Interviewers' Names: M. Scott Sosebee and Paul J. P. Sandul
Interview Date and Location: The interview was conducted on August 15, 2011 in Joe Christie's home in Austin, Texas.
Context Notes: Interview and transcription completed in conjunction with the Charlie Wilson Oral History Project at Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, Texas.
Tapes and Interview Record: The original recordings of the interview and a full transcript are held by the East Texas Research Center, R. W. Steen Library, Stephen F. Austin State University, Nacogdoches, Texas.
Transcription Notes: The policy of the Charlie Wilson Oral History Project has been to eliminate false starts and crutch words from transcriptions when determined not to affect the meaning and flow of the spoken word. Obviously, and admittedly, this is a subjective endeavor and all care was taken to maintain the integrity of the interview.
The interviewers M. Scott Sosebee and Paul J. P. Sandul are identified as SOSEBEE and SANDUL, respectively. Joe William Christie is identified as CHRISTIE.
SOSEBEE: It is August the 15th, 2011, and we are in Austin, TX with Mr. Joe Christie at his home. I am Scott Sosebee. I'm here with Paul Sandul. And Mr. Christie is a close friend and colleague of Charlie Wilson. And, so we are continuing with the Charlie Wilson Oral History Project. Joe, before we get into some more specific questions, can you, just for us, tell us about yourself-your career, how you and Charlie met.
CHRISTIE: Well, I was born in Rising Star, TX.
SOSEBEE: Oh, I'm a West Texan, too, so . . .
CHRISTIE: And the bright lights of Cisco lured me away about age of two. And I was raised in Cisco, which is kind of between Fort Worth and Abilene on the old US Highway 80. So I went to school there. My father was a wildcatter, came down with his brothers from the hills of West Virginia and Ohio. They moved into the Breckenridge Boom in 1917 and then the Ranger Boom. They were four brothers and they were young and tough mountain guys. And this is, the oil business at that time was a perfect fit for them because it was wild and tough. A lot of great stories coming out of that. My uncle and my father and the other three, the four uncles and my father, all spread out over west central Texas and strategically located in Wichita Falls, Breckenridge, Graham, Abilene, and Ranger so that they could share intelligence on what was happening. They were pretty successful, some more so than others. My father was the least successful of the bunch. He was always off riding motorcycles or learning how [laughter] to fly an airplane when the other guys were working on deals. I graduated and then went to North Texas for a couple of years. I was really on my way to University of Oklahoma and my car broke down in Denton so I decided to go to school there [laughter] and enrolled thinking I was going to major in geology because that's my family background. And not until after I enrolled that I discovered they didn't have a . . .
SOSEBEE: [Laughs.] Oh, is that so?
CHRISTIE: . . . geology program. But I went ahead . . . it was a good time, it was a good school, a lot of fun. Went there for a couple of years, then transferred to University of Texas so I could continue my geology studies. Then in 1954, before I finished undergraduate school, I volunteered for the Marine Corps. Went to the Marine Corps, active duty for two years, and inactive duty for Reserve for six more. So, in the Marine Corps from '54 to '56. Came back, finished my geology degree and that was one of the frequent, during one of the frequent busts of the oil industry. And guys with PhDs in geology are driving taxi cabs [Sosebee laughs] in Odessa and Midland. So, I didn't have anything better to do, so I went to law school. I was still on the GI Bill and since there weren't any jobs out there for geologists I decided to go to law school. Went to law school. Finished in 1961, January, 1961. Finished law school in two and a half years. I was offered a job as assistant county attorney in El Paso. Moved out there. Only knew two people in the whole city, a couple of my ex-roommates. Moved to El Paso . . . a small U-Haul trailer with everything I own, mostly books, and a $500 overdue note [laughter]. That was before the time of student loans. So, I hit town and became a prosecuting attorney for about three years. But it was my first day there, they gave me a file and said, "Go pick a jury [unintelligible]." I didn't know where to stand.
SOSEBEE: Wow, my gosh.
CHRISTIE: Yeah. So fortunately the judge was very kind to me and told me where to stand and when I should talk and when I shouldn't talk [laughter]. So it was kind of sink or swim. So I did that and then I formed a, I became a partner in my local law firm. Met my wife Tawna who was an old-time, long-time El Paso family. Met her in a bar. She'd ridden her horse up there to get a coke and the owner of the bar, which was also a really fine steak restaurant, had gotten to know me and knew her and introduced us and went on from there. In 1964, that was before the one-man-one-vote decision . . .
CHRISTIE: . . . US Supreme Court. The senatorial districts were based on geography instead of people. You know, Dallas had one senator, Houston had one senator, West Texas had a bunch of senators. And in 1964 there was a group of young lawyers that, we had just been kind of padded on the head, and said, "Don't bother us" by the power brokers out there. There was a vacancy that the incumbent senator Frank Owen had retired or wasn't gonna seek reelection, so . . . was open seat. But the district went from El Paso to Midland and Odessa, so it was a schizophrenic, politically liberal, high-minority city where all the people were, El Paso, and then Midland and Odessa. So we decided that we'd take on the establishment and they kind of asked me to be the candidate. So, just before filing deadline to make sure they didn't throw anybody else from El Paso into the race, I filed in all the counties becoming the only candidate from El Paso in that race. All the, [John] Connally [Texas Governor (1961-68); as a Democrat, though he later switched parties] and the . . . Democratic Party had handpicked a candidate from Odessa and he was going to be the next senator whether El Paso liked it or not. Well, I'd been there for like, I don't know, three years, and suddenly I ran as the hometown boy [laughter], the only El Pasoan seeking this office. And I carried every precinct but two. Cost me 6,000 dollars for printing and postage . . .
SOSEBEE: [Laughs.] That was a lot of money then.
CHRISTIE: . . . and running ads . . . 6,000 dollars. Carried 74 out of 76 precincts just because I was still the El Paso person there. But the rest of the district wiped me out. So, I didn't win that race. But one of the most interesting things when I was campaigning was when I'd go to Odessa, that was during the height of the John Birch Society [a political advocacy group that supports anti-communism and limited government; it has often been described as a radical right-wing, conservative group] . . . SANDUL: Uh-huh.
CHRISTIE: . . . and everywhere you looked around there, there were . . . billboards, and I would have, I'd have not really successful fundraises in different homes in the neighborhood. And I later found out that John Birch Society went around and took down the license plate numbers of all the . . .
SOSEBEE: Is that right?
CHRISTIE: . . . commies that were going to . . . [laughter] to my fundraiser. So I kind of established myself as a candidate. And then the one-man-one-vote decision came out of the US Supreme Court and they redistricted the area . . .
CHRISTIE: . . . political subdivision . . .
CHRISTIE: . . . you know, including the Texas Senate. Drew the lines back on the 29th senatorial district, which was El Paso and two little counties to the east . . . virtually, El Paso.
CHRISTIE: And I was suddenly the front runner. Well, Connally, although we became friends later, Connally put up another candidate against me. I announced again in '7-, I mean '66. So I ran and carried every precinct, and, by a lack of 2-to-1 margin. And then I had a Republican opponent, which no one paid any attention to. So, 1966, got elected to the Texas Senate. Came down here and, I don't know whether you all have interviewed Charlie Schnabel [Wilson's second Administrative Assistant who was indeed interviewed for the Charlie Wilson Oral History Project] yet or not . . .
SOSEBEE: Yes. SANDUL: Yes.
CHRISTIE: . . . Secretary of Senate. SANDUL: Yes.
CHRISTIE: And it was kind of a line out of the movie The Candidate, you know, I got down here and I asked Charlie, I said, "What do I do now?" So Charlie really was a great help. But I got here along with, there were ten of us that swept in and . . . including Barbara Jordan*, Charlie, Red Barry** the old retired gambler from San Antonio who ran on a horse racing ticket, Mike McKool [who served from 1969-72] who bailed out over Europe and fought with the Yugoslav underground during the war, a lot of really, Oscar Mauzy who later became . . . Supreme Court [Oscar Holcombe Mauzy was a Texas State Senator from 1967-1986 and Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas from 1987-1992]. [*Jordan was a Texas State Senator from 1967-1973 and US Representative from 1973-1978. She was the first African American elected to the Texas Senate since Reconstruction.] [**Virgil Edward "Red" Berry served in the Texas House of Representatives from 1961-66 and in the Texas State Senate from 1967-1968.]
SOSEBEE: It was quite the freshman class [chuckles].
CHRISTIE: Oh it was fun. It was absolutely fun. So that's where I first met Charlie. And he was married at that time to Jerry, and Jerry and Tawna struck up immediate friendship and so the four of us spent a lot of time together. And that's where I really cemented my friendship with Charlie. We had just a lot of fun and made it fun in the Senate. It was a good time to be in Texas politics. Barnes was, Ben Barnes,* a golden boy, youngest lieutenant governor, I mean youngest Speaker of the Texas House ever. A protégé of Connally's. Connally, when I first met him, his arm was still in the sling from Dallas. I remember he had that black sling on. A supremely handsome guy with a little pocket that he had made for his cigarettes, so he could . . . [*Barnes served as the Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives from 1965 to 1969 and the 36th Lieutenant Governor of Texas from January 21, 1969 to January 16, 1973.]
