Presidents Testifying—America’s Downward Spiral from Clinton to Bush to Trump

Monday, April 29, 2019

On September 21, 1998, President Bill Clinton testified on video in response to charges that he had lied about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky and had attempted to obstruct justice. This testimony, which lasted more than four hours, is still available on the internet.


Three years later, on September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States killed 2,977 people. It’s easy to forget, but President George W. Bush and his administration fought tooth and nail against creating an independent investigation of this tragedy. Public pressure finally forced Bush to appoint a bipartisan commission that came to be known as the 9/11 Commission. Naturally, the Commission wanted to interview President Bush. Bush agreed, but only after demanding certain restrictions.


  • He refused to testify under oath.
  • He would not allow video or audio recordings of the interview.
  • He would not allow the interview to be transcribed.

And, my favorite,

  • He would only testify if Vice-President Dick Cheney was sitting with him.


The interview, which lasted three hours, took place on April 29, 2004, two-and-a-half years after the attacks.


You might think that the level of presidential transparency couldn’t descend any lower, but, flash forward fifteen years.


For the Mueller Report, President Donald Trump refused to testify in person at all. Special Counsel Robert Mueller settled for submitting a list of questions to Trump’s lawyers, who responded with a set of written answers. These questions and answers are reproduced in Appendix C of the Mueller Report. Even with this accommodation, Trump refused to answer any questions regarding obstruction of justice, even in writing,


According to the Mueller Report, “we informed counsel of the insufficiency of those responses in several respects.” These included “that the President stated on more than 30 occasions that he ‘does not recall’ or ‘remember’ or have ‘an independent recollection’ of information called for by the questions. Other answers were incomplete or imprecise.” Mueller again asked Trump for an in-person interview, but he refused.


So, there you have it. In a space of 21 years, we went from a videotaped interview that was released to the public; to an in-person interview without a video, audio or written record; to no in-person interview whatsoever.

-David Wallechinsky


Mike 4 years ago
David - You've conveniently left out Obama in your "Downward Spiral" piece. Why is that? Obama had his share of controversy while in office. "Fast and Furious" is probably the most interesting. He did exert Executive Privilege during that fiasco. During his second term, he all but cut off talking to the media. He either holed up in the WH or was on AF1 going on some type of apology tour. He wasn't without controversy.

Leave a comment