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Crossfire

Did President Clinton Issue Pardons in Exchange for Political Contributions?

Aired January 25, 2001 - 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: ... ones he received, those he gave: 140 pardons and 36 commutations, including billionaire financier Marc Rich, who fled the country 17 years ago to escape 50 different criminal counts. That one pardon so outraged Clinton foe Dan Burton, that he's launching a Congressional investigation, even though presidential pardons cannot be reversed by Congress. Or anybody.

Among those begging Clinton to pardon Rich: his ex-wife, Denise, major Democratic contributor who is also responsible for some of those farewell gifts that Bill and Hillary received and took with them: over $190,000 worth of flatware, china, and furniture, even a couple of TV sets, all to furnish that big empty house in Chappaqua and that other big empty house in Washington.

Nice haul, but was it appropriate? Was it proper or just downright greedy? And should there be any limits on the pardons? That's our debate tonight.

And here is a twist: Tucker Carlson joins me as co-host of CROSSFIRE tonight, and then later, he and I will be debating the same issue with all of you in "THE SPIN ROOM" at 10:30 Eastern, 7:30 Pacific.

Carlson, let's get started on round one.

TUCKER CARLSON, CO-HOST: Round one. That would be Marc Rich. Vic Kamber, let me just apologize. This is an indefensible story, and I feel bad that it falls to you to defend. Here you have a guy -- one of America's most notorious international criminals. He's never apologized for what he did. His wife, as Bill pointed out, is this enormous Democratic donor, and a songwriter, incidentally...

VICTOR KAMBER, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: And a good one.

CARLSON: Is that right? She's lobbied on his behalf, she's given money personally...

KAMBER: His ex-wife, by the way.

CARLSON: His ex-wife, Denise. Personally, given gifts to the Clintons. And Clinton has refused to explain why he gave this pardon. U.S. attorneys around the country are outraged. This looks like a quid pro quo. If it's not, what is it? KAMBER: It is nothing more than the prerogative of the president of the United States. It's the prerogative that every president has had. Bill Clinton has done nothing different than Ronald Reagan or the senior George Bush -- he pardoned people. We don't know the circumstances of it,

I'm not going to defend Rich. The fact is, he's not a murderer, he's not a drug cartel leader. He stole money. It's indefensible what he did, but the fact is, obviously, the president and his advisers believed that this is somebody that should be pardoned.

I have as much a problem when the former presidents pardoned Murray Stance (ph), pardoned Caspar Weinberger and pardoned Attorney General Mitchell. These are people who stole our trust, yet they were pardoned and no one seemed to scream and yell.

If you don't like pardons, let's take it away from the president, but it's absolutely the president's right, and what Dan Burton is doing is ludicrous and ridiculous.

CARLSON: So Reagan and Bush pardoned people, so no matter what the circumstances...

KAMBER: Everyone has!

CARLSON: We all do it! And just because he's not a murderer, it's OK. You still haven't provided an answer to my question, which was, what possible rationale, in this specific case, could Clinton have used to give this man a pardon?

KAMBER: Again, I don't want to be here defending Mr. Rich...

CARLSON: What about Bill Clinton? You can defend...

KAMBER: If you look at Rich, I gather he has been a philanthropist in the last 17 years, tried to make up for what he has done. He has given millions and millions of dollars to a variety of charities around the world. He has tried to make good for it. Seventeen years to be an exile, also, from your country, a country that you love, is a prison of its own sort.

Again, I can't sit here -- I didn't see the record or the file, neither did you, neither did Mr. Barr, neither did Mr. Burton. The bottom line, Bill Clinton made a decision, no different than any other president.

If you don't like the law, change the law. Let's not attack Clinton, except we have a lot of Clinton haters that...

PRESS: Congressman Barr, let me ask you about that. It may surprise you that I'm not going to defend this pardon of Marc Rich either. In fact, I thought it was the wrong thing for the president to do. He should not have pardoned Marc Rich in my judgment. He should have pardoned Michael Milken, he should have pardoned Webb Hubbell, but he didn't. But isn't Victor Kamber right, that that is, as long as the law is the way it is, that is any president's prerogative and there ain't nothing we can do about it -- except talk about it?

REP. BOB BARR (R-GA), JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: First of all, it doesn't surprise me that you take that position, because you are a very intelligent man. We disagree on the issues, but there's no way of defending what the president did in this instance.