SOSEBEE: Is that right [laughs].
CHRISTIE: . . . carry his cigarettes in his sling. You remember a thing like that. So Connally was governor, Preston Smith . . . lieutenant governor [Smith, who also formerly served in the Texas House and Senate, was the Lieutenant Governor of Texas from 1963-1968 and the Governor of Texas from 1969 to 1972]. Barnes was speaker. They, Connally and Barnes, were really antagonistic toward Preston, the lieutenant governor. And I threw in with the lieutenant governor . . . because he named all the committees, named all the chairmen, signed all the bills, and decided the fate of your legislation so it wasn't a hard call for me. But, I don't remember where Charlie was on that, but I think he was on the wrong side on the battle with, on, he and Connally were big friends.
SOSEBEE: Is that right?
CHRISTIE: Yeah. So I got some supreme committee assignments for only senator with a chairmanship, vice chairmanship, on the finance committee, on the finance subcommittee that sat back in the lieutenant governor's office and wrote the appropriations bill [laughter]. So that's where Charlie and I met.
SOSEBEE: That was in the time of Texas politics, just so we can get some edifications in this, I mean, there was a change going on. I mean, you know, Democratic politics have been acrimonious, particularly in the liberal-conservative split . . .
CHRISTIE: Oh sure.
SOSEBEE: . . . in the fifties. And then when after that decision came down, how did that begin to change the vibe, if you want to, in the politics? I mean, did the conservatives lose some of their power because of this . . .
CHRISTIE: Oh yeah.
SOSEBEE: . . . this strong freshman class that came in . . .
SOSEBEE: . . . and how did y'all learn to get along?
CHRISTIE: The, I mean, the rural voters, the rural senators, ran Texas because they were disproportionately powerful. You look at the . . . I can't think of any of the new senators that you'd label "conservative," except maybe Hank Grover [Texas Representative from 1961-1966 and State Senator from 1967-1972], I think he came in, he was the only . . .
SOSEBEE: Is that when he was, yeah, maybe that was when he was elected, that's right. Yeah.
CHRISTIE: . . . he was the only Republican in the Senate at the time. And I think the first Republican I ever met.
SOSEBEE: Even knew existed [laughs].
CHRISTIE: But the division was always there, conservatives against liberals. And just, they were all Democrats . . .
SOSEBEE: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
CHRISTIE: . . . because you had to be to get elected. But it was the Connally, the Connally group and still a vestige of [conservative Texas Governor] Allan Shivers* on one side, and [liberal US Senator Ralph] Yarborough** and labor on the other side. And they were constantly after Yarborough. Finally got him with [Lloyd] Bentsen in the US Senate race [in 1970]. But, yeah, I mean . . . I'm sure the House is the same way, but the Texas Senate had a tidal wave of . . . [*Shivers served as a Texas State Senator from 1935-1947, Lieutenant Governor of Texas from January 21, 1947-July 11, 1949, and Governor of Texas from July 11, 1949-January 15, 1957. Shivers led the conservative faction of the Texas Democratic Party during the 1940s and 1950sand is recognized for transforming the office of the Texas Lieutenant Governor into a powerful political position.] [**Ralph Yarborough, a leader within the liberal faction of the Texas Democratic Party, served as US Senator from Texas from 1957-1971. Note: Texas was part of the so-called Solid South, in which few Republicans ever served office from the end of Reconstruction to the 1960s; hence, many conservatives were Democrat by name only.]
SOSEBEE: Mm-hmm. Sure.
CHRISTIE: . . . and think we were all considered at the very most moderates, which I felt I was on some issues and liberal on others. But, yeah it changed politics.
SOSEBEE: Well tell us just, give us an idea of, what is that, what was the division, what was the issues between the two and just give us your definition of what a Texas liberal was then?
CHRISTIE: Well a Texas liberal at that time was primarily concerned about who was going to bear the tax burden. There was a, and it's still the case today, the big issues at the time were whether we were going to put a tax on food. That, there was a long filibuster that Barnes had . . . and corporate income tax, I voted for corporate income tax. Great story about that. We all took kind of a blood oath, including Charlie, that we'd support a corporate income tax. In Texas it seemed like the evolution of taxation is that you go sales tax first, then you go, well first you go property tax, and then sales tax, and then corporate income tax, and then personal income tax. Well, this was the next step, you know, in sharing, in spreading the tax burden was corporate income tax. And we all decided we'd support that. The business lobby was going nuts and someone made the comment that if you want to fill up the airport with private airplanes bring up a tax bill [ osebee laughs] cause that's when the corporate chiefs all come in, you know, including Arthur Temple[Jr., owner of Temple Industries, a lumber conglomerate in East Texas]. So we get to the vote and it's, it was [James P.] Word [Sate Senator from 1963-1972], voted after Wilson, but we knew Word was going to vote for it because he was a very conservative guy, I mean gonna vote against it. And so we needed Wilson's vote. And Wilson had already promised us to vote for it. And it got down to Wilson when Charles Schnabel called . . . and Wilson voted "No." Barbara Jordan jumped out of her seat and started charging across the Senate floor like she was gonna whip Charlie [laughter].
SOSEBEE: That would've been the sight to see, wouldn't it? [Laughs.]
CHRISTIE: But there was this famous and funny lobbyist up in the balcony. They all knew that, they all assumed which way Wilson was going to vote. And they just knew they'd lost because it was down to Wilson and Word. And Wilson changed his vote, or voted against corporate income tax, the lobby was stunned, just dead quiet. They couldn't believe it, that they'd beaten it. And this one little lobbyist just said, "Let's hear it for Wilson" [laughter].
SOSEBEE: And that brings up something interesting, I mean, and you told me that, you know, this new wave and Charlie got the moniker "the liberal from Lufkin."
SOSEBEE: I mean, that's the moniker that he received from quite a few people. However, as we dig deeper into this, I mean, I don't know if you can say, I mean, what would you say? How deserved is that moniker? And what was his real political philosophy?
CHRISTIE: I think he was a liberal on human rights like I was. His fiscal policies, I think, had a lot to do with the advice he was getting from Big Pop. He called him "Big Pop" [Arthur Temple, Jr.]. He knew he couldn't go too far on some of the financial economic issues because he realized he'd need that, their support . . . and Arthur Temple was a human rights icon . . .
SOSEBEE: Uh-huh, that's right.
CHRISTIE: . . . in East Texas, you know. So I think their philosophies were, I think he well-represented the district. If it came down to, I forgot . . . while we were voting against the poll tax, and, but then the US Supreme Court came down and called that unconstitutional. There were lots of issues that Charlie and I agreed on. One that we didn't agree on is liquor-by-the-drink, and that was my issue. I don't know if y'all were living in Texas at the time, you certainly weren't old enough to drink, but people can't believe what an issue that was. It was a hangover from prohibition days. And instead of the, what's now called the alcoholic beverage commission, it's a liquor control board. What it was, was, it was a combination of the Baptists and the bootleggers keeping things quite . . .
SOSEBEE: Unholy alliance [laughs].
CHRISTIE: . . . and private club . . . you know, if you were warm to the touch and had five bucks you could become a member of the club and buy a mixed drink. Well Connally asked me to, he'd been to the homebuilders convention in Chicago trying to get that convention to Texas. And other convention cities like New Orleans, San Francisco, wherever, they said, "You don't want to go to Texas. You have to walk around with a brown bag of whiskey in your hand and mix your own drinks. You can't even buy a drink. It's not civilized." And, can't buy a bottle of wine. And Connally said, "If you agree to bring the homebuilders convention to Texas I'll pass liquor-by-the-drink." So my second day in the Senate I got a call from the governor, called me in, told me how important this legislation was, asked me to be the . . . I said "Sure. I'd do that." Well he'd offered that to about four other senators and they'd turned him down. Anyway, Charlie and I had a real run-and-gun battle about that. We got badly defeated. In the first session and the second session Connally had me introduce a, what they called "the little bottle bill" where you could buy miniature bottles instead of the whole big bottle. And it was defeated over in the House by a guy named David Crews [State Representative from 1961-1968] from just outside of Houston who, when the bill came up in the House, went to the back microphone and said he had a lot of people in his district who had invested in these miniature go-cart tracks and they've kind of fallen out of favor and these people are hurting. We want to find out some other use for this miniature track. So what this amendment does is allow the racing of miniature horses while you sell miniature bottles to the public. What they did, they laughed us out of the chamber and that's the worst thing that can happen to you is become the butt of a joke. So we lost that. And then finally Connally was gone, [Preston] Smith was governor [1969-73]. At the time the Texas Constitution had a prohibition against open saloons. And so people like Charlie and some of the others said, "I'd vote for this but it's unconstitutional. I can't." So I was able to pass a constitutional amendment. Put it on the ballot and let the people decide. And finally they did. Constitutional amendment passed. Some argument was that this is what the people wanted. So we passed liquor-by-the-drink, put a big tax on it, ten per cent tax. And when it came down to the final vote, Charlie, although it was a difficult, he thought it was gonna be a difficult vote, he knew it was the right thing to do. So he ended up voting for it. And as I recall, Jerry, his wife, was sitting behind him or up in the balcony, and said, "You jerk!" [Laughter.] But it passed and he never heard of it again, so there were no repercussions.
