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How Far Should Congress Go in Investigating Bill Clinton's Pardon of Marc Rich?

Aired February 13, 2001 - 7:30 p.m. ET



ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: ... and he's moving away from his tormentors. Under attack for using taxpayers' money for a pricey post-presidential office high over Manhattan, Mr. Clinton is moving into a Harlem office at half the price.

But office rent is hardly the end of his problems. Congressman Dan Burton's House Oversight Committee has issued subpoenas concerning the Clinton pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich, and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch says the former president should want to come to Capitol Hill to testify.

President Bush, watching the Clinton furor eclipse his own programs, said today he would like Congress to move on from investigating the ex-president. Will it? Should it? Or is it in the public interest to keep digging into Bill Clinton?

E.J. Dionne, the very distinguished syndicated newspaper columnist, is sitting in on the left. Welcome, E.J.

E.J. DIONNE, GUEST CO-HOST: Thank you, Congressman Graham. Welcome, it's always good to see you.

I'll begin -- you're a lawyer, so I'll begin by stipulating that the Rich pardon is unpardonable. I think Bob will want to talk about that.

REP. LINDSEY GRAHAM (R), SOUTH CAROLINA: It appears to be on its face. We'll find out.

DIONNE: But I wanted to ask you about what President Bush said today. Why is it that after eight years the Republicans cannot stop talking about Bill Clinton? "I think it's time to move on," said George Bush. Is the president wrong?

GRAHAM: Well, I think if I was President Bush I would want to be talking about the substance of why I got elected president. I can understand that. But this is a little bit different.

You've got people like yourself, Barney Frank and others, who are not normally Bill Clinton critics, saying that the presidency, the institution needs to be looked at. Why was the pardon given? Was it clear with the Justice Department? We need to look at to make sure exactly what happened is known to the public and to deter any future president from doing like behavior, if it was wrong.

In that regard, if we can do it in a bipartisan fashion, I think that's what we should do. Every American benefits when you can control x abuse of power. If this was an abuse of power, then we need to know about it.

We can't change it legally, but we'd be better off as a country to understand exactly what happened, if we can do it in a bipartisan fashion.

DIONNE: But you know, what's strange about this is it's not just the Rich pardon. That's not the only thing we were talking about. We just saw all that footage in Harlem. And what is strange is also the exaggeration that's gotten into these Clinton stories to keep them alive.

You know, it was talked -- the vandalism in the White House and then things being taken off Air Force One. President Bush said today -- quote -- "All the allegations that they took stuff on Air Force One are simply not true."

I mean, is it possible that you can just say anything about Bill Clinton and it's OK now?

GRAHAM: Well, a lot of people seem to do that. No, it's not OK to accuse somebody of wrongdoing. It's not OK to give false information when you're accused of wrongdoing.

What we need to do is move on from the tawdry aspects of this. I don't know what they took. I don't know if they stole anything, and I don't care. I know this: If I'm renting these guys any space, I want a security deposit. That I know.

NOVAK: Congressman Fattah, there is no question that there -- that the wife, the former wife of this fugitive financier, Marc Rich, gave a lot of money to the Democratic Party, over $1 million, a lot of money to the Clinton Presidential Library.

Was there a quid pro quo?

There are other pardons by the president, a drug dealer, which are also questionable: Was there money passed?

And so, you know, I would like you to listen for a moment to what the deputy majority leader of the Senate had to say about this.


SEN. DON NICKLES (R), OKLAHOMA: President Ford did go before Congress and explain his pardon of President Nixon. It was a very controversial pardon. I would love to see President Clinton explain this pardon.

(END VIDEO CLIP) NOVAK: Why not, congressman?

REP. CHAKA FATTAH (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Well, I have no difficulty. President Clinton is a citizen of the United States, and if called before the Congress, he should and I think he would appear. But I think what's important here is that the president issued 360-some pardons, and at best people have complained or have some concern about one, two or three or four of them.

In general, if that's his batting average, if he was in Major League Baseball, he's be in the Hall of Fame: that people looking through all of these pardons find just a -- one in particular and a handful of others to be concerned about.

