAUER:
You were in a school in Florida.

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:
I was. And I was listening to children read a book. And Andy says, “A second plane has hit the World Trade Center, America’s under attack.” My first reaction was anger. “How dare they do this to America?” And then I looked at the kids, and their innocence in contrast to the evil of the attackers became apparent to me. And I just knew that my job was to protect them.

On the Iraq War decision:

MATT LAUER:
You know, there were questions at the Pentagon. Colin Powell had questions. Brent Scowcroft, your father’s former National Security Advisor, and dear friend, wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, I’m paraphrasing here, saying, “It’s not a good idea to go to war in Iraq.” So there were dissenting voices. 

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:
I was a dissenting voice. I didn’t want to use force. I mean force is the last option for a President. And I think it’s clear in the book that I gave diplomacy every chance to work. And I will also tell you the world’s better off without somehow in power. And so are 25 million Iraqis.

MATT LAUER:
You know the question. If you knew then what you know now–

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:
That’s right.

MATT LAUER:
–you would still go to war in Iraq?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:
I– first of all, didn’t have that luxury. You just don’t have the luxury when you’re President. That’s a very hypothetical question. I will say definitely the world is better off without Saddam Hussein in power, as are 25 million people who now have a chance to live in freedom.

History judges you on the decisions you make. Sometimes history doesn’t judge you on the absence of a decision. And I believe Saddam Hussein in the Middle East today, if he were there in power he would be enriched, he’d be emboldened. He would still have the capacity to make weapons of mass destruction, whether we found the vats of weapons of mass destruction. And I believe it’s likely you’d be seeing a nuclear arms race between Iran and Iraq. And the world would be much more unstable. And America would be– less secure.

On Kanye West calling him a racist:

MATT LAUER:
You remember what he said?

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:

Yes, I do. He called me a racist.

MATT LAUER:
Well, what he said, “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:
That’s — “he’s a racist.” And I didn’t appreciate it then. I don’t appreciate it now. It’s one thing to say, “I don’t appreciate the way he’s handled his business.” It’s another thing to say, “This man’s a racist.” I resent it, it’s not true, and it was one of the most disgusting moments in my Presidency.

MATT LAUER:
This from the book. “Five years later I can barely write those words without feeling disgust.” You go on. “I faced a lot of criticism as President. I didn’t like hearing people claim that I lied about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction or cut taxes to benefit the rich. But the suggestion that I was racist because of the response to Katrina represented an all time low.”

PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:
Yeah. I still feel that way as you read those words. I felt ‘em when I heard ‘em, felt ‘em when I wrote ‘em and I felt ‘em when I’m listening to ‘em.

On his DUI:

MATT LAUER:
Yeah. I mean you get pulled over. You’d been drinking heavily. I think you called it an Aussie kind of drinking.

GEORGE W. BUSH:
With John Newcomb (PH). I’m– here’s the former President telling you. But I’m drinking no hands at a bar, yeah.

MATT LAUER:
Reaching’ down with your mouth, grabbing the glass.

GEORGE W. BUSH:
So he’s taught me how to do this. And of course I have to be a follower at this point in time. And so– yeah, I drink it. I’m going ten miles an hour, both wheels on the sidewalk. And I get pulled over by Calvin, the local policeman, plead guilty, paid my fine.

MATT LAUER:
DUI.

GEORGE W. BUSH:
Yeah, DUI.

MATT LAUER:
You didn’t tell anybody. I mean I guess the person closest to you knew. But it’s not a story you related to anyone of importance for a very long time.

GEORGE W. BUSH:
Yeah. I mean everybody knew.

MATT LAUER:
Right.

GEORGE W. BUSH:
But it– for a while, it didn’t matter. And then, all of a sudden, I’m in politics, and my girls are getting ready to drive.

MATT LAUER:
Right.

GEORGE W. BUSH:
And I make the decision not to go public with this story because I didn’t want them to say, “Hey, Dad did it, and so can I.” I mean I was worried about them driving and drinking. And it was– I made a huge political mistake, and a miscalculation.

The interview, which will air on NBC on Monday, November 8 at 8 p.m. E, is Bush’s first one-on-one sit-down since leaving the White House. It marks the beginning of the media tour for his new book Decision Points.

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