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Crossfire

Has Bill Clinton Left Another Stain on the Presidency?

Aired February 8, 2001 - 7:30 p.m. ET

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

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Congressman Dan Burton's House Investigating Committee heard testimony all day today from Jack Quinn, Democratic insider and Washington super lawyer.

As President Clinton was leaving the White House, Quinn talked his former boss into pardoning billionaire tax fugitive Marc Rich. Today, Quinn caught it from Democrats as well as Republicans for a pardon that only the president and Mr. Quinn seemed to love.

Rich's ex-wife, who contributed one million dollars to the Democrats, did not testify, opting instead to take the 5th Amendment.

And on the other side of Capitol, Republican Senator Arlen Specter said it's time to modify the Constitution's 2 centuries-old power of the pardon. So has Bill Clinton left another stain on the presidency, or was he misled by a slick lawyer?

Former energy secretary Bill Richardson, now a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government is sitting in on the left; welcome Bill.

Congressman Kanjorski, I wondered what you Democrats were going to do with this outrageous pardon; could you be supported? And I underestimated your ingenuity -- how you did it. You said, it's a terrible pardon, but it's not President Clinton's fault. Nothing is ever his fault, is it?

REP. PAUL KANJORSKI (D-PA), GOVERNMENT REFORM COMMITTEE: No, Bob, that's not correct. The president exercised a constitutional authority for a pardon. But the president, of course, as we all know, doesn't act as a single individual. He relied on his staff and other people for tremendous input, and I think what was developed today was a choice -- several choices that could you make.

Either the president didn't get all the information he should have had to make a good judgment, he got all the information he should've had and made a bad judgment, or something in between. And, I think, the evidence today was, there was no corruption, or scandal involved here.

It is a question that, probably, the processes broke down, and when you listen to the testimony of Mr. Quinn, and Mr. Holder, I came to the conclusion, in my own mind, that what happened -- I take it up with Mr. Quinn in the middle of the session -- that the president's defenses were down. This was his former chief counsel. He would not assume that he would be a pure advocate.

NOVAK: That's exactly right, Congressman. You made poor old Quinn the scapegoat. Bill Clinton just didn't come in from Little Rock and fall off the turnip truck, he has been around eight years -- he's President of the United States -- he completely cut the Justice Department out of the process of the pardon. How can you blame Quinn, when the president did it to himself?

KANJORSKI: Well, I don't think the testimony supported they were completely cut out. I think Mr. Holder suggested he had information, he could have acted, he didn't take certain actions.

NOVAK: He was almost completely cut out. Holder looked like he was going to have a nervous break down.

KANJORSKI: He -- he reacted that way on the stand? I didn't think so.

NOVAK: You didn't? I must have been watching a different hearing. I'm sorry.

BILL RICHARDSON, CO-HOST: First, I would like to show a clip.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: Everyone is eventually going to have to could to grip with the fact that President Clinton is no longer president. And there's been a cottage industry, and this committee has been part of it, for Clinton scandals. Well, this cottage industry, at some point, will have to go out to business. We have got other matters before us that deserve very, very careful attention, through oversight and investigative responsibilities.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

RICHARDSON: Congressman Barr, do you and some of your colleagues know that Bill Clinton is no longer president? Don't we have a bunch of other issues to deal with? Other issues your committee can investigate? Isn't this cottage Clinton bashing industry out of steam? Isn't it time to move on?

REP. BOB BARR (R-GA), GOVERNMENT REFORM COMMITTEE: You know, Clinton's as much on the news now as he was before so I don't know, maybe he hasn't left office. If you all wouldn't keep paying so much attention to him in the media, maybe we would finally realize he wasn't there.

The problem is, you know, Bill -- Professor now, thank you -- the problem now is, we are trying to clean up the God awful mess this man left behind, right up -- not just the very day, not just the very morning, the very moment that he left office, he was signing pardons that he had no business signing, if he was truly representing the interest of justice. Everything about this pardon stinks.

And I'd like to say something in support of Bill Clinton. He is a very smart man, nobody can out-slick Slick Willie. This was a very good lawyer, Mr. Quinn, who did his job, but nobody pulled wool over the president's eyes; he knew exactly what he was doing, he said at one point, in one of the e-mails, he's going to have to work on these White House lawyers. They are opposing him, so he knew exactly what he was doing.