SOSEBEE: Well that brings up an interesting point. I mean, Charlie walked a thin line sometimes in his district as a state senator and then when he went to the Congress.
CHRISTIE: [Chuckles.] Yeah.
SOSEBEE: But he was always, I mean, he kept his electoral advantage.
SOSEBEE: He won these elections quite often when it seemed like some of his votes went against the constituents, which is like, you know, East Texas was, didn't want liquor-by-the-drink.
CHRISTIE: Absolutely not.
SOSEBEE: And he voted for civil rights issues and that's not a very popular issue in East Texas. How was he able to keep winning elections? What was his gift, if you will?
CHRISTIE: Well, I think whoever, whatever the constituent was that said this, is that "Charlie keeps us entertained." That was one thing. Another thing, he wasn't hypocritical. You know, when he'd get in trouble . . . I gave him a birthday party when we were both in the Senate. I was living out the West Gate right over by the Capital. We had a party area up in the pool on the roof. And Connally and I gave him a brunch one Sunday morning. And, a lot of crowd, a lot of his friends, a lot of fun. Charlie shows up, a lot fun, a lot of laughs. Left. I didn't find out till later that he'd spent the night in jail on a DWI [laughter]. And that was a mug shot that one of his opponents used against him . . . but, first of all, anybody that met Charlie liked him. Had to, had to, regardless of his politics. He was likeable. He was honest. And he didn't have a hypocritical bone in his body. And I just think that's the first thing I hope people look for in a candidate is, you know, is this guy honest or is he another one of those phonies that say one thing and does something else? I think that was his saving grace. Plus, he had the best constituent service in the Congress. Those women that he surrounded [himself] with were not only beautiful, they were smart. Then he had a couple a guys down in the district who were just absolutely dedicated to him and ran that bus that Charlie went from one place to another in. And his domino tournaments, where he gave out the dominos. He just knew, and plus he was a, he had a great military story to tell, you know, military academy, I mean naval academy and service in the navy and paid a lot of attention to veterans. There was never a social security issue that Charlie's staff heard about that they didn't get right on. And the elderly population, you know, in that district, it's an older population and that's big stuff for them, so. And he got in trouble, "Oh that's Charlie. But he took care of my grandma," you know.
SOSEBEE: So it was okay.
CHRISTIE: I think that was it. He just, great constituent service.
CHRISTIE: And personably likeable and not hypocritical.
SOSEBEE: When did you leave the Senate, Joe?
CHRISTIE: I was there, same year Charlie did.
SOSEBEE: Yeah. SANDUL: Same years as Charlie.
SOSEBEE: Yeah. SANDUL: In that time, what would you say were really Charlie's sort of signature pieces of legislation or things that he worked on during your [time], when you saw him working in the Senate?
CHRISTIE: His big issue was utility regulation and the Big Thicket, preserving that. That was a real struggle, you know, for him to sort that out, working with and for a big timber operation, yeah. SANDUL: How did he do that?
CHRISTIE: I think it was by compromise. I remember . . . the big symbol of that whole issue was the ivory bill woodpecker. And there was some question, and, you had, you had [Congressman] Ralph Yarborough really, for a lot of reasons, really taking all the timber companies because they're destroying the habitat of all these wonderful creatures epitomized by the ivory bill woodpecker. And there was a couple of environmentalists that just hounded Charlie incessantly on that. Can't remember his name, but I think he was kind of a go-between [for] the environmentalists and the timber people and I think Arthur Temple was more favorably inclined toward habitat saving than, what was the other company, E-Techs or something like that . . .
SOSEBEE: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
CHRISTIE: . . . another timber company, you know, they seemed to be just cutting down everything. So, those were the two big ones. Of course he took care of whatever was important in his district, Angelina State College, you guys [Stephen F. Austin State University]. He just took care of his constituents whether it was legislatively or through appropriations, or . . .
SOSEBEE: Y'all stayed friends . . .
CHRISTIE: Oh absolutely.
SOSEBEE: . . . after the Senate. And, so, how did that friendship continue? And also, did Charlie talk to you about when he decided to leave the Senate and run for Congress? What was his decision-making process? What did he think and why did he make such a decision?
CHRISTIE: We really didn't talk about that. I, well, I knew that was what he was going to do because in the session that, my last session and his last session, was at a redistricting session. And his whole focus was on drawing a district that he could win in. And he gave full credit to Barnes, who was lieutenant governor at the time, for helping him draw a district that he could win. And then he no longer, no sooner announced than, who was it Young [it was John Dowdy, who retired because of a bribery scandal after serving in the Texas House of Representatives from 1953-1967 and the US House from 1967-1972].
CHRISTIE: Yeah. Got caught with a suitcase full of money or something like that. And, you know, it made what would of been a difficult race a lot easier for Charlie. Last session he was really concerned about that. And I was running, I decided to run for lieutenant governor. So, you know, we were doing our different things as we left the Senate. You know, I had a stupid notion I could beat [William] "Bill" Hobby [the longest serving Lieutenant Governor in Texas history from January 16, 1973 - January 15, 1991]. And I think I could but I couldn't beat his mother [laughs].
SOSEBEE: His mother and the money would of made a big difference.
CHRISTIE: Oh well, when you own the biggest newspaper [Sosebee laughs], TV station. But, I tell you one thing, she was a gracious lady to me. I actually had called her and asked for a meeting with the editorial board [Sosebee laughs]. We had tea and went in and she was gracious [Sosebee laughs]. Everything worked out fine for me. Then, Charlie went to Congress. [Texas] Governor [Dolph] Briscoe [who served as Governor from 1973-1978] asked me to head up the State Insurance Board, which was in total disarray at the time. He called me in and offered me the job. And I said, "Hell, I don't know a thing about insurance. I'm just a sore-back lawyer." And he said, "Well, you don't have to know anything about insurance. You can hire somebody to do that. Just find out why they don't answer my mail" [laughter]. You know, the governor of Texas. So I go over there and have a big shake up there and come back and told the legislature we just, we got too many people over here getting in each other's ways. Anyway, I did that for several years and Charlie and I, we stayed in contact. We always, you know, when he came to town would have a drink or some laughs together. And it really wasn't until I left the state board and ran for US Senate and then the voters told me to go another line of work and so my brother and I started a oil and gas exploration company. And my business took me to Washington occasionally. And that's when I really, we renewed our . . .
SOSEBEE: I see.
CHRISTIE: . . . pretty intense friendship after that. So, this was in '79 through, all through the eighties and nineties. I mean, we stayed close friends and took a lot of trips together and saw the whole genesis of the Afghan thing. I was with his side most of the time. At his side. So it was just . . . stayed in contact with a friend that you really enjoyed being around was my motivation.
SOSEBEE: Yeah. So you did go with him to Pakistan . . .
CHRISTIE: I did.
SOSEBEE: . . . on a few occasions. So just tell us a little bit about that genesis. One person we've interviewed, and after I tell you this you'll probably know who this person was, told us "Charlie really wasn't interested in that over there until I got him interested in it." So you . . .
CHRISTIE: Well that's probably true.
SOSEBEE: . . . tell us how exactly Charlie got interested in all this over, in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the whole genesis of that.
CHRISTIE: Well, Joanne [Herring] did recruit him very heavily. Charlie was single at the time. And she was probably the most spectacular socialite in Texas, she and Lynn White, Oscar White's wife.* But Joanne gave these spectacular parties, spectacular parties. And at one point, the ambassador of Pakistan or somebody, offered, I think his name was Bob Herring, Joanne's . . . [*Oscar Sherman Wyatt, Jr. is a Houston businessman and founder of Coastal Corporation. In 2007 he pled guilty in federal court to illegally sending payments to Iraq under the Oil for Food program.]
CHRISTIE: . . . husband at the time, the post of consul or something like that for Pakistan [She served as honorary consul to both Pakistan and Morocco]. And he said, "Well I don't have time." He was running a big . . . "But my wife can do it." And so she became consul for Pakistan. And, a woman of boundless energy, strong opinions, absolutely gorgeous, would invite Charlie to these incredible parties in Houston. And Charlie saw them not only as fun but introductions to . . . of possible campaign support when he needed it, which worked out fine. And I don't think there's any doubt about what, she was the one who called his attention to Pakistan. Now I don't know where that fits with another story I'm about to tell you, but, you know, I was in oil and gas exploration business and was the first entity I know of to raise drilling money in Japan.
