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William Weld Tells the Truth of Dirty Politics in Fiction

Former governor of Massachusetts (1991-1997) William Weld. As a Republican, he's been criticized by many of his fellow party members for his un-Republican-like stances. He's pro-gay, pro-choice on abortion, and he endorses condom distribution in public schools. He'll talk with Terry about breaking rank with other Republicans, especially in light of today's partisan politics. Weld is also the author of a novel, "Mackerel by Moonlight" (Simon & Schuster)


Other segments from the episode on October 7, 1998

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, October 7, 1998: Interview with Philip Gourevitch; Interview with William Weld.


Date: OCTOBER 07, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 100701np.217
Head: Philip Gourevitch's Rwandan Nightmare
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR, I'm Terry Gross.

One year after the genocide in Rwanda, journalist Philip Gourevitch made his first in a series of trips there. He says he wanted to know how Rwandans understood what had happened in their country and how they were getting on in the aftermath. Gourevitch wrote about Rwanda for the "New Yorker" where he is a staff writer.

Now he has written a new book called "We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories From Rwanda".

The genocide began when the Hutu-led government of Rwanda called on the Hutu majority to murder everyone in the Tutsi minority. Last month the former prime minister of Rwanda became the first person in history to be convicted for the crime of genocide by an international court. The UN war crimes tribunal gave him life in prison.

I asked Gourevitch to give us a sense of the genocide's proportions.

PHILIP GOUREVITCH, JOURNALIST; AUTHOR, "WE WISH TO INFORM YOU THAT TOMORROW WE WILL BE KILLED WITH OUR FAMILIES: STORIES FROM RWANDA": The best estimates are that at least 800,000 Rwandans, one-tenth of the population, were killed in a period of about 100 days. If you boiled that down, that actually comes to the extraordinary statistic of five and one-half people a minute, murdered every minute, over a period of 24 hours a day, seven days a week, week after week, for 10 weeks, at least 100 days. It's a kind of staggering speed of just simple slaughter.

GROSS: When you got to Rwanda one of the places you went to was a church that has become almost a genocide memorial. Would you describe what you saw there?

GOUREVITCH: Well, this is a church in Eastern Rwanda and it sits on a little hilltop, as so many Rwandan hilltops have churches on top of them, and it looks essentially, it looked at the time, from a distance very much like any church anywhere on a hilltop; a kind of nice brick Italianate cathedral. And as one came up to it, the only thing that would strike me it that it seemed a little bit overgrown around it.

Then, entering some of the out-buildings the floor was simply covered in corpses. Mostly, somewhat decomposed corpses, and this had been a place where hundreds, perhaps thousands of people had sought refuge from the surrounding community when the massacres began in April of 1994. And this was something that happened nationwide. People who were endangered, targeted, slated for death, that is to say, all Tutsis and any number of Hutus who might have been intermarried with Tutsis, or who felt that there political opposition to the ruling party that was ordaining these massacres made them, also, targets for death.

They fled seeking sanctuary in places like churches, public places like schools, government offices, sometimes Stamberg, Tanzania And they hope that in concentrations like this they would find sanctuary. In this church, the church we are speaking about, is called Narobyu. The mayor of that area had instructed the local Tutsi population: well, maybe you'll be safer if you go to the church. And several days later he had led the militia bands of Hutu-power militia to slaughter of the Tutsis's who had sought refuge there.

The government, later, when it discovered this church that the new government of Rwanda, the people who were now governing after the genocide had decided to leave it as they had founded with the bodies strewn about as a commemorative side. It's was quite a -- graphic way to recognize just the scope of what it means to have a 100, 1000, 2000 people killed. And then you think about numbers like 800,000 because when you're in a place like that it really does seem like there are did people everywhere.

GROSS: You make a point in your book that the genocide wasn't about chaos, it wasn't about anarchy, the genocide was very well-orchestrated. It was the product of order, the product of authoritarianism. Can you explain how the word was gotten out?

GOUREVITCH: The word to do the killing?

GROSS: Yeah.

GOUREVITCH: The idea that it was time to kill the Tutsis', the orders as it were, were gotten out through many levels. One of the main levels was the radio. There was a long history in Rwanda by 1994, of state sponsored hostility and animosity towards the Tutsis population, including periodic massacres.

The idea that the Tutsi life was quite deeply devalued by the time of the genocide began. At that point, the local administrators were receiving encouragement, shall we say, from their high-ups -- and there's a very hierarchical political and social structure in Rwanda. Really, at all levels it was disseminating outwards to the smaller and smaller, localer and localer units that this was--it was now a time of killing.

A message that had sort of been a rather conventional "us or them" attitude of ethnic division became a "killed or be killed" message.