RICHARDSON: Congressman, let me show you this document from your own committee, assembled by the very respected ranking member, Congressman Waxman. Basically, what -- he basically says that your committee has made 25 unproven allegations in their entire hearings, cost the taxpayer $23 million, 900 subpoenas have been issued, nothing has been proven.

Right now in the Congress, there's two investigations, pending on the pardon. There's one on office space that is coming -- I understand that you may be doing a probe on the vandalism at the White House, that even the Bush people say is overdramatized. Isn't this really time to move on? Can you answer my question?

BARR: Well, what we have to look at, Bill, as I'm sure you can appreciate, having -- yourself having been a very distinguished member of Congress. Congress has a responsibility that may not always be the same as the president's, regardless of whether it's a Republican or Democrat in the White House.

The fact that President Bush has made a policy decision not to want to do something doesn't mean that we abrogate our responsible and we have a responsibility, Bill, the same as when you were in the Congress -- if tax payer funds are being misused, if powers of the executive branch are being misused, we have the responsibility to uncover it for two reasons.

One: to make sure the American people know the truth, and that is very important. And secondly, to determine if there is anything legislatively that can be done, or if there are any referrals; we don't know, as my colleague here has said -- we don't know, at this point, that there was nothing was improper. We are just barely getting into this. There may very well be something that would have to be referred to the Department of Justice.

NOVAK: Congressman Paul Kanjorski, on Monday night, former president Clinton went down to Boca Raton; do you hang out in Boca Raton much?

KANJORSKI: Only with you, Bob.

NOVAK: To address Morgan Stanley and their big fat customers. For $150,000 a pop, which is a lot of money.

KANJORSKI: He sold out cheap, then, didn't he? Two former presidents; one got 2 million, Mr. Reagan, for a speech, and I think Mr. Bush made 15 million...

NOVAK: There's more. There's more to come. According to the "Washington Post," this is what he said, and we will put it up on the screen: "As far as I knew, Marc Rich and his wife were Republicans. The worst thing in the entire aftermath of the Marc Rich pardon was when people said I pardoned him simply because I had a relationship. If you have a problem with the pardon, write John Ashcroft and have him sue Marc Rich."

Congressman, isn't that Bill Clinton in your face, talking about a woman that give $1 million to the Democratic Party. You know they can't sue. The two former U.S. attorneys said, there is no possibility of civil action. Aren't you ashamed of the former president of the United States dealing that baloney out for $150,000 dollars?

KANJORSKI: Bob, I would not, in the position, with the facts I know now, would probably support that pardon if I was president. But that's the presidential prerogative and whether he had sufficient information or all the information, we will probably never know. But quite frankly, to continue this on, as Bill has said, we have got other important things to get to that are very important now.

I'm will tell you there's a challenge for the new attorney general in the Bush administration. Mr. Rich will come back to this country, I assume -- he's claimed to be now, an American citizen -- he owes 18 years of back taxes. Let's make sure the new attorney general does his job and let's watch over him.

NOVAK: Don't hold your breath.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: I don't think he is an American citizen. But you know, the president of the United States -- I'm just going to ask you about the buddy system in Washington. I thought your questioning was very good, but in the middle of the questioning, Mr. Kanjorski, you started to kiss verbally Jack Quinn. You said how much you liked him.

All you guys swim together. You know, when this -- this deal was cut, when the president took Quinn over to Northern Ireland as an Irish-American, this is the buddy system that makes ordinary Americans a little sick to the stomach, isn't it?

KANJORSKI: Bob, this is a different atmosphere in the Beltway, and I think I pointed out in my questions, you know, that two or three lawyers that Mr. Quinn was working with right up to the point he was doing all of this, one of them is now chief of staff to the vice president of the United States.

NOVAK: They're all -- they're all in the same buddy system.

