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Sen. Trent Lott Reflects on a Life in Politics

Sen. Trent Lott, the Republican from Mississippi, has a new memoir called Herding Cats: A Life in Politics. Lott was the Senate majority leader from June 1996 to January 2001. He resigned from his position in 2002 after making racially divisive remarks.


Other segments from the episode on August 24, 2005

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, August 24, 2005: Interview with Trent Lott; Review of DVD set "The Dick Cavett Show."


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Trent Lott discusses his career in politics and his new
memoir, "Herding Cats"

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest is Trent Lott, Republican senator from Mississippi, the former House
and Senate Whip and former Senate majority leader. Lott was forced out of his
position as Senate majority leader at the end of 2002 after making a
controversial toast in praise of Senator Strom Thurmond at a celebration of
Thurmond's hundredth birthday. Senator Bill Frist took over as majority
leader. Trent Lott has written a new memoir about his more than three decades
in Congress called "Herding Cats."

Trent Lott, welcome to FRESH AIR. In your book, you write about President
Bush and the war in Iraq, and you say, `In the summer of 2002, even as the
first moves on a new Homeland Security Department were under way, the
president began lobbying for an open-ended resolution empowering him to wage
war on Iraq. Bush made clear his intentions to wage war on Iraq in several of
our private meetings. But as late summer rolled around, I didn't feel the
administration was moving toward this goal with the decisiveness that would be
needed to sell Congress.' When the president first started talking with you
about Iraq, how did he raise it? What did he say?

Senator TRENT LOTT (Republican, Mississippi): It probably came up originally
in the early morning breakfast that the leadership from the House and the
Senate, Republican and Democrat, had with the president almost weekly
beginning in the fall of 2001. And when we would have those breakfasts, right
at 7:00 we'd walk in and sit down, and he would take about 15 minutes to sort
of go around the world and tell us what was happening, what the terrorist
information was and what was going on in different countries. I suspect that
it first started coming up probably in 2002, his growing concern about Saddam
Hussein and Iraq, a possibility of weapons of mass destruction. And also in
my, you know, 101 conversations, it was evident to me that he had a real
concern about Iraq. And clearly by the summer, the movement was going in the
direction of a direct action against that country.

So it came up, you know, throughout 2002, but by the end of August, I could
see that they were going to be seeking this resolution, and I made a call to
the vice president in which I said, `Mr. Vice President, I think you have to
do a better job of making the case here. The American people don't quite
understand what's at stake here.'

GROSS: Yes. You say that in the book, and then you say that Cheney said to
you, `We're about to fix that.'

Sen. LOTT: Yes.

GROSS: And you write, `Cheney played the nuclear card. Cheney said, "We know
that Saddam has resumed his efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. Many of us
are convinced that he will acquire nuclear weapons fairly soon."' Now that
turned out to not be true, and I'm wondering if, when you write this in the
book, are you saying that Cheney said this just to get support for the war or
that, you know, Cheney really believed it when he said it? I'm not sure
whether you're saying that Cheney played you and the rest of the nation just
to get support for the war.

Sen. LOTT: No, I'm not saying that at all. I was getting a lot of the same
intelligence briefings that the president, the vice president were getting in
my leadership role and then, of course, subsequently as a member of the
Intelligence Committee. We had all kinds of reasons to believe and to think
that they did have weapons of mass destruction, not just nuclear. And of
course, there was the famous yellowcake issue that--the information that
Saddam had tried to get this, you know, material which could be used for the
manufacture of nuclear weapons from Africa. I think obviously they used that
issue to try to make their case, but I think it was based on information that
we were getting from our intelligence community and from the intelligence
community in Britain and France and Germany. And so I don't mean to infer...

GROSS: But let me ask you, do you feel, looking back, that the Bush
administration listened to intelligence information they were getting on a
very selective basis? For example, the whole yellowcake thing--Joe Wilson
came back from his trip to Niger and said, `No evidence that Saddam Hussein
tried to buy yellowcake here.' And there were people within the CIA who were
critical of what the president was doing. He was getting information that was
more skeptical about weapons of mass destruction, but he didn't necessarily
give that the same weight that he was giving--I mean, obviously he did not
give it the same weight he was giving other information that he was getting.
So do you feel that he listened selectively to his...

Sen. LOTT: Perhaps he did. And don't we all? I mean, we listen or we hear
what, many times, we want to hear. Maybe we--they and us--were all putting
too much weight on some of the information we were being given. But the
accumulation clearly was something--I think if you're going to place the blame
somewhere, I'd put it on the intelligence community.

In direct answer to your question, perhaps they--the administration--and we,
me included, were listening selectively, but we were being given a lot of
material that was very scary, and we had evidence of things that happened in
the past that led you to believe, well, this is credible.

