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Crossfire

Will Bill Clinton's Legal Troubles Ever End?

Aired March 23, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Tonight, Congress and the Justice Department investigate missing White House e-mail, Ken Starr's successor hires more prosecutors, and the Arkansas bar considers revoking President Clinton's law license. Will Bill Clinton's legal troubles ever end?

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Mary Matalin. In the crossfire, Gene Lyons, co- author of "The Hunting of the President" and a columnist at the "Arkansas Democrat Gazette," and former federal prosecutor Barbara Olson, author of "Hell to Pay: The Unfolding Story of Hillary Rodham Clinton."

PRESS: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE.

Just what we need: another Clinton scandal. Two more of them, in fact, which makes a total of 12 so far. Hey, but who's counting?

The latest, a criminal investigation announced today by the Justice Department and allegations that e-mails, perhaps related to 1996 campaign fund raising, were deliberately hidden by the White House. If true, a potential embarrassment for Al Gore.

Also today, congressional hearings and allegations that first lady and Senate candidate Hillary Clinton has misused taxpayer dollars on her frequent trips to New York. Hillary, in return, accused House Republicans of misusing taxpayer dollars by holding public hearings just to help her Republican opponent, Rudy Giuliani.

Tonight, two authors, one of who's written a book on Hillary, the other who's documented the vast right-wing conspiracy, square off on what's real and what's not. Is there serious legal trouble ahead for the Clintons and Al Gore? Or is this just smoke and no fire? -- Mary.

MARY MATALIN, CO-HOST: Another day, another scandal!

Gene, let's go to...

PRESS: Another allegation.

MATALIN: Let's go to the story of the day, which was the 100,000 missing subpoenaed e-mails because of a computer glitch. The White House knew of this glitch in 1998 but it was only revealed -- the glitch, that is -- last month. Let's listen to one of the five computer operators' testimony as to why it was only revealed last month.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BETTY LAMBUTH, NORTHROP GRUMMAN MANAGER: They did tell me that if any of us did talk about this, they basically threatened us that my staff would be fired, would go to jail, would be arrested and go to jail. And that was made very clear more than one time.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATALIN: Let me say, again, Gene, this is one of five computer operators contracted to the White House. She was told that she -- they were to tell no one, including their spouses, or there would be a jail cell with their names on it. She was told this by the head of White House operations, Mark Lindsay.

These are not, as you call them, fruitcake right-wingers, are they?

GENE LYONS, CO-AUTHOR, "THE HUNTING OF THE PRESIDENT": Frankly, I don't know. I have no reason to think so, but I just think we ought to hold to the general policy, which we -- I don't want to shock anybody. But I think we ought to have the investigation and determine what happened before we have the sentencing.

MATALIN: Well, what -- let me tell you what some of the memos that were subpoenaed, over the 100,000 memos that were subpoenaed, not turned over, what they did include: Monica Lewinsky information; the White House receipt of FBI files; selection of corporate executives, that is contributors, for overseas trips; 1996 campaign finance activities.

You just think it's a coincidence that those 100,000 memos related to those subjects have gone missing and...

LYONS: I don't know. Maybe there's something in them that will shock and astonish me. Maybe there isn't. If there is, I'll say so.

But I'm -- you know, we've had so many of these. As Bill said, I think Joe and I go through about 12 or 15 of these accusations, none of which ever came to anything, all of which amounted to nothing more than blue (ph) smoke and mirrors. And so I'm going to wait and see.

MATALIN: Let me ask you a common-sense question...

LYONS: Sure.

MATALIN: ... admitting freely that I'm a queen of the vast right-wing vast conspiracy.

Can you think of any common-sense explanation for why the White House knew in November of 1998 that 100,000 e-mails related to the subpoenaed documents, subpoenaed evidence were missing, and they never told any of the investigators, the task force, the Justice Department? What -- is there any common-sense reason for that?

LYONS: I don't really know enough about it, frankly, to argue about it. I just know that Ken Starr must have known at the end of the Whitewater grand -- at the end of the Whitewater trial in 1996 that it was over, that there was going to be no Whitewater prosecution of the Clintons, and it's the year 2000. We still haven't seen the report. That was four years ago.

So I'm not -- I'm not prepared to sit here tonight and give excuses for something that I don't even know the facts in.

PRESS: Now Barbara Olson...

LYONS: We don't know what's in them.

