The Clinton tapes: late-night memories

But there’s little of Monica Lewinsky in this oral history based on private interviews at the White House

Boris Yeltsin Bill Clinton

Former Russian president Boris Yeltsin was once discovered drunkenly stumbling around outside the White House in his underpants, attempting to flag down a taxi to take him to buy fast food, according to his host on that 1995 visit to Washington, former US President Bill Clinton. Clinton's sozzled Kremlin counterpart told the Secret Service agents who found him that he wanted to get some pizza. The following night the Russian, who was notorious for drunkenness during his nine years in office, almost caused an international incident when he was mistaken for an intruder in the basement of Blair House, the accommodation used for foreign dignitaries visiting DC. Yeltsin, who died in 2007 aged 76, struggled with alcoholism throughout his term as president, which ended in 1999. His condition was first noticed in 1989 when the Italian newspaper La Repubblica reported that he had been publicly drunk during a visit to the US. In 1994 he left the Taoiseach Albert Reynolds waiting on the runway at Dublin airport as he was too intoxicated to leave his official plane to acknowledge the Irish leader. A visit to Stockholm in 1997 ended in chaos after Yeltsin started talking gibberish having consumed a glass of champagne, reportedly telling his audience that Swedish meatballs reminded him of Bjorn Borg's face. And he was forced to pull out of the 1999 funeral for King Hussein of Jordan at short notice, an absence often ascribed to alcohol. Clinton spilled the beans about the former Russian president during a series of 79 late-night interviews he gave the American historian Taylor Branch between 1993 and 2001, the year he left office. Branch was an old friend, with whom Bill and Hillary Clinton had once shared an apartment when they ran George McGovern's 1972 presidential campaign in Texas. Clinton also passed unflattering judgment on the man who succeeded him, George W Bush, labeling him unqualified to be president. The recollections appear in a 700-page tome, The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History, to be published next week in the US.

Readers who might assume no "oral history" of the Clinton years would be complete without Monica Lewinsky are likely be disappointed. Branch has admitted to feeling "squeamish" about bringing the subject up. And when he did, Clinton tended to give the boilerplate replies he was giving everyone else at the time.

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is production editor of The First Post. He has written for the Daily Mirror, Dazed & Confused and Sleaze Nation, and has contributed to books on music.