DATE March 31, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Karen Hughes discusses working with President Bush and
her new book, "Ten Minutes from Normal"
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
Karen Hughes, one of President Bush's most trusted advisers, has written a new
memoir called "Ten Minutes from Normal." It offers an admiring portrait of
the president in contrast to the criticisms found in the new memoirs by the
president's former Treasury secretary, Paul O'Neill, and former
counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke.
As counselor to the president during the first 18 months of his presidency,
Karen Hughes managed a staff of 43 in the White House communications, speech
writing and news media offices. She helped write President Bush's speeches
and shape his messages. She was one of the three top people who ran his
presidential campaign and wrote his campaign autobiography. During his six
years as governor of Texas, Hughes served as George W. Bush's communications
director. She left the White House in July 2002, saying that her family
wanted to move back to Texas and she wanted to spend more time with them.
She's continued to consult with the president and will be actively working on
his re-election campaign.
We recorded our interview yesterday shortly before the announcement that the
president had agreed to let Condoleezza Rice testify under oath to the
September 11th commission.
Karen Hughes, welcome to FRESH AIR.
You've been described as the most powerful woman who's ever been in the White
House. How would you describe the job that you held before resigning from the
Ms. KAREN HUGHES ("Ten Minutes from Normal"): Well, you know, Terry, that
description always makes me cringe a little. I really considered my job to be
in a supporting role, that I was there to help--give the president my honest
opinion, to help him talk through issues if he wanted to, to help manage the
communications. I always said that my position as counselor really had two
hats. One of them was that I oversaw all the communications functions of the
White House. That was the office of press secretary and media affairs and
communications and speech writing. And then the other hat, when I went to
Washington, the president asked me to--was more of a policy sounding board, a
friend of the president who knew the president and his philosophy well. The
president asked me to sit in on major meetings where major decisions were made
and to, you know, explain his philosophy to the people in the room and to let
him know what I thought because when we first went to Washington, obviously,
we had people from Texas who knew the president well. None of us knew
Washington very well, and we hired some people from Washington who knew
Washington well but didn't know the president as well. And I think he did a
very good job of blending those perspectives on his White House staff.
GROSS: And the job that you're returning to now?
Ms. HUGHES: Well, it's kind of funny, this returning. I'm not sure I ever
completely left. When I left the White House, when I told the president that
I needed to move my family back to Texas, he asked me at the time would I
still stay involved, and I was delighted to hear that because I wanted to
still be involved. I just felt like my family needed to be home in Texas, and
I've continued to be involved. I've traveled to Washington at least once a
month, usually twice a month.
Now what I am going to do is step up my involvement in his presidential
campaign because, you know, I believe a lot of life is a matter of balancing
priorities. And one of my priorities this year is to help re-elect him
because the stakes are so high in the world today. I think it's important,
and so I told him when I left the White House that I would travel with him
full-time during the fall campaign the last several months. And so I imagine
that after my book tour, my involvement will steadily increase, and then
starting about in mid-August, I plan to be traveling full-time with him for
the final months.
GROSS: I want to quote something from your book that I thought was really
interesting. You're writing about how you hardly had time to go to the
supermarket while you were working for the Bush administration, but when you
did, you write, you wondered what fellow shoppers would think if they knew
that the woman squeezing tomatoes in the produce section was on the phone with
Colin Powell, Don Rumsfeld and Condi Rice, helping them prepare for the Sunday
talk shows. Did you have trouble bridging those two worlds?
Ms. HUGHES: Oh, of course, and, you know, it's kind of funny because I
remember thinking as I stood there that that's one difference, I think,
between men who shop and women who shop. I can't imagine my husband standing
there squeezing tomatoes. He would just pick the first ones available. And
so the quality of our home produce, I think, suffered a little during my White
House years, but he did a great job of grocery shopping.
Of course, it was hard. It's hard for all of us, and that's really what my
book is about. I tried to put a human face on the political process, and the
idea that, you know, these people whose names you see in the headlines all the
time are not caricatures. They're real people who have to go grocery shopping
and have to, you know, plan dinner and have regular lives.
GROSS: Now you left Washington because you felt like your son and your
husband really needed to be in Texas, particularly your son, and...
Ms. HUGHES: Well--and that I needed to spend more time with them, too, to be
GROSS: And that you needed to spend more time...
Ms. HUGHES: It was really all of us.
GROSS: Right. Right. OK. So you needed to spend more time with your son.
And then you write at the beginning of your book, `I have a very normal
family, a teen-age son who thinks I am totally annoying, especially when I ask
intrusive questions like, "How was your day?" or even try to talk to him when
he gets in the car after school because he's tired. Tired of talking? I
wonder how is that possible since he doesn't.' So, you know, I was thinking
about the position you're in of, like, you know, leaving so that you could
spend more time with your son, and, of course, your son, it sounds like a lot
of teen-agers, doesn't really want to spend all that much time with his
mother. So, you know, is there a little bit of, like, resentment that goes on
in your mind when you leave your job to spend more time with your son and your
son doesn't really want to spend that much time?