KANJORSKI: They were all Republicans. The defense counsel for Mr. Quinn is a famous Republican, and his wife. But they're all good lawyers. Mr. Quinn's an excellent lawyer. I can understand how he presented his case. From an adversary position, he did the best for his client that he was representing. On the other hand, I can understand how Mr. Holder thought he was doing or didn't have to do something that he should have done. NOVAK: OK. We're going to have to take a break. Take your shot at asking Congressman Bob Barr the tough questions in the chatroom right after the show by logging onto cnn.com/crossfire. And as Paul Kanjorski talked about the deputy -- former Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder, we'll talk about him after this break.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

RICHARDSON: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. I'm Bill Richardson, the still unemployed former secretary of energy sitting in for Bill Press.

Is Congress ever going to stop investigating Bill Clinton? Don't the Republicans know he has left office? Isn't it time to move on? That's what we're asking our guests tonight, Government Reform Committee member Paul Kanjorski, a Democrat from Pennsylvania, committee vice chair, Bob Barr, a Republican from Georgia.

Congressman Barr, I can't defend the Rich pardon. I think it was bad judgment. I would never have done it. But isn't it fact that -- this was referred to by Congressman Kanjorski -- that president Clinton made it easier for the Justice Department to go after Marc Rich buy eliminating the civil waiver and now Justice can go after the money that perhaps needs to be recovered? Isn't it now up to the Justice Department, to John Ashcroft to pursue this case? Isn't this a plus?

BARR: That's not a red herring. That's a red whale. As two prosecutors, the original prosecutors in this case testified to today -- and nobody, not even Mr. Quinn could refute what they were saying -- Bill Clinton when he insisted that as part of the pardon Mr. Rich agreed to civil liability was giving away the shirts to his vest. He was giving away nothing and getting nothing in return.

The fact of the matter is that there are no fines that can be levied against these people. That was taken care of already in the prior pleas, and it is -- it is a done deal. You can't do it. What happened in this case, Bill, smells to high heavens.

In the middle of all of this -- remember, the testimony today -- you had the president placing a call to the finance chair of the DNC, talking about this case, saying, well, you know, those White House lawyers are against it, but you know, keep praying and keep pushing. He completely cut out the Justice Department. They just sort of turned a blind eye to everything.

RICHARDSON: Well, congressman, that hasn't come out clearly. It appears that Justice was informed. I saw a report of Mr. Quinn five weeks Justice was aware of this.

BARR: They didn't. They never got the petition, Bill, never.

RICHARDSON: Let me turn to another issue.

BARR: Sure.

RICHARDSON: You're a strict constitutionalist. I'm going to read you Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution. "The president shall have power to grant reprieves and pardons for offenses against the United States except in cases of impeachment."

Now, congressman, isn't this pardon a done deal? What is the evidence here also of a quid pro quo? Now, you don't support this measure in the Senate that gives the Congress the right to overturn a presidential pardon, do you?

BARR: No, I don't, and that has nothing to do with why we're looking at this. First of all, some of the individuals that Mr. Clinton pardoned -- not Mr. Rich, but about 44 others -- may be in trouble, because the way he signed that document, there was nothing in support of 44 of the people, including Ms. McDougal and Mr. Cisneros. So a serious question has been raised over whether some of those pardons, even though they appear constitutional on this face and exercise the president's power, may not be valid. They may be void.

But what we want to look at here, Bill, is whether or not anything improper did take place. Even attorney himself today, Jack Quinn, said he was surprised that President Clinton granted it. He was surprised because there basically wasn't any reason to do it. Therefore, there may be a reason somewhere else. We're not saying there is, but we have to find out.

NOVAK: Congressman Kanjorski, I was fascinated -- I think you were, too -- by former Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder's testimony. He never saw the formal petition, didn't even see the summary letter. He didn't know anything about the case. And then he said that he had told Jack Quinn that on balance he was -- he was -- he would be inclined toward granting the pardon if there was a national security component.

And I believe a congressman named Kanjorski from Pennsylvania asked Holder, what in the world are you messing around with national security about? That's not your business.

You know, this is the kind of stuff that the Reno Justice Department that Bob Barr's been wrestling with for eight years.

KANJORSKI: Well, I...

NOVAK: Six years -- eight years? Six years.

(CROSSTALK)

KANJORSKI: I think the testimony -- I think the testimony today clearly indicated that what was understood by Jack Quinn and what was understood by the White House counsel and perhaps the president as to what Mr. Holder's position were quite different, and he explained that. Mr. Holder explained his position.