SOSEBEE: Oh really?
CHRISTIE: Yeah. In fact, they never allowed any money, never asked . . . Japan at the time had real strict controls on how their money left the country. And they had to create a whole new set of rules and regulations to let money come out to invest in oil and gas exploration in Texas. But anyway, that kind of peeked my interest of what might be going on over in the Middle East, Abu Dhabi. Well Charlie called me one time and said, "I just got back from Abu Dhabi and there are incredible business opportunities over there." Said, "I just set up," I think he said, he set him up or was going to set up a guy in his district to raise chickens. But to sell those chickens in Abu Dhabi they had to be butchered in a certain way according to Muslim law. And so he found a Imam or some [Sosebee laughs] Muslim cleric to go over there, somewhere in East Texas, and slaughter those birds [laughter] in an acceptable way. He said, "But there are deals like that everywhere." And I'd heard of a, I'd just come off of a tour, pretty successful tour, a big chairman of the insurance board. Big operation. We set the rates in Texas, at the time we did, 'til I made them compete. So, "Hell, I'll go over there and just kind of look around," so. He was going back to Abu Dhabi to try to convince the crown prince that ran the Abu Dhabi air force to buy a jet fighter other than the F-16. It was some fighter that Boeing or one of the airplane manufacturers had made, had built on spec thinking that the Defense Department would buy it and it turned out it was an inferior plane [laughter] So somehow one of the guys representing that defense contractor asked Charlie, "You mind going over there and try to sell these things for us?" So, I remember sitting in a very elaborate palace office, and Charlie and this prince, and Charlie trying to talk him into this other fighter, and the prince says, "I don't want that. I want the F-16 on my field." So, but, while we were there what did we do, we went to, went over to Dubai, went to Yemen, and I just tagged along just because it was fun, you know. We met with the, with the king of Dubai in this big office, big reception area with gold chairs lining the walls as far as you could see almost, and just the three of us sitting there. And I forgot what his story was, but he wanted something from Charlie. Then we went down to Yemen, met with the crown prince there who'd just deposed his father as king of Yemen because his father had become senile and kept the nation's treasury in, I think, pound notes under his bed [laughter]. And the termites ate them up, you know.
SOSEBEE: Oh, my gosh. SANDUL: Oh.
CHRISTIE: So they, the son came in, and this is the story that Charlie and I were being told. The son came in and told dad, "It's time to go. We've got a plane waiting for you. You can go in exile into London." And the father said, "Well can I just make it look like I resisted by shooting myself in the leg?" [Laughs.]
SOSEBEE: Oh gosh.
CHRISTIE: So they shipped him off to London [laughter]. So it's, I mean, it was those kind of experiences that anytime Charlie called I dropped whatever I was doing. I was doing pretty well in the oil and gas business so I had the ability to just drop and just, wherever you're going. So Charlie got interested in the Pakistan deal. And it just so happened that I was representing a company that had gotten the microwave contract for the Pakistan railroad. And Charlie said, "Meet me," I forgot where, maybe JFK [airport in New York City], "I want you to go with me to Islamabad and Peshawar." I said, "Well, fine, yeah. I've got a client over there and I'll call him and make sure that we're properly taken care of." So we get on a plane, it must've been in Dubai. We get on a plane, Charlie and I there. We're sitting up in first class. And then this sheikh gets on board with all these birds with hoods on them. And what we found out was that there was a bird called, I think it's called a bustard, that, all these . . . rich Arabs like to go out in the country and out in this desert and set tents up and have a big party. And one of the guys of falconry, hunting . . . but they'd hunted them all out in Pakistan and Dubai so they had to come, I mean in Saudi Arabia and Dubai and all that. So they had to come to Pakistan to find some more birds. So they get on, they get on [laughter] the plane with Charlie and me with his entourage and then two or three first class seats for the birds, sitting in, I don't know whether they strapped them in or not [laughter]. So we land and this big limo comes tooling up to the plane, you know. Charlie said, "That's probably for us, Joe." Well it wasn't for us it was for the sheikh.
SOSEBEE: For the guy, the birds [laughs].
CHRISTIE: Yeah. And then a smaller car, but a plenty nice car, pulls up. I'll never forget about how things have changed. It was an embassy car with an American flag on both fenders, you know, letting everybody know this is a car full of Americans driving around. And the same thing happened in Dubai and Yemen. I don't think we even, I'm virtually certain it wasn't armored or bulletproof . . .
SOSEBEE: Oh yeah.
CHRISTIE: We just drove around.
SOSEBEE: Wouldn't do that now, would you?
CHRISTIE: Just drove around. So we landed in Karachi. Spent some time there. Then went up to, oh while we were in Karachi I met with the, I met with my, with the head of the company I was working for and told him where we were going and asked, you know, "What should we do up there? What should we look for? What should we see?" And this guy said, "For sure go to Darra," D-a-r-r-a [Darra Adam Khel is a town in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan about 200 miles SE of Kabul, Afghanistan and 125 miles west of Islamabad, Pakistan; it is estimated 75% of the population is engaged in the gun trade]. "So what's about Darra?" He said, "Well ever since the British were run out of Afghanistan, this Darra has been an arms manufacturing site, and they use these primitive lays and primitive methods and produce carbon copies of the infield rifle and other weapons like that. You need to go up there. It's really interesting." So we get to Islamabad and first thing we ask is this little embassy aid, said, "We want to go to Darra." The guy says, "Oh, that's in the tribal district. No one gets to go to Darra. We just can't arrange it. We've never been to Darra. You can't go to Darra." So, Charlie, again, was meeting with the air minister, Pakistan, to try to smooth over the fact that Pakistan had bought and paid for F-16s that were fully loaded with, including what they called lookdown radar. The Israelis objected to Pakistan, maybe India too but that wouldn't of mattered, to Pakistanis getting all the advanced stuff. Just give them the strip down model. Well all the buses in Pakistan had pictures of F-16s on them, that were, it was such a matter of national pride that they were . . . and I remember, well I'll tell you about [Pakistani] President Zia [Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq] in a minute, but the Pakistanis were infinitely pissed off because they weren't getting what they paid for. And so Charlie was trying to smooth all that over and, like everyone else, the minister really liked Charlie. And as we left he said, "Well what can we do for you, Congressman?" Charlie said "Well my friend Joe and I want to go to Darra." He said, "Oh, we'll arrange that, sure." So next day, the same limo pulls up with American flags and about five police officers on motorcycles to escort us. And this little embassy guy, who was kind of pale white, I mean, he said "I don't know how you pulled this off, but we've never been able to do it." So we get in this caravan and head for the checkpoint going into the tribal area. We get to the tribal, to the border, and those downtown Pakistani police people turned around and went the other way. Waiting for us at the gate were these really tough looking guys just right out of a movie, with bandoleers . . .
CHRISTIE: . . . and rifles on their back and turbans, you know, and open the gate for us and here we went. We went into Darra and met, I'm sure the guy we met with, if he's still alive, was probably, gave Osama Bin Laden something to eat [Sosebee laughs]. It was that area.
CHRISTIE: I think it's, you know, where we're flying the drones right now. We get in and the chief elder, who runs the whole deal, had us in for tea and then took us around. And all these little shops were turning out guns and making cartridges . . .
CHRISTIE: And all the while Charlie and I are walking around, we kept hearing these gun shots, "Pow! Pow! Pow!" We finally found out that, one of the deals is, is when you go in and you can buy anything, you can buy any kind of weapon that you wanted there, but the deal was you got to test the weapon before you bought it. So people go out in the middle of the street and fire, you know . . .
SOSEBEE: Oh gosh.
CHRISTIE: So we did that. And then the next day we went to the refugee camp. And I was sitting on the podium next to the, I guess it was next to the ambassador, and Charlie was going to give the main speech. Just a sea of beards and turbans out there, and no women, but god there were a lot of them. The ambassador kind of bent over to me and whispered, "You notice that there's no one out there between the ages of eighteen and fifty-five. They're all back in the hills in Afghanistan fighting the Soviets." So Charlie gets up and makes this speech about how we're supporting the freedom fighters and how we're going to give you all kind of aid and we're gonna give you tents and medical supplies and food and support and blankets and bandages, whatever. And just said, you know, "We're for you and we're going to really support you." Well, when it was over, I guess the group, the Mujahideen, selected their spokesman. He came up. Old guy, probably seventy years old, through an interpreter talking right to Charlie said, "We don't want your bandages. We don't want your food. We don't want your blankets. We want something to shoot those helicopters down because they can hover over our villages and flatten them. And we're shooting fifty caliber rifles . . . Give us something to shoot down those helicopters." So driving back to the, I guess the only hotel in town where we could buy a drink, where we were staying, we were talking about that. And Charlie said, "Stinger missile. It's got to be the stinger missile." That's when he started the effort. And I kind of got interested in it personally, too. There was one trip up there, and he was talking about how, I don't know whether the State Department or CIA, but they wanted this "plausible deniability." SANDUL: Yeah.