PRESS: Barbara Olson, I knew that watermelon Dan Burton had gone over the edge. Now it seems that Janet Reno has too. I mean, are we really going to have...

BARBARA OLSON, AUTHOR, "HELL TO PAY": Over the edge?

PRESS: Are we really going to have a criminal investigation of a computer glitch? I mean, is that what it's gotten down to?

OLSON: Bill, did you hear this woman who said she was threatened with jail? This is intimidation of a witness.

And I have to say this woman has no political affiliation. She was a contractor to the White House. She's no vast-right-wing conspiracy.

But you know what it is? Not only were those e-mails from the Travel Office and FBI files, but the letter from White House counsel said, guess what, they were from Al Gore's database, they weren't collected.

So in order to protect Al Gore, we had -- what was it? -- 21 months with a chief of staff, John Podesta, with knowledge and no delivery. That is intimidation.

PRESS: You know, there's something very basic, which is that saying something doesn't make it so, Barbara. OK?

OLSON: The witness said...

PRESS: I want -- I want to come to...

OLSON: ... "I was threatened."

PRESS: Pardon me. I want to come to two of your allegations. No. 1, you say you suddenly know what's in all of these e-mails. The White House in testimony...

OLSON: I'm quoting Beth Nolan.

PRESS: ... that they were going to give -- that they were going to give today -- I read Beth Nolan's testimony, which she never got to give today.

OLSON: It was her letter to Dan Burton.

PRESS: She says, No. 1, she does not know -- they do not know how many there are, and they have no idea what are in these e-mails that were lost by this computer glitch. By the way, even -- even Clinton's critics say it was inadvertent human error.

OLSON: Another glitch.

PRESS: I want to know how are you -- how do you know what's in these e-mails? You don't, do you?

OLSON: Beth Nolan said that they were the vice president's database that didn't get turned over. That's the White House counsel. She said it is a glitch. We've got -- what? -- the 15th snafu from this White House. And that was a witness who said, "I was intimidated, I was threatened that if I told the truth I would go to jail." That is a statement from a witness who was threatened. I'm not guessing.

PRESS: She said, just to finish that point, Beth Nolan says in her letter to the chairman, which she never got to deliver today, that some, a portion of the e-mails were the vice president's office. She doesn't say they had anything to do with fund raising. You don't know that they do.

Now, let's come back to this...

OLSON: What a coincidence.

PRESS: Let's come back to this witness, if I may, Gene, because the person who was in charge at the White House, her boss, Beth Lambuth's boss, also testified today. Dan Burton asked her about this allegation.

Here's her response and their exchange.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LAURA CALLAHAN, WHITE HOUSE PROJECT DIRECTOR: I did not threaten them with any sense of jail for several reasons. And first...

REP. DAN BURTON (R-IN), CHAIRMAN, GOVERNMENT REFORM COMMITTEE: Did you threaten them with dismissal or any kind of reprisals?

CALLAHAN: No, sir, because they would be idle threats. I have no authority, first of all, to carry out those types of threats, and No. 2, it's not anywhere in my demeanor, my past practice or my character to do those types of threats.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PRESS: So as Gene suggested, let's just be honest here, it's very possible that Beth Lambuth is lying through her teeth.

OLSON: And so are the other Grumman -- Northrop Grumman employees who gave...

PRESS: What's you evidence?

OLSON: ... sworn affidavits with Judge Royce Lambert that were released.

You know what's interesting is here is an intimidation, and this is like deja vu again.

PRESS: No. Alleged. Alleged. You're a lawyer, alleged.

OLSON: This woman says -- this woman says she was intimidated. You know what it is? It's deja vu, like the Travel Office employees. We're right back to the White House saying we can strong-arm people, we can intimidate and threaten them with jail.

LYONS: You know, that woman didn't seem too terrifying to me. I wasn't too frightened sitting there and I don't believe that I would be too frightened if she said that to me.

MATALIN: She's also, Mark, not Mark Lindsay, whom the five Grumman employees -- again, who are not Republicans, they're not partisans. They were contracted out to be computer operators who were intimidated by her boss, Mark Lindsay.

LYONS: Right, right, right. And we're now in the eighth year of -- we'll pick up this cup, nothing there. We'll pick up that cup, nothing there. Over the river, around the trees, behind the mountains...

MATALIN: OK, let's move on.

LYONS: ... that the magical information will appear...