The one you mentioned, the cardinal -- the Catholic cardinal of Los Angeles wrote a letter on behalf of this gentleman, asking for -- along with a number of members of Congress and others.

So there are, whatever questions there are they should be answered. But at some point, the country will have to move on, and the lies that the Clinton critics have brought up, like they're taking things off of Air Force One, I'm very happy to see George Bush step up to the plate today and say, by the way, it wasn't true. The notion of these -- destruction at the White House has also been proven to be untrue. And we're going to get to the bottom of whatever other allegations there are.

The Republicans have been after Clinton for nine years, and they haven't gotten him. That is the year before he got to the White House, the eight years he was there, and now after he's left.

NOVAK: With all due respect, sir, I can't quite believe I heard you say what you said, that it's a good batting average if he gets 300 or 700 or 800, and you have three corrupt pardons where he took money and returned for a pardon, if that is the case -- one would be one too many.

Isn't it essential -- you used to be on the Burton investigating committee. I don't know why you got off. That's one of the great committees of Congress. And I admire...

FATTAH: I got to go to the appropriations committee with Lindsey.

NOVAK: Well, I mean, that's...

GRAHAM: Going where the money...

NOVAK: ... that's the money committee. But surely, it is very important to find out as an American citizen whether there -- whether there was a corrupt deal there, isn't it?

FATTAH: Like I said, whatever we need to find out, let's find out. But let me be clear about what I said: that is if you take 300 decisions, Bob Novak, and if could only find one or two or three to complain about... NOVAK: That's corrupt. That's corrupt. Not complain about it. It's corrupt.

FATTAH: No one -- no one is -- no one in the real world has proven that there's anything corrupt about any of the pardons.

NOVAK: Well, that's what we have to find -- if one is corrupt, it's one too many.

FATTAH: But before one alleges that someone has done something wrong, it's proper, at least under our form of government, to investigate it.

GRAHAM: Well, I -- I think what he's saying is we need to put this in perspective, and I agree with that. Here's the perspective we need to understand what this about.

We pardoned a man who was never indictment. We pardoned a man who was never convicted. We pardoned somebody without asking the Justice Department, "Should we do this?" We pardoned a man whose wife gave a bunch of money.

Every American should make sure of the facts, because we should tell every future president, if President Clinton did go that far out of bounds, every future president should understand, you better not do that because you'll be...

FATTAH: Let's get all the former presidents who have pardoned someone who has not been sentenced or tried. Let's get Ford and the Nixon case.

GRAHAM: I don't think you'll find any.

FATTAH: Let's bring George Bush Sr. forward and the Caspar Weinberger matter.

NOVAK: You're comparing Caspar Weinberger to this -- to this sleaze-bag.

FATTAH: Let's take all -- if you're saying that it's improper to pardon someone who's not been tried in a court of law...

NOVAK: I didn't say that.

GRAHAM: He was charged with making...

FATTAH: Well, that's part of what I heard.

NOVAK: Are you comparing -- are you comparing...

GRAHAM: He was a fugitive. He was a fugitive from justice.

NOVAK: Are you comparing this fugitive to a great patriot like Caspar Weinberger?

GRAHAM: He was a... FATTAH: This is what I'm saying, Bob.


FATTAH: If the judgment is, is that you can only issue a pardon if someone's been convicted and sentenced, then...

NOVAK: That isn't the point.

GRAHAM: How about this...


Can we agree tonight, don't pardon fugitives?


FATTAH: Carter -- Carter pardoned -- Carter pardoned every one who had fled to Canada to avoid the Vietnam War.

NOVAK: That's a different story. That's a different...

FATTAH: Were they fugitives?

DIONNE: You know, I always like it when...


... Bob Novak raises the issue of what money buys in politics. I think it -- maybe he'll endorse McCain-Feingold on this show. But congressman, you've been a supporter...


DIONNE: Yeah. I think you have always been a supporter of campaign reform.

GRAHAM: Right.

DIONNE: And what's odd, your Republican leaders say, well, we've got too much work to do on other things. We've got to push campaign reform down the line. But we've got plenty of time to investigate all these things.

I'm with Bob, I want to know why this pardon happened. But why is it that we run out of time on campaign reform...

GRAHAM: But why do you want to know why the pardon happened?