CHRISTIE: They didn't want anything traceable back to the US and of course stringers would be obviously traced back. So they wanted not to have the stingers provided. So Charlie and I started discussing it. I met a fellow that Charlie introduced me to that was a real arms expert, and he suggested one of two kind of stopgap weapons . . . everyone agreed the stinger would be the definitive weapon. And so one thing led to another and we did a little research and decided that the alternative stopgap should a twenty millimeter canon made by . . . in Zurich. So I went over and made the deal . . .
SOSEBEE: Is that right?
CHRISTIE: . . . for the . . . twenty millimeter. In fact I'll show you in a minute the model of the canon that they, well I'll get it right now. SANDUL: Oh, wow.
CHRISTIE: This is what we, we bought. SANDUL: Oh wow.
CHRISTIE: The attraction to this is, number one, it's highly, highly accurate. And to demonstrate that, before we got the fund, Charlie got the fund to buy it, they showed, they had the gun roll out on, I think it was on two mules, and set it up quickly and shot it into a cliff side and hit a cave or a spot dead-on. So that weapon was purchased. I don't know how the funds flowed but . . . .
SOSEBEE: [Laughs] You don't know where he got it.
SOSEBEE: But he did arrange it.
CHRISTIE: Yeah. I've got a guess that was Gust Avrakotos [CIA agent working with Wilson]?
SOSEBEE: Avrakotos. SANDUL: Yeah I'm not sure how to say it, either.
CHRISTIE: Well, no. Well. Anyway. It was . . . He and, Charlie and Gust did all that. I didn't know anything about it. I just said, "Here's the company. Here's the deal. Y'all take care of it." SANDUL: Sounds like you were certainly more informed than a lot of other people we've ever talked to about what Charlie was really doing, compared to say listening to his sister or listening to even some of his staffers.
CHRISTIE: Yeah. SANDUL: You certainly are far more in tuned into what "Charlie Wilson's War" was about and what was happening because you certainly were there and present . . .
CHRISTIE: Yeah. SANDUL: . . . and listening to those conversations actually take place.
CHRISTIE: Yeah. SANDUL: Okay. Now, I didn't mean to interrupt. Can I quickly change the tape here? [Sandul changes video tape; pauses voice recorder.]
CHRISTIE: Well, I was on a roll there but I forgot where I was.
SOSEBEE: We were talking about Afghanistan.
CHRISTIE: Okay. SANDUL: Yeah, let me turn this [video camera] back on.
SOSEBEE: And particularly you being . . . SANDUL: Hold on.
SOSEBEE: . . . so part of an inner circle with Charlie . . . I mean we've talked to many people. And, other than probably [Wilson's second Administrative Assistant Charles] Schnabel, all of them said, "We didn't know what Charlie was doing." I mean staffers in the office, family, close [friends], "We didn't know what he was doing. We didn't know what he was doing. He was keeping it a secret." SANDUL: They all said they knew something was up.
SOSEBEE: Yeah. SANDUL: But they didn't know what was actually going down.
SOSEBEE: So, why did, my thing would be, how did he keep the secret so well? And why do you think he brought you in to the confidence?
CHRISTIE: Well, it was because, number one, he trusted me. And number two, we enjoyed each other's company. Number three, he'd seen me enough to know that I could, I guess, kind of handle delicate situations. And, my past and insurance board, big stuff. And we were just friends. And we talked a lot about strategy and it was, what did George Crile [author of Charlie Wilson's War] call it, the largest clandestine operation in history. And the reason, I mean clandestine means clandestine. SANDUL: Yeah.
CHRISTIE: So you don't let many people know. But I knew about it. And whenever I was asked to do something to implement it I didn't go to any, I didn't pry. I did, one time I . . . Egypt, Abu-Ghazala. Have you heard that name, Abu-Ghazala [Mohamed Abd al-Halim Abu Ghazala, Egypt's Defense Minister from 1981-89]?
SOSEBEE: Mm-hmm. SANDUL: Mm-hmm
CHRISTIE: Abu-Ghazala was a key to virtually, well certainly to this. SANDUL: Uh-huh.
CHRISTIE: Because the Swiss had a law against selling any of their weapons to combatees [unintelligible]. . . SANDUL: Okay.
CHRISTIE: . . . people engaged in shooting each other, which pretty well defined the Mujahideen. So the Swiss arranged, and I didn't do this but I just knew about, the Swiss arranged for a, I think it was called certificate of use, where the government of Egypt issued a document saying, confirming that the purchase of these cannons, anyway, would be used in Egypt. So that allowed the Swiss to export them . . . and it wasn't the Swiss's problem. SANDUL: Yeah.
CHRISTIE: So you had that. I knew that the, I just asked generally, "Where's the money coming from for this?" It was coming half from us and half from Saudi Arabia. Jointly financed. And every once in a while, I guess Gust or somebody in the bookkeeping department of the CIA would send a bill and sometimes it'd be slow paying and sometimes it wouldn't. But it would get paid. And that's the way all the arms . . . each had a bunch of crappy stuff from the Soviets that they tried to pawn off on Charlie.
CHRISTIE: I wasn't there for that trip. But they were trying to convince Charlie that these other cannons that they had would fit the bill. And Charlie said, "Well they got to be transportable by mule because that's the terrain." So they hooked up some mules to these big heavy deals and almost killed them trying [laughter] to pull up a hill and they wrote that off, and some other stuff. But I'd heard later, I think I'd heard later and then confirmed by Crile's book I think, that a lot of the arms were coming from China. But the money was coming from the U.S. and Saudi, as I understand it. But, getting back to your original question, why did Charlie bring me into it? I think he needed somebody, you know, to do some of these things that he could trust. I've always been kind of a sucker for things I haven't done before [laughter].
SOSEBEE: That adventurous bone in your body [laughs]. You know, sometimes historical events and things that happen is the perfect marriage of intersection of people and place and time.
SOSEBEE: And I've been thinking of this. Given his talents, his contacts, just give us what you think. Could anybody other than Charlie have done this?
CHRISTIE: First of all, since he wasn't married, didn't have a family to attend to, he had plenty a time, when the Congress adjourned. Plus, you know, he was such a student of history and heroic figures. I mentioned my remarks at his memorial service about, you know, [British Prime Minister] Winston Churchill was one of his heroes along with [fictional antihero and solider created by George MacDonald Fraser, Harry Paget] Flashman, which I'll show you in a minute.
SOSEBEE: Okay [laughs].
CHRISTIE: But he had the time. He had the intellect. He really did, I think, identify with Flashman. You know, kind of the rogue adventurer that was always screwing up but then pulling things out of the fire at the last minute, and prevailing. Always prevailing, even though he stumbled into it occasionally. But, no, no one else could do it. I'm thinking of anyone else in the Congress that might have been able to do that and I just don't think so. And I think Crile, and I took a couple a trips with Crile and Charlie and got to know him pretty well and went to a bunch of his book signings and, good guy. But he had, Charlie had the perfect color for pulling this. If the Soviets had looked around for the least likely guy to be pulling something like this off it had to be Charlie, Good Time Charlie. So it was a whole combination of things. Plus, he really knew how the system worked, back then, when it was collegial and [Speaker of the House of Representatives] Tip O'Neill was around. And, you know, Tip appointed Charlie to that ethics commission, and the joke was that, you know, the rogues needed representation on the committee.
SOSEBEE: [Laughs] Yeah.
CHRISTIE: Reagan liked him. The key, I think, that cleared the way certainly for the stinger was when Charlie took, Charlie told me this story, took a bunch of the Mujahideen to see William Casey [Director of Central Intelligence from 1981 to 1987], who was the head of the CIA. And he told, they got the whatever time they prayed to Mecca in the afternoon . . . of the CIA said, "These are men of the Word, and they have to take a break to pray." And Charlie owned Casey from that point on. I mean it just [Sosebee chuckles] . . . Plus Reagan had made the decision that we were going to spend the Soviet Union into oblivion. The whole Star Wars thing [the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), which critics who doubted its possibility dubbed "Star Wars," was proposed by Reagan in 1983 to use ground- and space-based systems to protect the United States from attack by strategic nuclear ballistic missiles] and all of this, the weapon system that the Soviets kept trying to, they couldn't produce it internally so they kept trying to steal our stuff and reproduce it. One of the few successes that the CIA I'm aware of is them planting just a little bitty bug in some of the stuff they stole so that things never did quite work. And then Afghanistan. So he had, and Tip O'Neill loved him. Charlie often said he didn't have any industry or strong constituent group that needed anything other than just the normal stuff. So he could trade his votes to support, to back a legislation or this or that, and just build up all these . . . people liked him which goes a long way in politics. I mean if you like somebody you can set aside your differences and help them out occasionally. So it was a whole combination of stuff that made, I think, Charlie uniquely . . .