Ms. HUGHES: Well, you know, any parent of teen-agers knows that they're very
frustrating years, but, Terry, what I found was that the career-family juggle
gets even harder as your children get older. You know, when your children are
toddlers and you come home from work, they drop everything. They're delighted
to see you. They come and they play with you and you can spend time with
them. Any parent of a teen-ager knows that doesn't happen. You walk in the
door from the office and no teen-ager drops everything and comes to talk to
their parents. And so you have to be there at times when they want to talk,
and that's not very predictable and sometimes it's late at night. And when I
was at the White House, you know, I had to go to bed because I had to get up
so early in the morning. And so I found that I increasingly just was not a
part of my son's life. And that really troubled me because I felt that I
still had responsibilities as a mother and still had things that I wanted to
And one of the best things about being home in Texas is that I had the
opportunity to teach my son to drive. And I spent about nine months--every
day he'd come home from school and he would say, `So, Mom, you want to go
driving?' It was one of the few things that he wanted to do with me because
he wanted to learn to drive. And so we'd go out and we'd get in the car and
he'd get in the driver's seat and we'd back out and he'd look at me and say,
`Well, how was your day?' And I thought, you know, he seemed like such an
adult, and I sort of realized it was a metaphor for what was happening in his
life, that he was increasingly in the driver's seat and I was there to sort of
keep him from running over too many curbs, you know, or try to keep him on the
right side of the road. And I would have never had that experience had I
still been working at the White House because I didn't get home until it was
dark and you don't want to teach a teen-ager to drive in the dark.
GROSS: My guest is Karen Hughes. She was counselor to President Bush; she's
now returning to the Bush administration to work on the campaign. She's
written a new memoir which is called "Ten Minutes from Normal."
Let me ask you about one theory about why you're returning to a more active
position in the Bush administration, and this was expressed recently on FRESH
AIR by Ron Suskind, who wrote the new book about former Treasury Secretary
Paul O'Neill, a book which was critical of the president, and he also wrote a
profile of you for Esquire magazine when you were leaving the Bush
administration to return to Texas. So here's a very short excerpt of the
interview he gave on FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite from interview)
GROSS: You say that Karen Hughes, the president's adviser, left the
administration not only because she wanted to spend more time with her family,
which was her public reason for leaving, but also because she was exhausted
trying to be a pragmatic counterweight to the more ideological Karl Rove. Is
that based on what other sources told you for the book?
Mr. RON SUSKIND ("The Price of Loyalty"): Yeah, that's based on a previous
story that I did for Esquire magazine in the summer of 2002. It got some
attention because, at the centerpiece of it, it was about Karen Hughes
leaving, but Andy Card, the chief of staff, spoke to me in frustration after
Karen announced suddenly that she was leaving, that Karen has been the beauty
to Karl's beast, essentially that Karl goes into so many meetings with the
sharp sword of partisanship and Karen manages to beat that into a plowshare,
that she acted thoroughly as a counterweight to Karl. And what Andy Card was
concerned about, he was concerned about the fortunes of the president, as
almost everyone in the White House is, that Karen's departure would lead to a
veering to the right by the White House. You know, that's an opinion that
many people in the White House echoed and it's one that some people--again,
let's look at what the evidence shows--may point to in terms of what the
pattern has been over the past, you know, year and a half, two years since
GROSS: OK. That's Ron Suskind on FRESH AIR.
Karen Hughes, do you think--would you agree that you're returning to serve as
a counterweight to Karl Rove and do you think, in your absence, that the Bush
administration veered more to the right?
Ms. HUGHES: No, Terry. You know, Ron's a very creative guy, and I think a
lot of people at the White House feel that that was a quite embellished story.
First, let me say I loved my job at the White House. I love President Bush.
That's why the decision to leave was so hard. It was agonizing. My job was
thrilling. I was going to new places and learning new things, working on
issues that were really important to my friend Condi Rice and I. Thanks to
Condi Rice I was, you know, traveling to foreign countries and meeting foreign
leaders, and my job was fascinating.
And so I loved my job. It was very hard to decide to leave, but I truly
felt--I ultimately decided that I could do a better job fulfilling my
responsibilities to the president from Texas than I could serving my family in
Washington. And I've continued to be involved. I've been involved in most
major speeches from the White House since I've left. I talk to the president
frequently. I talk to Karl frequently. I talk to Dan Bartlett, the
communications director, frequently. Karl and I have worked together for a
long time. I went to work with Karl before I worked with the president, back
then George Bush, before he was even governor of Texas.
Now, sure, we have differences. We're both strong-willed personalities.