GROSS: First the Bush administration talked about weapons of mass
destruction, and there haven't been any found yet. Then the administration
said we needed to fight terrorists over there so that we didn't have to fight
them over here. Many experts have since said that our invasion of Iraq has
made Iraq a magnet for terrorists from Iraq and from other countries as well
and that it's training as many people--or close to as many people as al-Qaeda
had trained in camps in Afghanistan. And in terms of not having to fight them
over here, you know, London, our ally in the invasion, you know, was attacked
last month. Do you think that that was now a credible reason to invade Iraq,
to fight terrorists over there so that we wouldn't have to fight them over

Sen. LOTT: The terrorists--homegrown, apparently--in Great Britain did attack
in London and, of course, there was the attack in Spain. But there have been
attacks in countries that have not been involved in our coalition: Russia,
for instance, and Egypt as another example and, you know, in Jordan. And many
of these countries have been wrestling with these terrorist attacks for years.
So I do think, you know, you have to acknowledge that.

Secondly, I don't think we give enough attention to the fact that we have not
been attacked again since 9/11. How did that happen? Are we doing that good
a job against terrorists here at home? Are the CIA and the FBI communicating
better? Are they, as a matter of fact, intercepting and stopping potential
threats? But I mean, that's not an insignificant fact. You know, maybe the
answer is what you said. Iraq has become a magnet for terrorists. They're in
Iraq, and maybe they're not in Casablanca or Morocco or Jordan or, you know,
even France, for instance. Where would they be? Would they be here?

I think to say that, `Look, we went into Iraq because of the terrorist
attack,' is not a good argument. Maybe it was a factor; it was not the
factor. We were concerned--or there was concern about Iraq because of the
destabilizing force they were in the region. You know all the arguments. But
let me stop there because I know you--I hear another question about to come.

GROSS: Oh, well, the point about saying, you know, the magnet for terrorist
thing in Iraq is--it was attracting people who hadn't yet become terrorists
and turning them into terrorists, you know, and when they leave Iraq, where
are they going to go?

Sen. LOTT: Well, hopefully the terrorists will not leave Iraq, that the
insurgents, as they're called, will be dealt with.

GROSS: But then the people in Iraq will be stuck with all these terrorists
who hadn't even been there before.

Sen. LOTT: Well, perhaps they will be dealt with or justice will be meted out
in terms of dealing with them. Perhaps even they'll be caught and arrested.
But we hope that a lot of the terrorists in Iraq will choose some other role
in life or that we'll be able to deal with them there. And by the way, our
men and women in uniform are dealing with them every day, thousands of them,
and their leadership have been, you know, either killed or taken into custody.

GROSS: Do you feel that your party has become more divided now about the
wisdom of the war in Iraq and what we should do now, particularly as the
unpopularity of the war seems to increase?

Sen. LOTT: There's no question that there are some dissident forces within
the Republican Party, just as there are in the Democratic Party. There is
more division now because it has gone on awhile. It hasn't, you know--anytime
you continue to have a loss of life or a period of, you know, years, people
have a right to say, `OK, you know, what's the plan here? How long is this
going to go on? How are we going to deal with the pressures that have been
put on our troops and the National Guard and the Reserve?' I don't view that
as a negative. I view that as American people being American people. They're
asking questions of their elected officials. I think that people have a right
for us to explain what we're doing and what, you know, we--what are the
markets we're looking for. I think the president will be trying to do that,
but I don't think it's just up to the president. I think those of us that are
in elective office better be thinking about this, too, and we better be asking
tough questions of the Department of Defense and the CIA and the

GROSS: You write in your new book a little bit about how President Bush
pressured you before the war in Iraq to derail Senator Biden's proposal that
would have required--that would have restricted the use of force to just
attacking installations of weapons of mass destruction, and it would have
required spending more time at the UN trying to get UN support. And
obviously, the president really wanted you to push through congressional
support for an American-led invasion. Do you have any regrets over your role
in helping to lead the country toward that invasion?

Sen. LOTT: No, I don't. And that would have been an easy question to, you
know, say, `Well, maybe yes,' or to go back and second-guess it. But you have
to, you know, look back at what you were being told at that time, look at what
was going on in the world and in Iraq. I didn't feel pressured to get the
Biden, Lugar, perhaps Hagel--three were two or three senators who were
involved--resolution set aside. I looked at it. I didn't think it was the
resolution. And--but, you know, I was very careful to talk to Senator Lugar
that I have a great deal of respect for and ask for his input and ask him to
defer and actually to be involved with us in writing the resolution, and he
was. And he didn't just walk in and say, `OK, I'm going to sign on to your
resolution.' He had input.

