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Crossfire

Is It Time to End the Investigations Into the Clintons?

Aired September 20, 2000 - 7:30 p.m. ET

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT RAY, INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: Except with regard to certain limited pending matters, the investigation in connection with the Madison Guaranty/Whitewater matter is now closed.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MARY MATALIN, CO-HOST: Tonight, with the Whitewater case closed, is it finally time for Independent Counsel Robert Ray to close shop or is there more to investigate?

ANNOUNCER: Live, from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press; on the right, Mary Matalin. In the crossfire, Democratic Congressman Robert Wexler of Florida, a member of the Judiciary Committee, and fellow committee member, Congressman Bob Barr, a Republican from Georgia.

MATALIN: Good evening, and welcome to CROSSFIRE. After six years, nearly $60 million and 14 criminal convictions, the mother of all investigations, Whitewater, effectively closed down today.

Independent Counsel Robert Ray declined to bring criminal charges against the Clintons for allegations ranging from obstruction of justice to giving false testimony concerning their Arkansas real estate venture, saying -- quote -- "This office determined that the evidence was insufficient to prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that either President or Mrs. Clinton knowingly participating in any criminal conduct." End quote.

The Whitewater conclusion leaves the independent counsel only one piece of unfinished Clinton legal business, but it's a whopper, whether to indict President Clinton after he leaves office for his conduct in the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

The White House response was a sigh of relief, but with seven weeks left until election day, first lady/Senate candidate Hillary Clinton was openly relieved.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY), U.S. SENATE CANDIDATE: Well, I'm just glad that this is finally over, and I think that most New Yorkers and Americans had made up their mind a long time ago about this. (END VIDEO CLIP)

MATALIN: So tonight, as the curtain falls on the Clinton administration, an investigation is spawned -- the longest in history --should or could Ray just call it a day? Will the first family's past impact the first lady's future? And will the remaining cloud over Clinton rain on Gore's parade? -- Bill.

BILL PRESS, CO-HOST: Congressman Barr, long before anybody ever heard of Monica Lewinsky, long before anybody ever heard of Ken Starr, you, Bob Barr, were out there, a lone voice saying this president was perhaps guilty of some illegal activity back in Arkansas before he became president and there should be an investigation.

Now, congressman, six years later, $60 million later, an investigation by his political enemies has shown zero evidence against the president and zero evidence against the first lady. I ask you tonight, on national television, are you man enough to say you were wrong and are you man enough to apologize?

REP. BOB BARR (R), GEORGIA: What I'm man enough to do is say that you're wrong, Bill. You need to go back...

PRESS: Well, that took a lot of guts.

BARR: You need to go back and look at -- at law 101. As Mary indicated by the nuances of her lead-in, the fact of the matter is this investigation is not closed, despite your best efforts to portray it as such, but the most that can be said at this point was, probably partially because of the obstruction by the White House, which Investigator Ray noted in his statement today, was unprecedented, the-- the -- the bogus, facetious lawsuits and so forth.

The most that can be said is that this prosecutor, in looking at the evidence, could not conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that criminal charges could be proved. And that -- that's the job of the prosecutor. Why should he or I apologize to you or to anybody for him doing his job?

PRESS: Because you were wrong. But I want to get to the -- to the -- to findings in just a second. But you -- let -- let's be sure our -- our viewers are not confused.

As far as Whitewater is concerned -- and I just heard Robert Ray say this on the "Jim Lehrer Show" earlier -- as far as Whitewater is concerned, this investigation is closed. Do you agree with that?

BARR: The -- the -- the -- as -- as the independent counsel said in his statement today, the substantive matters are closed. He still -- he still left open the door to certain other matters involving the failure of the White House to provide information such as the e-mails, and of course, as Mary said, he has opened...

PRESS: We're going to get to that. We're going to get to that...

BARR: ... the matter of Lewinsky.

PRESS: We are trying to deal with one thing at a time in terms of what...

BARR: By the way, your -- your -- your listeners are never confused.

PRESS: Yes. That's because there are some of us here to tell the truth.