Anyone who's ever been in a room with the two of us knows that we're both
tough and outspoken and strong-willed people and we have different
perspectives, partly because we have different jobs. My job is the
big-picture message. Karl's job--one of his many jobs--he has a lot of jobs;
he's a great policy thinker as well. But one of his jobs from the political
side is to stitch together coalitions to help pass the president's initiatives
in Congress or to help re-elect the president or elect the president. And so
our jobs are sometimes different, and I think that's the case on a lot of
White House staffs, that a lot of times when you have disagreement, it's
because different people are approaching an issue with different perspectives,
and that's healthy and important. It's important for the president to hear
that diversity of opinion.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Karen Hughes, and she had been
counselor to President Bush overseeing communications. She left Washington
for a while to spend more time with her family and to allow her family to move
back to Texas. Now she's rejoining the Bush administration again in a more
formal capacity and will be working on the re-election campaign. She's
written a new memoir which is called "Ten Minutes from Normal."
Faith is one of the many things you have in common with President Bush. And
many people, including some religious leaders, have questioned whether it's
appropriate for the president to refer to God and to his religious beliefs in
speeches, and that's been questioned for these reasons: Not everyone in
America is religious at all. Not everyone who is religious is Christian. And
it has been said that believing that God is on your side can be very blinding
if you're a president because you believe that you are right and, therefore,
might not see nuances that legitimately challenge your point of view. So I'm
wondering when you advise the president about his speeches, what advice do you
give him about when to and when not to and how to refer to God and his
Ms. HUGHES: Well, Terry, this is a country that was founded on the rock of
religious freedom. This is a country that was founded by conviction, that we
were endowed by our creator with certain rights, to life, liberty and the
pursuit of happiness, and we're endowed with rights to include not to believe
at all. And that clearly is one of the choices available to people in
America. It's interesting you said that about God is on your side because the
morning after September 11th--I believe it was September 12th--I remember
Secretary Rumsfeld giving a prayer in the Cabinet meeting and he prayed the
prayer that President Lincoln had prayed, not that God would be on our side
but that we would be on God's side; in other words, that we would try to do
the right thing.
And I just have to say that I would think it's a matter of comfort for people
to know that they have a president who is praying for guidance and wisdom.
You know, our faith teaches to love your neighbor, to be humble, to turn the
other cheek, to try to love your enemies. I would think that that's a great
comfort to people to know that they have a president who is humble enough to
admit the need for a greater authority, to try to make decisions based on a
faith that teaches love and compassion and concern for your fellow man.
GROSS: Well, invading Iraq against the wishes of the United Nations wasn't
seen by many people as a humble action, though.
Ms. HUGHES: Well, Terry, again, the Bible clearly separates--render unto
Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's. You have duties on earth.
You also have responsibilities to your faith, and I have to disagree with you
that we invaded Iraq against the wishes of the United Nations. We had a
unanimous resolution of the United Nations Security Council. We had a vote of
the United States Congress, including the president's Democratic opponents.
Senator Kerry who voted for the use of force in Iraq, although later voted
against paying for it, but he did vote for it, as did the overwhelming
majority of the United States Congress. The United Nations Security Council
unanimously voted to hold Saddam Hussein to account. Remember, this was not
us just deciding. This was us trying to enforce the will of the world.
Saddam Hussein for 12 years had defied the agreements that he had made to end
the war that we had previously been engaged in.
So this was the president of the United States--and I was there on the floor
of the United Nations General Assembly when he gave the speech challenging the
world to face up to the defiance and to the repercussions of the defiance.
And I think we're already seeing some of the dividends of our decision to go
into Iraq when you see leaders like Moammar Gadhafi come forward and
voluntarily agree to dismantle his nuclear weapon program. I think you're
already beginning to see the fact that this, in fact, will result in a more
GROSS: My guess is Karen Hughes, former counselor to President Bush. She's
now working on his re-election campaign. Her new memoir is called "Ten
Minutes from Normal." We'll talk more after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: My guest is Karen Hughes, former special counselor to President Bush.
She's now working on the president's re-election campaign. Her new memoir is
called "Ten Minutes from Normal."
The publication of your memoir is coinciding with the Richard Clarke book,
it's on the heels of the Paul O'Neill book, which both are very critical of
the Bush administration. It's coinciding with the September 11th commission
investigations which are so controversial now. Is this good news or bad news
for you? I mean, on the one hand, you get a chance to offer your opinion and
to refute a lot of what's being said, but on the other hand, it's kind of
taking away from the message you intended to get out with the publication of
Ms. HUGHES: Well, it's an interesting question because it's--exactly. It's
an interesting question because it's not really what my book is about. My
book is about life and about setting priorities in life and about the struggle
we face to balance our career and our family and about how my faith in my case
helps me set my priorities in life and how we all need to maybe sometimes take
time away from what keeps us busy to think about what's really important and
how we allocate our time.