And, look, also you have to look back at Saddam Hussein, what he had done to
his own people, what he had done to his neighbors, what a negative force he
was in the region and the information we had about weapons of mass
destruction. Did we find nuclear weapons? No. Did we find huge caches of
chemical or biological weapons? No. But we have found some chemical weapons,
and in fact just recently they found them. We have found thousands and
thousands and hundreds of destructive weaponry that had been in these various
caches around the country. Did I expect more? Yes. I really fully expected
that when our troops got to the border of Baghdad, that they would have to
deal with chemical weapons, and that didn't happen.

So, no, I'm not proud of that fact that we based our decision on some things
that didn't turn out to be as we thought they were. But when I look back on
that situation, you know, I do think we did the right thing. I hope that we
will be careful to do the right thing from now on. We need to--at some point
we're going to have to say to the Iraqis, `We've helped you. Saddam Hussein
is out of office. You've had a chance to form your own government and move to
democracy. We've helped you get your infrastructure redone.' You know, we've
got to, at some point, though, say, `Look, it's your democracy. It's your
freedom. It's your opportunity for a better life. Take it, but you've got
to do it.'

Now you might say, wait a minute, that sounds like you're saying that's an
exit strategy or a date certain. Not necessarily. I think that you'd base
that on conditions. But at some point, we are going to have to, you know,
pull out and let them do it for themselves.

GROSS: My guest is Senator Trent Lott. His new memoir is called "Herding
Cats." More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Senator Trent Lott. He was forced out of his position as
Senate majority leader in late 2002 after making a controversial toast in
praise of Strom Thurmond on the occasion of Thurmond's hundredth birthday.
Referring to Thurmond's run for president in 1948, when he was a
segregationist, states-rights Dixiecrat, Lott said, `We voted for him, we're
proud of it, and if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't
have had all these problems over all these years.' Bill Frist took over as
Senate majority leader.

Now you've called Senator Frist one of the main manipulators in getting you to
step down after your toast to Strom Thurmond, and you called his actions a
personal betrayal. You've also said you felt that the president didn't help
you when he could have. So have you paid a price for criticizing them?

Sen. LOTT: Not yet. Maybe I will some day. But, you know, I don't know
what the ramifications will be. I think I actually was pretty generous in the
book in what I had to say about President Bush. I considered him more of a
friend than the other six presidents I served with in Washington. I guess
part of that's age, part of it is philosophical compatibility. But I'm very
fond of the president and of Laura Bush. Was I somewhat hurt by the way
events developed and what some people did do or didn't do? Sure. With regard
to Senator Frist, I talk a lot in the book about the fact that once, you know,
he was leader, we talked it through. He's given me an opportunity to be in
leadership positions since then and most of the time I'm there working to try
to help him move the legislative process. Some people would say, `Well, why
would you do that if you felt like he ha--it was--you know, he was--sort of
betrayed you?' It's because he is the leader and, regardless of how he got
there, or how I got where I am, that's the fact.

The reason why I felt a personal betrayal is because I did take, you know, a
particular interest in him when he came to the Senate. I thought we were good
friends. I was sort of an advocate for him in a number of ways: pointed him
to the National Medicare Commission, encouraged him to run for chairman of the
Republican Senate Campaign Committee. So I guess I was somewhat again--maybe
the better word is just hurt. But I've come to terms with all of that, and
I've moved on and I hope that they will allow me to sort of give my view of
what happened and then accept that. And I must say Senator Frist's comments
have been very magnanimous, even since the book has been talked about.

GROSS: Would you want to be majority leader again if Senator Frist decides to
leave and run for president?

Sen. LOTT: I enjoyed being majority leader. It's a great position. You can
do a lot to move the legislative process and work with the administration, do
important things for your country and things that would affect your
constituents back in your home state, in my case, Mississippi, of course, do
things for your children or grandchildren. However, I've learned over the
last two years, since 2002, you actually can shape legislation and help move
legislation and be a leader without the title.

I must say I think the position of majority leader in the United States Senate
is the toughest political job in Washington. The majority leader leads by the
prestige of the position. He has very few controls. He has very few rewards
and almost no sticks that he can apply in making the process work. And the
rules are such that any senator at any times can hold things up or offer an
amendment on any subject. So it's a tough job, and from that standpoint the
stress of the responsibility is something that as I look back on I don't miss

But all my life, Terry, I believed that whatever you do, whatever organization
you're in, do your best, work hard, get involved, try to be a leader in that
organization. So, you know, I would be honored to be leader again, but it's
not something I have to do in order to be able fulfill my responsibilities as
a senator.