SOSEBEE: Uniquely qualified to do this job.
CHRISTIE: Uniquely qualified to do, pull it off.
SOSEBEE: Yeah. How much do you think, certainly Charlie had a great deal of compassion, and it developed, compassion for the Afghans . . .
SOSEBEE: . . . and their situation. How much of what he did was due to that and how much was his, that he was a Cold [War] Warrior? This defeating the Soviet Union?
CHRISTIE: He told me one time, and I kept urging him to keep repeating it, that he owed the Soviets for all the kids that they helped kill in Vietnam, in his district. He told me the number one time, how many soldiers were killed in Vietnam. And course the Soviets were backing the Vietcong and North Vietnamese. So, he felt it was payback time. And that was one of his major motivations. Philosophically, he said he hated communism. I'm sure he did, and I saw him make that statement on Charlie Rose [interview television talk show hosted by Charlie Rose] after, you know, his traveling around doing the interview for the movie. It was a whole combination of stuff. He liked guns, I mean . . .
SOSEBEE: Yeah. He obviously did enjoy his guns, didn't he?
CHRISTIE: He came to town one day. We were going out to East Texas to, I think to sponsor the defense minister of Pakistan. And Charlie was staying down at the . . . youth hotel downtown. And he called late, said "Pick me up in the morning. We're going to head for East Texas." So, during the night I get a call from, I think it's Carolyn, his staff, she said, "Our phone's been ringing off the hook." So when Charlie checked into that hotel he had all of these automatic weapons with him [laughter] and ammunition. And he made a joke about it to the bellman, said, you know, "Put that back there. There's nothing but guns and ammo back there. Take care of it," you know [laughter]. So immediately this hotel calls FBI. And whatever Charlie had was against the law to have. So his staff was on the phone all night. Finally cut a deal. I went down. They called me and said, "Go down there and pick Charlie up." I went down. I was sitting in the atrium and the hotel there has these glass elevators. And I saw these two guys in dark suits and sunglasses walking. I knew immediately they were FBI or fire and arms, firearms people. And they rode up the elevator alone. They came back down with Charlie. And they went over, and boy I was really drawn back by that time and just kind of sitting back. They went over, talked a little bit, started loading the boxes up and shook hands with Charlie. The staff had cut a deal that, if you just let Charlie give you that stuff then that'll be the end of it, and that was the end of it.
SOSEBEE: [Laughs] Oh my gosh.
CHRISTIE: We'd go out and shoot machine guns and stuff down in East Texas. He just loved to be around . . .
SOSEBEE: You think that came from his navy background as a weapons specialists? Because, I mean, from all indications, we talked to people, you know, a lot of people in East Texas, particularly, come to this guns mania, if you want to call it that, through hunting and outdoors. But Charlie didn't hunt.
SOSEBEE: So, but he did like to shoot those guns.
CHRISTIE: And he liked his constituents to know that he liked shooting those guns because [Sandul chuckles] it's a big guns rates outfit. And he wants to identify with the gun owners and the Second Amendment folks. So I think he sensed that way before the NRA got to be the power that it became, just another example of him having his finger on the pulse.
SOSEBEE: And he obviously did. As the Afghanistan and the Mujahideen and all the fighting the Soviets wore on, and this is kind of personal because you were there and you were with him for so much . . .
SOSEBEE: . . . and I've heard some people allude to this just, and you can comment on it. Did this start putting a lot of pressure on Charlie? Did you notice it affecting him emotionally, physically, having to keep all this together, keep the balls in the air juggling?
CHRISTIE: Well I never attributed it to that, that kind of pressure. I attribute it more to his lifestyle. I mean you had lunch with him, and the minute that wine glass got to half full he started looking around to make sure somebody would, that they weren't going to run out. He'd keep that glass full. Or it would be, I introduced him to a friend of mine from England and they had lunch together and he came and said, "I've never seen anybody drink scotch like that." So he hit it hard and heavy. Didn't sleep much. Never exercised. The drinking took its toll as it would on anybody. So I don't think it was the legislative stuff. I think it was personal. Health-related.
SOSEBEE: Since you knew him so well, one of his family members commented when we asked a question, we were talking, you know, just describe Charlie using adjectives, and he actually said "unhappy." And he said that in that he thought there was something Charlie was always chasing, that was unfulfilled. Did you ever see anything like that?
CHRISTIE: I wouldn't call him unhappy. I'd call, well, I guess if you're lonely you're unhappy.
SOSEBEE: You think he was lonely?
CHRISTIE: And it's a product more of his loneliness. God, he had a rotating list of women he went out with but it was nothing really serious until he met Barbara and married her. And I think that, more than anything, settled him down and, plus, quit him drinking.
CHRISTIE: I think it's the clearest indication of the quality of his character, was his ability to quit drinking cold turkey.
SOSEBEE: Yeah. That is something.
CHRISTIE: Without going to AA [Alcoholics Anonymous] or any, I mean, I know his friend [journalist, novelist, and playwright] Larry King* tried and tried to get him to go to AA. Maybe went to one meeting. And one time [Texas Governor] Ann Richards, [Wilson's second Administrative Assistant] Charlie Schnabel, [long-time Representative from Texas and former Speaker of the House] Jim Wright, one or two other people, maybe Sharon and Sam [Allison; Wilson's sister and her husband], probably so. We had an intervention with Charlie. We'd already made the arrangements for the plane. He was standing by going to take Charlie to [unintelligible]. And we get down there, and Charlie's in his, in Lufkin I guess it was, where he lived before. Where he fell off the walk and hit his head on the . . . [*Larry L. King is a journalist, novelist, and playwright. He is the only writer to be a finalist for a National Book Award, a Broadway Tony, and a television Emmy. The author of fourteen books and seven stage plays, King is the co-author of the smash Broadway musical "The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas." He was a star writer at Harper's during the 1960s and 1970s and has written for such publications as Life, Holiday, Cosmopolitan, The Progressive, Playboy, and Sports Illustrated. He also served as a contributing editor at New Times, Audience, Parade, The Texas Observer, and Texas Monthly.]
SOSEBEE: That was in Lufkin, yeah.
CHRISTIE: That was Lufkin, okay. He was living there alone. We walk in, he's still in bed. He wakes up and, you know, wonders who the hell, I mean here are all of his closest friends. And we sat him in the living room and said, "Look. We love you." And we hired a guy to do the intervention, a pro who'd already coached us how to do it. And Ann had her say, I had my say, and all went around, you know, "We're doing this for, Charlie because we love you. And you got to do this. The plane's out here. We've made arrangements. All you got to do is walk out the door." And he wouldn't do it. He wouldn't do it. He said, "My constituents would not understand why I had to go get being treated for being drunk." He refused to do it. And so he stayed on drinking until, I don't know really what pushed him over, it was some healthcare I think. And he just decided to quit and he did. But it was long after that attempted intervention. Yeah. So, I didn't attribute it to anything other than a unhealthy lifestyle, when I'd see him haggard or kind of down. But it didn't last long. I mean when you're with him, it was, he was virtually always up. He was always asking for advice and things like that. And kind of envied . . . the fact that I had married and children and had that going for me. And my wife was Jewish and he kept talking about, he was looking, going to look for a nice Jewish girl to marry and found one.
SOSEBEE: [Chuckles] Finally found one. SANDUL: I was revisiting Crile just the other day, and I was reading and . . . I was thinking of you as we were preparing. Right when your name came up for the first time it was "Oh, there's Joe."
CHRISTIE: Oh. SANDUL: And the very first thing he, you're identified not as, as, you know, former state senator, nothing. You were Joe Christie, quote "Charlie's old-time drinking buddy."
CHRISTIE: Mm-Hmm. SANDUL: So my question is, it began making me think about the Good Time Charlie moniker. If, maybe, you can comment towards fact, fiction, embellishment, misunderstood. What is that good time, the image of Good Time Charlie? Is that something we, the media's overblown, or?
CHRISTIE: No. Charlie promoted it, relentlessly. That image. For a lot of reasons. I think it was part of his political genius that if you're Good Time Charlie people want to be around you, especially these old married accountants and people like that, that have to go home to a doughty wife and they see Charlie with Ms. Hawaiian tan, you know [laughter]. So people wanted to be around him. And plus he really did enjoy the company of beautiful women. Like he used to say, is that, "I like women and my constituents know it. And the only time I'll ever get in trouble, if they catch in bed with a dead woman or a live boy" [laughter]. SANDUL: Oh gosh [laughs] . . .
CHRISTIE: I think the one who probably promoted the image of Good Time Charlie more than anyone was Molly Ivins [American newspaper columnist who often quipped about Wilson's lifestyle]. Molly Ivins was kind of an iconic liberal, funny writer for, first of all, for The Texas Observer and, later on, I think, either Dallas Morning News or Dallas Times Herald. But she got to be a pretty big-time columnist. And she loved Charlie. He's the one that told her, "You can teach them to type, but you can't teach them to grow tits." That was Molly's line. SANDUL: Hmm.