NOVAK: Did he look good?

KANJORSKI: No, I think he -- I think he had more to explain, but I don't think the integrity of either Mr. Quinn or Mr. Holder really should suffer from today. I came from the conclusion -- and I ended this actually in the defense of Bob's position. I said that this warrants a hearing. I think the American people and the Congress should look at what was done, because it does have the appearance of wrongdoing. Now, I am satisfied that there isn't culpable wrongdoing. I think there is inadequate staff preparation or mistaken judgment of the president.

I join with Bill. I would not have issued this type of pardon, but the Constitution gives the president the authority.

NOVAK: Well, I thought Mr. Holder and Mr. Quinn were dancing, and you know, you shouldn't dance in a committee hearing. But somebody -- the two young -- the two former U.S. -- assistant U.S. attorneys who I was very impressed with were not dancing. Both Democrats, by the way. And one of them -- Morris Weinberg Jr., a lifelong Democrat, I thought was particularly impressive. And let's listen to something he said today.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MORRIS WEINBERG JR., FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, NEW YORK: These were fugitives, and I still believe that a fugitive who has renounced his citizenship is not -- should not be at the top of the list of people that are considered for the ultimate act of mercy that the Constitution reserves to the president, which is the pardon power.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: You know, that's plain English. A lot different from what I heard from Eric Holder and Jack Quinn today.

KANJORSKI: Well, I was sympathetic to the idea of the fugitive, and that disturbed me today, and I kept asking questions on it. But I have to honest with you, my impression of these two prosecutors, they were just a little too zealous.

NOVAK: Too zealous?

KANJORSKI: Refusing to meet with an attorney after 18 years that represents a client, to meet with him. And that's what Mr. Holder was talking about when he tried to set up a meeting. And I was astounded that the deputy attorney general can (UNINTELLIGIBLE) to call a prosecutor in southern New York and they can tell him they won't meet with a representative...

NOVAK: I thank God for prosecutors like that.

RICHARDSON: Congressman Barr, again, where is there evidence of a quid pro quo? It seems that Marc Rich is an equal opportunity hirer of legal talent. He gets Jack Quinn from the Democrats and then Louis Libbey (ph), the legal tax counsel now on Vice President Cheney's staff. Does this brother you, and where is the evidence of a quid pro quo, of impropriety? Bad judgment, yes.

BARR: Well, we haven't gotten to the bottom of it yet, Bill, and I go back to one of the pieces of evidence that came out today that I mentioned just a few moments ago that we intend to look at further. Why in the middle of all of this, when a president is grappling with a very sensitive pardon of somebody that has national security ramification, why does he call a lady who is a finance chair of the DNC and bring her into the equation? Why? And that's a very important question that we have to answer.

NOVAK: Big question. Thank you very much, Congressman Barr. Thank you, Congressman Kanjorski. And Bill Richardson and I will be back with closing comments and we'll talk about the secret desires of Bill's former boss, Bill Clinton.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Don't forget that Congressman Bob Barr is in our chatroom in just a few minutes at cnn.com/crossfire.

Bill Richardson, a lot of Democrats really aren't happy that Bill Clinton three weeks after the inauguration of George W. Bush won't get off the stage. He's hogging all the news, and it's not good news. It's bad for the Democratic Party he's there, not because of the media, not because of Dan Burton, not because of Bob Barr, but because Bill Clinton likes it.

RICHARDSON: Bob, you know that I have been very loyal to him. This pardon issue was a big mistake, not a plus. Nonetheless, this president left office with the highest approval rating of any president in history, 65 percent: 58 percent personal approval rating. No question a mistake.

But the reality is a lot of folks in the media are stalking him. Let him go. Let him become a private citizen.

NOVAK: He doesn't want to be a private citizen.

RICHARDSON: Well, you know, he is not making public statements. He is being accosted. He is making private speeches. I think we should give him a little space.

NOVAK: I tell you, he's on a fast track, Bill, to be one of the worst ex-presidents in history, ex-presidents.

RICHARDSON: He is going to contribute a lot as an ex-president. You watch.

From the left, I'm Bill Richardson. Good night from CROSSFIRE.

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

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