GROSS: So should we count that as a yes, you would like to be a majority

Sen. LOTT: One of the things I've gotten in trouble about over the years is
being too candid.

GROSS: Is answering...

Sen. LOTT: If I think it...

GROSS: ...the questions the source of the problem?

Sen. LOTT: Well, here's--the answer is yes. I'd be honored to be majority
leader again. So the--pointblank, yes, that'd be fine. I'd love to do it.
I may not even seek it because there are other good men and women that could
do the job, and if we--if I feel like we've got somebody that can do the job
well, I'd probably defer to them. I had my shot. I enjoyed it and, you know,
maybe it's time for somebody else to do that.

GROSS: I want to talk with you about some of the back channels you
established in Congress. But I just have one other issue of current
controversy I want to talk with you about...

Sen. LOTT: All right.

GROSS: ...before we get there. And that's the nomination of Supreme Court
justices. And I want to quote something that you say in the book that I was
surprised to hear you say. You write: `Democrats are right when they
complain about the way President Clinton's judicial nominees were handled by
Republicans. We held them up in the Judiciary Committee which was the
functional equivalent of a filibuster. It was crazy, but the cycle of
retribution needs to end.' I confess I'm surprised to hear you say that you
think what the Republicans did to Clinton's judicial nominees were the
equivalent of filibusters.

Sen. LOTT: I think you have to be honest about that sort of thing. You
can't stand up and sanctimoniously say, `You're doing something wrong,' if, in
fact, you also did something wrong but in a different way. I was not always
comfortable with what was being done in the Judiciary Committee and I did feel
like some of Clinton's nominees should have been moved faster. I've admitted
that on the floor of the United States Senate. I also, when my colleagues one
time wanted to filibuster a nominee through the judiciary from California,
went to the floor of the Senate and gave a, you know, very aggressive speech
saying, `We're not going to filibuster these nominees.'

I--but I do think that this war on judicial nominations has been escalating
up, up, up, up. It started with Bork and then there's been a tit for tat
going on, until finally, you know, it's just gotten to where it was souring
the whole institution. It had to end. I think maybe it is beginning to end.
We've got to both work on that. See, I really think--I tried to negotiate a
deal where we would make a commitment to the Democrats that, you know--a
process where after a required period of time nominees would automatically be
reported out of Judiciary. We didn't quite get that agreed to because we
couldn't get the leadership to sit down and work up a package. But it was one
of the things, a part of the process, that led to the compromise agreement or
the deal that was worked out by the so-called Gang of 14. I think that the
dynamics in the Senate did change with that, and it is going to be less likely
that the judicial nominations will be filibustered or held up in committee in
the future. I hope we've argued and fought over that enough. It was
beginning to affect everything else we needed to do.

GROSS: Senator Trent Lott will be back in the second half of the show. His
new memoir is called "Herding Cats."

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross back with Trent Lott, Republican
senator for Mississippi, the former House and Senate whip and former Senate
majority leader. He's written a new memoir about his more than three decades
in Congress called "Herding Cats."

Let's look at something you were involved with a few years ago that you write
about in your book. And this is when you established a kind of--shall we call
it a semisecret channel with President Clinton when you were majority leader
in the Senate? Semisecret, does that sound about right?

Sen. LOTT: Yeah, semisecret, not always secret, and nothing particularly
sinister about it. But the fact of the matter was, you know, they were from
people in his administration and in the White House and the Democratic
leadership that probably would have been a little uncomfortable knowing how
much President Clinton and I talked and worked together.

GROSS: Now this is interes...

Sen. LOTT: And the same is...

GROSS: Yeah.

Sen. LOTT: ...true for me, that, you know, some of my Republican colleagues,
as they learned more about it, were not totally comfortable with that. And
they were, you know--they really thought that, `Well, look, you should be much
more of an adversary.' But here's my viewpoint, and this is my viewpoint of
my life in politics. I didn't go to Washington to make a statement. I went
to Washington to try to make a difference. Bill Clinton was president of the
United States. I was majority leader of the Senate. He couldn't get any
bills for him to sign unless I helped make it possible. And I couldn't get
anything passed into law without his signature. We had to work together. I
don't think that was unseemly, but we did try to set up a process where we
could communicate directly and indirectly. And it was to produce results,
which we did.