I also talk about my passion for the women and girls of Afghanistan. I worked
on that issue when I was at the White House and I've been to Afghanistan now
twice, and, you know, I was there a month or two ago, and women are going back
to work and little girls are going back to school and it's a very optimistic
And so I have to admit I don't really like it being viewed in the context of
some of these other political gossip books. I'm a little, you know,
distressed that that's the way it is, but that is the way it is. And so I do
think that my book--I think the most historical book that has been written to
date about the Bush administration was Bob Woodward's "Bush At War," and I
think that if you will read my book and read Bob's book, that you'll find the
portrayal of the president is very similar, and that's because that's the way
he was. He was in command. He was decisive. He was principled. He did--I
remember feeling like he was carrying us all through that great crisis through
his sheer will and just force of personality.
And so, you know, I think that Bob's book reflects that and I know my book
reflects that because that's what I saw every day in the person I was working
GROSS: President Bush is now supporting an amendment to the Constitution that
would outlaw gay marriage by defining marriage as a union between one man and
one woman. I've heard a lot of people talking about what's behind that. Some
assume it;s the president's deep belief; other people challenge that and say,
`No, it's pressure from the religious right,' he needs their support and he
owes them this. What is behind his support of this amendment?
Ms. HUGHES: Terry, I've worked for the president a long time, and I've never
seen him respond because of pressure. He responds based on principle and what
he thinks is right. He believes that the institution of marriage is an
institution between a man and a woman, that it is one of the most enduring
institutions, perhaps the most enduring institution, of our civilization, that
it is an important part of our family society, of our civilization, and he
believes that it needs to be defended. He--as you know, President Clinton
signed the Defense of Marriage Act that was passed by Congress in the previous
administration. The lawyers have advised that they believe that that may not
withstand a legal challenge, and that's why the president came out in support
of a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman.
Now that said, the president also is a very compassionate person who has a
great deal of respect for individuals. He believes, however, the institution
of marriage is between a man and a woman and should be constitutionally
defined as such.
GROSS: I wonder if you've spoken to Vice President Cheney about the position
that he's in. His administration wants to amend the Constitution to make sure
that Dick Cheney's own lesbian daughter can't have the same rights as
Ms. HUGHES: I have not personally talked with the vice president about that
issue, but I have seen him quoted that he is supportive of the president's
GROSS: Is homosexuality or divorce the greater threat to marriage?
Ms. HUGHES: Well, I think, Terry, clearly that we all wish that more
marriages didn't end in divorce. It's important, I think, that our society
value marriage and work to strengthen marriage. It's, as I say, one of the
enduring bedrocks of our civilization. It's important for the nurture of
children. There are a lot of forces that threaten marriage, and I think it's
important that we all work to strengthen it and to celebrate its role in our
GROSS: Karen Hughes. Her new memoir is called "Ten Minutes from Normal."
She'll be back in the second half of the show.
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Coming up, Karen Hughes responds to some of the criticisms of Richard
Clarke, President Bush's former counterterrorism chief who recently testified
to the September 11th Commission.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Karen Hughes. She
served as counselor to the president during George W. Bush's first 18 months
in the White House, then left, saying her family wanted to move back to Texas
and she wanted to spend more time with them. She's continued to consult with
the president and will be actively working on his re-election campaign. Her
new memoir is called "Ten Minutes from Normal."
You feel very strongly about President Bush. You've worked with him since he
ran for governor in Texas. You knew him when you were working with the
Republican Party in Texas. You know, you've been with him for a long and very
successful ride. I'd like to hear your reaction to something that Richard
Clarke said on FRESH AIR last week, and Clarke was talking about the memo that
he'd written showing that there was no connection between al-Qaeda and Iraq.
The memo was sent back to him, he says, with instructions to redo it and
update it. He wrote it again, sent it back, still showing no connection
between Iraq and al-Qaeda. But he says the memo was never shown to the
president, and Clark thinks that that's because it didn't give the message the
Bush administration wanted. Let me play you what he said about that.
(Soundbite of FRESH AIR from March 24)
Mr. RICHARD CLARKE (Former Counterterrorism Chief): Well, you know, my
impression is that the people around the president don't show him things that
don't accord with their views or his views. This is not a White House that is
interested in analysis, pros and cons, evaluation. They kind of have the
conclusions, and they want only information that supports the conclusions.
GROSS: What's your response to what Richard Clarke is saying, Karen Hughes,
that the Bush administration doesn't want to see things that it doesn't agree
Ms. HUGHES: Well, Terry, I just have to say, I've worked for the president
for 10 years, and I don't recall ever being almost in any meeting where I
didn't hear vigorous debate. So I just have to say that is just not true. I
know the president perhaps better than almost anyone, except for his wife and
family. I've been with him through countless debates and arguments and
discussions. The president--I sat through numerous briefings where the
president asked tough questions and probed members of his staff, where he
wanted different opinions. And I have to say that I've really been very
troubled by a lot of what Mr. Clarke has said, because I think it's very, very
And that's really unfortunate, because--let me just give you one example.