DIONNE: Well, because I'm like -- I'm like most people, Republican or Democrat, who don't understand why Marc Rich got a pardon. But I'd like to know why the Republicans can do this investigation but they keep pushing off your favorite issue, campaign finance reform.

GRAHAM: Well, we're going to have a vote in the Senate. Senator McCain and Senator Lott have agreed on a date to bring campaign finance reform...

DIONNE: Some time in the spring now.

GRAHAM: Well, I think it's March. But we're doing the people's business, but part of the people's business has always got to be to make sure that when people of power act, they don't act for bad reasons. They don't take money to do things they shouldn't.

And we agree on this. He's my buddy. I mean, there's a lot we don't agree on, but we're going to get to the bottom of this because we need to, because if he did what people allege, it's really bad. If he's not guilty of what people allege, then we need to apologize to him.

DIONNE: You spoke earlier of security deposits and rents. Let's here what Chris Rock had to say about Bill Clinton's move to Harlem.



CHRIS ROCK, ENTERTAINER: He's going to move to Harlem?


You can't stop him. Now everybody who moved into a nice neighborhood looks bad.


All of them -- Reagan, Carter, Bush. Now they all look bad.


DIONNE: Does this move to Harlem mean we're going to stop hearing about Clinton's office space, or is he going to have to move to Staten Island, to Newark? What's going to happen on this?

GRAHAM: This story has got -- the only thing you need to know about this story is that when he got out of office, he never thought once about the taxpayer. He never even asked the question, how much does this cost in comparison to what other people have been charging the taxpayer? He got the best place with the best view, and people brought out to the American public that he's spending more money on his office than every former president. And that's what these people are like. They think they're owed. Now, he's doing something more responsible, but the reason he's doing it is because we made him.

NOVAK: See, the reason that some of us, Congressman Fattah, who do not -- do not love Bill Clinton quite as much as you do, have a little trouble with him is we have a little difficulty on believing he tells the truth. And I'd like you to hear something he said about moving to Harlem, and let's listen to that.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I asked myself down in Florida, if I could go any place in New York to have an office starting today, where would I go? And immediately I thought of the empowerment zone in Harlem.


NOVAK: Now, you know that's not true. You know the truth of the matter was that my good friend and your good friend, Charlie Rangel, a great veteran Democratic congressman who represents Harlem, suggested it. Everybody in town knows that.

Why does the president say, gee, I thought immediately of going to Harlem? Why does he do things like that?

FATTAH: Well, look, I know, like you said, the people like you who can't see anything good in the president. The 22 million Americans who got jobs over these last eight years, they see something good. The cities and towns where for eight straight years crime has gone down, they see something good. For the people who are concerned about peace in Ireland, they see something good in his work.

You can pick apart his selection of an office space, but no one, when Reagan left and got an office that was more than any of the other presidents combined at that time, stood around on national TV criticizing what people considered to be a person served his country for eight years as president.

NOVAK: It was a fraction.

FATTAH: And so now here we are with Clinton. It's a different set of rules.

NOVAK: It was a fraction of what the Clinton cost...


FATTAH: It is exactly the same proportion in terms of his rent to the other former presidents as it is now.

NOVAK: Congressman, if I understand what you're saying is that if a president presides over a good economy -- I don't what the president has to do with the economy exactly; people like E.J. think a lot, I think very little -- that it doesn't matter if he's immoral, it doesn't matter if he lies, it doesn't matter if he's a (UNINTELLIGIBLE), it's results that count. Is that what you're telling me?

FATTAH: It doesn't -- you can hold Reagan accountable for lying about Iran-Contra if you like, or you can look at what he tried to do in terms of moving the country forward, at least in his viewpoint. When Bush said, you know, "Read my lips," I won't raise your taxes, if you want to hold that one lie against him for all of the other service that he provided, you can do that.

NOVAK: We're going to take a break, because both of our guests will be in the chatroom, both of them right after the show to take your questions. So make sure to log in to

But we're going to -- E.J. and I and our guest will be back after this break, and we'll talk about -- my goodness! Another impeachment?


DIONNE: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE. I'm E.J. Dionne sitting in on the left.

