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Special Event

Is Hillary's Book Deal in Violation of Senate Ethics?

Aired December 15, 2000 - 8:30 p.m. ET

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

ANNOUNCER: A very different kind of transition.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN.-ELECT HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: I'm not sitting here some little woman standing by my man like Tammy Wynette.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: From first lady to senator-elect...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: Wow, this is amazing. Thank you all.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: ... and a book deal that has Washington buzzing. Hillary Clinton's memoirs about Monica, impeachment...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: This is an issue that the country has put behind us and I have as well.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: ... and her eight years in the White House.

Tonight: Could Hillary's book become a Pandora's box?

This is a CNN special report. From Washington, CNN legal analyst Greta Van Susteren.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Good evening and thanks for joining us.

This evening, Simon & Schuster confirms it won the bidding war for the rights to Hillary Rodham Clinton's yet-to-be-written story of her years in the White House. And while neither the publisher nor the White House will confirm the numbers, the Associated Press reports the deal is worth $8 million, which would be the biggest advance ever paid to a member of Congress -- of course, she is not yet sworn into Congress. But CNN's David Mattingly looks at why that could be a problem.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Hillary Rodham Clinton's future book about her life in the White House seems to have all the makings of a real page-turner...

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM J. CLINTON, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I, William Jefferson Clinton.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: ... ambition, intrigue, tragedy, sex, betrayal and redemption.

CLINTON: Wow, this is amazing. Thank you all.

ASHBEL GREEN, SENIOR V.P., KNOPFF PUBLISHING: I think she will be able to reveal things that have not been reported before. I think a great many readers in this country are going to be fascinated by what she went through.

MATTINGLY: But what could be the White House memoir of all time is already stirring controversy. And it focuses on money: specifically, the advance the senator-elect could receive, reportedly in excess of $7.5 million.

GARY RUSKIN, CONGRESSIONAL ACCOUNTABILITY PROJECT: Large book advances can be used as a way to put a great deal of money into the pocket of a powerful politician. And so we hope that Senator-elect Clinton will only accept copyright royalties and not accept a book advance.

MATTINGLY: Publishing giants including Simon & Schuster and Random House are just part of the list reportedly competing for the rights to the senator-elect's story. Congressional watchdog groups urge Clinton to forego the advance to avoid the appearance of connections to companies that may lobby Congress in the future.

RUSKIN: And it might be that Senator-elect Clinton would be essentially taking advantage of her office for personal gain or receiving essentially a sweetheart deal from a publisher who might be willing -- wishing to curry favor with perhaps the most visible senator in the 107th Congress.

MATTINGLY (on camera): Senate rules do not ban book advances, but they do limit outside income simply to what is usual and customary. And that's the problem: critics would like to know what is usual and customary about a $7.5 million advance.

Mrs. Clinton's spokesman says she will comply with all Senate rules and donate part of the proceeds to charity.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: We are not trying to make a quick buck or arrange any sweetheart deal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: Critics compare her case to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich's book deal, which spurred complaints that he was capitalizing on his office.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GINGRICH: What we did, we did legally correct, we did ethically correct, we did it out in the open, and it is above board.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

MATTINGLY: Gingrich later reduced his advance to a symbolic $1. But it prompted changes in House rules banning members from accepting book advances and limiting royalties. Gingrich reportedly netted a half million dollars on sales after expenses, better than some congressional authors.

In 1996, retiring Senator Bill Bradley, for example, received a $7,500 book advance. The same year, Senator Patrick Moynihan of New York, a prolific writer and the senator Mrs. Clinton is replacing, received $5,600.

GREEN: Well, I think she's led an extraordinary life, particularly focusing on the eight years that she has spent in the White House.

MATTINGLY: Considering that the first lady's first book, "It Takes a Village," made it to No. 1 on the "New York Times" best-seller list, expectations are high that her memoirs could eclipse the two- book, $8 million deal signed by former President Ronald Reagan.

David Mattingly, CNN.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

VAN SUSTEREN: Do the ethics watchdogs have reason to bark? Let's ask my guests: former U.S. Senator Paul Simon joins us from Chicago. Over his career, including his time in the Senate, he's written 19 books. And now he's a professor over at Southern Illinois University.