MATALIN: Because there is not nothing there.

LYONS: And it never appears.

MATALIN: Saying doesn't make it so, to quote my almost esteemed...

PRESS: You haven't found anything yet. Nothing yet. Keep going!

LYONS: Can't prove a negative, Mary.

MATALIN: How about this? How about this? Susan Webber Wright, when she ruled that Bill Clinton was in contempt of court, she said it was because the president gave "false, misleading and evasive answers that were designed to obstruct the judicial process, and that his contemptuous conduct, coming as it did from a member of the bar and the chief law enforcement officer of this nation, was without justification, undermined the integrity of the judicial system."

For this, she wanted the -- she wanted the ethics board in Arkansas. She was the one who filed a complaint for disciplinary action.

This is another -- another charge against the president, one brought by her, that you call "fruitcake" activity.

LYONS: Oh, I didn't call -- I -- actually, in our book, we don't say anything bad about Judge Wright. I thought she acted...

MATALIN: I'm talking about a recent column. In a recent column you said this ethics -- ethics complaint against the president that would take away his license, which is...

LYONS: Oh yes. Well, what I did -- what I did is I went down through the complaint and showed that there -- almost every allegation made in the complaint is either wildly overstated or flat-footed false.

MATALIN: The procedures of the Arkansas Supreme Court say, "Misconduct involves dishonesty, deceit, fraud, misrepresentation by the lawyer which warrants a sanction," which is what the judge asked for. Why is this then fruitcake activity?

LYONS: I -- what I did was I went through the complaint piece by piece and showed that almost every statement...

MATALIN: You're saying there's no there there?

PRESS: Let him finish. Let him finish.

LYONS: Almost every evidence the man makes about the evidence is in fact either false or not proven.

But look, I have no problem with the Arkansas Bar Association disciplining Bill Clinton. I'm not going to sit here and say he didn't go into that deposition with the purpose to mislead. What would be the point of that?

I am not, however, impressed with the moral stature of people who construct a grand machine to tiptoe up and peek in someone's bedroom window and then say, ah-ha, look at those wicked people.

MATALIN: See, this -- why I'm interrupting -- and excuse me so much -- is because you just used the tactic you guys always use, which is to discredit somebody as a fruitcake. We're talking about Judge Webber Wright.

LYONS: I didn't bring that up.

MATALIN: We're talking about a case that's -- well, what's you write in your articles. That's what you guys do...

LYONS: Judge Wright...

MATALIN: ... you demonize the attack. It's like there's nothing there.

LYONS: Judge Wright was a person who didn't think this lawsuit should be tried, who was much more realistic than the Supreme Court, because she had some imagination what would happen, and (b) who dismissed the lawsuit, let us remember, because Paula Jones's factual claims about her job...

MATALIN: Contempt of court...

LYONS: Paula Jones' factual claims...

MATALIN: ... contempt of court.

LYONS: ... which were what got her the discovery which forced Clinton to talk about his private sex life under oath knowing it was going on national TV if he admitted it, all of those claims were false. The suit was fraudulent from the get-go. That's why she dismissed it.

MATALIN: All of which I'm glad you find so amusing.

LYONS: So I don't have a problem.

PRESS: They just can't accept it. They just can't accept it.

MATALIN: I fully can accept that this president is contempt not just of court, but is contemptuous...

PRESS: Stop the editorials, will you? Come on.

MATALIN: If you're going to laugh during our conversation, I consider that editorializing.

PRESS: It was laughable.

MATALIN: When we -- when we come back, we'll find out more of what this contemptuous president did. Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MATALIN: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. The Clinton scandals, you need a score card to keep track of them. But is he a perpetrator or a victim? Are the scandals real or manufactured by a vast right-wing conspiracy?

Experts on both sides weigh in: Gene Lyons -- Gene Lyons, columnist and author of "The Hunting of the President," and Barbara Olson, attorney and author of "Hell To Pay" -- Bill.

PRESS: Barbara, the first lady is also under fire today. Surprise, surprise. Let's take it one step at a time. The Secret Service says like Mrs. Bush, like Mrs. Reagan, that the first lady should always fly on military jets. Do you think that decision should be made by the Secret Service or the Republican National Committee?