There had been long structuring and training of the militia bands throughout the country. Now, simultaneously, you had the radio encouraging the struggle, encouraging what was called "cleaning the bush", "do your work". These were the sorts of euphemisms that were used for describing the extermination of the Tutsis population.

At the same time as you had that you had local leaders encouraging people. You had state figures from the government, you had the prime minister, you had all of the various ministers in the cabinet, and the president himself, the acting president at the time, traveling around the country leading rallies congratulating people in places where massacres had taken place for work well-done, and encouraging those in places where the massacres had yet to be completed, to do their work.

The extent of this, although it's hard to find, for instance, a tape recording of somebody saying: kill all the Tutsis now. You would have these euphemisms like "do your work" or "eliminate the enemies of the people," and so forth.

These were completely and clearly understood and had a long legacy. So the message was really disseminated very intensively and very many different levels, both by example and by word of mouth.

GROSS: This was a kind of general population massacre where everybody was encouraged to do the killing. Most of these people were unarmed, it wasn't a professional army with armed soldiers. What were the methods used for the genocide, I know machetes were very often used. What else was done?

GOUREVITCH: Machetes, clubs, hoes, garden tools. Virtually everybody in Rwanda has a machete, and they don't have it for chopping up their neighbors, as people might imagine here, from the sort of press coverage. It's the all-purpose tool. People use it as a--it's an agrarian culture, it's basically a peasant culture. You see people walking everywhere with machetes. They cut their firewood with it, they cut their grass with it, they cut--they dig holes with it, they build their houses with that, they use it for just about everything.

So it's a ubiquitous tool. Nevertheless, in the months preceding the massacres, they have been documented, sort of large orders were made by the government, on behalf of the militia, to stockpile machetes. They were ordering them from China. They were ordering them from their own factories that were manufacturing machetes locally. So that there was a clear effort to make sure that the population was armed even in this rudimentary fashion.

Then a few people with guns, or a few people with hand grenades could easily, sort of create the militarized context that was needed to spur on the population.

GROSS: You wrote that most of the dogs were shot during the genocide. Why?

GOUREVITCH: This was a peculiar side effect. They were really shot after the genocide. I had noticed when I was in Rwanda that there were very very very few dogs. It was very quiet at night and that's not very typical of outdoor countries, shall we say, places where a lot of the life is taking place in a temperate climate outdoors.

The Rwandan dogs were eating the Rwandan dead, and as the rebel army -- the Rwandese Patriotic Front that liberated Rwanda from the genocide -- moved across the country taking territory. They began to shoot the dogs that they saw eating the dead, essentially, in disgust and fury.

These dogs were -- nobody wanted such a dog around anymore, and so they were killed. It really tells you of kind of -- there's something about this image which I found particularly lurid and sad, in the sense that it -- the dogs were made masterless by the killing. Masterless, they ran loose and ate their masters.

It tells you how deeply a society is torn apart when even the dogs can't be left to survive.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Philip Gourevitch. His new book is called "We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories From Rwanda." He's reported on Rwanda for the "New Yorker".

Some of the priests in Rwanda joined in the genocide and you spoke to one of the reverends who was alleged to have participated in it. In fact he was indicted by the war crimes tribunal. I'm thinking of Reverend Entaky Rudimano (ph). Tell us what he told you. Did he admitted to any of the charges?

GOUREVITCH: No. Pastor Entaky Rudimano was the president of the Adventist Church in the Western Rwandan province of Kabyu (ph), which is a beautiful mountainous area along the edge of Lake Kivu, which forms the border with what was then Zaire and is now the Congo.

He was the president of the the Adventist Church for the entire province. He lived in a town called Moganero (ph), and I had traveled out to Kabyu when I was in Rwanda in the summer of '96. I visited Moganero, and there I spoke with a number of survivors who describe how, as in the church massacre site that I described earlier Narobyu. People from the area, fearing death Tutsis had fled seeking refuge at the church center. As they amassed there they began to fear that they themselves would be massacred, and began to hear rumors that they were being directed there to be massacred, not to be saved.

Amongst their number were seven Tutsis pastors who are members of the Adventist church; church authorities, and when they learned that on a particular Saturday morning they were to be killed they wrote a letter to Pastor Enaky Rudimano, the Hutu church president, asking that he intercede on their behalf. It's from that letter, actually that I take the title of my book: "We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families."

They were asking him in that strange, formal, polite, deferential language to intercede on their behalf and save their lives.