And here in Washington is Republican strategist Keith Appell, who served as a senior adviser to former presidential candidate Steve Forbes.

Welcome, gentlemen.

Senator, let me start with you. Is there anything wrong with the first lady accepting this advance? PAUL SIMON, FORMER U.S. SENATOR: I don't think there is, so long as -- and I'm sure she would avoid this -- as the oil industry didn't buy 10,000 copies or the sugar industry or you name it. Obviously, that should be avoided. But writing a book forces you to you reflect on some things in a special way. I'm sure my former colleague Pat Moynihan would agree with that. And I think she will be a better senator for having written the book.

VAN SUSTEREN: Keith, do you agree?

KEITH APPELL, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: I'm afraid I don't agree, Greta. I think that unfortunately for Senator Simon his colleagues are the ones who have kind of set the standard for how someone should be judged. Six years ago, almost to the day, Washington was caught up in a fervor over Newt Gingrich's book deal.

I want to read you a couple of quotes that ran on this very network on CNN's "CAPITAL GANG" said by Democratic leaders at the time.

President Clinton, Mrs. Clinton's husband on Newt Gingrich's book deal, quote, "I made 36,000 a year for 12 years and was glad of it. I don't even know how to think in those terms,"

House Minority Whip David Bonior on Mr. Gingrich, quote, "This is an arrogant act for a man who is about to assume one of the most powerful positions and offices in our land."

VAN SUSTEREN: Let me stop you right there, Keith. What you are reporting are apparently quotes of Democratic senators. Newt Gingrich's matter was in the House. The Senate rules, as I understand -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- don't prohibit what the first lady is doing. Am I right or am I wrong?

APPELL: Whether or not they prohibit it, I think the standards are what are being set by the Democrats six years ago. If Newt Gingrich would have been -- was accused of appearance of impropriety six years ago and if David Bonior was calling for an investigation six years ago for a $4 million book, than for an $8 million book Mrs. Clinton is certainly guilty of an appearance of impropriety...

VAN SUSTEREN: Let me ask...

SIMON: Well...

APPELL: ... and should be investigated. I have to say this. Id David Bonior has an ounce of integrity in his body, he will be on this network Monday night, perhaps on this show, and vilifying Mrs. Clinton as he vilified Mr. Gingrich and calling for an investigation into her just as he did for Mr. Gingrich. If not...

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator Simon...

APPELL: ... then he has no credibility.

VAN SUSTEREN: Go ahead, Senator. SIMON: It's pretty hard to outtalk him. And let me add, I have no relationship to Simon & Schuster. But their circumstances were appreciably different in the Newt Gingrich case. But here, no one is suggesting she is taking advantage of the office of being a senator- elect in signing this contract. She's writing reflections on what has happened in her past in the White House. A lot of people of have done that. I haven't heard any criticisms of Jimmy Carter or Ronald Reagan or George Bush or others who have done that.

APPELL: Senator, I have to -- I beg to differ with you, with all due respect. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, before he took office, inked this book deal. He was vilified by your colleagues.

VAN SUSTEREN: Forget that vilification for a second, Keith. I mean, just because people vilified him, the public clamor. The question is whether or not it's wrong, not about whether or not people are critical of it. Does it violate the Senate rules, Keith? Isn't that the issue?

SIMON: Well, I think...

APPELL: Well, the Senate rules say that it has to be a usual type of book deal. I think $8 million surpasses that threshold. And I have to tell you, Greta.,,

VAN SUSTEREN: Let me ask -- let me play devil's advocate with you on that. Maybe you should build a better mousetrap than some of the gentlemen who have secured contracts. Is that the -- you know, maybe she's got something more interesting to sell.

APPELL: I think that if people are going to accuse public leaders of appearance of impropriety in one case, then they -- then people in the same party should stand accused of the same thing. What Republicans are upset about, furious about, for years in this town, is the double standard. Republicans do something, they get vilified. Democrats do the same thing, and they get a pass as bad judgment. I'm sorry, but Mrs. Clinton in accepting this book deal, Senator, should be held to the same standards as House Speaker Newt Gingrich was six years ago.

VAN SUSTEREN: And we've just got to say -- I've got say, Keith -- Senator, I'll let you in for a second -- that the standards from my research are different in the House than they are in the Senate. Of course, she's going to be a member of the Senate.