OLSON: I think absolutely the Secret Service should make that decision except for when Mrs. Clinton decides to turn the military jets into a commuter airline to New York because she's running for Senate. No one believes she needs to go to New York all of these times. Taxpayers are funding all of these trips that she has taken, and that's the issue. We have a first lady using military jets to run for Senate. And it's wrong.

PRESS: Well, I -- that was sort of a yes and a no. But the fact is the Secret Service says it doesn't matter whether she's a candidate. She should always fly military jets. And the Air Force has rules by which, according to the law, they assess the cost of the travel, the political cost of the travel to the -- the first lady's campaign.

And in fact, according to the committee today, this Republican committee, the total billing from the Air Force is $36,685. The first lady has paid about 33,000 of that. As of December 14, she had $3,808 left over. What's this scandal all about?

OLSON: The numbers are not what it's all about. What it's about is Hillary Clinton is using taxpayer dollars to campaign from New York. As a first lady certainly she needs to have protection.

PRESS: But she's not -- she has reimbursed the government for her costs.

OLSON: Oh, my goodness. And so Al Gore, who got on a shuttle, who came down to the Senate to do a vote, he could ride on a shuttle. But the first lady she has to have a private jet with Secret Service agents with her on her private jet for her to campaign for the Senate. That just doesn't add up.

PRESS: The Secret Service says she should use military jets. Let me just ask you one thing about this hearing today. The hearing was announced yesterday. Here's a press release announcing today's hearing about Hillary Clinton.

The headline is, "Air Hillary Costs to Be Unveiled, Finally," and the people who announced the hearing, a congressional hearing announced by the Republican National Committee. Don't you think that's a little odd? Don't you think maybe there's a touch of political partisanship here?

OLSON: Do you have a stack of DNC news about everything?

MATALIN: Thank you.

OLSON: RNC is saying that there is a hearing. A chairman decides the hearing. We all know that.

PRESS: The Republican National Committee?

OLSON; The DNC -- I have stacks from the China investigation, I have stacks of it where they were doing news clips hourly. So...

PRESS: Paid for by Rudy Giuliani?

OLSON: Oh, that's not fair. That's not true either.

MATALIN: You wanted a stack of DNC propaganda sheets is enough to burn this building down.

Let's talk about your book, Gene, co-authored with Joe Conason...

LYONS: Let's do.

MATALIN: ... "The Hunting Of The President." The very -- and I don't -- I'm not sure how you wrote this, and I was interviewed by your co-author, your colleague.

LYONS: That's right.

MATALIN: But the very first point you're saying you're making in this book is that...

LYONS: Right.

MATALIN: ... the late Republican chairman, Lee Atwater's bold plan to stop Bill Clinton from running for president. And you cite me in there as delivering cokes and as being Atwater's chief deputy. I was chief of staff and I never delivered cokes...

LYONS: Well, I didn't write the coke...

OLSON: I love it. So much for facts.

MATALIN: OK, but -- all right. But let me just say this about that. The whole evidence for Atwater launching this stop-Clinton movement is that we had Tommy Robinson in there, whom we were supporting for governor, who was switching from Democrat to Republican.

This is -- had nothing to do with Bill Clinton. I was there. I lived it. It was the beginning of the Democrats' switcher program. There have since been over 500 Democrats that switched. And you make this whole chapter and the launch for the book based on a false premise.

If there's no -- if the first part of the equation is wrong, why should we believe the rest of the book?

LYONS: Well, as people will see when they read the book, the account of what happened at the meeting is largely based on interviews with Rex Nelson, who's now the press secretary to our Republican governor, Mike Huckabee. He's the one who told me what happened in the meeting and what the plan was. And the rest of it came from coverage of the campaign. So...

MATALIN: I sat in that meeting. You have me sitting in that meeting. That is not at all what happened. I told Joe that isn't what happened. Let me tell -- ask you something else.

LYONS: I thought it says you delivered cokes, not sat in the meeting.

MATALIN: Well, there's another falsity I bring up just to show that little things add up. The point of the whole book is that the Clintons have been unduly smeared and slandered, right, with no evidence? Yet during the whole Monica Lewinsky thing, when you were on "Meet the Press" and asked...

LYONS: Right.

MATALIN: ... about -- all of these coincidences of her being there, you said that Monica Lewinsky -- that the president was like a victim, because he's an alpha male and women are attracted to him, and that Monica was like the woman who followed David Letterman around. Isn't that a bit...