The story I heard in Moganero was, that, in fact, he had said something to the effect of: well, now you must die, God no longer wants you -- which I thought to were particularly chilling words. And then I learned that he was living in Laredo, Texas, of all places. He had a son and some years ago had become a doctor in the United States, and was living in Laredo, Texas. Pastor Entaky Rudimano had fled after the genocide into Zaire, and then into Zambia, and from Zambia he had emigrated with a green card to the United States.

So I went down to Laredo, and I tracked him down, and I tracked down the son and through him was able to meet the father. Who wanted to speak to me, or -- me, I represented a reporter at that point. Because he claimed he wanted to clear his good name. He claimed that far from having helped or orchestrated the massacre, at that point he was under indictment from the war crimes tribunal, I knew it, he didn't. It was a secret indictment that I had learned about.

He said: well, you know, it was a time of chaos, it was a time of anarchy. I never did anything that I have been accused of. In fact, his alibi which was a rather extraordinary alibi; he said: I went, when the killing in my town began, I went to the next town over. And the quote was: "where they had killed everybody, and so there was peace."

Is a strange way of defining "peace," I thought, for a man of God, who's also accused of massacring his own congregation. It was odd -- I heard about this letter, and I asked him about it. And he told me the story that, yes, indeed, he had received such a letter, but there was nothing he could do.

Then I said: what exactly did the letter say -- because up until then I had really been told about it only by survivors in Rwanda. He told me: well, here -- and he handed me a copy of the letter. He had kept the letter for all this time.

What I have never been able to understand it is did he think it exonerated him? Because in many ways it seems to leave -- raise more doubts about his role then it answers. He was arrested the day after I met him, at that point, in Laredo, Texas by the FBI on this indictment from the UN tribunal. He spent a good deal of time in a Laredo jail fighting his extradition to the United Nations tribunal which sits in Arusha, Tanzania,.

He hired Ramsey Clark, the former attorney general, and managed through very strange decisions from a local magistrate in Laredo to be freed. He has since been re-taken into custody, presumably awaiting extradition. But it's -- it gives a sense also of how widespread this was. It was something that infiltrated the deepest levels of church hierarchies, and it also fans now then quickly into the entire world.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Philip Gourevitch. His new book is about the Rwandan genocide. It's called "We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories From Rwanda."


GROSS: My guest is Philip Gourevitch. He is a journalist who has written about Rwanda for the "New Yorker". His new book is about the Rwandan genocide and its aftermath. It's called "We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories From Rwanda."

Most of the people who carried out the genocide in Rwanda were just regular people, they weren't part of a trained fighting force, you can't say they were indoctrinated while they were in the military to become fighting machines or killing machines. Because they weren't, most of them, in the military.

I know you try to answer the question: how can regular people participate in a genocide? What kind of answers or conclusions have you been able to come up with?

GOUREVITCH: I can explain and describe and account for any number of factors which contribute to what appears to be a pattern of behavior of what I saw in Rwanda. But in the end I have to say I'm left somewhat mystified and dissatisfied, and I really -- I decided that there are some things were one has to respect the mystery. Even the mystery of this kind of an atrocity.

But there's an example that I think is very interesting. I once was stuck on a road late at night, and in the darkness in Rwanda our car broke down and I was stuck out there, when suddenly there was a woman screaming in the valley down below. And this screaming got picked out by everybody around. I couldn't see anything it was in the darkness down below when I heard this tremendous to hub-bub in a little village.

After about an hour, some soldiers came up on the road leading a prisoner, and it turned out that this man had broken into the the woman who had screamed -- he had broken into her house and assaulted her and apparently had tried to rape her.

And I was told that in Rwanda, in village by village, in the small communities and larger, when you are offended, when somebody attacks you, when you call for help, everybody else is supposed to pick up this call and also come running to your assistance, and if you don't help out in this way you yourself are considered a bit of an accomplice.

It was explained to me as totally normal: well, of course, isn't this how it is where you live? I mean, this is community. And what happened in Rwanda is that idea of community was turned on its head. If you didn't run to help in the killing, you were an accomplice. If you didn't participate in slaughtering then you were the one who had to explain yourself. And so this very tight community system was used to purge the Tutsi population.

GROSS: I think it's fair to say that most Americans can't keep straight the Hutus from the Tutsis. What separates them in Rwanda?

GOUREVITCH: Relatively little, except a legacy of distorted identity politics, I think it's fair to say. Nobody knows exactly how these terms originated, where they came from -- before recorded history. But at the time of colonization by European explorers which was really only about a 100 years ago, in the 1890s, there were these groups called Hutu and some caught Tutsi within Rwandan society, and it really seems to have been more of caste or a class division representing economic and social status. The tiny Tutsi minority being an elite.

