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Confidential Conversations with Clinton

It turns out that during Bill Clinton's eight years in the White House he secretly created an oral history of his presidency by tape recording conversations. A new book based on those conversations provides a revealing look at the Clinton presidency.

During Bill Clinton's presidency the nation prospered. He worked to broker peace in the Middle East and in the Balkans, championed welfare reform and signed the NAFTA Free Trade Agreement. But his presidency was also marred by numerous investigations, a lawsuit brought by Paula Jones charging sexual harassment, and accusations that he had an affair with an intern, Monica Lewinsky.

Through it all, the President chronicled those events in confidential tape-recorded conversations with a friend and historian, Taylor Branch. Branch made 79 recordings of the President speaking his mind on subjects ranging from frustrations with the media to his impeachment proceedings.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author joined "Early Show" anchor Harry Smith on Tuesday to talk about his secret conversations with President Clinton between 1993-2001, as well as his new book, "The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President" (Simon & Schuster).

The book is based not on the actual tapes, which Clinton kept, but on notes Branch dictated after each session.

When asked how he would characterize his time spent in the White House, Branch said, "They were always an adventure because you never knew what you were going to find. He talked about lots of different subjects. You never knew what he was going to be doing. He might have been talking about a missile strike or doing homework with Chelsea. You never knew what was going to happen each time."

Branch recorded his recollections of his conversations with Clinton while on his way home from work to Baltimore, Md.

"What was he like during the Lewinsky scandal?" Smith asked.

"There was a lot of stress. He also not surprisingly didn't schedule sessions right after the Lewinsky scandal broke or right after he confessed in the summer of 1998," Branch explained. "I didn't see him until October, and by then I think he was a little bit more recovered. But he talked about it seldomly and painfully."

Clinton told Branch that he was remorseful and that he "cracked" and said that "he felt sorry for himself and that he had thought that he had beaten down the scandals and then they would keep reviving and coming back."

Upon President Clinton's exit from the White House, the election of Al Gore and George Bush was underway.

"What was his assessment of George Bush - the younger?" Smith asked.

"It was quite interesting. Earlier on in the primaries he said he thought that George Bush and John McCain, who were the chief rivals, were mirror images - that McCain was qualified to be a president but had no idea how to run. And that Bush, the reverse, had shrewd political instincts, but he didn't think he had the moxie to be president," Branch said.

"He called him an empty suit."