What is particularly galling about these types of pardons is he did not follow normal procedures. Yes, the president has constitutional authority to pardon, but every president before him, as far as I can tell -- and I have studied this, and I know you have, too -- no president before this president did what he did to the magnitude and number of midnight pardons that he issued here, nor has any other president skirted the Department of Justice and his own prosecutors the way this president did.

He just ignored them, went over their head, ignored the advice of his attorneys in the Department of Justice. And it really does make you wonder, Bill, as I'm sure you do, along with me, why he did this, because it is indefensible. It was not recommended by people in his own administration...

KAMBER: Congressman, one of the things you said is just not accurate. The number of pardons was about the same as Mr. Reagan and Mr. Bush did.

BARR: No, it's not.

KAMBER: It was! In the 400 range, and Bush was only there four years...

BARR: I'm talking about the midnight pardons, the rash of pardons..

KAMBER: What's the difference when it happens?

(CROSSTALK)

BARR: There is something you can do about it. If you have a president who issues pardons on a regular basis during his administration, the people do have some recourse. You can throw them out of office, for one thing, but when you do it at the last minute by subverting justice, there's nothing the people can do.

PRESS: I want to come back to this, congressman, because I just can't too exercised about this, because I remember much more outrageous pardons. Victor Kamber mentioned a couple of them. I like to remind you, maybe, about the most outrageous of all, 1974...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GERALD FORD, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I, Gerald R. Ford, president of the United States, pursuant to the pardon power conferred upon me by Article II, Section two of the Constitution, have granted and by these presence do grant a full, free and absolute pardon onto Richard Nixon.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PRESS: Which is the bigger crook? I know the answer to that one.

BARR: It may surprise you, but I don't disagree with you at all. I think the pardon of Richard Nixon was outrageous, but still does not excuse what this president has done. Look at the type of pardons. He pardoned the former head of the CIA for improper storage and leak -- and very likely leaking of national security information. He pardoned a drug kingpin, who has been convicted of murder. He pardoned a group of Hasidic Jews in New York that have bilked the government of over $40 million.

CARLSON: Victor Kamber, let's get back to something you said before we get to more specific examples of appalling behavior on the part of the former president. Let me ask you -- said the timing doesn't matter. Why do you think, honestly, President Clinton waited until mere hours before leaving office?

KAMBER: I think, like all presidents do, because of the controversy associated with these kinds of pardons, of any president, that he did not want, I think, three months of this dialogue. We know how much these Republicans in this town have been baiting and hating this administration and the Clintons personally.

I think it was a smart move. If you're going to do pardons, you do them at the last minute. You know...

CARLSON: So you have no obligation to explain why you're doing it?

KAMBER: Again, we are all different, Tucker. If I was president of the United States, I might explain it. If you were president, you might. Mr. Barr might. All we're saying is what Mr. Barr said earlier: Constitutionally, a president is not obligated to do it. I know of no person -- we didn't hear Gerald Ford -- we didn't hear Gerald Ford give a reason.

CARLSON: Again, the history lesson continues. We're now talking about Gerald Ford, who's out in Arizona.

KAMBER: But we are talking with history. We are talking about the law.

CARLSON: We're talking specifically about what Bill Clinton did last week.

KAMBER: And I think that what Bill Clinton did last week is what presidents of the United States do. If we don't like, change the law. Let's not go revisit history and beat up on people...

CARLSON: Right, simply because (UNINTELLIGIBLE) legal (UNINTELLIGIBLE) mean it's obviously the right thing to do. But let's get to another specific example here. Bob Barr mentioned the four Hasidic Jews from New York state who bilked, as he said, $40 million from the United States government. They were pardoned.

They come from a community, the only Hasidic community in New York state, to vote overwhelming for Hillary Clinton in the Senate race. I think there were only 12 people in the entire town who voted for Rick Lazio.

KAMBER: Smart people. Smart town, right?

CARLSON: That's right. And Mrs. Clinton said, though she met with members of that community, from that town, she had no idea that these men were going to be pardoned and had no role in their pardon. That's simply not believable, is it?

KAMBER: Well, to me it is. It may not be to you. You don't like Mrs. Clinton. Absolutely believable to me.