The Europeans manipulated this around ideas that they brought with them of race-science, which is to say pseudoscience of racial categorization, and created, really, ultimately, an almost apartheid-like system in Rwanda, in which the Tutsi elite were considered a superior, master race. There were certain physical stereotypes which made Tutsis tall, skinny and more European in their features; and therefore, of course, that contributed also to the idea that they were superior in the eyes of Europeans, the Hutu as a kind of slave or inferior race.

The fact of the matter is it's very difficult physically or otherwise to distinguish them. Modern historians and ethnographers simply reject the idea that there are two distinct groups; they speak the same language, they worship the same Gods, and they live together, inter-mingled.

GROSS: And when Belgium colonized Rwanda they gave the Tutsis more authority, more power, and then when Rwanda got its independence the Hutus ousted the Tutsi leaders. So I guess there is -- a bit of a history of, back and forth there between the Hutus and the Tutsis, about who was controlling who and who was ousting who?

GOUREVITCH: Well, yeah. I mean, essentially, you had a small elite group, the Tutsi, who enjoyed all the privileges under the colonial state. And then, in the name of majority rule, and independence; the Hutu made a bid for power.

It was actually strikingly only at that very moment in 1959 that one has the first instance of organized political violence between the two groups, where Hutu and Tutsi were sort of violently clashing, although one often hears of this as some kind of ancient tribal warfare, there was never before any recorded instance of this kind.

And it's essentially a very modern phenomenon, it's one in which political leadership, seeking to create its base seeking to manipulate its constituency, thrives on a creating the bogey of the other group as a sort of mortal enemy and a constant peril.

In this case, in Rwanda, although its happened differently elsewhere, Hutus had power since 1959-1960, and cultivated very strongly the idea of this tiny Tutsi minority as a mortal enemy within.

GROSS: You really don't like the kind of reporting that says: well, this is a story in which there's problems on both sides, it's just one of those historical intractable messes that's, you know pretty incomprehensible.

GOUREVITCH: No. I think the nicest thing that can be said about such reporting is that it's lazy, and sort of more damaging to our understanding and to the people there, in the places. It's wrong. It doesn't seek to really recognize the political forces that are at play, that are defining these massive events. It doesn't seek to understand the events in the terms that they themselves are taking place.

GROSS: Philip Gourevitch, is the author of a new book about the genocide in Rwanda, called "We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda."

We'll talk more in the second half of the show. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR, I'm Terry Gross.

Back with more of our interview with journalist Philip Gourevitch. His written a new book about the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and its aftermath. Gourevitch is a staff writer for the "New Yorker." I asked him about the political events that led to the genocide.

GOUREVITCH: Two things can being said to be -- to sort of form the immediate background to the Rwandan genocide. The first, that between 1990 and 1994 Rwanda was in a state of on-again-off-again but continuous civil war, in which predominately Tutsi, but not exclusively Tutsi, rebel groups were opposing the entrenched power, which was known as Hutu power of the president and his extremist entourage. And then a background within that of sort of very complex political turmoil with many many Hutu opposition groups.

And then most specifically, the interesting thing is that while the background was this war, and it was during this war that the Hutu power extremists who would lead the genocide built up their militia basis, built -- held practice massacres, cultivated the logic, the rhetoric, the propaganda and the organizational structures that would preside over the genocide.

It was only when a peace agreement was struck, a power-sharing arrangement in August of '93, that the Hutu power leaders ratcheded out for what they themselves called the "final solution." It was only when they actually had to share power that they said: there is no solution, that to completely eliminate those with who we are being asked to share.

GROSS: Tens of thousands of people have been arrested for participating in the genocide. Did you visit one of the prisons on any of your trips there?

GOUREVITCH: I'm afraid I visited at least a half a dozen of them. I say afraid because they're really pretty depressing spectacles. You walk in, and the first thing that sort of, strikes you is that these our prisons built quite often, maybe for 800 people, 1,000 people -- they are large brick fortress-looking areas. And you're looking at 10,000, 11,000 people -- 6000 here, 8000 there -- packed into the spaces.

They're packed so tightly that they can barely move. They can't all lie down at the same time, they have to sleep in shifts and. They sleep sitting up. There are many of them -- living outdoors, perpetually with just a little bit of plastic sheeting as a roof.

So the first thing that strikes one, is that these are up hauling conditions. On the other hand, they are being fed and given medical care and so forth primarily by international relief groups.

And the other thing that strikes one is: my goodness, a great number of these people are accused for a reason. They may not have been properly arrested by the sort of due process that we would hope for in our fairly well-established justice system, but this is the scale of the crime that was committed here; is that these sort of numbers certainly do correspond to those who are guilty. It doesn't mean that the people who are in prison until they have been tried can be said to be guilty -- but that's one of the things that strikes you, you see them there, and the other thing that's striking is how very passive much of the prison population is.