LYONS: I didn't -- I didn't state that as a fact. I said that -- I was asked, doesn't it look bad for Clinton? And I said nobody would believe me if I didn't say yes. But it's still a possibility that the woman is essentially an overexcited fan.

MATALIN: A stalker, a stalker.

LYONS: I didn't use the word "stalker."

MATALIN: It's smear and slander.

LYONS: I didn't use the word. The word is not in the book. And you know what? I was right. The only thing I didn't know was that he was crazy enough to accommodate her in her desires.

PRESS: Barbara, speaking about old news, I want to ask you about Whitewater. I mean, the -- Robert Ray, the successor to Ken Starr last week announced he's going down to get even more prosecutors, hiring even more prosecutors.

OLSON: Right.

PRESS: Whitewater, as Gene just pointed out earlier, is still open. Bob Fiske started investigating this in 1994. Ken Starr took over in 1994, later in the year. Now Robert Ray is investigating it. I mean, six years -- what is Robert Ray ever going to find out that Ken Starr couldn't in six years?

OLSON: Let me make two quick points. First of all, today, there's e-mails that are showing up. If the White House would stop leaking out stuff slowly, trying to get past the time when Bill Clinton is in office, it would be over. That affects a prosecutor. The other thing is Robert Ray has gone out and said I have serious charges that go to the president, that go to the first lady, I am going to investigate them.

And you know what? I expect -- and I challenge you, within the next few months, Robert Ray will be demonized by the Gene Lyons and the James Carvilles, excuse me...

MATALIN: No excuse for him.

OLSON: He will be demonized, and I challenged you in a month, that if I came on here, that would be true. LYONS: Here's a challenge I'd like to issue you. If there is anybody out there in the viewing audience that doesn't have a position on this and isn't firmly in one camp or the other, go to one of the bookstores tomorrow that lets you hang around in the lobby and read as much as long as you want, look up Whitewater in Barbara's book, read her account of it; then read from page...

OLSON: Then go to fiction.

LYONS: Then read from page 237-244 of our book, which is mostly drawn from transcripts of the 1996 trial, and ends with a lengthy recitation of prosecutor Ray Yawn's (ph) closing statements, which -- in which he portrays Jim McDougal as a flim-flam artist who's trying to con the jury in precisely the same way he conned the Clintons, deceitfully taking their money and playing them along, and he says this can't allowed. Now you read both accounts. You tell me, why are we still talking about Whitewater? And you will know...

MATALIN: Because you wrote a new book on it.

LYONS: We haven't had the report yet.

PRESS: We have got to go.

LYONS: But you will know why Ken Starr tried to bail out in '97.

PRESS: That shameless plug for the book has to be the last word for tonight.

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS: Barbara Olson, thank you so much for joining us.

OLSON: Thank you.

PRESS: Gene Lyons, good to have you in studio, not down in Little Rock. But you haven't heard the last of Gene Lyons. He's going to join the chatroom, the CNN chatroom, right after closing comments.

And of course you have to stay tuned for closing comments, and Mary and I will settle everything.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PRESS: OK, Mary's got the night off tomorrow, so back by popular demand is Ohio Congressman John Kasich. He'll be sitting in on the right tomorrow night as co-host, and I will be as nice to him as I am to you -- Mary.

MATALIN: I bet. I have to call him and warn him.

You know what? I don't really care. I'm not surprised there's another scandal. And how you could say intimidated witnesses, disappearing e-mails, teenyboppers in the Oval Office -- all of this is the result of fruitcake right wing conspirators, is evidence of how delusional Democrats have become. But I don't really care. I just want him to go away.

PRESS: I think the fact that there's another scandal doesn't surprise me either. I mean, read this book. It is 10 years of a psychotic obsession with trying to bring down Bill Clinton. And this is just the latest. And I would be worried too if anything other than Monica had been proven so far. There are these wild allegations and all of these hearings, and all of these charges from Al D'Amato to Dan Burton, and they never find anything.

MATALIN: The vice president is already saying it's been proven, that he calls them "mistakes." They are violations of the law. The president has been found in contempt of court. These are proven. They're not allegations.

PRESS: See how desperate they are?

From the left, I am Bill Press. Good night from CROSSFIRE.

Don't forget, Gene Lyons will be in the chatroom right after the show.

MATALIN: This would be called truth.

From the right, I am Mary Matalin.

I'll miss you tomorrow night, but join us next week for more editions of CROSSFIRE.

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