BARR: Thank you.

PRESS: Let me -- let me just make sure also that everybody understands the scope of this investigation. It wasn't just, you know, one little part of it, I mean, and -- and here's -- here's his concluding statement, Robert Ray's concluding statement.

BARR: I have read it...

PRESS: I mean, he looked at seven different areas: Whether the president gave false testimony in regard to a loan from Madison Guaranty; whether the president gave false testimony in regard to Susan McDougal getting a loan; whether the president gave false testimony in terms of the Rose law firm; whether the first lady lied about the Rose law firm and the Madison Guaranty connection; whether the first lady did anything wrong regarding the billing records; whether hiring Webb Hubbell was a quid pro quo; and finally whether the White House -- anybody at the White House obstructed justice.

Now after all of that, here's what he concluded, Bob Barr. And I want to read it again. Mary gave part of it in her opening. Here's the full statement.

Quote: "This office determined that the evidence was insufficient to prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that either President or Mrs. Clinton knowingly participated in any criminal conduct involving Madison Guaranty, CMS, or Whitewater Development, or knew of such conduct."

I ask you, what more do you want?

BARR: Bill, Robert Ray was doing the job that the court ordered him to do, and he has looked at the evidence and...

PRESS: And found nothing.

BARR: ... and found that -- no, he -- no, it doesn't say that, Bill. Now come on: It says that he could not prove beyond a reasonable doubt, and that's the job of the prosecutor, as Robert would certainly agree, to make that finding. Why should he apologize for doing his job, Bill?

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS: I didn't ask him to apologize. I asked you...

BARR: Do you apologize for doing yours?

PRESS: No, I asked you to apologize, not him.

MATALIN: I -- I cannot believe to your dying day -- and it must say something about the way in which Democrats project -- you continue, congressman, and your party continues to ascribe political motives to anything that happens in any of these investigations, which were at the very outset called for by President Clinton. He called for this independent counsel, the very first instance.

Even today, after it's being shut down, there's all sorts of charges of political behavior because of the timing of it, about which Robert Ray had this to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

RAY: The following schedule, which we have met -- and that is that the FBI files matter would be concluded in March, that the Travel Office investigation was concluded in June, as I said I would do, and now that the Madison Guaranty/Whitewater investigation has been concluded. It was concluded on the schedule that I -- I set out, and that would be in mid-September. We did what we said we were going to do.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATALIN: He did what he said he was going to do. He said earlier on PBS that he did it now to remove the crowd from Hillary's race. And indeed, what came out actually helps her race.

If the political motivation is to hurt her, you're -- you've undermined your own case, because this helps her. What is the beef?

REP. ROBERT WEXLER (D), FLORIDA: The -- the -- nobody can debate that Ken Starr's investigation of the president had an extraordinary element of politics. The truth of the matter is, Mary, admit it, admit it. You guys were waiting for months, actually years. You were salivating for this report. It comes out today, and it's a huge let- down.

More than $50 million, almost $60 million, six years of investigation, the whole essence of what Bob Barr and the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee argued was illegal, was wrong, was all the misconduct, and their own investigation shows up with nothing to charge either the president or Hillary Clinton.

I share your pain. I share your pain...

MATALIN: I have no pain and I salivate over nothing over -- for these past seven years except a promise of the '92 pledge from Clinton that this would be the most ethical administration in history. Not even close.

Let me talk about the timing again, because this is the charge made all the way through, that we were dragging this out to politically hurt the president -- re-elections, now her elections, when indeed these lawyers have made a career out of delaying tactics. Subpoenaed documents would never appear or they'd show up two or three years after they were subpoenaed in the book room or in a Little Rock attic or in an abandoned car.

Every manner of delay tactic was put in place. You're the ones who made this calendar. If it impeded on any of election activities, you're the ones who put it in place by your rampant delay tactics, which amounted to -- if not -- if you can't prove it, it certainly had the effect of obstruction of justice.

That's your fault, not Ray's or any independent counsel's.