GROSS: Now it's interesting you established this with the help of Dick
Morris. Dick Morris had been a political adviser to you and to President
Clinton. I hadn't realized he had worked with you before working with
President Clinton. So how did--what did he do to help bring you both

Sen. LOTT: He had worked for candidate Clinton for governor of Arkansas, and
then he was not with him when he got defeated for re-election as governor.
And then he worked with him again when he was elected, and then he sort of
gravitated after that to working for Republicans and worked in a Democratic
candidate's campaign for governor in my state and eventually wound up in my
office and worked in my campaign when I ran for the Senate in 1988. I found
him to be a brilliant political thinker. Sometimes the things he suggests go
too far in my opinion. You got to know how to say, `No, I'm not going to do
that, Dick.' But he also had some marvelous ideas of how to convey your
message and deal with elections.

So he had worked with both of us. And then after working with me, to my
somewhat discomfort, which I acknowledge in the book, he was lured back to
work for President Clinton when he was in trouble coming up on his own
re-election effort. After that was over, Dick was the first one that finally
hit upon the idea, `Well, hey, wait a minute. You know, I can talk to you. I
can talk to Clinton sometime maybe when you all can't even talk to each other,
and, you know, we can get some things done.' And we did. You know, we got
portable drinking water--I mean, clean drinking water. We got portable life
insurance, welfare reform, immigration reform, balanced budget, tax relief.
What we did working together in the summer and the fall of 1996 was one of the
better runs of legislative production that I've seen in the years that I've
been in Washington.

GROSS: So what was the communications link that you established?

Sen. LOTT: Well, we did talk directly more than I had thought that we would.
You know, the phone was always open. He was good about taking calls, and he
would call me. And then, of course, when we'd start dealing with issues that
sometime was a little bit uncomfortable to me or to him, like in the case of
welfare reform and also in immigration reform, Dick was always in there,
trying to sort of say, `Well, no, wait. You know, In order to get the bigger
picture done, you may have to concede a little bit here.' He was talking to
both of us around the margins of what we needed to do to produce a result.

GROSS: You describe President Clinton as the oddest president you've known?

Sen. LOTT: Well, I don't mean that in necessarily a derogatory way. He would
call at strange hours. I thought that was, you know, a little different, late
at night or even early in the morning. He did want to get things done, but he
always nibbled around the edges of them. I mean, he really did get into the
details of legislation. Most presidents have, you know, a vision or a grand
design, `OK, I want some action in this area. Now you go hammer out the
legislative details.' And President Clinton really got into the details of
some of that legislation. And then to have been as brilliant as he was in
many respects, to have the personal problems he had, you know, was, you know,
a shame, in a way, and, you know, really--I guess I don't know if the--what
the right word is and what's surprising, but just an unusual person with a
tremendous appetite for knowledge and action. I had respect for him in
certain areas, and of course I was very, you know, disappointed, like a lot of
other people, in what happened with the Monica Lewinsky matter.

GROSS: When the impeachment proceedings against President Clinton started,
what kind of position did you feel in, 'cause after all, you had developed
what sounds like a pretty good communications link with the president? And
you feel like you got a lot done, that you managed to come together in spite
of your differences and pass legislation. So were you enthusiastic about
going forward with a process that would have impeached him? Did you feel in
an awkward spot?

Sen. LOTT: I don't know that I felt in an awkward spot. I took it very
seriously. When you start talking about impeaching and trying a president of
the United States, that certainly is a very, very serious matter and I took it
that way. But I didn't dwell on, you know, where we were or `woe is me' and,
you know, all of the personal ramifications. I had a job to do. I had a
constitutional role to fulfill. Once the House took the action they did, I
thought the Senate had to go forward with is, but I wanted us to do it in a
way that was dignified, that took it seriously, did what we had to do but got
it done in a reasonable period of time and try to do it in such a way that at
the back end, we could go back to legislating.

But that's what I was--you're talking about when I was saying it was kind of
an, you know, odd arrangement, after the impeachment thing got under way,
obviously I didn't talk directly to him. Communication kind of dropped off.
He never criticized me or raised a lot of questions about it either before it
got going, during the process or even after. Within a few days after the
Senate voted on impeaching him, or remove him from office, we started back to
work on our legislative process, and it was almost like it had never happened.

GROSS: Yet you say in your book that you didn't want the Senate to proceed in
the same way that the House did with impeachment. What did you find
disturbing about how the House had proceeded?

Sen. LOTT: I watched the debate and watched it evolve, you know, in the
House. Obviously I'm very fond of the House and was very fond of the chairman
of the Judiciary Committee, Henry Hyde, and many of the managers. But the
degree of acrimony was very high, and I think that there was kind of a sense
that the House was determined to do it and sort of pushed it right through.
Maybe they had to do that, you know. I was not a member of the House, but I
did want us to do our job without it becoming, you know, unseemly. There were
those that wanted us to put Monica Lewinsky in the well of the United States
Senate and question her, and I just could not envision that. I just thought
that that would have been a mark, frankly, on the Senate. I wanted us to be
careful how we handled it. We did have her questioned. She was subpoenaed,
and we had senators that were lawyers question her. Maybe that didn't work
out as maybe it should have, but I just wanted people to feel like when it was
over, the Senate did its job, did it well on both sides and came to a
conclusion and then moved on.

