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Crossfire

Clintons Face More Pardon Questions While Bush Fields Questions From the Press

Aired February 23, 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: The Clintons face yet more pardon questions.

President Bush faces more questions from the press.

And tonight: two political insiders face tough questions about all of it. Next on CROSSFIRE.

ANNOUNCER: Live from Washington, CROSSFIRE. On the left, Bill Press. On the right, Robert Novak.

In the CROSSFIRE: former Clinton adviser Ann Lewis, and Barbara Olson, former assistant U.S. Attorney.

PRESS: Good evening. Welcome to CROSSFIRE, where it's another day, another Clinton pardon scandal.

Oh, brother. This time, not Hillary's, but Bill's brother, Roger, who asked the former prez for pardons for six of his friends. Roger took no money for the favor which is a good thing, because none of his friends received a pardon anyway. He only managed to snag one for himself.

More serious pardon news: AP reports that New York federal attorney Mary Jo White has widened her investigation of the pardon scandal to include allegations that the new square Hasidic community traded votes for Hillary Clinton in exchange for pardons for four of its members.

By the way, there is a new president. Novak calls him the forgotten American. He held his first meeting today with Britain's Prime Minister Tony Blair, where we learned little new except what Bush and Blair have in common: they both have nice wives, they're both fathers, and they both use Colgate toothpaste.

Smile! Bob.

ROBERT NOVAK, CO-HOST: Ann Lewis, great to have you back.

ANN LEWIS, FORMER CLINTON ADVISER: Glad to be here.

NOVAK: William Cunningham, who was a finance chairman fund- raiser for Hillary Clinton in a successful Senate campaign, was in the pardon business. What else? Getting -- helping get pardons for a couple of people for fees. He came on to explain it today. And this is what he said, which was really extraordinary. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM CUNNINGHAM, SENATOR CLINTON'S CAMPAIGN TREASURER: One of the Little Rock supporters for their pardons was a person that Mr. Fain and Mr. Manning and their families and friends had known going back to the days when he was a Little Rock high school drama teacher and football coach. His name is Harry Thomason.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: Harry Thomason, who has caused so much trouble for the Clintons. The Travel Office scandal.

Isn't this the problem, Ann -- it's the buddy system at the White House where pardons are treated as a perk and the buddy comes in and gets his pals to get a pardon?

LEWIS: You know, I hate when I see you having such a good time at the very mention of Harry Thomason's name. I sort of hate to bring us back to reality, Bob, but let me try.

Bill Cunningham, who, by the way, was the treasurer of Hillary's campaign -- that is not a fund raiser. That's the guy who's good enough to put his name on all these legal documents. And we should all be grateful that we have friends who are willing to be treasurer.

Bill Cunningham is a lawyer. What he did was legal business. He was asked to handle this. He filled out the forms. He got a minimal fee, as I understand it. He billed hourly. He sent the forms in as he was instructed -- justice department and, I think, White House counsel. That's the way it's suppose to be handled.

NOVAK: What about Harry Thomason?

LEWIS: What we know is that Harry Thomason originally asked about it. Harry Thomason, I think, we are told, and this is only what I've read, asked Harold Ickes. Harold Ickes said, "I'm not a practicing lawyer." So...

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: He went to the president, he said. Harry Thomason went to the president.

LEWIS: And mentioned it, but meanwhile, it was going through the legal process.

NOVAK: Now, he only got 4,000 when he was a piker, but Hugh Rodham, Senator Clinton's wonderful brother, got $400,000 for a con man pardon and a drug dealer's pardon. And the president -- the senator was just shocked, she said. She didn't know a thing about it and they -- and made him give the money back. But isn't this a sign? Isn't this the corruption that sickens America -- where the president's brother-in-law is hanging around and making $400,000 to get these two criminals pardons?

LEWIS: I would hope that what Hillary Clinton did yesterday is the example of the kind of behavior you were going to applaud. She found out about something she knew was wrong, she stepped forward and said, "This shouldn't have happened." She sent word back that money had to be returned, and then she went before the public and said, "I was surprised, I was shocked, I was disappointed. This was wrong."