Nobody realized that Bill Clinton so felt the pain of his enemies that he would keep providing them with things to talk about and talk about and talk about. But will they be talking about Clinton for the next 20 years or will they finally find another subject?

To discuss that, we're joined tonight by Republican Congressman Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Democratic Congressman Chaka Fattah of Pennsylvania -- Bob.

NOVAK: Congressman Fattah, you're a fellow Pennsylvanian. Republican Senator Arlen Specter is always capable of providing a surprise. And let's listen to something he said that really rocked me.


SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA: An impeachment may occur not only to remove a president from office but also to eliminate his emoluments of office, such as his pension, such as office space, such as Secret Service protection.


NOVAK: So he's suggesting that if we -- if we find out that Bill Clinton sold his pardon, that he can be impeached and we can get Lindsey Graham back as a manager again. That makes sense. And if he really was a crook -- and legally, he can be impeached again -- that's a possibility, isn't it?

FATTAH: Well, look, I think the Republicans would love to move against Bill Clinton in any way humanly possible. But I think that even for the sake of their own party, that they should think about the not just the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) out of the last election, but the net result: That is the fact that Democrats picked up seats in the Senate and in the House, that even Al Gore got 500,000 more votes than George Bush nationwide.

And they've been going after Clinton for eight years. If that's the result of continuing to go after Clinton, then it may not be helpful to their party. Maybe they want to focus on the Bush agenda. But if they like to, they should. But I think when we get to the bottom of the Rich pardon, we're going to find that there's more in play here than just some -- you know, some contribution that his ex- wife made.

We know that the prime minister of Israel requested the pardon. We know that from just the testimony in the committee the other day that there were national security issues in play here. And I don't think that Bill Clinton is going to just walk away from this fight.

If they want to bring him to the Hill, let him come forward. And we'll see whether or not, at the end of the day, whether the Republicans finally get him or whether they just end up holding another bag in their hand with nothing in it.

NOVAK: Can you tell me why, if this has national security considerations -- I can't believe that it did. But why in the world President Clinton was worried about the fact that his White House counsels were all against, against the pardon? Doesn't that indicate something to you?

FATTAH: I don't -- I don't believe that that's the case. But I do think...

NOVAK: I think he said that.

FATTAH: ... that I think we do know now that the prime minister of Israel asked twice about this matter. You...

NOVAK: What's he got to do with it?

FATTAH: Well, the president was trying to arrange a peace agreement.


I know you want to forget about it in the Middle East. They wanted a pardon for the gentleman, Pollard...


... which could...

NOVAK: Is he a gentleman?

FATTAH: Excuse me. Which could not be done.

NOVAK: What gentleman are you talking about? Are you talking about the traitor?

FATTAH: And there was a request -- don't get off the track.

NOVAK: No, I just got a little offended by that.

GRAHAM: I want to hear how this brings peace in the Mideast. I'm dying to hear that.



FATTAH: I'm saying to you that the request was made by...

NOVAK: Are you saying...


FATTAH: ... an ally of the United States that this be looked into and the president took action. Now whether you agree or disagree -- I don't agree with everything you say, but I agree with your right to say it. And the president had a right to issue a pardon given to him by the Constitution, and he issued it.

DIONNE: Well, I want to go back, Congressman Graham, to that wonderful idea of Senator Specter to give you a new shot? I mean, last night Joe Torre won another Espy Award for his work as a Yankees manager. You want another shot at this?

GRAHAM: Look, I'm 0 for 1. I would give the job to someone else. Maybe they can do better than I did. But let me just say, we'll have to find out what the law in Scotland is before we get into this...


But let me just say this...


... eight years ago, our party was not nearly in as a good shape as we are now. Clinton has done more for me than anybody in SOUTH CAROLINA, including me. That's except the voters. The voters sent me here. But he's really helped my career in many ways to the detriment of the country unfortunately.

We have got the White House, we have got a majority in the Senate, a majority in the Congress. And I'm not out to get the guy. I just want to know what happened. I believe that impeachment wasn't about a right-wing conspiracy. It was about a man in a powerful position abusing the laws of the land.