GROSS: Do you feel, in retrospect, that Congress became too tied up with the
impeachment at a time when we now know the Clinton administration was trying
to go after bin Laden and when terrorism was really emerging as a serious
threat? Do you feel that we--that the country took its eye off the ball and
got so completely caught up with the impeachment?

Sen. LOTT: I have several reactions to that. First of all, I don't think we
had any choice but to go forward with the investigation. I was--you know,
there's no question in my mind he had acted improperly, both personally but
also in his testimony before the grand jury. So I don't want to belittle or
diminish what, you know, had happened and the need for the Senate to address
it. Some people say, `Oh, it was just about sex.' It was also about, you
know, how he testified before the grand jury.

And also, at that same time, I was concerned about what was being done in
terms of taking actions against bombing Iraq, and then I was concerned about,
in some instances, actions that were not occurring with regard to bin Laden,
for instance. So I couldn't tell the uncertainty and the refusal to act
sometime, and in fact, I publicly supported an action, if you recall, one
summer when we bombed a facility, I think it was in the Sudan, and some tents
in Afghanistan. I was briefed repeatedly by the CIA and Sandy Berger: `Oh,
yes, these plants are producing precursors to chemical weapons.' I went along
with it, said yes, I thought there was enough evidence to justify it, but when
I look back on it, gosh, did I do the right thing?

So that's, again, a case where I thought that their conduct was hard to keep
up with, hard to understand. Why weren't they doing more here, less there?
And I was troubled by all of that. But I was trying to be helpful where I
could, because when it comes to foreign policy and, you know, international
relations, I do think that the leaders of Congress should try to work with the
presidents of either party. And I tried to work with President Clinton and
tried to have our government speak with one voice when it involved the
military or intelligence actions.

GROSS: My guest is Senator Trent Lott. His new memoir is called "Herding
Cats." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Senator Trent Lott. He has a
new book called "Herding Cats: A Life in Politics."

When you first came to Congress, it was about the time that there would be a
possible impeachment of President Nixon, and you served on the Judiciary
Committee investigating that. Did that experience leave you more cynical
about politics and presidents than you expected you would be?

Sen. LOTT: I don't think I'd use the word `cynical.' I'm still not cynical
about a life involved in politics as an aide, as a congressman, a senator, in
leadership positions. I get disappointed in people and individuals and
institutions, but I don't think cynical describes how I feel.

Now remember, when this was going on, during 1973-'74, I was a first-term
congressman. I was 32, 33 years old, you know, young lawyer from Pascagoula,
Mississippi. I was stunned that I woke up and found myself sitting on the
Judiciary Committee with 36 or so lawyers, considering the impeachment of
Richard Nixon, a president that I had been supportive of. And he was, I
guess, one of the reasons why I chose to run, as I did in 1972, as a

I was really shocked by all of that and was one of the so-called hard-heads,
because I defended the president at every opportunity. You know, they wanted
to impeach him for bombing Cambodia. I thought that was very questionable.
They wanted to impeach him because he had taken a tax deduction for giving his
papers. I had actually worked on that for my predecessor and knew that the
law allowed that. But I must say that then when the smoking gun was shown to
me, I did announce that I would have voted for one article of impeachment:
obstruction of justice. That was an extremely difficult thing for me, and I
found when it was all over that I was actually physically and emotionally
drained, and it took me till Christmas of that year to get over it.

I was really worried that the presidency was in danger, and I didn't know how
it would play out. But it was--what came out of that actually was one of the
reasons why I'm not cynical. Gerry Ford became president, and I will never
forget, he got up, he made that speech to the joint session saying, `I'm not a
Lincoln, I'm just a Ford, and I'm going to do the best I can.' And I think he
did a lot to kind of get us back on track and heal the country, even though
you could say when he gave the pardon, he guaranteed his own defeat. You
could argue the merits of that back and forth.

But what it showed me is our system is stronger than any one man or woman, and
while people make mistakes, and you can disagree about what should be done
with them, that, too, passed, and we moved on, and in some ways maybe we were
stronger. So I began my career sitting on the Judiciary Committee in hearings
on a possible impeachment of Richard Nixon, and then after 30 years, lo and
behold, I'm presiding over the Senate during the impeachment trial of Bill
Clinton. I've seen a lot in those two processes and everything that went on
between the two.