So if you find out something's been wrong and you say it shouldn't have happened, you say the money's got to come back, you go to the public and express your outrage -- that, I would think, I would expect you to be in here saying: Boy, thank goodness Hillary Clinton spoke up and did what was right.

NOVAK: Your disappointed, though, because I'm not.

(LAUGHTER)

LEWIS: I'm very disappointed, Bob.

PRESS: She wasn't holding her breath.

Barbara Olson, I'm glad you're here tonight, because maybe you can explain something for me.

Now, I want to make it clear: from the beginning I have not -- I want the come back to the numero uno pardon, the Marc Rich pardon, for a second. I have not defended it. I think it was a stupid mistake. A bad mistake. The president should not have done it, and he deserves the blame for doing it. But I think there are some other people around.

For example, I just want to point out that during -- from the mid-1980s all the way up into the '90s, Marc Rich was represented by three big Republican attorneys in this town. Now, clearly, they did not go, second point, to Justice and ask for pardon, but they did go to Justice and ask that all of the criminal charges against him be moved to civil charges, that it be reduced. They said the RICO stuff -- charges against him were totally phony.

And then No. 3, when Jack Quinn was hired to represent Mr. Rich, one of these people, who is now the chief of staff to Dick Cheney, sat down with him for days and gave him the entire case. Explained every single argument that Jack Quinn first made to Mary Jo White -- tried to make to her, and then made to White House.

My question to you is: if this guy is such slime, Marc Rich, which I think he is -- why were these Republicans trying to get him off?

BARBARA OLSON, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY: Well, let's first go at your everybody does it defense. Which, everybody didn't try to get Marc Rich a pardon. Marc Rich... PRESS: I didn't say that.

OLSON: You didn't. They represented him in a criminal case. They represented him in various capacities. In his criminal case and arguing the case to the prosecutors.

It's very different when you hire White House counsel to represent you and walk into the president and lay some paperwork in front of president to get a pardon, which is something that -- the president says: this is my power. It's something the president has extreme power in.

Very different scenario when a lawyer goes before a prosecutor and argues a case in defense of a defendant. Of course, that was before Marc Rich decided to become one of the 10 most wanted and leave and offer huge money to Jack Quinn for his pardon.

PRESS: But, you see, that's the point. It was not, because during the mid-1980s, Marc Rich was trading with Iran, the enemy of this country. During the '80s he was trading with South Africa, which then had the -- was an apartheid nation. He was doing all of the things -- he was a fugitive living in luxury in Switzerland.

He was doing all the things for now which we say the guy is scum, and these guys were working to get his charges reduced -- the very same argument that Jack Quinn used, because it was an overzealous prosecutor, that he later used at the White House. What is the difference?

OLSON: This breaks down, because what they were doing was legitimate advocacy in a criminal case. What Jack Quinn was doing was trading on his closeness to the president and getting a very exceptional, exceptional power of the president to get a pardon for someone, which normally goes to someone who has fulfilled a sentence and, perhaps, done something worthy of a pardon. Marc Rich did nothing worthy of a pardon except for he gave a lot of money to a person that Bill Clinton owed a lot to. When I get...

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS: So he was a Democrat and they were Republicans, and that's the difference.

OLSON: No, it's not.

(LAUGHTER)

NOVAK: Ann Lewis, the Gallup poll this week, taken before the Hugh Rodham outbreak was became public, shows the American people finally have had enough of slick Willie. He's unfavorable. He's now 55 percent, before the Hugh Rodham thing, rising from 48 percent the week before.

And the question is -- does Terry McAuliffe, the golfing pal of Bill Clinton, the new chairman of the Democratic National Committee -- has he had enough? And we asked him, and this is what he said.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

TERRY MCAULIFFE, DNC CHAIRMAN: I would like the president to take some rest. We have a very important job here at the democratic party to build on the successes we had in 2000 and go forward. Bill Clinton will be part of the Democratic party forever.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: When Terry McAuliffe tells Bill Clinton to take a powder, that is curtains, isn't it, Ann?

Are you telling him to take a powder too?

