Ex-president Bill Clinton has been campaigning furiously to promote the candidacy of his wife, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as she takes on GOP candidate Donald Trump. In addressing a wide range of subjects with CNBC last week, Clinton touched on the growing scrutiny that his family foundation has drawn on the campaign trail.
The former president says some of the criticism is "bull," but acknowledged that certain questions would be legitimate if Hillary Clinton wins the White House. He also told CNBC of the pointed advice he gave his wife as voter anger with the political status quo boils over.
Read the full exchange between Bill Clinton and CNBC's Becky Quick here:
Quick: Scott, thank you very much. Good afternoon to everyone. Like to introduce our guest today, our special guest, former president bill Clinton. We are here at the CGI. Mr. President, thank you very much for taking the time with us today. This is the 12th CGI, the 12th annual meeting here. This is the last one. Why don't you talk about why this is the last one.
Clinton: Well, I think that if Hillary wins the election, it would be impossible to do it because the CGI won't run—the whole idea of it is it's a government business, non-governmental organization, labor partnership, and, you know, it says that we just all work together. The economics of it won't work unless there are corporate sponsorships and unless we can have people from all over the world here. I learned that already in this election that some people were just subject to a presumption of guilt just because they were participating, and to be fair, a lot of times the political press, they have no previous exposure to the way we work even though we've done it for years and made everything public. We disclose everything. Who is giving, what they're doing, and all that. I think that it would be better—I think we've already changed philanthropy. That is, I think more and more people now think instead of just giving money, they should actually make a commitment to specifically do something. I can think about lots of examples. Proctor & Gamble has now given out 10 billion, billion, water tablets that purify water for a family of three for about three days. Beckton Dickinson work on many things has helped develop supply chains with other business partners. A couple of years ago they organized the first hundred tons of medical supplies to the Ebola countries.
We had a very unusual commitment with bankers and other people in finance in Detroit to redo the normal mortgage system so we could get people's mortgages on homes in Detroit where the homes are in good shape, but need repair, and the value is driven down because the neighborhood because everybody was out, so they can't get a mortgage, one mortgage, that covers it. We worked hard to do that. There are lots of things like that we've done that require partnerships, and i just think that, you know, it's going to be hard to continue to keep that going. The good news is more and more people are trying to do it, which is what I dreamed of in the beginning.
Quick: But it will be hard to continue to do that because you don't want to be asking people for favors as the husband of a president.
Clinton: That's correct. And it's fine to do something, you know, all former presidents have foundations and they raise funds. If they were just individual contributions, you could report them every three months. The public could decide. If you —if the very model itself requires international as well as domestic support, then I think it's just —you don't want a private operation doing that if Hillary is the president. I mean, presidents can do that. President Obama and President Bush before him and me, they did public-private partnerships all the time, but nothing on the scale of CGI, and I hope it's a trend toward the future. I think it works better when we recognize that there are always going to be things that the government can't provide and the private sector can't produce and that a group like this working together can do something faster, cheaper, better, but it can't be generated from somebody like me who is outside government but whose wife may be in it.
Quick: Because, obviously, people would look at you as a conduit to getting through to...
Clinton: Yeah. The stuff that they've said so far is just bull, but if she was actually the president, it would raise too many questions. I think it's fair.
Quick: You are stepping down from the foundation, but Chelsea is not at this point. She seems to me to be a conduit who would essentially get through to Hillary Clinton too.
Clinton: We all know people but when they made that conduit argument the state department said there's nothing to it. The career people at the state department. I think it's quite different if you have the—if the foundation is operating in America taking no corporate contributions, only individual contributions, and disclosing them every three months, as we do now and confining ourselves basically to health and education and service work. We are doing some—we got to finish some of our projects. Our foundation has the largest private infrastructure program in the country where public employee unions are putting in $16 billion to promote building other things that are part of the La Guardia airport improvement, and in the first $12.5 billion that they've spent, more than 100,000 jobs have been created. I kind of think people don't want to stop that. There's not any kind of conflict between the public interest and that, but we do—we are going to give up—I'm going to get off the board. We're going to give up corporate contributions and the individual contributions will be reported on a regular basis. Chelsea has to decide what she's going to do, but somebody has to stay there, as i explained when i said we were going to get out of most of our—almost everything we're doing overseas, or everything, that somebody has to superintend the handing off of all this. We're going set up some of these things as individual foundations without any of our being involved. We're going to transfer the operations to others—to other operations. We're just going to terminate, finish the commitments we've made in some cases. That takes some time to do. You just can't —here's no way in the world—we've got a couple thousand people working for us around the world, and we owe them something. They did great work.