GROSS: Were you surprised to learn that Deep Throat was Mark Felt?

Sen. LOTT: I didn't have any idea who it might be. I guess now that I know
who it was, I'm not particularly surprised. I had theories over the years. I
always thought it really was no one person. I thought it was probably sort of
a collage or combination of information they got from all kinds of people and
they just developed the--you know, the combination that became Deep Throat.
But, you know, coming out of the FBI, you know, it makes sense that that's
where the person maybe was that was giving them some of the information they
were getting.

GROSS: We only have a few seconds left, so here's my final, very tough
question for you. Nearly every article about you, about your personality as
opposed to just, like, your politics, talks about how neat you are, how neat
your office is, how neat, you know, your suits and your hair and all, you
know. So do you think that your neatness has affected your political style?

Sen. LOTT: Perhaps so. You know, I've always been a little bit of a
neatnik. I was an only child. I was always told, `Before you go to school,
you're going to make up your bed, clean up your room,' you know, get the coal
for the fire when we were heating our house by coal, and carrying out the slop
jar, and you know, I had my roles and responsibilities. I was always taught
to be organized and, you know, that you could do more. And so that's the way
I--you know, I keep a clean desk. Of course, my staff says, `Yeah, he keeps a
clean desk. It's all on my desk.'

But I just always felt that, you know, you can tell a lot about a person by
their own, you know, decorum and how they handle themselves. And I don't
know, some people think it's odd that you--you know, you put your socks in a
drawer by color. To me it just always made sense. I like organization. I
like for things to be thought about, you know, lined up and a process and a
conclusion. And that's the way I tried to run the Senate, which was a new
thing, by the way. The Senate was not given to wanting to move along, and
some people said, `Oh, well, that, you know, Trent Lott's more obsessed with
the process of moving the trains than he is of what's on the train.' And
I--you know, maybe there's some merit to that.

GROSS: Senator Lott, thank you very much for talking with us.

Sen. LOTT: All right. Thank you very much, Terry.

GROSS: Senator Trent Lott's new memoir is called "Herding Cats: A Life in

Coming up, TV critic David Bianculli reviews a new DVD collection of Dick
Cavett's interviews with rock stars. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: DVD set released compiling episodes of "The Dick Cavett
Show" of the 1970s

The first of several planned DVD box sets compiling various episodes of "The
Dick Cavett Show" has been released. The first volume is built around rock
stars of the era, the era being 1969 to '75, and it includes full-length
performances by Janis Joplin, the Jefferson Airplane, Stevie Wonder, Paul
Simon, Joni Mitchell and others. But TV critic David Bianculli says the real
treasure in these vintage talk shows isn't just in the music, it's in the

(Soundbite of "We Can Be Together")

JEFFERSON AIRPLANE: (Singing) We should be together, ah, you and me. We can
be together.


That's Grace Slick and Jefferson Airplane singing the hippie anthem "We Can Be
Together" on the August 19th, 1969, edition of "The Dick Cavett Show." It's
the first salvo on a three-disc DVD just released by Shout Factory. And other
full-length songs performed on these shows include "Get It While You Can" by
Janis Joplin, "American Tune" by Paul Simon, "Chelsea Morning" by Joni
Mitchell and "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)" by Sly & the Family

The music is wonderful, but it's the history that's even more potent here. In
1969, Dick Cavett was one of the first serious challengers to Johnny Carson's
late-night throne on "The Tonight Show." Like everyone else, Cavett didn't
make a dent and didn't last long. He eventually took his act to morning TV
and prime time and PBS, anywhere that would nurture, however briefly, his
taste for lengthy, unplanned conversations with a true variety of celebrities
and newsmakers.

In the '60s, Cavett was younger than the other talk show hosts, and it was a
time, pre-cable, pre-"Saturday Night Live," when young people, in the midst of
a cultural revolution, didn't have much access to TV. "The Smothers Brothers
Comedy Hour," the most political show on mainstream television, had just been
yanked off the air by CBS, and rock acts like Jefferson Airplane, who would
appear there, had few places to go. Dick Cavett became one of those places.

The August 19th, 1969, Cavett show that opens the set is full of raw, fresh
history. It was taped in early afternoon, a few hours after Jimi Hendrix
brought the house down and the sun up as the closing act at a three-day music
fair known as Woodstock. The Cavett people, planning ahead, had scheduled a
Woodstock post-mortem show for that very day and booked Hendrix as a
headliner. He was in no shape to show, but look who did. Jefferson Airplane
showed up and kicked things off with "We Can Be Together." It was a song that
wouldn't be released for a few more months, so ABC's censors weren't paying
attention to catch that Grace Slick sang not only the F word, but the longer,
rarer M-F word as part of the incendiary lyrics. They're all here, as part of
the show.