CARLSON: But of the thousands of people sitting in prisons, tens of thousands of people in prison, the president happens to pardon four from this town that voted overwhelmingly...

(CROSSTALK)

KAMBER: Tucker, let's not kid ourselves.

CARLSON: You're the one doing the kidding around here.

KAMBER: Obviously someone went to the president, some group of people, I assume people from that Hasidic community in New York went the president and made a compelling argument or to his people and made a compelling argument. Why do we assume, except of a dislike, that Mrs. Clinton played a role it in? Why?

(CROSSTALK)

BARR: Actually, because she was in the meetings in which it was discussed, Victor. She was in the meetings.

KAMBER: I thought Tucker said she claimed..

BARR: She claimed she didn't, but she was in the meeting. That is documented.

KAMBER: I have no idea of what took place and again what I'm saying to you is I just don't believe that -- people don't vote for that reason.

PRESS: Well, you know, here's another point, congressman. You're -- it's easy to jump to a quid pro quo in this case, in another one if I can go back to the Marc Rich.

Everybody is saying Marc Rich was pardoned, had to be because his ex-wife, who has had no contact with him for years, gave some money to the Clintons. Everybody assumes it's got to be a quid pro quo. Let me show you what I think why it happened is because Rich had a good lawyer. His name is Jack Quinn. He used to be chief of staff to Al Gore and here is what Jack Quinn said about his conversation with president.

Quote: "Every word I had with the president was about the legal merits. He was not focused on, "Are they Democrats?' or "Is Denise for this?" He was focused on the distinction I was making about whether this ought to have been treated as a criminal or a civil matter."

He says it was no quid pro quo. Do you have any evidence, congressman, that there was.

BARR: I couldn't tell while you were saying that whether you were smiling. I saw simply the piece of words. I suspect, Bill, that even you couldn't say what you just said with a straight face that you think that the president.

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS: What evidence do have there was a quid pro quo?

BARR: That you think that the president of the United States who had already been disbarred by that time, so he can't practice law. He was sitting down there and having a legal discussion over the theories of this case with Jack Quinn. That is utterly unbelievable. There was some sort of quid pro quo. maybe Jack Quinn -- I hope he got a million bucks for this case because he really did earn it.

PRESS: While he was working for his client. But you keep -- you said it again. There was a quid pro quo. What evidence do you have there was a quid pro quo? You're just making an outrageous charge you can't back up.

BARR: No, listen, it's not outrageous and I would think that as somebody who is a -- wants government to be a good steward of the public's money, that you would want to get to the bottom of this to see if there was any improper lobbying, to see if any money did change hands and to see if in fact the advice of the Department of Justice in this was overridden for some improper reason. Why would you object to finding those things out, Bill?

PRESS: To tell the truth, I don't want to talk about it anymore. I'm done with it.

CARLSON: We're going to talk about gifts when we come back.

PRESS: All right.

CARLSON: And if you liked watching Bill Press fire questions at Bob Barr, tax your turn. Congressman Barr will be in our chat room right after the show. Just log on to cnn.com/crossfire. We'll return.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) CARLSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. I'm Tucker Carlson. When Bill and Hillary Clinton moved out the White House last week, they left with more than $190,000 in parting gifts from wealthy admirers. China, flatware televisions, a DVD player and much more. The gifts appear to be legal, but are they seemly. Or are they part of a larger pattern of the Clinton's ethical misbehavior. we'll be posing those questions tonight to Democratic strategist Vic Kamber and Republican Congressman Bob Barr of Georgia -- Bill.

PRESS: Congressman Barr, I want to check something out with you. You know, I have lot of friends and when any friends of ours move into a new house, Carol and I generally buy them a gift. Even if they happen to have a lot of money, we'll find something they might enjoy or need, even if they happen to be people in public office, as long it's legal and below the threshold. I mean, we'll buy them a gift.

Now, are we being -- is that unethical for us? And if it's not, why is it unethical for these people to give gifts to the Clintons? I don't understand.

BARR: Well, Bill, I'm probably going to be redistricted out of my district and we'll have to move. I certainly hope that you'll be sending my wife, Terri, and I a gift when we move.

PRESS: The toaster is on its way, Bob.