I--the first time I remember sitting in an extended meeting with him, with
Richard Clarke, was the week after September 11th, and he was there because
Condoleezza Rice had sent him to my office to brief me on Afghanistan, because
President Bush had made the decision to go after al-Qaeda in Afghanistan
because he had determined that that was who--those were the people who were
responsible for the September 11th attacks--not Iraq, Afghanistan. I was at
the White House the night of Sunday, September 16th, in the residence with the
president and Condoleezza Rice as he talked to us about his decision to go
after al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Richard Clarke was not there. I was there.
And so I just feel that, unfortunately, the result of what he has said has led
the American people to a very distorted view of what actually happened.
And the problem with that is that I think it's left America with a sense of
misplaced responsibility. The only people responsible for the attacks of
September 11th were al-Qaeda, not some intelligence workers in the US
government, not the Bush administration, not the Clinton administration. I'm
not known as a champion of the Clinton administration, but I'll speak up on
their behalf on this. I don't think--had anyone in the Clinton administration
for eight years and the Bush administration for that first eight months--had
anyone been able to put together the pieces and done something that would have
prevented this attack, they would have. And I think it's really unfortunate
that Mr. Clarke's testimony and comments have led America to this sense of
misplaced responsibility, as if someone here were to blame, instead of placing
the blame where it truly belongs, which is on al-Qaeda.
GROSS: Well, let me just play one more comment that he made, and this was
related to his charge that there's not enough--that the Bush administration
didn't pay enough attention to the terrorist threat before September 11th.
And this is Richard Clarke, recorded last week on FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of FRESH AIR from March 24)
Mr. CLARKE: I had asked early on, I think two or three days into the Bush
administration, in January to have a Cabinet-level meeting, following which we
could have a presidential meeting. And I was told `Well, no, we're not going
to do that. You're not going to get to see the president on terrorism. We're
going to have a policy development process and review terrorist policy in
general, and we'll do that in a couple of months. We'll start at the deputy
secretary level.' And that process dragged on until September 4th, when
finally we had the Cabinet-level meeting that I had requested urgently in
writing very early in the administration, three days into the administration.
GROSS: Karen Hughes, what are your comments about his critique that the Bush
administration was incredibly slow to respond to the al-Qaeda threat and the
possibility of a terrorist attack?
Ms. HUGHES: Well, Terry, I think we have to look at the facts. First of all,
when he came into office, President Bush continued the Clinton policy. He
continued to vigorously pursue all the policies that President Clinton had in
place to deal with al-Qaeda. But not just that. What the president decided
at one point in the spring of 2001, much before the September 11th attacks--my
understanding--I remember Condi Rice or Steve Hadley, one of the two of them,
telling me that the president had told them that he was tired of swatting at
flies, that he wanted to develop a more comprehensive and more aggressive
policy against al-Qaeda than the policy he was already implementing, which was
the policy put in place by his predecessor. And so they were in the process
of developing that policy.
The president did a number of other things as well. He decided, based on
concerns about the threats around the world, that he wanted to meet daily with
the top intelligence official in the country, CIA Director George Tenet. He
met with him every day. Former President Clinton did not do that. During the
summer of 2001, when the threats began to spike, most of the threats--my
understanding is most of them were related to potential attacks in foreign
countries, not in this country. Despite that, the president convened a
meeting and asked his people to consider the possibility of an attack in our
homeland and to consider ways we could guard against it, to put our agencies
on higher alert, and those higher alerts were issued.
So I just don't think the facts bear out Mr. Clarke's story. And I think
20/20 hindsight is very nice, and I noticed the other day in one of his
interviews he gave the benefit of 20/20 hindsight to the Clinton
administration. I wish that he would perhaps give the same benefit to the
Bush administration. But again, I don't think anyone, anyone in our
government, could have put the pieces together, based on what I know, and
prevented these attacks, and I think it's just unfortunate that he has created
the misimpression that perhaps someone other than al-Qaeda is responsible for
GROSS: My guest is Karen Hughes, former counselor to President Bush. She
will be actively working on his re-election campaign. Her new memoir is
called "Ten Minutes from Normal." We'll talk more after a break. This is
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Karen Hughes, former counselor to President Bush. She
will be actively working on the president's re-election campaign. Her new
memoir is called "Ten Minutes from Normal."