CHRISTIE: Molly loved him because he was always voting . . . One thing that he voted for that was probably red meat to his constituents, he voted for the right to choose, a woman's right to choose. For lots of reasons, I think, cause he really believed it. Because . . . all the good looking women that he knew . . . SANDUL: Yeah.
CHRISTIE: . . . was adamant for it. And his sister was the head of Planned Parenthood. So she would've slit his throat otherwise. So all of those things. People, again, like Tip O'Neill just, you know, just loved being around him. So it was an image that Charlie fostered and encouraged because he enjoyed that image, you know. SANDUL: Yeah, yeah. Definitely, definitely.
CHRISTIE: Yeah. SANDUL: Now another thought of mine as I was revisiting Crile and really coming to understand your knowledge of what was going on there, do you take exception with anything in Charlie Wilson's War? Did he get something wrong, miss it, or would you have added to the book at all?
CHRISTIE: I think George got it right, he really did. He might've underplayed some of the silly things that Charlie did like with the bank and overdrawing his account and all that stuff. SANDUL: Hmm.
CHRISTIE: I don't remember how he treated that. SANDUL: Yeah.
CHRISTIE: Starting with him, with George producing that 60 Minutes shot that "Charlie Did It." From that time on, Crile was enamored with Charles, Charlie. But he was a good enough journalist, if there was something there, he would've written about it if something was really out of line. Yeah, so I think the book got it right. And so did the movie, pretty much, except that they substituted, what's her name, Amy somebody [Actress Amy Adams] for Charlie [Simpson and Schnabel; Wilson's first and second Administrative Assistants]. SANDUL: Was Simpson, Schnabel, and [Wilson's third and last Administrative Assistant] Peyton [Walters], I guess, all at one time [laughs].
CHRISTIE: Yeah. Schnabel executed. Charlie made it possible and kept contacts at the highest level. And then Schnabel went and slept in the cave and ate with his fingers and brought the wounded Mujahideen to Houston for medical treatment and stuff like that. I mean he came very close to turning native, according to Charlie.
SOSEBEE: Is that right? Flew with those mules, too. He made sure . . .
CHRISTIE: He did.
SOSEBEE: . . . he told us about flying with those mules [laughs].
CHRISTIE: Yeah. And talking the mules, the guy that owned the mules, into selling them.
SOSEBEE: Yep that's right [laughs].
CHRISTIE: Yeah. His patriotic duty. And, oh Schnabel was, and he loved him. He loved him. He'd come in my office and hit me up for money for radios. They were, they didn't have, he had a bunch of them at RadioShack, or binoculars, or. And I'd give him some money and then he'd come back with a, at the end, and he said, and I guess this is true, that when the Afghans have a victory in war they make a rug to commemorate that. And so he brought me back a war rug. SANDUL: Oh wow.
CHRISTIE: That instead of flowers or birds or something on it, if you look at it real closely its tanks and bazookas . . . SANDUL: Oh wow [laughter].
SOSEBEE: That's something else.
CHRISTIE: . . . woven into it. I think the book did him justice. SANDUL: Okay.
CHRISTIE: What was really pleasing for me to hear was the Gust widow saying that, the guy that played Gust in the movie . . . SANDUL: Philip Seymour Hoffman.
CHRISTIE: . . . yeah, got him dead on.
SOSEBEE: Nailed it.
CHRISTIE: Dead on. I only met Gust one time when I sponsored a retreat in East Texas. And who was it, oh Abu-Ghazaleh, the defense minister from Egypt, came down. Charlie said, "Let's entertain this guy." There was lots of . . . Charlie brought some AK-47s or something down to shoot. And Abu-Ghazaleh, who was at [Egyptian President] Anwar Sadat's side when he was assassinated, wanted no part of that. He had seen enough guns. So he stayed in the lot when everybody was out playing, so. But, it was good.
SOSEBEE: Well, before I forget, you have to tell us about his 60th birthday. Because I hear you're the one who planned a lot of that. SANDUL: I hear this is legendary and we should ask you about it.
CHRISTIE: It was. I mean, I was not . . . There were two big things I helped Charlie plan. One was his niece's big crown, the cherry blossom queen, in, Texas cherry blossom* queen or something like that. But all the members of the Texas delegation, the congress, would murder to get their daughters or granddaughters named that. And Charlie outmaneuvered all of them and got his niece [Elizabeth Allison] named that. And it was held in the Smithsonian, where they have the Constitution, you know. I remember going in there with a drink and kind of looking at the Constitution, just me and a couple others having a drink and looking at it, you know. So that was Charlie's, some evidence of Charlie's ability to really navigate the system. So he got that. And then the 60th birthday party was at the Kennedy Center. And he invited all the "[Charlie's] Angels back and a bunch of his old friends. Yeah, I helped plan that, but Charlie really kind of set the tone. You know, he had his tailor make his tux to look exactly like Rick . . . the theme was Casablanca. So he wanted his tux to look exactly like Humphrey Bogart's tuxedo in Casablanca. And, man it was great. We had a great time. Big band. I remember him dancing with some congressional, Patricia Schroeder, was that . . . .?
[*Each year, the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC commemorates the 1912 gift of 3,000 cherry trees from Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo to the city of Washington, DC. The gift and annual celebration honor the lasting friendship between the United States and Japan and the continued close relationship between the two countries.]
SOSEBEE: Yep. Patricia Schroeder [liberal Democratic representative from Colorado in the US House from 1973-1997].
CHRISTIE: Yeah. Pat Schroeder.
CHRISTIE: Loved Charlie.
CHRISTIE: And they were always on opposite ends of a lot of different issues. Like everybody else, she loved him. So big band, big dance. Great balcony overlooking the city outside. It was just a good party. Pleased to be part of it. When we both got to the [Texas] Senate, we argued on who was the youngest member of the Senate. He said, "I'm the youngest." And I said, "When were you born." He said, "June the 1st, 1933." I said, "I was born June 28th. I'm younger than you are. I'm the youngest member of the Senate." And then we realized Barbara Jordan was . . .
SOSEBEE: Was younger [Jordan was born February 21, 1936].
CHRISTIE: . . . younger than both of us [laughter]. But, we've had . . . yeah.
SOSEBEE: When he left Congress and when he decided to retire from politics, do you think it was the change in how Congress was being run that caused this? Did he decide, maybe, the district was changing, wasn't gonna win again? What do you think, or just health? What prompted his retirement?
CHRISTIE: You know, we never really talked about that. I think it was, he kind of felt like it was time to go. There was a change in the mood and the partisan divide probably was just beginning to take shape. Barbara [Wilson's wife] probably had a lot to do with that. He had some, a lot of defense contracts, defense clients, but his biggest burden was representing Pakistan, which, you know, the war was over, all the corruption and stuff going on is still going on. Made Pakistan a very difficult client to represent. And then his . . . so to answer your question, I don't know why he got out but I think Barbara had a lot to do with it. And he probably thought it was time. He knew he could make more money . . .
SOSEBEE: Oh sure. Well, sure.
CHRISTIE: . . . lobbying and had a great apartment overlooking the Capital and all that. SANDUL: To your knowledge, did the [George W.] Bush administration ever attempt to contact Charlie after 9/11? Here is somebody with an expert knowledge of dealing with this part of the world.
CHRISTIE: If they did I didn't know about it. If they did I didn't know about it.
SOSEBEE: We haven't talked to anybody that knows whether they did or not. SANDUL: Yeah. It just seems like a . . .
CHRISTIE: I'm trying to remember . . . well, we talked a little bit about it and his greatest fear was some of those stinger missiles still being active and being used to shoot down our guys. Fortunately that never happened but that was his nightmare, was, because he told me stories about there at the last when they're scoring nine out of ten every time they shot at us . . . that the CIA had the briefing room bugged and they would give the Soviet pilots their target for the day, and at the last they were having to force them by gun point to get on board because they knew it was a suicide mission. So, you know, they'd fly as high as they could get and just drop their armaments and head back hoping that would be enough. But, yeah, he was, had nightmares, not literally nightmares, but told me he had nightmares about that happening. SANDUL: Of course.
CHRISTIE: Yeah. Then his doctor, he told me his doctor finally said, or maybe Barbara told me this, but doctor finally said, you know, "You got two choices. You need to either stop Washington, stop lobbying, or die." And so, boy, Barbara, I'm sure, was a moving force to buy a house down the street from Buddy Temple and sell that marvelous apartment in the Wesley. Sold it virtually overnight to a mutual friend of ours, with everything in it, all the furniture, everything. You know, Barbara doesn't want any of that stuff.
SOSEBEE: So she didn't; that big of a problem moving back to Lufkin?