And if he did it again, I want to know about it and we'll take appropriate action. And if there's some other story about why this is about Mideast peace, I'm dying to hear that, too.


DIONNE: But you don't want to impeach again? You don't want to go through...

GRAHAM: I'll give that to somebody else.

DIONNE: You know, Congressman Fattah raised this point before. I talked to a Democrat today who is by no means a Clinton defender who said, great, let them talk about Bill Clinton all threw George Bush's honeymoon. Dick Cheney was saying on the Hill today, according to CNN, you know, lay off this, you're hurting the tax cut.

GRAHAM: I agree with that. I...

FATTAH: I want to find out why Dick Cheney's chief of staff was promoting a pardon for Marc Rich. NOVAK: He's a lawyer. He's a lawyer.

FATTAH: And why -- no, why the Republicans, who are so interested in Jack Quinn...


... don't -- can't seem to remember -- they have selective amnesia, that here is the chief of staff to the vice president who's also promoting this idea of a pardon for Marc Rich...

NOVAK: You got -- you got off the committee. Why don't you ask Chairman Burton to subpoena him?

FATTAH: Well, I -- look, let me say this: If you think Bill Clinton is losing sleep over Burton investigating him, Burton has been investigating him...

GRAHAM: He's not losing sleep for anything.

FATTAH: ... for the last six years...

NOVAK: Well, he gets away...

FATTAH: ... and issued subpoenas for...

NOVAK: He gets away with anything.

FATTAH: ... for Travelgate, Filegate. Go through the list.

NOVAK: Congressman Fattah, you were on that committee, on the Burton committee, and what you had was a deaf and dumb Justice Department. You had an attorney general...

FATTAH: Now we have Ashcroft.

NOVAK: Now we've got a great attorney general, and you know what I'd like you to do. I'd like you to listen to what John Ashcroft says.



JOHN ASHCROFT, U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: I respect the need for cooperation, and so it's with that in mind that I would say that I would be very pleased to work with the department to cooperate with the Congress whenever possible.


NOVAK: So you have an attorney general who's going to cooperate with Dan Burton. He's not going to hide things, he's not going to delay, he's not going to obfuscate, he's not going to prevaricate.

(CROSSTALK) FATTAH: We should break out -- we should -- we should break out the champagne. But let me just tell you what a Republican, Senator Jon Kyl, said today. He said that this is a matter that if something actually did go wrong should be investigated as a criminal matter, that if the Congress gets in it and gives immunity...

NOVAK: That's an old Janet Reno dance.

FATTAH: I'm just telling you what a Republican senator said today.

NOVAK: That's the Janet Reno dance.

But you know what...


FATTAH: And that if there's something wrong here, let there be a grand jury...

NOVAK: We're out of time.

FATTAH: ... let it be investigated, let it be found out, rather than the grandstanding by some of my colleagues...

NOVAK: Congressman...

GRAHAM: I want to hear how this brings peace in the Mideast. That's what I want to hear.

NOVAK: Congressman Chaka Fattah, Congressman Lindsey Graham, thank you very much. And E.J. and I will be back to find out what this is doing to the Democratic Party.


NOVAK: The CROSSFIRE doesn't end here tonight. Congressman Lindsey Graham and Chaka Fattah will be in our chatroom to take your questions at

E.J., George W. Bush and Dick Cheney may say, gee, they're spoiling our carefully orchestrated plan to lay out these programs, but the fact of the matter, the Democrats I talk to say, Clinton is murdering us. This is a -- Bush goes up, Clinton goes down, the Democrats look like fools. It's a disaster.

DIONNE: I have not found a Democrat other than Mr. Fattah talking about Middle East peace who would defend the Rich pardon. But you know what's amazing, you looked so, so happy when you were talking about Janet Reno and Dan Burton reliving the good old days. Liberals finally got over Ronald Reagan after he won his landslide. Bill Clinton won two elections, he's out of office, and you still can't give it up.

NOVAK: Because he defies propriety, he defies legality, he dances on the edge. And you know, as a principled person, E.J., you should be right with me saying this should not pass.

DIONNE: And I am tired of hearing all of this, but I welcome my friend Bob.

From the left, I'm E.J. Dionne. Good night for CROSSFIRE.

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



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