WEXLER: Mary, Mary, again, the American people understand how political Ken Starr's investigation was. They also watched the impeachment hearings. They watched the trial. That wasn't about a legitimate issue that was affecting the foundation of democracy in America. It was about how are we going to get Bill Clinton -- get him on an affair? Come on. This wasn't a constitutional crisis...

MATALIN: Can I just remind you...

(CROSSTALK)

WEXLER: ... that Bob Barr wanted it to be.

MATALIN: ... who went to the floor of the Senate to speak not- so-admirably of this president's conduct, your own vice presidential nominee.

WEXLER: Absolutely. Absolutely.

(CROSSTALK)

MATALIN: Then don't say it was an issue that only Republicans were talking about.

WEXLER: Who defends his conduct? Nobody. Nobody.

BARR: You do.

WEXLER: I defended the Constitution.

BARR: You've been doing it for three years.

WEXLER: The Constitution, my friend.

PRESS: But I want to get back to this timing thing, because it's an easy way out, to blame it on the White House stalls. I want to go back and remind some people that this is not the first investigation. First of all, in 1993...

BARR: This is not the first investigation they stalled? That's true.

PRESS: I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Thank you. I want to clarify. The Starr-Ray -- the -- I'm sorry -- the Fiske-Starr-Ray investigation of Whitewater was not the first.

Back in 1993, the Resolution Trust Company, who had responsibility for the failed S&Ls, they asked Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro to do a study of this Whitewater thing. They did. They issued a report. Here's what the report said.

"There should be no further resources" expending -- "expended on Whitewater," because there was zero evidence at the time. 1993.

Then I remind you that Al D'Amato didn't take that. Al D'Amato held hearings. He issued in 1996, Bob Barr, over 600-page report.

BARR: Well...

PRESS: Let me finish. What did that report find? The two counsels, Republican and Democrat, were just again on the Jim Lehrer show tonight. Both of them agreed the report found zero evidence of any criminal wrongdoing on the part of the president and the first lady in Whitewater. Why wasn't that enough?

BARR: Well, what do we need a Congress for? Let's have Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro run the country. I mean, that is utterly irrelevant. The fact of the matter...

PRESS: Well, why did you need...

BARR: Wait. The fact of the matter is every year, U.S. attorneys offices and special prosecutors bring thousands of indictments and cases are prosecuted. If you go around and say, well, here's a case that wasn't prosecuted, therefore let's not -- you know, what are these people doing?

WEXLER: But Bob asked a great question.

BARR: There were 14 convictions in this case.

WEXLER: What do we need a Congress for? To enact a prescription drug program...

BARR: Tell him, not me.

WEXLER: ... to help public schools.

BARR: Oh, come on, Robert.

WEXLER: Oh, that's not important? We need a Congress to investigate, investigate.

BARR: You're here to debate this issue.

PRESS: All right, I want to take your point and just continue this very quickly, OK? So now we have an independent counsel. Two years ago, Bob Barr, you were sitting there, Ken Starr testified in front of your committee on the Monica stuff, and he began by saying, on the other matters, including Whitewater, I have found no evidence of criminal conduct. That was two years ago. Why did it take two more years before Robert Ray releases his report if not to embarrass the Clintons in the middle of one more campaign?

BARR: Oh, ask Pillsbury, Madison & Sutro. I'm sure they have an answer for it.

PRESS: I'm asking you.

BARR: You're asking me? I can't tell...

PRESS: Why would Ken Starr and Bob -- Robert Ray delay this for two years?

BARR: These are professional prosecutors. They are doing their job. Would you not have them sit through all of the evidence? Would you have them render decisions based on partial evidence? Is that how you would run the Department of Justice, Bill?

WEXLER: Would I have them save the $60 million? You bet.

BARR: Oh, how about all the money on foreign travel? How about all the bonuses paid to the Department of Justice lawyers that have obstructed?

WEXLER: All the allegations that apparently didn't turn out to be anything.

BARR: Where are you fighting against that money?