It was something that was hard to explain, except that there was the feeling that a terrible terrible crime had been committed. It wasn't extraordinary at all to Rwandans that so many people should be in jail.

GROSS: You write that you think true genocide and true justice are incompatible. Why?

GOUREVITCH: It is impossible to hold anybody to -- if one looks at American courts, they couldn't try a 100,000 murder trials, much less 800,000 murder trials with perfect due process, and a sort of carrying it out and to the degree and the letter of the law that we would require within the lifetimes of the perpetrators. We have the most lawyer-heavy, law-driven society in the world.

In Rwanda, it's even more impossible. It's simply impossible to account for a crime of that magnitude. And that's part of its attraction, I suspect, to its perpetrators is if everybody's implicated, nobody's implicated. How can you ever hold anybody to account? How can punishment ever suit the crime? It is a crime that in some very very disturbing way one has the sense is being gotten away with.

GROSS: The International War Crimes Tribunal has handed in two convictions so far, one of a former small town mayor and the other of a former prime minister. The man who was prime minister during the genocide, the former prime minister, got life in prison. He was the first person in history to plead guilty to genocide in a war crimes tribunal. What kind of precedence do you think this war crimes tribunal is setting?

GOUREVITCH: Well, he was the first person to plead guilty to genocide in a war crimes tribunal, but by then Rwanda in its own courts had convicted hundreds of people of genocide. So I make the point simply to say Rwanda has been trying people for genocide in the past year and a half. Some of those trials don't meet the sort of standards that we would like them to. Overall, they are remarkably varied sentences coming out of them; that's one way to judge the independence of such court.

The International Tribunal is setting sort of a lot of odd precedents. It's hard to know that the prime minister who was convicted confessed, and he confessed in a deal where he was trying to guarantee. He basically said: I will confess in exchange for the protection of my family in exile. And he's been complaining about whether or not they are protected at the level of well-being that he would like them to be.

He made a deal and it was very important, both for Rwanda and for this court, to have his conviction. I don't think it's sets -- it's not a court that is capable of bringing justice for the Rwandan genocide. It is a court that is capable of doing some pioneering work in international law at a very slow pace, that has very little or very delayed bearing on Rwanda's recovery, if one can speak of recovery, from the genocide.

GROSS: In the meantime, I think about 1 million Hutu people have returned to Rwanda, so this means that the Tutsi and the Hutu who tried to kill them are living together again. I wonder what kind of interactions you observed?

GOUREVITCH: That's one of the great, and bewildering things about Rwanda. One of the things that I found that made the story so fascinating -- and actually makes it a story that is so far from being over -- and that is, never before has a society that was so divided, that literally one part of the population was called upon to eliminate the other part and many members of it did participate in so doing, and many people were killed; that both groups are being asked to live together as neighbors again and to form a society as Rwandans, first of all, and to create some idea of a Rwandan national identity.

It's an enormous challenge. What's striking is a lot of people are giving it a go. These categories Tutsi and Hutu are more laden with meaning in the aftermath of the bloodletting than ever before. It's only prudent to be suspicious. It's only prudent to be fearful. It's a huge burden of vengeful feelings that people carrying with them. At the same time, one sees a great deal of interacting -- I mean, I know many intermarried couples who remained intermarried.

What matters ultimately to people is how individuals behave. It's -- the great problem is that it's hard to know. It's hard to know unless you very well, you know, in other words, it's hard know outside your small community. And I think if anything it makes people wary of one another. Very deeply.

GROSS: You say that your book is in part about how people imagine themselves and one another. And that the book is about how we imagine our world. I'm wondering how reporting on the story in spending time and Rwanda has changed your view of your world.

GOUREVITCH: There's a certain level in which I think it makes me feel that we're all somewhat less safe than we would like to imagine, not because I think that we're all in immediate danger of being up by our neighbors, but because I think for the 50 years since the genocide convention was passed, and certainly in the way that the Holocaust, which is sort of the defining genocide in modern consciousness has been remembered, there's an increasing tendency to except the principles "never again" and "the world must oppose such things," on a somewhat facile level, which is to say we all stand opposed to genocide after its happened.

But what Rwandans showed us is that the idea that we would act out of a sense of common humanity to defend people before such a slaughter simply doesn't hold up. The world doesn't care to act in these situations. It holds back and then it mourns in some deep way. I think what I sought in Rwanda is, to think of these things as humanitarian situations, and to think of them faciley, I think, is sort of, we are opposed to them, and therefore we behave well, that denouncing evil and acting against evil are not the same.

These are very complex political things that are taking place, and if one doesn't look at them as such, and seek to unravel them, one is at greater risk I think of falling prey to them.

