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CNN Today

President Clinton and Independent Counsel Robert Ray Cut a Deal

Aired January 19, 2001 - 4:48 p.m. ET

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

JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to turn now to our senior White House correspondent John King for more on this story.

John, bring us up to date on all that's happened today.

JOHN KING, CNN SR. WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Joie, Mr. Kendall, who we just saw there, obviously became a familiar figure during the impeachment battle. It was he who negotiated this secret agreement. He who worked first with the bar association down in Arkansas to negotiate an agreement and then made sure the independent counsel would sign off on all this and drop the case without bringing any charges against the president if all of this came about.

As you mentioned, the Clinton team now insisting to the end the president did not deliberately lie, did not deliberately do anything to obstruct justice, but they are admitting that evasive and misleading testimony in the Paula Jones' case was a violation of the judge's orders to be truthful in that deposition.

This, of course, bringing to an end the saga that has cost the president millions of dollars in legal fees to Mr. Kendall's firm and others; $850,000 in a settlement to Paula Jones, who you see here. The president still insisting her charges of sexual harassment were false, but that he says he paid $850,000 to put that case behind him. He paid $90,000 when he was cited contempt of court in the Paula Jones' case.

Another $25,000 today, and significantly, the president agreed not to seek reimbursement for the millions of dollars in legal fees he has paid to Mr. Kendall and others. Normally, if you are investigated but not charged by an independent counsel, you have the right to petition the Congress to repay the fees. It was key to this agreement that Mr. Clinton not do that, although none of that money is coming out of his private -- out of his own funds. He has raised that money independently to pay off of his legal fees.

CHEN: John, there is going to be concern from some quarters about the timing of this, coming as it does right in the midst of the inaugural festivities of Mr. Clinton's successor. Can you talk about that issue, the timing of this decision?

KING: Well, certainly, Mr. Clinton wanted to put this behind him. He did not want to leave office with the prospect, as he writes a book, as he prepares to go out and give speeches, as his legacy is debated in earnest and as his wife begins her political career in the United States Senate, he didn't want the cloud of a possible indictment; the possible criminal prosecution.

At the same time, we're told Mr. Ray recognizes the political consensus; the growing consensus here in Washington that it's time to move on. A new Republican president, an evenly-divided Congress; the last thing Mr. Bush needs is a partisan atmosphere in Washington.

But we are also told by sources it was Mr. Ray who insisted that Mr. Clinton do this agreement while he was still the president. Significant to have a sitting president of the United States acknowledge in court filings that he gave evasive and misleading testimony. Mr. Ray, we're told, believed that was a more powerful statement, and in his view, a punishment than say a former president, two, three, four months down the line, entering into a plea deal -- or excuse me, an agreement to end this. This is not a plea. The president is pleading guilty to nothing, but an agreement to end this that would get much less attention, say from five or six months from now.

CHEN: Our senior White House correspondent John King bring us the background and the detail on the story.

We want to turn now to congressional correspondent Bob Franken, joining us also now -- Bob.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, the negotiation that went on over this was word by word. As John pointed out and David Kendall pointed out, the president's lawyer, he did not say that he had intentionally lied. He did not say that. He said that he had knowingly given evasive and misleading testimony that was prejudicial to the administration of justice.

Every single one of those words was negotiated between the prosecutors, the independent counsel, David Kendall. Kendall is at -- able to say that the president did not acknowledge intentionally lying. The independent counsel investigators believe that saying knowingly amounts to the same thing. Evasive and misleading, words that were negotiated; not the word false.

Prejudicial to the administration of law; the independent counsel insisted on that in negotiations. They wanted to have an acknowledgment that the president was saying that he believed that he had in fact violated standards that could have been interpreted as obstruction of justice.

Every single bit of this, every nuance was negotiated over a period of weeks as the president tried to avoid, as John pointed out, an indictment and the independent counsel tried very hard to make sure that the Clinton presidency ended with this acknowledgment.

And it also ends a seven-year investigation which has probably consumed much of the energy of this administration -- Joie.

CHEN: Bob, you followed this case from the beginning and I want to know, you know, hearing a case in which the words have been so important. What is is? What sexual relations means? This debate over exactly what Mr. Clinton admitted to today, is that also going to generate its own little firestorm afterwards; the words that are used or weren't used, as the case may be, by the president in making this omission?

FRANKEN: I think there's a consensus that the fire is out on this case. I think there's a consensus -- the independent counsel certainly was aware of it -- that everybody wanted this to go away. And, of course, it's been something that had consumed a lot of interest among the people of the United States and the world, for that matter, as it gone on; but people seemed to be tired of it.

This was one of the factor, we're told by a variety of sources, that influenced the independent counsel's willingness to, in fact, end this. He made the point publicly any number of times he wanted to show that no person is above the law, but he also was aware of a reality that there was little prospect that any jury in the United States would convict president Clinton of these charges.

He believes, Robert Ray does, that this was a balanced solution to this; that, in fact, the president was forced to admit wrongdoing, knowing wrongdoing; yet he also believes that this was the perfect degree of punishment for the president. The independent counsel is quite proud of this agreement.

CHEN: CNN's Bob Franken reporting to us from Capitol Hill. Again, the announcement from David Kendall regarding the deal cut earlier today that will free Mr. Clinton, the outgoing president, from any prosecution regarding his statements related to his relationship with Monica Lewinsky.

Mr. Kendall emphasizing that the president did not admit to intentionally lying in this case and that he would not be disbarred, but he has agreed to a suspension of his law license. In exchange, the independent counsel, Robert Ray, has declined prosecution further in this case.

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