PRESS: Here's where we are. We're at a break time. We're going to jump into a break. And as we jump into a break, we want you to jump online. And you get to jump into the crossfire with me. Yes, if you haven't had enough of me already, you can join me right after the show at CNN.com/crossfire. I'll be in the chat room tonight for a half an hour after the show.

And when we come back, let's talk about whether this report now is going to help Hillary and help or hurt Al Gore.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PRESS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

President Clinton denied comment on being cleared of all Whitewater charges today, but first lady and Senate candidate Hillary Clinton breathed a public sigh of relief. And no wonder. Had it gone the other way, it would have sunk her chances. So what now? Will this give Hillary a lift up? And will today's decision have any impact on Al Gore?

Debating a clean bill of health on Whitewater tonight with two members of Congress: Bob Barr, Republican from Georgia, and Robert Wexler, Democrat from Florida -- Mary.

MATALIN: Congressman, the way this has been fought by you guys, your only defense is to just say that it's all political. So let me say again, Robert Ray had this to say about the responsibilities of his office. Quote: "I have been charged with the responsibility conducting the work of this office. Some of my responsibility is to ensure that there is no untoward effect on the political process."

Robert Ray, by the way, as an aside, was said by his Princeton roommate to have been a liberal Democrat. Up until he was appointed, he was registered as a Democrat, OK? So I guess we can just put that as an aside for everybody to know.

But as -- let me broaden this out. These investigations did result in, in the sum, 81 indictments, 55 convictions, 16 imprisonments. Isn't the untoward effect on politics really the failure of the Clinton promise of '92 to usher in the most ethical administration of history? What is the impact going to be on the most active vice president in the most ethical administration in history?

WEXLER: Mary, you are very good, but you can't have it both ways. You can't, for years, argue for this investigation, have the investigation go on for six years, $60 million, and when it comes out with its conclusion that there's nothing "there" there, then just ignore its conclusion and say, oh, Robert Ray was a liberal Democrat in college.

MATALIN: Did you just ignore my numbers: 81 indictments, 55 convictions, 16 imprisonments. No "there" there?

WEXLER: Oh, OK, oh yes, so let's just -- lets get this straight, now, let's talk turkey: This investigation was about Webb Hubbell? We spent $50 million...

PRESS: Cheating on his taxes?

WEXLER: ... going after Webb Hubbell?

MATALIN: Associate attorney general, a sitting governor -- the best friends and business partners of the first lady and the president of these United States.

WEXLER: Who were the targets of this investigation: President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton. And as to those two individuals...

BARR: There were no targets of the investigation.

PRESS: Yes there were.

BARR: There was evidence that the independent counsel was required by the courts -- now, you might say, oh, just ignore what the court says. Bill, he was required by the courts to look into these things.

PRESS: To look into illegal activity by whom?

BARR: By anybody connected with the Whitewater investigation and the Morgan Guaranty Trust.

PRESS: That's not true, that's not true...

BARR: And there were dozens of convictions.

PRESS: ... that's not true, that's not true.

BARR: You all overlook that.

PRESS: President Clinton and Hillary Clinton...

BARR: You all focus on two people that weren't indicted. How about all of those who were?

PRESS: I want to ask you about this Office of Independent Counsel, because first you have Robert Fiske. He's appointed in January of '94. Then you get -- he's kicked out. You get Ken Starr, as if that wasn't political, in August of 1994, who goes on for another five or six years. Then you get -- this office is still open. Now we've got Robert Ray. In the meantime, by a bipartisan, overwhelming vote, bipartisan vote, the Office of Independent Counsel is killed. What is this guy doing still in business, Bob Barr?

BARR: He is carrying out the mandate of the courts, Bill. Again, you and Robert Wexler may think that when a court directs you to do something you just ignore it. He can't just ignore it. He was directed by the courts to conduct this investigation. He has done exactly what the courts directed him to do, he has behaved professionally and ethically and he has come up with the conclusion that people may or may not agree with, but you can't fault him for following the process.

PRESS: Well, I do fault him. And let me tell you why to remind you again that two years ago, Ken Starr said had he had nothing, no evidence of criminal activity against the Clintons.

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS: Pardon me.