CHRISTIE: She had a big problem moving back to Lufkin. The last time, I guess the last I saw Charlie alive, I picked him up at the airport to come into the UT [University of Texas at Austin] Chancellor's office for a little commemorative thing to announce the chair of Pakistani studies for at LBJ School [The Charles N. Wilson Chair in Pakistan Studies was established by the Board of Regents of The University of Texas System on July 30, 2009]. Charlie's in the front seat, Barbara's in the back seat, and it was a beautiful morning and Austin was at its best. And I was pointing out the new high-rises and Charlie's saying "God Austin sure is pretty." Barbara said, "Tell me again why we're not living here." And he said, "Well, cause my constituents, they're all in . . . " She said, "You're not in Congress anymore." And so I, when I pulled in the Four Seasons, I said, "Be sure and look at the new condo that they're building next door. It might be a good place for you." So she couldn't wait to move out of Lufkin after Charlie died as fast as she could. I stayed in contact with her, I hate to admit not in the last few months. She moved back to the same apartment house as they lived in, and was hoping to get some kind of work on the Hill, she said, because she loved politics and she just never engaged in political conversations in Lufkin. It just, it just wasn't that interesting for her. And there were some moments that, some of the locals weren't all that kind to her, and, you know, just being parochial about it, I guess.
SOSEBEE: Yeah. I can see that. I mean, it's a hard place to fit in when you're not one of them.
SOSEBEE: [Laughs] You know, it really is. East Texas can be provincial.
SOSEBEE: It certainly can. As those of us who move in there from outside find out [laughter]. Even West Texans they don't like us a whole great lot sometimes. SANDUL: Then they get a San Francisco Bay area boy [laughs].
SOSEBEE: Well . . . we've kept you for a long time and this has been fantastic, fantastic stuff. But before we go, two things: one, we'd like to, just share, cause everybody has a poignant Charlie story, a favorite memory, a favorite recollection. Do you have one of those? Just something that maybe stands out and just personifies him like you wouldn't believe? I know there are so many.
CHRISTIE: Yeah. Well, I think the trip to Darra [Pakistan] and getting to see all that. And every time Charlie went back he always took people back to Darra. In the Senate, we took a trip down to Mexico to Puerto Vallarta one time, just bunch a guys. And we were raising cane. And all of a sudden Charlie disappeared. And by that time we decided we were going to fly at night in a private plane from Puerto Vallarta over the Gulf of Cortez to Caba San Lucas, which at the time had one hotel and probably not even a lit runway. So we decided that was a good idea. Started looking for Charlie. He wasn't in this bar, he wasn't anywhere around. And I went in the men's room and finally I asked someone at the door. I said, "Did you see a . . . ?" I spoke a little Spanish, you know, "muy alto, muy feo, big tall, ugly guy?" [Laughter.]
CHRISTIE: They said, "Yeah he got in a cab." I said, "Well do you know . . . " and the cab driver apparently had come back there. I said, "Where'd you take my friend?" Said, "Oh, down at this place. He wanted to go to sleep." So we go down, this fleabag hotel and I asked . . . I described Charlie again, and easy to spot him. I knocked on his door and he comes to the door, all sleepy there, and the first thing he says, "How the fuck did you find me?" [Laughter.] . . . But anyway, that was typical. He's unpredictable. Unpredictable.
SOSEBEE: Is there anything we haven't asked you that you think people should know?
CHRISTIE: Were you at the memorial service . . .
SOSEBEE: No I was not.
CHRISTIE: . . . when I talked about? . . . Let me show you, well there's a couple things. This is an organization that Charlie put together for the Flashman freedom fighters. This was . . . Gust was one. Charlie Schnabel was one. I was one. I think one or two other guys in Lufkin were. And we all got jackets with Flashman . . .
SOSEBEE: Read it. Read it for us [laughs].
CHRISTIE: Okay. "The mission of Flashman's Freedom Fighters is to kill as many godless communist bastards and their subhuman immoral cohorts as possible. With the least expenditure of munitions and to integrate all supporting fires to restore cave dwellings as an accepted way of life in the former communist region."
And then when he . . . He sent me, this is a letter that he sent me accompanying this. It was headed "Flashman freedom fighters" North Oak Street, which is his apartment. Sent to me at my office. "Dear Sergeant Major Christie. Various of your clandestine activities have come to the attention of headquarters. And you have consequently been promoted to sergeant major. I'm sure that you have a great appreciation of the honor and the responsibility that accompanies this high rank. In honor of your advancement, I'm enclosing a wall plaque which should serve as an inspiration to you and all who come in contact with you. Incidentally, I have been promoted myself. Very best wishes. Sir Charles, Brigadier, Sir Charles."
SOSEBEE: [Laughs] That's great.
CHRISTIE: Well, again, he identified with Flashman. And if you've ever read that series you know what I'm talking about. But at the memorial service I said that, and I read this, and said that Charlie did serious work but didn't take himself seriously. It was important work, but he wasn't self-important. And he was always self-deprecating. And he was always, "Now Joe you're smarter than me, but . . ." You know, that was him. And then the other thing I wanted to show you was this great cartoon that Pat Oliphant did. Pat Oliphant is a pretty renowned political cartoonist.
CHRISTIE: Have you seen one of these [image shown above]?
CHRISTIE: Okay. Well the A-team and the B-team. And then Charlie said, "For Joe Christie, captain of the B-team" [laughter]. All these guys, you know . . . there's Larry King. There's Charlie, I'm in there somewhere. And everybody drinking . . . one guy scratching his rear end [laughter]. And then the upper-class here . . . This was a . . .
SOSEBEE: So we got Charlie hanging out with you and Larry King. He hanged out with some good West Texans, then . . .
CHRISTIE: Yeah. Well Charlie was really, I mean Larry King was really right down the street from me, I mean down the road from me in Eastland County.
SOSEBEE: Uh-huh. That's right. And did some time in Midland where, I graduated from high school in Midland. I grew up in San Angelo and graduated from high school in Midland.
CHRISTIE: Well he was more Odessa than Midland.
SOSEBEE: Well, yeah.
CHRISTIE: He's more blue-collar. Midland's white-collar. But, yeah he told a story of being in a beer joint in Odessa, Larry, one of his books maybe. And there was a saying in West Texas that "You don't wanna fart with that fella." And so they were in a bar, they were in a bar and some guy was mouthing off to this other guy. They're all roughnecks or pipe liners or derrick hands. And he mouthed off and the other guy wasn't paying much attention to him. Until the guy with the mouth went to the men's room. The guy that had been chaste a little bit followed him into the men's room. The guy with the mouth came out with one eye gone. The guy had gone in with a beer opener . . . Other than that, it was a pretty civilized . . . [laughs].
SOSEBEE: Odessa can be a tough place.
CHRISTIE: Oh yeah. My, I'm sure you know of Pinkie's [noted liquor store in Odessa since 1934]. Pinkie's liquor store. Pinkie [Tom "Pinkie" Roden] was my nemesis on liquor-by-the-drink.
SOSEBEE: I bet so [chuckles].
CHRISTIE: And I had a hard time outmaneuvering that guy cause he's really smart. But we finally got it.
SOSEBEE: He had some pretty powerful allies, too.
CHRISTIE: Very. Very. And they knew which side their bread was buttered on.
SOSEBEE: People you try to tell them and explain to them this alliance between the Baptists, the Church of Christ, and the liquor wholesalers and they just don't quite grasp it.
SOSEBEE: That kept actual mixed drink assumption out of Texas for a long time.
CHRISTIE: Oh, absolutely. Well, when they voted on my constitutional amendment to allow it, if you drew a line through Waco, east and west, virtually every county north of that voted against the constitutional amendment, and counties below that voted for it like San Antonio, El Paso, Austin, Houston, the Valley. But, yeah, they called me from the Dallas-Fort Worth station, Channel 8 I think it was, asking if I was, wanted to concede defeat on the constitutional amendment. I said, well, I know, I knew the returns from El Paso about 4-to-1 in favor of it. I said, "What are you going by?" And he said, "Well, we're looking at the returns and you're getting wiped out in Amarillo and Lubbock and all these, East Texas is killing you. Looks like your gonna lose." And I said, "Well is the Valley in yet? Is San Antonio in yet? Houston in?" "No." I said, "Let me hold off for just a little . . . " [laughs].
SOSEBEE: Uh-huh. I think so. There is the rest of Texas, guys, you know . . .
CHRISTIE: Oh yeah. Well it's, it's caught up. Alright.
SOSEBEE: Do you have anything Paul [Sandul] that you'd like to ask, or? SANDUL: No. I think, I think we've touched . . . actually, maybe some follow-up, technical things, but nothing that we need on tape here.
SOSEBEE: Yeah, I mean, can we take photographs of some of these things . . .
SOSEBEE: . . . you have, so we have copies? SANDUL: I have a really high-powered camera. I was wondering if I could come in and take some pictures . . .
CHRISTIE: Sure. SANDUL: . . . of this stuff.
CHRISTIE: Yeah sure.
SOSEBEE: Yeah, so we can put them in the archives. SANDUL: Yeah I'll run and do that and then I'll hand you the release form . . . .