GROSS: Philip Gourevitch, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

GOUREVITCH: Thanks so much for having me.

GROSS: Philip Gourevitch is the author of a new book about the genocide in Rwanda, called "We Wished To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families." He's a staff writer for the "New Yorker".

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Philip Gourevitch
High: Journalist Philip Gourevitch is a staff writer for the "New Yorker" and is author of the new book "We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories From RwandArusha, Tanzania" It's about the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 and it's aftermath. That spring and summer at least 800,000 people were killed in just 100 days when the Hutu led government implemented a policy of murder against the minority Tutsis.
Spec: Philip Gourevitch; Media; Africa; Death; Disasters; Rwanda

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Philip Gourevitch's Rwandan Nightmare

Date: OCTOBER 07, 1998
Time: 12:00
Tran: 100702NP.217
Head: William Weld
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:35

TERRY GROSS, HOST: My guest William Weld is temporarily out of politics, but he is carefully watching what is happening in the impeachment debate. Weld is a former federal prosecutor. He worked on the Nixon impeachment hearing and Iran-Contra investigation.

He served as the governor of Massachusetts from 1991 to 1997, and then made what's been described as one of the most abrupt astonishing U-turns in recent political history. The Republican governor challenged the incumbent Democrat John Kerry for a seat in the U.S. Senate and lost.

Soon after, President Clinton nominated Weld to serve as ambassador to Mexico. Weld resigned from his position as governor to pursue this new position, but after strong opposition led by Jesse Helms he withdrew his nomination.

Now, Weld is in private practice. He has written a new political novel called "Mackerel by Moonlight." It's about a former federal prosecutor who is elected district attorney in Boston then has his eye on a Senate seat.

Here's a short reading that takes place just after he's become to DA, defeating the incumbent. He's asking his outgoing predecessor for advice.

WILLIAM WELD (R), FORMER GOVERNOR OF MASSACHUSETTS; NOVELIST: "I had gone to Marty Gross in early December, and said I knew he had been administrative first assistant. And I knew he had a legal guy, and I knew he had a press guy. But what I wanted to know was, 'who was the real guy?'

"'Who does your less desirable laundry? Who makes it happen when skies are cloudy and gray?' I asked.

"Gross told me it was this retired Sergeant Potts from the PD who handled the administrative come political stuff and basically covered his flank and rear.

"Gross urged me to keep him, 'When you're riding into Dodge City, you don't want to ride in alone.' he advised me. 'You want somebody covering your backside, and you may have to be riding back-to-back to keep an eye on all the Indians.'

"'Much obliged, Mr. district attorney. I will keep this well in mind,' I had said.

GROSS: How does your main characters experiences in politics compare to yours?

WELD: Well, most of the main characters in this book are composites of myself, my wife, my press secretaries, my campaign managers, and my political opponents. Certainly much of what Terry learns here is stuff that I learned, and much of his opening agenda was my opening agenda, namely depoliticize the prosecutor's office. But he does some bad stuff here. Stuff I'm happy to say I never was obliged to do during my brief career.

GROSS: Such as?

WELD: Well, I'm not going to give away the ending, but let's say not that just mistakes were made but crimes happened.

GROSS: William Weld, why did you write a novel?

WELD: A novel, as opposed to a kiss-and-tell, you can be much more vicious in the fiction. You can tell more in fiction. It's really no holds barred because all the names have been changed to protect the guilty.

GROSS: Well, you know now that you've written a novel I feel I can ask you this. A lot of people are saying that the Bill Clinton-Kenneth Starr story reads more like a novel then reality. What do you think?

WELD: Nobody would believe it. It wouldn't sell 500 copies.


GROSS: If it was a novel?

WELD: Right.

GROSS: In a House Judiciary Committee vote to proceed with impeachment hearings the vote was strictly along party lines. I wonder what that says to you?

WELD: Well, I don't think the tawdry office affair, even with lying on top of it is the stuff of impeachment and removal. Many years ago, in 1973-4, I worked on the House Judiciary Committee on the Nixon impeachment hearings, indeed there was a fellow worker, a co-worker named Hillary Rodham and our first assignment -- and she and I were two of the first people hired -- was to write a memorandum defining what constitutes grounds for impeachment of the president.

Our conclusion was it doesn't have to be a crime, after all what if the president moved to a foreign country and took up a life of pleasure? That may not be a crime but he has to be subject to being removed for that. On the other hand, it does have to have something to do with his ability to exercise the duties of his office. So you know, I think there's a real strong case to be made for the proposition that this is not what the Framers had in mind as the basis for removal by the Senate.