But go ahead, Senator.

SIMON: Yes, the question is not simply the rules. The -- and the standards have to be higher than the rules. The question is, is there a conflict of interest in her doing that? I don't see that conflict of interest.

APPELL: Well, I think, Senator, Mr. Gingrich was accused of appearance of impropriety because...

SIMON: But it's a totally different situation, you know. APPELL: ... he was going to be a government official. He was going to be a very powerful person, and this the book contract that he signed was with a company that was related to another company that had business before Congress. Simon & Schuster...

VAN SUSTEREN: Keith, you know what -- you know what, Keith -- you know what? Here's the problem, you say he was accused. What Newt Gingrich said is that what he did was legally and ethically correct. He -- you say he was accused. It's very different if whether or not indeed it is wrong whether it violates the rules or whether it violates some other standard.

APPELL: I don't disagree with you, Greta, but I just think the standards ought to be the same for both people. Simon & Schuster...

VAN SUSTEREN: And interesting enough, they aren't. The House and the Senate have had different standards.

Go ahead, Senator.

SIMON: And, yes -- and there were questions of a conflict of interest in the case of Newt Gingrich. I haven't heard anyone suggest any kind of a conflict of interest in the case of Newt Gingrich. I haven't heard anyone suggest any kind of a conflict of interest in the case of Hillary.

Senator, I'll suggest one right now. Simon & Schuster, with whom she signed the contract, for $8 million, is owned by Viacom, and Viacom also owns CBS Television Network. CBS is right now fighting federal regulations against them. Mrs. Clinton is going to be a very powerful political leader in this town, and to have her as a friend doesn't hurt you when you're fighting federal regulations. So there is a suggestion of appearance of impropriety. I'll make one right here, right now.

(CROSSTALK)

VAN SUSTEREN: All right senator, do you want to respond? Then we're going to take a break. We'll be right back for the dialogue. Go ahead.

SIMON: Well, yes, I think you will find her going out of her way not to do anything improper there. I -- I just think that, you know, frankly, biggest advance I ever got on a book, I think, was $15,000. I was pleased to get that. I envy her. I wish I could get an $8 million advance, but I don't think either the $8 million or the $15,000, I don't think it changed my vote. I don't think it'll change her vote or her conduct.

VAN SUSTEREN: OK, we're going to take a break. My guests and I will be right back with more on Hillary Rodham Clinton's book deal. Please stay with us,

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAN SUSTEREN: Welcome back. Tonight, we're talking about the bidding war for Hillary Rodham Clinton's White House memoirs. Her yet-to-be-written book is scheduled for publication by Simon & Schuster in 2003. The Associated Press reports the deal is worth $8 million.

My guests: from Chicago, former U.S. Senator Paul Simon; and here in Washington is Republican strategist Keith Appell.

Keith, let me give you some information some -- a little bit of my research. There's some other authors in the Senate. Joseph Lieberman has written a book. John McCain has written a book, and we even are proud enough to have in the United States -- in the United States Senate a songwriter who gets royalties, Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah. I don't hear a lot of complaining about those three and others. Why does it seem that this is creating such a stir? Is there a different standard for the first lady?

APPELL: I think that the first lady is a lightning rod, but I also think that a lot...

(CROSSTALK)

VAN SUSTEREN: Is that fair?

APPELL: Well, I think it's definitely fair. I, you know, I was there when the Republicans won the Congress for the first time in 40 years, and Democrats were looking at anything to tag Newt Gingrich...

(CROSSTALK)

VAN SUSTEREN: But wait a second. We're not -- that's a generalization. We're looking at this individual. Forget the old wars. Forget the old battles. We're looking at this book deal for a woman senator, senator-elect I might add. Let's look at that. Why is it that that's such a lightning rod to you, Keith?

APPELL: Well, I think it's a lightning rod because of the context. You might not want to look at context, but to Republicans, that is the context in which we look at this. When we have our leaders vilified, and you have one of the Democratic leaders, not just new senator...

(CROSSTALK)

VAN SUSTEREN: You know what, I've got to tell you, Keith. I look at each individual alone. I don't generalize and say its the whole group. But Senator Simon, you wanted to get in on this.

