President Bill Clinton and Apple cofounder Steve Jobs were buddies before Jobs died of cancer in 2011. Jobs even gave Clinton advice in the middle of the Lewinsky scandal. But the details of the relationship between the two men have been pretty scarce. Newly released documents from the Clinton Presidential Library help shed some light on the nature of their friendship.
Gizmodo submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the Clinton Presidential Library back in January for all documents and photos containing Steve Jobs. The files contain everything from letters of recommendation sent from Jobs to President Clinton about who should be Secretary of Defense, to simple notes sent from Clinton to Jobs about the tech pioneer’s name being an answer in the New York Times crossword.
The Clinton Library also released dozens of contact sheets with photos from events that Jobs attended at the White House, like the Italian State Dinner on April 2nd, 1996, and the Chinese State Dinner on October 29th, 1997. Jobs was at those events along with his wife, philanthropist Laurene Powell. There are also a handful of photos showing Jobs along with others from the animation studio Pixar posing in the Oval Office.
Photos of Steve Jobs and Bill Clinton at Camp David for a special screening of Pixar’s animated movie A Bug’s Life were not released, as the Clinton Library cited privacy provisions of the Freedom of Information Act. But with any luck the public will get to see those eventually. Hopefully it won’t take half a century.
Below we have a breakdown of the newly released files.
The recommendation for cabinet positions
Some of the documents in the files include letters between Jobs and Clinton. In a letter dated November 16, 1996, Jobs sent Clinton a letter congratulating the president on his re-election victory. But Jobs didn’t just send congratulations. He also sent President Clinton two unsolicited suggestions for who he should appoint to be the new Surgeon General and the Secretary of Defense.
The two “crazy suggestions,” as Jobs called them, were Dean Ornish for Surgeon General and Andy Grove for Secretary of Defense. The letter appeared with Pixar letterhead.
Dean Ornish is the author of countless fad diet books and a man that the scientific establishment has said is wrong about virtually everything involving diet and longevity. But Jobs, who also believed in bullshit health theories that probably contributed to his own death, thought Ornish’s alternative approaches were just what America needed.
From the letter to President Clinton:
Yes, Dean has inhaled (and more), which will create some problems. He would, however, be supported by many people who’s lives he has dramatically improved and in some cases saved. This group of supporters includes many corporate executives who have been spared major surgery. Dean is at the forefront of answering many of the basic questions concerning “How does diet affect health?”, and these answers could greatly affect the health of our nation and eventually tens of billions of dollars of our agricultural economy (beef, poultry and dairy industries, to name a few). Dean is not only a “physician’s physician”; he is incredibly articulate and has the firm moral fiber necessary to withstand the challenges he faces from entrenched interests threatened by his new findings. I know that you are well acquainted with Dean, and trust that he will not be lost among more “traditional” candidates for this super-important job.
The joke about Dean “inhaling” refers to the time when Clinton was asked if he’s ever smoked marijuana. Clinton said that he had, but “didn’t inhale,” which was widely ridiculed.
The recommendation of Andy Grove for Secretary of Defense was perhaps just as unorthodox in that Grove was the founder and CEO of Intel and didn’t have a military background. Grove died last year at the age of 79.
From the letter to Clinton by Jobs:
Andy is at the center of the exploding information revolution, and he could bring many of these perspectives to defense strategy and its current uses of information technology (command & control, intelligence,...). He could be a secret weapon to change our perspectives and thinking about defense as our nation faces new world roles and fiscal limitations. I have never met a better manager and leader in my life (including Dave Packard and Bob Noyce). Andy has no public policy experience, but he is one of the smartest and fastest learners I have ever met. He was born in Hungary and is a US citizen.
President Clinton sent a letter dated December 11, 1996, thanking Jobs for the recommendations, but you can read between the lines to see that Clinton thought it was kind of silly. The letter is short and Clinton explains that he’s already made his choices for the positions despite having “great respect for Dean Ornish.”
Thanks for your letter of November 19. I’m grateful for your recommendations, and, as you well know, I have great respect for Dean Ornish. Although I’ve already announced Senator Cohen as my choice for Secretary of Defense, I appreciate your comments about Andy Grove. I’ve made Bob Nash aware of your suggestions.
Hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday season.
The trip to David Geffen’s house
In a letter dated May 3rd, 1996, President Clinton thanks Jobs for his support of the Democratic National Committee. At this point, the 1996 presidential election pitting Clinton against Republican Bob Dole and Independent Ross Perot was roughly six months away. Clinton eventually won with just 49.2 percent of the popular vote, compared to Dole’s 40.7 percent and Perot’s 8.4 percent.
But Clinton also took the opportunity in the letter to thank Jobs about some personal visits as well, including a meeting at movie mogul David Geffen’s house.
Geffen was a longtime Democratic supporter but his relationship with the Clintons turned sour in 2001. Geffen had hoped that Clinton would pardon Native American activist Leonard Peltier on his way out of office. Peltier was convicted in 1975 for killing two FBI agents in South Dakota after what global human rights organizations have called an unfair trial. Pardoning Peltier has long been a human rights cause in the US and Geffen was upset when President Clinton instead pardoned Marc Rich.
“Marc Rich getting pardoned? An oil-profiteer expatriate who left the country rather than pay taxes or face justice?” Geffen told New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd in 2007. “Yet another time when the Clintons were unwilling to stand for the things that they genuinely believe in. Everybody in politics lies, but they do it with such ease, it’s troubling.”
From then on Geffen called the Clintons liars and refusing to support Hillary Clinton in 2008 before Barack Obama won the nomination. Geffen stayed “neutral” in the lead up to 2016.