In that sense I'm somewhat surprised that the vote was as party lines as it was. I would've thought the issue would have been thought to be somewhat more doubtful then that.

GROSS: I want to get back to your role on the impeachment inquiry for President Nixon, but since the vote was so along party lines I wonder what it's like for you to be perceived as a Republican who often breaks with the party. Someone who views don't always go a long with what considered traditional Republican views, such your support of gay rights, abortion.

WELD: Well, you know, I break with everybody all the time. Even in this current situation involving President Clinton my views are acceptable to virtually nobody. I think it's not impeachable and removable. I think the president should not be prosecuted for perjury or anything else because nobody else would be. And I was a federal prosecutor for seven years, and the head of the criminal division in Washington, and I can tell you nobody would be prosecuted, federally, for having an extra marital affair and then lying to cover it up.

As a matter of fact, into last year the law was that you could not be prosecuted for perjury simply for denying wrongdoing. The Supreme Court changed that rule less year, but I think they would've done well to leave a carve out for personal conduct, they didn't but I think that doctrine in the law still suggests that this is not a cognizable federal criminal case.

On the other hand, it does seem to me that it would not be amiss for the president to consider, from time to time, whether his effectiveness has been very much corroded and undermined, whether people are no longer taking him seriously.

Whether when he says: please send troops to coast of Kosovo, please support the IMF, or even please come to the state dinner in the East Room -- are people saying: yes, Mr. President -- and looking at him and thinking about only Monica Lewinsky, thinking that they've been invited to the White House just to be part of the act to pretend that there's not an elephant standing over in the corner of the room. If he came to the conclusion that that was true, then I think he might pardonably consider the early retirement option.

GROSS: What it's been like for you over the years to have some strong opinions that differ from the majority -- just about everybody in the Republican Party?

WELD: Well, I don't think any individual one of my opinions differ from just about everybody in the party, maybe the combination is a little unusual although I think in my generation, the baby boomer generation, it's not that unusual. In a nutshell, my political philosophy is anti-government, pro-individual. In the economic area that makes me a conservative because I'm in favor of tax cuts, my motto is: there's no such thing as government money there is only taxpayers money.

I was pretty conservative on reforming welfare and on tough sentences in the crime area. On the other hand, you get to other so-called social issues, such as abortion and gay rights, again I'm anti-government and pro individual, which means I want the government not only out of your pocket book, but also out of your bedroom. To me that's consistent, and I think the right wing of the Republican party is the one that's guilty of an inconsistency in suddenly wanting to government to solve all the problems when it reaches issues pertaining to human sexuality, to me that's a disconnect.

GROSS: I think what a lot of politicians fear is that if they support gay rights policies that they'll get the vote of gay people but they'll lose a lot of votes in return, and that it's going to be more in the negative numbers finally won the results are tallied. How did that do for you? Do feel like you won more or lost more votes in the long run?

WELD: Oh, no, clearly you lose more and you know, my political staff was well aware every time I took an initiative in the gay rights area that the polls were 10 to 90 against whatever we were going to do, whether it was just elementary fairness things like, letting gay people have rights of visitation in hospitals or visit children in schools. Stuff that you needed an executive order to be able to do, visit some lifelong partner who is dying in a hospital. To me that was not a very difficult decision to make.

I'm amazed that seems to be the difficult as it does for just, elementary fairness to be extended to gays and lesbians. It needn't be pecuniary advantage. I mean, I'm not even talking about collecting under life insurance policies. I'm just talking about treating them with dignity, but in answer to your political question gay and lesbian issues poll very badly. My sense is that neither party is ready for those issues at the national level.

GROSS: My guest is William Weld, former governor of Massachusetts. He's written a new political novel called "Mackerel by Moonlight." We'll talk more after our break. This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guest is William Weld the former governor of Massachusetts, and a former federal prosecutor. He has written political novel, called "Mackerel by Moonlight."

Now I want to get back to the work you did when you were associate minority counsel for the House Judiciary Committee, Nixon impeachment inquiry. Now you say that you and Hillary Rodham, who were both working together at the time, were given the task of writing grounds for impeachment. At what point in the process were you asked to write that?

WELD: Very early on. Hillary Rodham and I were the third and fourth people hired, I believe, in December of 1973, for the staff. And I shall never forget my first Friday there, John Doerr (ph), who was the chief counsel called me and Hillary Rodham into his office and said: I'd like to have a definition of the grounds for impeachment. Anytime Tuesday would be fine.

So we -- we looked in the wrong place. We looked in law books. I think the right place to look for a definition of what's grounds for impeachment historically would be in the newspapers of the day so you could find out not only the precise "who struck John," of the conduct in question, but what the political backdrop was in terms of the temper of the times.