Quick: Mr. President, let me ask you about some of the news of the day. Particularly some of the news that our viewers care about. The Federal Reserve is meeting today. We expect an announcement tomorrow about whether they will raise rates or not. And as someone who has studied the economy so closely, do you think our economy here in the United States today warrants interest rates being near 0%?
Clinton: well, because Hillary is a candidate, I would be happy to offer an opinion if she weren't a candidate. But I think it would be wrong to do so because she is. However, I will say this. Janet Yellen, Lael Brainard, whom I know, several others—these are really smart people and they'll do what they think is right. And i think the political emphasis is overrated because I think whatever happens is if that they think is right economically will be manageable economically at this point. But it's been a perplexing time. There was a very long tail on this financial crash that explains most of the road rage in the American electorate and much around the world. And so, we just finally had one good year-on-year report on rising per capita income. 5.2 percent. And family incomes. About 2.5, I think. So what they'll do is they'll look at that in the long-term numbers, and they'll see whether they could actually if they've got longer term growth, would it actually help to tick up interest just a tad, or should they leave it where it is because in spite of the growth figure, the jobs figures are not still robustly growing so much. They got more data than i do. I trust them to make the decision.
Quick: let me ask you about trade because that's been a huge topic in this election. We actually spoke with Donald Trump last week on CNBC. Here's what he said about NAFTA. He said, "NAFTA is the worst trade deal ever made. Not in this country, but in the history of the world. NAFTA is a one-way street into Mexico and other places." What do you say to that?
Clinton: Well, we gained manufacturing jobs when I was president. And we gained 22.7 million jobs. And Mexico has prospered. And between 2010 and 2014, although Mr. Trump kept saying we needed the wall, there was no net in migration from Mexico. Mexico is our third biggest trading partner. And until their economy kind of took a little bit of a nose dive after 2014, there was no net in migration because they could support themselves, and they were trying to be good neighbors. Products we import from Mexico have about 40 percent American contributed content. Products we import from china have about 4 percent. So, i think it's a little more complicated than he says. And I think the real NAFTA problem, I mean, the real Mexican problem, is not NAFTA. Look at what happened to carrier. They moved that furnace plant down there. I think that was bad. But that's because of American corporate culture and law and practice. For example, the carrier plants—we're going to move this furnace plant down to Mexico. Well, is the division making money today? Yes. $2.9 billion. Well, are the profit margins going down? No, the profit margins are going up. We're still going to move it down there. Well, the union offered to save you the same amount of money you'll get going down there.
They said, you know, we'll change our work rules, we'll save it. Leave the jobs here. No, we want to move it down there. Why? Because of activist investors who demand a profit in a year and a day, and the management who are paid by that. You know, there was a gripping eyewitness report on the board meeting about what happened. That's not NAFTA. That's not running a stakeholders society. We need to go from a shareholder—or at least a top shareholder to a stakeholder society as we once were. And we need the incentives to do that. And if we do that, we'll make better decisions. And we're going to have to trade some because we're only 4 percent of the world's people. We like having 20 percent of the world's income or so. And I think, you know, we got to have the right kind of trade deals. But if you enforce the trade deals and you do it right, they can be positive.
The one thing I would say that I learned, though, besides the enforcement issue is both parties, in different ways, let the working people down that wound up being displaced even if they—some they knew they would be, some they didn't. Because people say, oh, well, the market will take care of that. We know better than that. It's not easy to replace jobs lost in southern West Virginia when coal plants close, for example. The last major legislation designed to deal with that was the new markets tax credit I signed. And it is still working. The mayor of Cincinnati told me the other day he was getting some jobs out of it. But we need, as Hillary has called for, a much bigger tax credit and set of incentives for people to invest in areas where there's been trade dislocation, or the economy has moved away, or they're too far away like Native American reservations with no gambling.
And we got a lot of work to do on that. I think that America would feel much more comfortable in trading if we thought everybody was going to be taken care of. We have done a poor job of dealing with the people who got the short end of the stick. We've got to do better.
Quick: We're going to continue this conversation with President Clinton. Talk a little bit more about trade. Also talk about the Wells Fargo hearing that's been taking place on Capitol Hill. But Scott, I know that you all are eager to get back to that Congressional hearing that's taking place, too. Again, we will bring you more of this conversation a little bit later, but right now, Scott, we'll send it back over to you.