So is Joni Mitchell, whose manager made her skip Woodstock so she wouldn't
miss the Cavett show. She made up for it eventually by writing and singing
the song "Woodstock," about the festival she'd missed.

Also on this show, just popping by and performing impromptu, are Stephen
Stills and David Crosby, fresh from Woodstock itself. Well, not so fresh.
Stephen Stills proudly displays all the mud that was caked on his jeans. Just
imagine today how much those jeans would fetch on e-Bay.

The DVD package is indexed so you can hop effortlessly from song to song in
each disc. But if you do that, you're missing the interviews and the other
guests that share the air time with these '60s rock icons, and that's much
more than half the fun.

Cavett, while young enough to be peers with many of these performers, doesn't
always know how to relate to them. Sometimes his questions are so strange,
even when they're intended sincerely, they're funny in their own way. My
favorite is when he asks Janis Joplin about her interests other than music.
This is a direct quote: "What else really gives you pleasure? Do you

Three entire hours are devoted to Janis Joplin. The last was recorded in
August 1970 just three months before her death. The first, in 1969, has her
gamely taking a role in a skit with the improv troupe The Committee. And the
middle one, the best one of all, pairs her with fellow talk show guests Chet
Huntley, the soon-to-retire serious half of "The Huntley-Brinkley Report"
anchor team on NBC, and Raquel Welch, the sex symbol whose infamous "Myra
Breckenridge" movie had just staged its grand opening in Hollywood. What in
the world would these three people have to talk about? For one thing, it
turned out Janis Joplin had attended the opening of "Myra Breckenridge." She
even understood, better than Raquel did, the significance of a T-shirt Raquel
was wearing during part of her publicity tour for that film.

(Soundbite of "The Dick Cavett Show," 1970)

Ms. RAQUEL WELCH (Actress): And yesterday when I walked down the street, I
wore one of those pop T-shirts, you know, that everyone's telling me the comic
strip thing's on, strip thing...

Ms. JANIS JOPLIN (Singer): R. Crumb, R. Crumb.

Ms. WELCH: And some of them say `Keep on truckin,' and Martin's said...

Ms. JOPLIN: Yeah, that's R. Crumb. That's R. Crumb.

Ms. WELCH: Yeah.

Ms. JOPLIN: He's great.

Ms. WELCH: And mine said `Pow' across the--here.

Mr. DICK CAVETT (Talk Show Host): Oh!

Ms. WELCH: And I just went to have my picture taken at--I guess it's the
Daily News, is it, in New York? And the men...

Mr. CAVETT: I would guess.

Ms. WELCH: ...kept saying, `Listen, could you--over the shoulder, maybe.'
And I said, `What is it? What is it?' I mean, everyone's wearing these
T-shirts, I mean, everyone. It's not a new thing.

Mr. CAVETT: Probably yours looked like everyone was wearing it.

Ms. WELCH: I mean, what does it mean?

BIANCULLI: That, to me, is bizarre, priceless television, Raquel Welch and
Janis Joplin talking about underground cartoonist R. Crumb.

And even more amazing, from that same show, is how Chet Huntley, in 1970,
replies to a question asked by Cavett about his personal politics.

(Soundbite of "The Dick Cavett Show," 1970)

Mr. CAVETT: You know, your leaving will unbalance the news world in one
sense, because you're known to be conservative on some things that your
colleagues are not. What are some of those?

Mr. CHET HUNTLEY (News Anchor): Well, you mean these labels...

Mr. CAVETT: Yeah.

Mr. HUNTLEY: ...that get thrown around. They're unfortunate, because I look
at myself and I don't know what I am in terms of conservative and liberal.
And I suppose economically I'm an archconservative. My attitudes toward the
federal government, the federal structure, I'm disenchanted, like so many
other Americans, with that. It's getting too big and cumbersome,
unmanageable, filled with self-serving and self-perpetuating bureaucracy and
accomplishes too little for our money. In terms of humanity, in terms of
human beings and the racial issue, I suppose I'm a screaming liberal. In
terms of conservation of our natural resources, now here we get into the
ultimate confusion--conservation, conservatism, coming from the same root
word. What are you if you believe in the conservation of our natural
resources? Are you liberal or conservative? I don't know. So we get into
terrible confusion here with these words.

BIANCULLI: He may as well have been talking about red states and blue states.
And he was doing it 35 years ago and given the time to make his point in full.
That's what I love most about this DVD set and why it's definitely worth
watching and owning.

Good night, Chet.

GROSS: Good night, David.

David Bianculli is TV critic for the New York Daily News.


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.

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