Both Richard Clarke and Paul O'Neill in their books say that Iraq was at the
top of the agenda of the Bush administration when it first came into the White
House, and that that's probably part of the reason why, you know, Iraq was
invaded after September 11th--you know, a while after September 11th, but
after September 11th. Looking back on the decision to invade Iraq, knowing
now that there appear to be no weapons of mass destruction, that--no
discernible connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda; we're still witnessing
terrorist attacks and an insurgency in Iraq. We're trying to hand over
sovereignty in June, but there's still chaos and attacks there. We're there
to create democracy, but the other day we padlocked a newspaper that we
thought was writing lies. Do you think that the Bush administration is having
any second thoughts about the invasion of Iraq? I mean, is it fair to say it
didn't go the way they expected?
Ms. HUGHES: Terry, no, I don't think they're having any second thoughts, and
I think that we fully expected that this would be hard. I remember a
conversation I had with Condi Rice when we were talking about challenging the
world. At the time we were still hoping we could avoid a war. She was
talking about going to the United Nations and challenging the world to face up
to the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, and she told me--she said, `Karen, this
is going to be really hard.' And I remember looking at her and saying, `But
is it right?' And she said, `Absolutely.' And I later had much the same
conversation with the president, and I think they would say the exact same
thing today. And I think they believe and strongly feel that America and the
world are safer and better off today because Saddam Hussein is no longer in
power, because that regime is no longer in place at the heart of a very
volatile region of the world in the Middle East.
You know, I want to say a few words about the weapons. First of all, I don't
think we've heard the final word yet. David Kay came back, the chief weapons
inspector, and did conclude that he believes we were wrong about the weapons.
Now `we'--let me talk about `we.' `We,' he said, is a lot wider than the Bush
administration. `We' includes former President Clinton and Vice President
Gore, who felt that Saddam had weapons. After all, the whole policy of regime
change, that our country wanted to get rid of Saddam Hussein's regime, was
developed in the Clinton administration in 1998. So wrong about the weapons,
he said. We were wrong about the weapons. Well, that also included Senator
Kerry, who said numerous times that he thought that Saddam's weapons were a
threat. In fact, he said--Senator Kerry said it would be `naive to the point
of grave danger' not to think that, at some point in the future, he would try
to use those weapons to confront the civilized world, because he had done so
in the past.
So David Kay believes that we were wrong about the weapons. But he also had
another important conclusion that I don't think the American people heard, and
it wasn't on the cover of Newsweek magazine. He said, while he thought we
were wrong about the weapons, he also thought we were absolutely right about
the war. And he said that Iraq was an even more dangerous and more unstable
place than we had realized when we went in there.
And, Terry, we were acting--we have to look at the world. It's interesting;
one of the arguments that people are making in front of the 9-11 Commission
right now is that we should have perhaps been able to pre-empt a strike by
al-Qaeda on September 11th. Well, in the aftermath--I don't think it was
possible for us to predict that before September 11th. But in the aftermath
of September 11th, it is very important that we're able to look at the world
and try to prevent the nightmare scenario, which is that terrorists, who we
know want to kill as many people as possible, might someday be able to marry
up with the weapons to help them kill people on a massive scale, with weapons
of mass destruction. And we have to do everything in our power to prevent
GROSS: The argument on the other side is that the invasion of Iraq has
strengthened the terrorists. We took troops out of Afghanistan to send to
Iraq. We've taken money that might have gone into homeland security to fund
the invasion of Iraq. And Iraq has become a magnet for terrorists now. This
is--you can agree or disagree with that.
Ms. HUGHES: Well, that's--right.
GROSS: These are arguments that are being made. I'm just presenting them in
the same way...
Ms. HUGHES: No, and I understand that, Terry. And I would say that better
than magnet be in Iraq than be here in our own country. Better we face the
terrorists and meet them in Iraq than we do in the streets of New York City or
Philadelphia or Washington, DC. I don't buy the argument that fighting
GROSS: Do you think they're mutually exclusive?
Ms. HUGHES: Well...
GROSS: Like if there's terrorists in Iraq that means they're not going to be
Ms. HUGHES: Well, I think what it means is--I don't buy the argument that
fighting terrorism creates terrorists. There are terrorists around the world,
and many of them, many thousands of them, were trained in Afghanistan during
the 1990s in al-Qaeda's training camps. And then they dispersed around the
world. They're located around the world, including--the hijackers of
September 11th were in our own country for quite some time before they
launched their attacks. And so I have no doubt that there are terrorists
around the world. But I do think it's important that we fight them in various
places around the world, including in a place that was very unstable,
that--potentially they could access weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
GROSS: You have been very--you had been very involved in speechwriting and
public messages from the Bush administration. Are there any speeches that
spoke with certainty about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and spoke with
certainty about the link between al-Qaeda and Iraq, that you wish you could
rewrite now and, like, tone down or change in some way?