LEWIS: No, and let me tell you: this is one Democrat who worked for Bill Clinton, who is very proud that I was part of his administration, because you know what? He did good things for this country. The economy is stronger. We made needed investments in education and health care. There was leadership around the world.

And I think history is going to look at this in the balance. And they're going to say: you know what? Eight years of an administration that made this a stronger country, good leadership. Some decisions that people disagree with that are getting a lot of attention -- it's going to settle itself out.

NOVAK: Ann, you didn't quite answer the question, whether you think the president should take a rest, as Terry McAuliffe says. But I don't -- I'm not going to force you to answer that because I know you're not going to answer it.

LEWIS: That was good, Bob.

(LAUGHTER)

NOVAK: Yes.

(CROSSTALK)

LEWIS: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) ...makes him a good reporter. You got to say that.

(LAUGHTER)

NOVAK: But some of the -- some of the Democrats I talked to this week, off-the-record, but you get a chance to say it on the record -- are scared to death that this has got long legs and is going to be disastrous for the Democratic party in the year '02 and maybe '04.

Are you worried about the political impact on your party of the Clintons?

LEWIS: No, I'm not worried, because you know why? Democratic strength is in principles. Democratic strength is in our policies. When Democrats go back to the people in '02 and in '04 and say: we're the party of fiscal responsibility, we're the party that turned what was the hugest-ever deficit into a surplus, we're the party of fiscal responsibility, we're the party that turned what was the hugest-ever deficit into a surplus, we're the party that believes in, you know, more teachers in the classrooms and school construction and prescription drugs for every senior -- that's what Democrats are about. And that's the argument we're going to make.

PRESS: Barbara, I want to ask you about the brothers. I mean, Hugh Rodham, never should have done what he did, taken money for trading on his sister's -- sister's. Then you've got now Roger, who's the big news today. I mean, poor, hapless Roger goes in with six friends.

NOVAK: It stunk.

PRESS: He waits eight years to go in with six friends, he takes no money and he gets no pardons. I mean...

OLSON: I think...

PRESS: But the question -- what I want to put this in context is, I mean, I haven't been around this town as long as Novak has. I don't think anybody has. But I remember some of these other presidential family members. Let's look at a few of them on the tube here, OK.

OLSON: They all do it.

NOVAK: They all do it.

PRESS: No, you've got to see -- Neil Bush, we remember (UNINTELLIGIBLE), the Silverado thing, the president's brother. Patty Davis, who bared everything for "Playboy," a big embarrassment. Billy Carter, of course, representing Libya. Jack Ford admitted he smoked marijuana. His father's in the -- his father's in the White House.

My point is, isn't this simply a case where the brothers, as we used to say in school, you can pick your nose, but you can't pick your friends and you can't pick your family.

OLSON: No, you can't pick your family, of course not. But this is a situation, well, let's go to Hugh Rodham. He was in the White House, at least we know the last week, roaming around with his pardon list.

PRESS: He was wrong. What he did was wrong. I said that.

OLSON: Well, what he did was wrong, and now we've got the president and Senator Clinton saying, I had no idea about these pardons, which makes people laugh, because we want to say, why don't you just say what happened? We know someone had an idea...

PRESS: How do you know he told her?

OLSON: Because -- if you had your brother in your house for a week carrying around $400,000 worth of pardons and you didn't know...

PRESS: If she were my sister, I would not tell her, because she'd take my head off. She'd take my head off.

(CROSSTALK)

LEWIS: ... said, if I knew about it, it wouldn't have happened.

NOVAK: Bill, just for -- just for the...

OLSON: Oh, we've heard that before, though. See, Hillary Clinton's statement was just so reminiscent of Travel Office, Whitewater. It was the old "no legal" -- "no controlling legal authority."

PRESS: None of which was proven.

NOVAK: We have to take a break. And Bill, just to correct you -- not to correct you, just to supplement you. The six friends were people he met in prison. I mean, just to tell you that.

PRESS: Well, they were friends. I didn't know where he met them.