(LAUGHTER)

BARR: Thank you. What's actually funny is last Friday night as my wife and I and some friends were driving from one of the inaugural events to another, we drove by the back of White House and we noticed a large moving truck there, and we wondered what it was. And I said oh, it's probably something -- they're bringing some stuff for catering, but it was that truck that we just saw on the trailer for the show, loading up the Clinton gifts.

The fact of the matter is, Bill, that is, as most things with the Clintons, a matters of degree. Where a President Bush or a President Reagan or President Clinton might take few gifts of nominal value when they left office of a personal nature, the Clintons have to move a packing truck up to the White House to haul off the loot. It is very unseemly and while it may not be, strictly speaking, illegal, it smells just like everything else that this administration has touched for eight years.

PRESS: Now look, Bob Barr, I've got the list here. I've got the list of all the people and what they gave. Most of them are golf clubs, by the way. I know most of the people on this list. I mean, your problem, I think, is you just refuse to accept the fact that there a lot of Americans who love the Clintons, who are friends of theirs and want to help them out. Particularly -- they never even owned a house until this year, and didn't have any furniture, didn't have the stuff all the other presidents had.

BARR: The poor destitute Clintons. They're moving into nearly a $4 million house. His wife is living in a $2 million dollar house. These people aren't destitute. One of the gifts was a set of chairs worth something in the nature of $8,000 given to them by guess who? Mrs. Rich.

CARLSON: The stomach turns at the thought. Now, Vic Kamber, I'm fascinated here. Bill has the list. You really ought to read it. Not only silver and china and...

KAMBER: Golf clubs.

CARLSON: ... a ton of golf clubs, but sweaters and television sets and Ottomans and all sorts of furniture. Now, the Clintons have a ton of money. These are very rich people -- hold on -- thanks in part to the unseemly book deal, to the speeches the president will give.

This behavior strikes me as a part of a pattern. Here the Clintons have all this money, but they're still up until the very end raising money for their legal defense fund -- they won't even pay their own lawyers. These are people that don't like to pay for things themselves. That's the sense that I get.

KAMBER: Tucker, again, the issue of unseemly, that's an arguably thing you can.

CARLSON: I am arguing it.

KAMBER: It's clearly legal. It's not and I don't know how question ethics. Ethics deal with legality. It's clear legal. Again, I don't want to go back to history, but every president has taken stuff, either for their library or personally.

When the Reagans left, they took a number of things, mostly foreign gifts because they already had all their televisions and their china and everything else. Most of this stuff -- would I do it? Would you do it? Maybe not. They obviously had gifts from people, and Bill is absolutely correct. I'm exactly the same way. And I will send you, if you'll take my gift, Mr. Barr, I'll send you a gift when you move. I do that.

CARLSON: Vic Kamber, you just uttered a line that I think ought to be engraved somewhere in the Democratic hall of fame. Ethics concern legality. Ethic have been reduced to the point where they concern reality. But in fact, they concern so much more. Now Mrs. Clinton receiver...

KAMBER: Do they?

CARLSON: Of course they do. Of course, they concern much more. Simply because something is legal doesn't mean that it's ethical or right.

KAMBER: Oh, I disagree totally.

CARLSON: I'll stop lecturing. Let me just make this point: Mrs. Clinton received gifts these gifts in some cases literally hours before taking her oath of office as a senator at which point, as you know, it would have been illegal for her to take them.

KAMBER: Not true.

CARLSON: In fact, it is true. The gift ban...

KAMBER: No, the gift ban...

(CROSSTALK)

CARLSON: .. the second she takes...

KAMBER: The gift ban allows personal friends to give beyond the limit if you are a personal friend. I have given to people -- i have given...

CARLSON: This would not have passed the Senate Ethics Committee and you know that.

KAMBER: I don't know that. I don't know that.

CARLSON: But my point is -- my point is why would Mrs. Clinton do this? Why in the world would should risk looking this way simply for some flatware?

KAMBER: She should send it all back to people? I can't take your gift? I don't like you? I mean, what -- I don't understand. You don't take gifts from people?

CARLSON: Not $190,000 worth.

(CROSSTALK)

KAMBER: Only because you don't know the same people.