Ms. HUGHES: Well, Terry, I think all a president and all leaders can do is
communicate the facts as they know them. And we believed that there were
weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. After all, Saddam Hussein had had them
before, had used them before on his own people. I don't know how to answer
that other than to say that we tried to convey the information we had at the
time. There's been a lot of talk about the president's State of the Union
speech. That speech was based on the National Intelligence Estimate, which is
the document that is developed and given to policy-makers on which to make
their policy decisions. And so the president communicated those facts with
the American people.
And there's still--we still don't, I think, have the final word on Iraq. I
will point out--on weapons there. I will point out that the CIA director,
George Tenet, has said that we still have more work to do, and that when it's
all complete, then we'll know with certainty. Now clearly, David Kay believes
that we were wrong about the weapons. And if that's the case, we need to
know. And that's why President Bush has appointed a commission to look into
it--not a political commission, to try to politicize this issue in an election
year, but a commission to take a thoughtful look and to report, because
whoever the next president is, we need to know. If all the collective
intelligence of the world was wrong, we need to know why.
GROSS: I'd like to hear your impressions of the press. Are members of the
press fair when they criticize the Bush administration for being more
secretive and more closed than most presidential administrations?
Ms. HUGHES: You know, I don't know the comparison, Terry, because I have to
admit, Washington is not my experience. I do know, in Texas, we have a very
open Public Records Act, and I was always very vigorous about enforcing it.
When reporters would ask for information that our lawyers would want to
withhold and wait the longest period of time possible, I'd say, `No, that's
public information. We're giving it now.' It needs to be accessible to the
public. So I don't think we had a pattern of that. Now the press will tell
you that we had a pattern in Texas of being very disciplined and very on
message, and what they mean by that is that I wouldn't go to the bar at night
and criticize my boss behind his back. I'm not that kind of person. I
wouldn't be working for the president if I didn't believe in him.
So I--you know, a lot of people, I think, see the political process as a game,
and that may be one of the differences between me and some of the people who,
you know, go from candidate to candidate to candidate, trying to elect someone
so that they can go to work at the White House. I never did that. And I'm
not saying that's bad; I'm just saying that's different.
I think what they mean by secretive is that there are not a lot of leaks. And
I think, actually, leaks are very destructive. And let me give you an
example of where--a place where I thought leaks were very destructive. It
happened right after I left the White House. The president had talked to me
before I left the White House, and we had talked about that if he had to go to
confront Iraq, if we could not convince Saddam Hussein to live up to his
agreements, that if we had to confront Iraq and we had to go to the world,
that he wanted the approval of the United States Congress, because he wanted
the complete moral authority of our country.
Well, that had not been public yet. We had talked about it. And I knew he
had every intention of going to Congress if he had to take that act. So in
August, I'm sitting at my kitchen table in Texas, and a memo is leaked from
the White House Office of General Counsel. This memo legally concluded that
the president didn't have to go to Congress to get support. It was leaked.
It got us off on the wrong foot in Europe, because basically, Europe had the
idea, `Oh, that Texan is going to go unilaterally off and declare war.' Well,
nothing could be further from the truth. And I knew that, because I knew the
president had already decided he was going to go to Congress.
So that's an example of where a leak was, in my view, very destructive to the
national interests of our country.
GROSS: My final question is going to have absolutely nothing to do with
national security. It is, however, something that was told to us by the
Washington Post White House correspondent, Dana Milbank, and that is this:
that, Karen Hughes, you have a hard time finding shoes that fit because...
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. HUGHES: I do.
GROSS: ...you have large feet.
Ms. HUGHES: I do. And this is a wonderful story, and I didn't tell it in the
book because it never fit anywhere, and I wanted to tell it in the book and I
wrote it, actually, but it never fit. I wear a size 12 shoe. I used to wear
a size 11 shoe. I crammed my feet into a 10 1/2 for my wedding, in sandals,
with my toes sticking out over the edges. But then after I had my son, my
feet grew, and I wear a size 12 shoe. And so I had a very hard time finding
shoes until I finally found this wonderful little shoe store called Shoe
Styles in Austin, Texas, and the man who ran the shop--I was raving because he
had all these beautiful sandals--purple and pink--and I remember him saying to
me, he said--I said, `You have such wonderful shoes,' and he said, `Oh, yes,'
he said, `the transvestites love them. They're some of my very best
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. HUGHES: So...
GROSS: Well, on that note, Karen Hughes, thank you so much for talking with
Ms. HUGHES: Thank you so much, Terry, for having me. I really appreciate it.
GROSS: Karen Hughes is former counselor to President Bush and will be
actively involved in his re-election campaign. Her new memoir is called "Ten
Minutes from Normal."
This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Profile: New CD showcases blues and soul roots of country music
TERRY GROSS, host:
Nashville is naturally thought of as the home of country music, but a new
exhibit that opened last week at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum
shows off its significant blues, rhythm and blues and soul presence. The Hall
of Fame has released a double CD called "Night Train To Nashville" to go
along with the exhibition. Rock historian Ed Ward has a preview.
