Bill Clinton planning to resume public role

The Washington Post

Six months after his exit from the White House turned into a personal and political debacle, Bill Clinton this week will begin a second attempt at launching his ex-presidency.

A succession of events and announcements about his post-presidential life planned for coming days will occur as Clinton is rebounding from what several friends described as a funk in his first months out of power, his departure shadowed by questions about his last-minute pardons and other controversies. By turns angry and morose, Clinton’s mood seemed darker even than during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, one former aide recalled last week.

Clinton’s natural buoyancy, these confidants said, has reasserted itself this summer. And his post-White House career, while still a work in progress, is coming into focus in a way that will have him back prominently in the news for the first time since the pardon uproar was at full boil.

He has invited his former Cabinet and top aides to an outdoor festival in Harlem on Monday to mark the formal opening of his New York office. Within the next few weeks, confidants said, Clinton expects to decide on various offers to write his White House memoirs, with an advance that some sources expect to be one of the largest in publishing history.

And while Clinton does not plan to directly challenge the Bush administration, aides said he is increasingly eager for an important public role. This means speaking out, including at two events this week, on subjects he is hoping to make signature issues of his post-White House career, combating AIDS in the developing world and encouraging racial reconciliation at home.

It also means plunging far more assertively into domestic politics than most ex-presidents have — by courting big donors, and talking strategy with presidential aspirants and any other Democrat who wants to hear it. He met last week with a group of freshman House Democrats to offer advice about the party’s agenda; he will attend his first formal Democratic fundraiser, a golf outing, next month.

At the same time, a politician who spent the past 22 years being catered to in a governor’s mansion and the White House is learning, sometimes clumsily, to manage the daily details of life. One aide went to an automated teller machine with Clinton, and saw that he was keeping a balance of a million U.S. dollars in an ordinary checking account.

Clinton is often alone in the house in Westchester County when Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-New York, is in Washington.

While the couple aims to spend three or four nights a week together in New York or in Washington, aides said their extensive travel schedules frequently make that impossible. Dog Buddy often sleeps next to the former president, Clinton has told friends.

Clinton declined a request for a formal interview for this article, as he has turned down all interview requests — the total is 2,000, an aide said — since leaving office. He did respond to a question about how he is managing the transition to a new life: “I’ve never had a period of my life when I didn’t have a good time,” he said. “What I miss most is my work, about having influence on things I cared about.”

“It was a terrible 60 to 90 days; it was a difficult time for him,” McAuliffe said of the period after Clinton left office. These days, he added, “he is in terrific spirits.”

At 54, Clinton is one of the youngest ex-presidents ever, eager to make a fortune and influence issues from a platform that rests in a gray zone between celebrity and statesman. One day he drifts into the news pages by meeting with Nelson Mandela, another for playing billiards at a Hollywood party with actress Elizabeth Hurley.

Eager to help Clinton maximize his influence in the next phase of his life, a group of former top White House aides — chiefs of staff Erksine Bowles and John Podesta, and senior adviser Douglas Sosnik — earlier this month approached Clinton and volunteered to help plot strategy. In effect, they are hoping to reintroduce one of the planet’s most famous people to a public in a new role.

“The issues that animated his presidency are still the ones he wants to work on and make a contribution to,” said Podesta. “He wants to leave footprints.”