PRESS: Now, we're allowed to get gifts but the Clintons are not. That's the new rule. Now, Bob Barr, speaking of people who will not go gracefully, Linda Tripp's attorneys today filed a lawsuit against the Pentagon because she lost -- against the Defense Department because she lost her job and they say she was treated unfairly and there were leaks about when she was fired. I want to read you or let you hear, rather, Rear Admiral Craig Quigley from the Pentagon explaining last week exactly what happened to Mrs. Tripp and get your comment, please. Here's the admiral.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REAR ADMIRAL CRAIG QUIGLEY, U.S. NAVY: All political appointees' term of service ended at noon on Saturday with the swearing in of a new president. All political appointees, by definition, serve at the pleasure of the president.

PRESS: She was a political appointee. Time was up. Why should she be have been given any special treatment?

BARR: Well, first of all, I always wonder about an rear admiral doing nothing but sitting up there mouthing stuff for the Clinton administration.

PRESS: I don't think he was, congressman.

BARR: Pardon.

PRESS: I don't think he was. I think he was speaking for the Pentagon and there have been a lot of admirals up there who give news conferences about the Pentagon every day.

BARR: Well, there's admirals and then there's real admirals. But the fact of the matter is all political appointees are not fired the day before the Clinton -- an administration leaves or immediately when a new administration comes in. Otherwise, the government would be completely disrupted. The fact of the matter is that this is typical Clinton and it continues even after he has left office. It is vindictive streak that is a mile wide.

PRESS: Congressman.

BARR: Yes, sir.

PRESS: You and I both deal in the facts. The fact is political appointees' terms do end when the president's terms up and number one, and number two...

(CROSSTALK)

BARR: That is not true. I was a political appointee. I was a United States attorney, Bill. There are many other United States attorneys out there. They are not out on the street the day an administration moves on. They are susceptible to it, but they are not out of a job automatically.

PRESS: Big difference. You know that those terms continue. Political appointees and agencies in Washington do not. And the secondly, when Linda Tripp was fired, she went to the Bush administration, the incoming administration, and she asked for job from them. And they said no way, no how, get lost. If she is so good, why didn't they hire her?

BARR: I mean, she can speak for herself and I'm sure her attorneys will, too. The question is not to defend how great an employee Linda Tripp is, although I do think that she has done a great service to the American people previously. The fact of the matter is this is an indication of the vindictiveness of Clinton administration to fire Linda Tripp while they still had the power to do so, for no reason other than just to get back at here.

PRESS: All right, Congressman Bob Barr, we're out of time. Victor Kamber, thank you both for joining us. Victor here in the studio, Congressman Barr down there in Atlanta.

BARR: Thank you.

PRESS: Good to have you both back on CROSSFIRE. Tucker Carlson and I, we'll have a few final things to say -- we call them closing comments -- coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PRESS: And CROSSFIRE doesn't end here tonight. You can take our debate online with Congressman Bob Barr. You know how to join him, cnn.com/crossfire.

Tucker, I've got to tell you, I love the fact that George Bush is in the White House and we're still debating Bill Clinton. The Clintons are the gift that keeps on giving, and I love it because it just drives you crazy.

CARLSON: But you know, it's a painful gift. As "The Washington Post," of all newspapers, a newspaper that endorsed Bill Clinton, said yesterday, the Clintons have no capacity for embarrassment. But you know, I'm embarrassed for them. I actually turn red watching the spectacle unfold.

PRESS: Well, I'm not embarrassed for them. I'm glad that they have so many friends, and I know a lot of their friends. They're friends of mine. They like these guys, and they get the new house, and they say, hey, listen, we're going to help you out. What's wrong with that?

CARLSON: Bill, you don't understand. The Clinton's old friends have known the Clintons for about 20 minutes. They have no old friends. All their old friends are indicted or they don't talk to them any more. Joycelyn Elders is an old friend.

PRESS: You know what, that is not true, and I could go down the list. A lot of those friends have been with them since their early days in Arkansas, and you know, Bill Clinton...

CARLSON: But not one is still with them.

PRESS: They all are. Bill Clinton is a public servant, but not a perfect servant. I'll admit that.

CARLSON: I'll second that.

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

CARLSON: And from the right, I'm Tucker Carlson. Join us again tomorrow night for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

PRESS: And don't forget, that's just round one. Tucker and I are going to be debating the same issue with all of you later in "THE SPIN ROOM" later tonight.

CARLSON: That's 10:30 Eastern, 7:30 Pacific. We have Don Baer, President Clinton's White House communications director. Join us.

PRESS: See you later.

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