SIMON: Yes, yes. I think there is one huge difference that has to be mentioned, and that is Newt Gingrich was about to occupy one of the most powerful offices in the United States government. You compare that to someone who's a freshman member of the United States Senate.

(CROSSTALK)

VAN SUSTEREN: But senator... APPELL: Senator, this is...

VAN SUSTEREN: ... what was wrong with -- you know, I've got to tell you. I always was troubled by the fact that Newt Gingrich backed out of that deal, that $4.5 million that was offered. You know, the fact that he laid it out, that everybody knew it, everybody knew his job, what difference did it make if he was just reflecting on his life in Congress? Why was there such attack on him too?

APPELL: It didn't make any difference and it shouldn't make any difference.

(CROSSTALK)

SIMON: Yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: Let me ask the senator. Senator?

SIMON: I don't recall all the details. Part of it is Newt's personality, which sometimes...

(CROSSTALK)

VAN SUSTEREN: But that's wrong.

SIMON: But...

APPELL: Exactly.

SIMON: But there were also some conflict of interest questions that were raised at that point. The other point that is different is Hillary Clinton has been a number one best-seller. Newt Gingrich never made best seller list or anything close to it before that, so...

(CROSSTALK)

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, I disagree.

SIMON: ...you're comparing apples and oranges.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know, I disagree with you, senator, on the Newt Gingrich and I disagree with you, Keith, on the senator-elect from the state of New York.

My view is that they lay out cards. We know what they're doing financially. The American people let the voters from the states of Georgia and the states of New York act and rather than sort of generalize and take sort of political insults. And so, Keith, I think that she should be looked at upon her merits and whether or not she has a conflict you.

APPELL: You make good point, but I think the senator's downplaying Mrs. Clinton's stature. She is not only a senator-elect. she is a senator-elect from New York state. She is a former first lady of eight years, and in many people's minds in the Democratic Party, she is already the front-runner for the presidential nomination from that party in 2004.

VAN SUSTEREN: But maybe many people want to hear what she has to say on the last eight years, you know, that the last eight years in White House?

APPELL: I have no problem with her writing a book. I just think that the Democratic Party and the media in this town ought to have the same standard for her as it does for Newt Gingrich...

(CROSSTALK)

VAN SUSTEREN: I think that probably -- but wait a second.

APPELL: There is an appearance of impropriety just as there was with him and she should be held to the same standards and if David Bonior and other Democratic leaders...

(CROSSTALK)

VAN SUSTEREN: I think you're fighting old wars. Keith, I think you're fighting old wars. I think that when you look ethics, you've got to look at individual and the conduct for which the person is being...

APPELL: Well, there's plenty to look at with Hillary Clinton and ethics. There's a whole line runs eight year -- Travelgate.

(CROSSTALK)

SIMON: If I can get one little word in here.

VAN SUSTEREN: Go ahead, senator. All right, I promise.

SIMON: It's good have a Republican speaking about the stature of Hillary Clinton and I thank you for those comments.

VAN SUSTEREN: Senator, let me ask you a question, and this may be hair-splitting, does it make a difference in any debate that she's not yet a member of Congress when she inks this deal? Is that a hair- splitting or does that make a difference?

SIMON: I think that's hair-splitting. I don't think that really makes a difference. I see nothing wrong with what she is doing and I think she will conduct herself very, very carefully in this.

VAN SUSTEREN: Keith, what about the amount of money? Is that what rankles you so much?

APPELL: You know, I'm a Republican. I'm a conservative. I'm a capitalist. I don't care if she makes $18 or $80 million. I just think the standards ought to be the same and they're not. We're sitting here giving...

(CROSSTALK)

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, then let's talk about those standards, Were you objecting when some of the other authors or even Senator Hatch, who I admire very much. i even like his music very much, do you object when he makes money on royalties and copyrights and advances? Do you care about that?

APPELL: The comparison I'm drawing, Greta, is with Gingrich because of the amount of money. Those people...

VAN SUSTEREN: I'm not complaining with you on Gingrich. I didn't think that Gingrich should be attacked, but you're fighting old wars. You are complaining because others attacked Gingrich.

APPELL: Well, what I'm saying is that -- that's the context it should be in. The other people, the other senators...