But suffice it to say that after many more lawyers then just Ms. Rodham and myself had looked at that this for many more days than the span between a Friday and a Tuesday. They concluded that at one level the definition of impeachable conduct that had been offered by Congressman Jerry Ford, namely whatever a majority of the House and two-thirds of the Senate says it is, at one level that was a "terse, but profound definition".

I think that's a little fast because that implies that you can skip the normative, the prescriptive element of the analysis, namely should a majority of the House or should two-thirds of the Senate say that this conduct constitutes grounds for impeachment or removal. I don't think you can get away from that. So I think you still have to hearken back to the legal backdrop, the English precedence, the American precedence, what constitutes high crimes and misdemeanors.

GROSS: To what extent do think that the guidelines that you and your colleagues came up with in the '70s could apply today?

WELD: Oh, I think they can apply. I mean, they were quite general. We pointed out that the conduct that's grounds for impeachment and removal need not be a crime. We pointed out that it has to have some connection with the president's discharge of the duties of his office. It can't be purely personal self-regarding conduct I think both of those principles apply today.

GROSS: I'm wondering what things you would most like to ask Ken Starr now about his investigation if you were able to ask him directly?

WELD: Well, I'm in a small minority of people who have been senior Justice Department officials in Washington, in that I think we should keep the independent counsel statute. I think the danger of corrosion of the criminal justice function of the government is so great that have to put up with the relative unfairness of that statute towards the people who are covered by it.

The way it works is that there's a small, but defiant class of federal officials that are covered by the statute that, you know, if they so much as look sideways at somebody, or there's the slightest credible allegation that they may have done something wrong, bingo, you've got a special prosecutor, independent counsel, as its now called, appointed to look into them.

Well, that's more of a hair trigger standard then the average citizen would undergo, to compensate for the statute says. But you got to finish the investigation in 60 or 90 days, and then fish or cut bait and then determine whether there's something really substantial here to go further.

GROSS: I'm wondering if you have any questions about the way Ken Starr conducted his investigation. If you think he over stepped his powers, if you have any questions about how he first found out about the Monica Lewinsky story, and if he could pursue it?

WELD: I don't know the facts of how he first came into possession of that. My impression of reading the paper is that he was approached by Linda Tripp who said: I have these tapes. One of the unfortunate things about the independent counsel statute is that the independent counsel's deliberations and decisions are not conducted with the same degree of secrecy as attends a normal grand jury proceeding.

The wonderful thing about being a U.S. attorney, a federal prosecutor, is that you essentially preside over a secret establishment. You don't have people second-guessing you every 30 days or every 10 days saying: how come you haven't indicted so and so for such and such?

People generally don't know that you have a grand jury sitting to review so and so or such and such. When someone is appointed a special prosecutor on page one of every newspaper in the country, and everyone knows exactly who they're looking at, and what they're looking at them for, that person would be subject to enormous second-guessing.

If he or she said: well, I'm not even going to go down that alley. So this is not politically correct to say, but I'm not sure that Ken Starr really had the luxury that a normal prosecutor might have had of saying: oh no, wait a minute. This is about private sexual conduct. We're not going to ask any questions here. I think it was enough of a suggestion of a possibility of obstruction of justice so that, if I'd been his lawyer I would probably not have advised him to say: no way are we even going to look at this.

GROSS: Now you're out of politics for the moment. You resigned from your position as governor of Massachusetts in order to pursue your nomination as Ambassador to Mexico. This was a President Clinton nomination. And when you, under pressure, withdrew your nomination you were kind of out of politics for awhile. Do you wish you were back? Are you anxious to get back in?

WELD: No, I've taken a vow of non-poverty for five years, mirroring the number of children of college age that my wife and I have. No, I'm very happy to take a hiatus here. I'm still friendly with the people who are thinking of running in 2000, and I enjoy hearing their perspective.

I'm trying to keep my nose to the grind stone of business and occasionally produced a work of fiction to keep the mind alive.

GROSS: William Weld, I would like to thank you very much for talking with us.

WELD: Thanks Terry, enjoyed it.

GROSS: William Weld is the former governor of Massachusetts. He has written a political novel called, "Mackerel by Moonlight."

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.


Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: William Weld
High: Former governor of Massachusetts William Weld. As a Republican, he's been criticized by many of his fellow party members for his un-Republican-like stances. He's pro-gay, pro-choice on abortion, and he endorses condom distribution in public schools. He'll talk with Terry about breaking rank with other Republicans, especially in light of today's partisan politics. Weld is also the author of a novel, "Mackerel by Moonlight."
Spec: Politics; William Weld; Massachusetts; Republican Party

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1998 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1998 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: William Weld
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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