(LAUGHTER)

He got no pardons. That's the point.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: We'll have -- we have to take a break. And when we come back, we'll finally talk about the guy who is the president of the United States, George W. Bush. How's he doing?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.

Actually, George W. Bush, not Bill Clinton, is president of the United States. And yesterday, he held his first solo news conference followed by a duet today with British Prime Minister Tony Blair. How'd he do?

We're asking former Democratic White House aide, Ann Lewis, and Republican ex-prosecutor and Hillary Clinton biographer Barbara Olson -- Bill Press.

PRESS: How'd he do? Barbara, I watched that first news conference breathlessly yesterday...

OLSON: Me too.

PRESS: The first time we've seen President Bush out in front of the reporters. I have to say I was underwhelmed.

I'd like you to listen to just a little montage of some of his more profound thoughts on a couple of issues, please. Here he is from yesterday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I have confidence in Director Freeh. I think he does a good job.

I'm pleased that they caught the spy.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: I think it's just right. I think -- we thought -- well, we thought long and hard about the right number.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PRESS: I mean, that's basically all he had to say on three very, very important issues. I mean, I hate to be unkind here, but isn't it -- I mean, there's nothing wrong with expecting a little more depth and a little more explanation from the president of the United States, is there?

OLSON: Well, the confidence in Director Freeh was in response to whether or not he had confidence, what he thought about Louis Freeh's job and the fact that we have had a spy that was operating for quite a few years. And it was a direct response.

He's clearly not going to tell us what's going on and the background. They're still doing a lot of investigation involving this issue. And that's national security.

But he was very forthcoming on the tax cut, on the budget. He told the reporters on Tuesday you're going to our entire budget plan. Today, we got some information on health research: $3 billion, 2.8 with NIH.

He's going to lay out a very good plan, and what he did and what we saw yesterday was him giving us information. And the reporters were not going to dig and get him into the Clinton scandals. He's got an agenda. He promised the American people that agenda in the campaign, and he's going forward with it.

PRESS: Well, I have nothing against one-syllable words, but let me just show you a little bit more of the conference yesterday, which I thought was the most embarrassing moment.

(CROSSTALK)

This is when a reporter from the BBC asked the president what he thought about the rapid reaction force that the -- that Britain and the European allies are trying to put together. And here's that exchange, a very little clip of it with the reporter.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: We'll be having a press availability after our meeting and...

QUESTION: I think that other people would like to...

BUSH: Why don't we wait until after he and I visit, so I don't have to give the same answer twice?

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PRESS: I mean, isn't it pretty clear that he didn't have the faintest idea what that reporter was asking about, and he was just saying, let me study it and I'll tell you tomorrow?

OLSON: No, it was terrific, because...

PRESS: It was pretty embarrassing.

OLSON: ... as you know, today's press conference, he did call on the gentleman and...

PRESS: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) he studied it overnight.

OLSON: No. I mean, it was very interesting, because the press clearly wanted Bush to give them hints of what the talk was going to be with Tony Blair. And Bush said, no, I'm going to have the conversation with the prime minister. And this is very much like President Bush. I'm going to have these conversations, they're not for just the press to report on. They're serious conversations. And once we've talked, we're going to report to the American people, but we're not going to give you these little tidbits to give you a pre- emption of what we're going to say.

NOVAK: Ann Lewis, one of the clips that my colleague, Bill Press, didn't use was when the reporter asked President Bush how his family would act now that he was president. And he gave a short monosyllabic answer.

(LAUGHTER)

Let's listen carefully to it.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BUSH: My guidance to them is behave yourself, and they will.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

NOVAK: Now, isn't that in a very -- very quickly summed up that the Bush family is going to behave itself and not going to have runaway brothers-in-law and runaway brothers, ex-convict brothers messing around with pardons? Isn't that what the president said? And isn't that a welcome contrast for the American people?

LEWIS: Well, so far, the most we know about George Bush is he is saying: I'm not Bill Clinton.

I've got to tell you, that isn't what he was -- just what he was elected for. He was eventually elected to be president. And some of the clips I didn't hear in this very interesting montage that he did yesterday -- first news conference, what does he do? He announces: We're very concerned about cocoa leaves, causing fear in the hearts of chocolate-lovers everywhere.