But the Clinton family was close to both Steve and his wife Laurene. How close? Bill and Hillary would use a house owned by Jobs in Woodside, California as a place to meet up with their daughter Chelsea when she attended Stanford University. Walter Isaacson’s biography of Jobs includes an interesting anecdote about one time when Laurene wondered where a certain painting had gone.
On occasion Jobs would use the semi-abandoned Woodside home, especially its swimming pool, for family parties. When Bill Clinton was president, he and Hillary Clinton stayed in the 1950s ranch house on the property on their visits to their daughter, who was at Stanford. Since both the main house and ranch house were unfurnished, Powell would call furniture and art dealers when the Clintons were coming and pay them to furnish the houses temporarily. Once, shortly after the Monica Lewinsky flurry broke, Powell was making a final inspection of the furnishings and noticed that one of the paintings was missing. Worried, she asked the advance team and Secret Service what had happened. One of them pulled her aside and explained that it was a painting of a dress on a hanger, and given the issue of the blue dress in the Lewinsky matter they had decided to hide it.
That same book revealed that Clinton talked to Jobs during the Lewinsky crisis, something that isn’t mentioned in the files that have been released thus far.
“I don’t know if you did it, but if so, you’ve got to tell the country,” Jobs reportedly told Clinton during one of their phone calls.
Congratulations to Steve
In late December of 1996 it was announced that Jobs would be returning to Apple, the company he’d co-founded and left in 1985 after being stripped of virtually all power by the board of directors. President Clinton saw the news and on January 8, 1997 sent a hand-written letter to Jobs with his congratulations.
Chelsea’s invitation to A Bug’s Life
The files also include notes from First Daughter Chelsea Clinton’s social secretary to Steve Jobs after he invited Chelsea to a preview screening of Pixar’s A Bug’s Life at De Anaza College Campus in Cupertino.
And while Chelsea didn’t attend the screening, it does appear that President Clinton got a personal peek at the film before it was released.
According to redaction documents released by the Clinton Library, there was a screening of A Bug’s Life at the president’s Maryland getaway, Camp David, on November 8, 1998. But the dozens of photos from that event have been withheld citing privacy protections in the Freedom of Information Act.
We do, however, have photos of the very next day, when Pixar big shots like John Lasseter (now head of Disney Animation) and Steve Jobs are present.
The photos, dated November 9, 1998, were taken in the Oval Office. One angle even gives us a perspective from behind President Clinton’s desk, though it doesn’t appear that the president is around.
I’m no presidential historian, but it seems like photos from this angle of the Resolute Desk are pretty rare. Especially with all of the personal photos sitting up there. More typically we see the photos sitting behind the president rather than on the desk itself.
The list of CEOs
Another file that was released includes a list of CEOs that the president has “seen.” The list doesn’t specify how President Clinton “saw” these people, but it’s a safe bet that they were probably face-to-face meetings.
- Skip Brittenham, senior parter at the law firm Ziffren, Brittenham, Branca & Fischer
- Edgar Bronfman, Jr., CEO of The Seagram beverage company
- Susie Buffett, President of the Buffett Foundation
- Augie Busch, IV, VP of Anheuser-Busch brand management
- Ted Field, The Interscope Group
- David Geffen, Dreamworks
- Steve Jobs, owner of Pixar
- Chase Mishkin, movie producer
- Jerry Moss, cofounder Almo Sounds
- Marty Peretz, Editor in Chief of The New Republic
- Bob Shaye, CEO of New Line Cinema
- Harvey Weinstein, cofounder of Miramax
The list includes people like Marty Peretz from the magazine The New Republic, along with plenty of entertainment industry figures. But that last name on the list will raise a few eyebrows today.
Yep, that’s Harvey Weinstein, who shows up incidentally in the photos released where Steve Jobs was present.
The thank you letter from Laurene Powell Jobs
The files also include a letter written by Laurene Powell Jobs, thanking the Clintons for having them at the White House and even praising the family dog, Rex.
The letter from Laurene:
Dear President and Mrs. Clinton,
Thank you for a visit we will remember all our lives. We loved the evening, especially staying up chatting with the President. We had a great time exploring the house and grounds, and had the good fortune of stumbling upon Rex along the way.
We now have a glimmer of your perspective looking out from the White House, as everyone else tries to look in. Thanks for sharing a little piece of your world with us.
Laurence and Steve Jobs
It’s not clear from the letter who else was present at this particular White House visit. Laurene Powell declined to comment for this story.
Computers to Kosovo
Apple Computer donated 27 iMacs to Kosovo in 1999 during the war that devastated that region. And President Clinton sent an uncharacteristically bland letter that was prompted by the president’s aids.
Had their friendship cooled? It seems unlikely. Because by the following summer, President Clinton sent what appears to be the most random letter in the collection.
The note about Jobs making the New York Times crossword
Yes, President Clinton has always been a big fan of the New York Times crossword. And when he saw that Steve Jobs had made it as an answer for the puzzle he sent Jobs a note congratulating him.
President Clinton even included the finished crossword. And there it is at 94 across, with the clue “Jobs, to friends.” The answer? Steve.
There are still plenty of unanswered questions about the details concerning the friendship between Bill Clinton and Steve Jobs, but these files provide a look behind the scenes, as it were.
Jobs had some unique ideas about the way that the world should work. And while some of them were revolutionary for the tech world, it’s probably for the best that President Clinton ignored his friend when it came to things like appointing a nutrition guru to be Surgeon General.
As the Clinton Library explains, “previously restricted materials,” regarding Steve Jobs may be released in the future. And while I’m not holding my breath on anything about the Lewinsky scandal, it would be nice to at least get a look at photos from the Pixar screening at Camp David, if only because A Bug’s Life features voice work by plenty of other Clinton pals. Was Kevin Spacey or Julia Louis-Dreyfus at the screening? We’ll have to wait to find out.