(Soundbite of music)
ED WARD reporting:
Everyone knows Nashville is `Music City USA,' but nearly everybody thinks that
refers to only one kind of music. But it's a city with a lot of recording
studios and a lot of studio musicians, neither of which like to be idle for
long. And it's also got a large African-American population. So after World
War II, a Nashville man named Jim Bullock(ph) joined the crowd of
entrepreneurs setting up little record labels. He recorded anyone he could
get his hands on, including B.B. King, Rufus Thomas and Cecil Gant, a
Nashville blues man who'd had a huge hit while he was still a private in the
Army during the war.
(Soundbite of song)
Mr. CECIL GANT: (Singing) Used to be young and handsome. Ain't it a doggone
shame a woman took all my money and left me standin' in the rain? Nashville
really jumps, jumpin' all night long. I'd rather be in Nashville than to be
WARD: There was talent everywhere in Nashville, even in the prisons.
(Soundbite of "Just Walkin' in the Rain")
THE PRISONAIRES: (Singing) Just walkin' in the rain, gettin' soakin' wet,
torturin' my heart by tryin' to forget. Just walkin' in the rain...
WARD: The Prisonaires were housed in Tennessee State Penitentiary, where lead
singer Johnny Bragg was doing time. They drove with a trustee guard to
Memphis to record "Walkin' in the Rain" for a new label called Sun, giving it
its first regional hit. Bragg was eventually released from prison and went on
to help another new label, Nashville-based Excello, have its first top-10 R&B
hit with his group The Marigolds.
(Soundbite of song)
THE MARIGOLDS: (Singing) Rollin' stone...
Unidentified Man #1: (Singing) I'm a big-a rollin' stone.
THE MARIGOLDS: (Singing) Rollin' stone, just a rollin' stone. Rollin' stone,
just a rollin' stone. Rollin' stone, just a rollin' stone, and one day you'll
be all alone. Rollin' stone, just a rollin' stone. Rollin' stone, just a
rollin' stone. Rollin' stone, just a rollin' stone, and one day you'll be all
alone. You left her...
WARD: Another Nashvillian who appeared in the mid-'50s went on to become
familiar to American music fans, whether they knew it or not. He was still an
unknown college student, though, when he recorded this.
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Man #2: I was standin' on the corner of Sixth and Main when the
police came up and took me by the hand. Well, he led me down to the Davidson
County Jail, and I'm a-lookin' for Christine to come and go my bail.
Christine, Christine, oh, Christine. Baby...
WARD: Someone with very good ears might have figured out that the alto sax
intro there was by Hank Crawford, who became bandleader for Ray Charles, who I
have to say sings better than Hank. One way a lot of black Nashville music
got exposed was via a radio station heard all over the Midwest, WLAC, where
deejays like Bill "Hoss" Allen and John "John R." Richbourg played a lot of
the local hits and occasionally turned them into national hits.
(Soundbite of song)
Mr. ARTHUR ALEXANDER: Anna, you come and ask me, yeah, to set you free,
girl. You say he loves you more than me. Well, I will set you free. Go with
him. Go with him. But, Anna...
WARD: Arthur Alexander moved to Nashville to be near his label, and his
country-tinged singing proved popular not only in the US but in Britain, where
he was an idol to The Beatles and many others. Even as the soul era turned
the spotlight over to Memphis, Nashville kept on going. Bobby Hebb recorded
his smash "Sunny" there. Joe Tex recorded practically everything he ever cut
there, and Joe Simon's "The Chokin' Kind" actually features a pedal steel
guitar way down in the mix. Sometimes the backing band was all country
(Soundbite of "Soulshake")
Ms. PEGGY SCOTT and Mr. JOJO BENSON: (Singing in unison) Doo, do-do-doo,
do-do-doo, do-do-doo, do-do-doo. Dancin' with you, baby, really turns the
soulshake on. Yeah, groovin' with your baby really turns that soulshake on.
Ms. SCOTT: (Singing) I'm a woman possessed by the way you move.
Mr. BENSON: (Singing) Ain't nothin' about you, baby, that I don't approve.
Ms. SCOTT and Mr. BENSON: (Singing in unison) Come on, come on, baby, let's
pour the soulshake on.
WARD: That's Jerry Kennedy's electric sitar and Peggy Scott and JoJo Benson's
"Soulshake," and the other players read like the session list of any A-team
country recording from 1969. At this point, though, regional popular music
scenes all over America started to wane, and black Nashville was no exception.
Still, there's 35 years worth of great stuff available on record, and
shouldn't Music City mean everybody's music?
GROSS: Ed Ward lives in Berlin. He reviewed "Night Train To Nashville,"
produced by the Country Music Hall of Fame.
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.