He mispronounces a common and pretty significant military term: talking about bomb damage. He doesn't not answer -- and this one I thought was really creepy -- he asked: How would you define effective sanctions? And he can't answer the question, and this a week after we've had a bomb strike in Iraq. So people who are watching this and foreign leaders who are watching this have really got to wonder: Is this guy ready for prime time?

NOVAK: You know, Bill was trying to make fun of me -- as he often does -- by saying I've been here longer than anybody. And I did come here to begin the second Eisenhower term.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: And you may not remember General Eisenhower very well. But I remember him well. I went to his press conferences. He got -- he didn't do short words and short sentences. He did long sentences. And he would get mixed up. He would put the verb in the wrong place and the predicate in the wrong place and the subject in the wrong place. What do you -- you know, he was an enormously popular -- and the historians would say...

LEWIS: And an effective leader.

NOVAK: Effective leader. It really doesn't matter how slick you are; it's how well you govern. Isn't that true?

LEWIS: That's absolutely right. This is going to be about governing. And, as Barbara said, we are going to see the budget next week. And that is going to be the real test. But, you know, part of leadership in this communication age is being able to reach the American people. When you were covering General Eisenhower, I believe that is in the days when you used pencils and papers.

(LAUGHTER)

LEWIS: There were phones.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: I would get in my horse and buggy and go back to the office.

LEWIS: Today, we're in a day of CNN and television news. And people want to see and hear from their president. And George Bush is going to go out next week and he's going to say: This is what's in my budget.

We're already getting some hints of it.

(CROSSTALK) LEWIS: Let's see if he can sell it. I don't think we are.

PRESS: A quick last word?

OLSON: Well, we're going have a $1.6 trillion tax cut. Bush has laid that out. He promised it to us. We're going to protect Medicare, Social Security. We've got -- it's going to be laid out. And, on Tuesday, monosyllabic or not, cocoa leaves or not, we're going to hear the plan of President Bush. And it's a wonderful relief from the man who had to know everything about everything: Bill Clinton.

PRESS: All right, it's a long way from here to there. So we'll have much more time to debate it -- out of time for tonight.

Barbara Olson, Ann Lewis, good to have you both back in the CROSSFIRE.

LEWIS: Thank you.

PRESS: And when we come back, with closing comments, Bob Novak and I are going to bury the pardon story once and for all. Stay tuned.

NOVAK: Not on your life!

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

NOVAK: Join us on Monday when EPA Administrator Christie Whitman steps into the CROSSFIRE to discuss her new post and issues facing the Bush administration.

You know, Bill, believe it nor not, I'm really fond of you.

(LAUGHTER)

NOVAK: And I'm so embarrassed. I wonder how -- if you realize how bad you look when you pick up Bill Clinton's phony arguments about Republican lawyers who represented Marc Rich -- did not have anything to do with requesting a pardon. I would suggest to you, respectfully, not to pick up the phony Clinton arguments. Get your own.

PRESS: Bob, I will say to you, respectfully -- and you know what great affection I have for you -- is, I know what I'm talking about. These Republican lawyers were making the very same arguments. And let me just tell you something. I'm honest enough to say it was wrong for them and it was wrong for Bill Clinton...

NOVAK: And they did not have any...

PRESS: It was wrong for Bill Clinton to pardon them. But you know what, Bob?

NOVAK: They didn't have anything to do with asking for a pardon, nothing to do with it.

PRESS: I didn't say that they did, Bob. NOVAK: Well, that's -- see, that's...

PRESS: I said they went to Mary Jo White and they said: This guy should be treated kindly.

(CROSSTALK)

PRESS: And the very same time he was a fugitive, the very same time he was trading with Iran and doing all these

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: Len Garment had nothing to do with Mary Jo White.

PRESS: They were representing him. And it's disgusting.

NOVAK: You got your information wrong.

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

NOVAK: I'm ashamed of you, Bill.

(CROSSTALK)

NOVAK: From the right, I'm Robert Novak.

Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.

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