(CROSSTALK)

VAN SUSTEREN: Maybe that was wrong.

APPELL: ... who wrote books didn't make that kind of money. When Newt Gingrich came into office, you can argue whether it's right or wrong for him to do it. The problem is -- the fact is that he was attacked, and she is signing a book deal for twice the amount money, and she is -- and I don't think she should get a pass. I don't think there should be a double standard in Washington or around country, and Republicans around country are sick and tired of the double standard.

VAN SUSTEREN: And you know what, I've got to tell you, Keith, some of the women in this country may think you have a huge double standard, because, you know, here's a woman who has obviously been able to go out in the marketplace and command a huge amount of money, and a lot of people are squawking.

Senator, let me go through sort of the mechanics of it. What happens when a senator comes into the Senate and says, "Look, I want to write a book"? What are sort of the mechanics and the procedures to see whether or not it fits within the ethics?

SIMON: Well, you can write a book, and there's just no problem on doing that. Now, obviously, if you conduct yourself in terms of signing a contract for sales in such a way that there's a conflict of interest, then you have a problem. But if you have any questions, you go to the Ethics Committee and say, here's what I'm considering, and you get advice from the Ethics Committee.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. What happens, let's say hypothetically, that she -- I mean, she writes this book, and gets this advance from Simon & Schuster, and then there's something having to do with Viacom-CBS, which owns Simon & Schuster, it comes before the U.S. Senate. Is there an appropriate way for her to disqualify or recuse herself? Is that something that might be a consideration?

SIMON: She could recuse herself. That would be something -- it is rarely done, but it - she could do that. But I am sure that $8 million was not advanced for the possibility of influencing one vote by a freshman member of the United States Senate.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, well, let me...

APPELL: Well, forgive me for being cynical, senator, but I find it hard to believe that. Maybe -- I know that -- I know that she and husband need the money to buy the house, to pay for the house in Chappaqua. It's an expensive house.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, Keith, I'll give you the last sort of maybe insult, I should say, last shot across the bow.

APPELL: Me insult?

VAN SUSTEREN: Many thanks to my guests for a very spirited debate tonight, former U.S. Senator Paul Simon of Illinois and Republican strategist Keith Appell.

Next, a conflict between emotions and the facts. Please stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAN SUSTEREN: While we are on the topic of possible conflicts of interest and appearances, a newspaper blurb caught my attention this morning. Tonight, a case study in jumping to conclusions.

It is reported in a gossip column that former Republican Senator Paul Laxalt had a Christmas party last night. Among the revelers: Vice President-elect Dick Cheney and U.S. Supreme Court justices Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy. As you know, both those justices, Scalia and Kennedy, voted this week to stop the hand count in Florida.

At first, my hackles were raised. Why were they all so seemingly cozy? I instantly drew negative conclusions. Then it occurred to me: Do I have all the facts? The answer: no. In fact, I have virtually none.

That is a festering problem in Washington. Often we are willing to assume the worst rather than the best. Maybe, in the coming new year, we should start assuming the best unless the facts prove otherwise.

We've received thousands of e-mails from you these past few weeks, and now here's one that caught my attention. A viewer named Joseph Rose wrote: "I thought that I heard you say that allowing cameras in the courtroom should be a litmus test for all new Supreme Court justices. We are not talking about slavery, the rights of the unborn or even the application of the Tenth Amendment. We are talking about television. Were you just being humorous?"

Now, I hope you think I have a good sense of humor, but actually, I was not trying to be funny with this one. I was dead serious. I believe cameras do belong in the U.S. Supreme Court, and I believe you belong there, too. It's unrealistic to think everyone can travel to Washington and stand in line all night long, sometimes in the could, to hear those oral arguments. As it stands now, the nine justices have refused cameras, and we can do nothing to overrule them. I hope the next appointed Supreme Court justice supports cameras in the courtroom, and I believe we should know his or her views on that before his or her confirmation.

Let me know what you think about cameras in court or any other topic. My e-mail address is askgreta@cnn.com -- that's one word -- askgreta.

I'm Greta Van Susteren in Washington. I'll see you Monday at 8:30 p.m. Eastern. And next on "LARRY KING LIVE," comedian Jon Stewart on the presidential election.

Don't go away.

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