Clinton Says Don't Blame Him for the Economic Crisis

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Former President Bill Clinton on NBC's Today Show

Given the sweep and severity of today's global economic crisis, it would seem there's plenty of blame to go around. But Bill Clinton doesn't think any of it should fall on his shoulders.

On Monday morning's Today Show, Ann Curry's interview with the former President — recorded over the weekend outside a Clinton Global Initiative event in Texas — addressed Clinton's inclusion on TIME's list of the 25 people to blame for the financial crisis. "Oh no," he responded. "My question to them is: Do any of them seriously believe if I had been President, and my economic team had been in place the last eight years, that this would be happening today? I think they know the answer to that: No."

The magazine's story, which apportioned blame widely between such figures as Countrywide co-founder Angelo Mozilo, former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, former Lehman Brothers CEO Dick Fuld and President George W. Bush, zeroed in on two specific policy decisions made during the Clinton Administration. Clinton ushered out the Glass-Steagall Act, which for decades had separated commercial banking from investment banking, and signed the Commodity Futures Modernization Act — which exempted all derivatives, including the now notorious credit-default swaps, from federal regulation. His Administration also loosened housing rules, which put pressure on banks to lend in low-income neighborhoods.

"None of it was an endorsement of permissive lending and risk-taking," the magazine concluded. "But if you believe deregulation is to blame for our troubles, then Clinton earned a share too."

In a separate interview last weekend with CNN, Clinton allowed that his Administration could have done more to "set in motion some more formal regulation of the derivatives market," but he vehemently denied that the repeal of Glass-Steagall or his Administration's housing policies helped spur the financial crisis. Both interviews took place just hours after the Senate passed the $787 billion economic stimulus bill, which President Barack Obama is expected to sign into law on Tuesday.

Earlier in the NBC interview, Clinton told Curry that he agreed with the assessment of Dennis Blair, Obama's Director of National Intelligence, that the financial crisis has surpassed terrorism as the country's most significant near-term security concern. Clinton also gave the new President high marks for the way he has used his first month on the job. "I think [Obama is] off to a good start ... Given the fact that they had to do it in a hurry, and he had to deal with Congress and the inevitable compromises, I think he got quite a good bill out of this," Clinton said. "This package that he's going to sign is our bridge over troubled waters."

As for who troubled those waters, that's still up for debate.

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