And I don't -- can't think of anything more that you could possibly find out about what Bill Clinton did with Monica. So I ask you again: Why is Robert Ray still in business? Why didn't he close his doors at least a year ago?

BARR: Well, because of what Mary said. And that is because of the obstructionist tactics that have delayed and drug this thing out.

PRESS: No, no, no.

BARR: He said in his statement today -- maybe you didn't read the very end of it. Maybe you just looked for the highlights. At the very end of it, he said: This administration has drug this thing out and delayed it so that they have hampered our investigation. There still are some remaining aspects to it.

MATALIN: This -- let me...

PRESS: Are you telling me that this nation needs another grand jury on Monica Lewinsky after all we've been through?

(CROSSTALK)

BARR: It was never on Monica Lewinsky. It is on obstruction and perjury. And there's a difference.

(CROSSTALK)

MATALIN: Let me put some facts on the table here, Congressman. This is the controlling legal authority. It's Title 28 of the United States Code, section 596 for the termination of the office of independent counsel.

WEXLER: There is no controlling legal authority.

MATALIN: Yes, there is controlling -- it's 28 USC 596. And what it says it this attorney general, Janet Reno, can shut this down any time she wants to. She's the one who authorized the Monica Lewinsky -- whatever her name is -- leaping Latinksy -- kneeling Lewinsky -- she is the one who authorized the extension of the counsel for that. She could shut it down any time.

There is a controlling legal authority -- and she hasn't. Well, that's -- that's the answer. If you think there's something untoward

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS: They could too. These guys could.

WEXLER: What took six years on a land deal that occurred, what, 15 years ago -- what took six years to figure out that there was nothing to charge President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton?

MATALIN: She could shut down Monica Lewinsky. She could shut it down right now.

WEXLER: And then, I'm sure you would stand up and applaud and say, "Attorney General Janet Reno did the right thing." You would be calling for her head. What she allowed was, is the process to go through. You would have hoped that the special counsel would have had integrity enough, when you don't have the facts, to say it.

MATALIN: You can't have it both ways. You can't have it both ways.

PRESS: Shut it down. Shut it down. Shut it down.

MATALIN: You're always a great guest. And both of you brought, as Bob said -- Bill said -- new life to this old chat. It's never going to end. And neither are us.

Bill and I will have our closing comments when we return on CROSSFIRE.

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PRESS: All right, don't let Mary have all the fun. You get your chance to debate with me all alone right after the show at cnn.com/crossfire.

You know, Mary, I remember Al D'Amato said, when this started, "This is worse than Watergate." Wrong. You know what this is? This is as bad as Wen Ho Lee. Wen Ho Lee is kept in solitary for nine months with no evidence. Bill Clinton is treated like a criminal for six years with no evidence -- both of them outrageous.

MATALIN: Do you...

PRESS: You should say you're sorry.

MATALIN: You think this is fun? Am I sorry? Yes, I'm sorry that the American people didn't understand in 1992 what they were getting into.

PRESS: That there's nothing there?

MATALIN: Do you know why this lasted six years? You asserted phony privileges. You had selective amnesia. Hillary Rodham Clinton said 99 times in a two-and-a-half-hour testimony that she did not recall working on the fraudulent land scheme, Grande Castle.

PRESS: Yes, keep going, Keep going. Where's the evidence? Where's the evidence?

MATALIN: You had other witnesses withholding documents. You had political appointees at Justice butting into the thing. That -- I'm telling you, that's what the timing and cost go to. If you would have participated, there is nothing to hide. It would have been over like that.

PRESS: No excuse for it taking this long. See, you keep bringing all that stuff up. The guy in charge looked at it said there is no evidence. People who have been on Clinton's butt for all this time don't have the guts to say they were wrong.

MATALIN: Why doesn't she say she is wrong for blaming for her activities on a vast right-wing conspiracy?

PRESS: She did nothing wrong! She did nothing wrong. Accept it.

From the left, I'm Bill Press. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

MATALIN: From the right, I'm Mary Matalin.

Join us again tomorrow for more CROSSFIRE.

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