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Rep. Henry Waxman Addresses House Government Reform Committee Regarding Clinton Pardon of Marc Rich

Aired February 8, 2001 - 10:33 a.m. ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We're about to take you live now to the House Government Reform Committee meeting they are looking at the last-minute pardon of billionaire financier Marc Rich, that pardon granted by President Clinton on his last day in office.

As we go ahead and look at that -- and that is Henry Waxman, the Congressman from Southern California -- we're also going to bring in Ron Brownstein of the "L.A. Times," going to be watching this with us today.

Ron, good morning.


KAGAN: Your paper today, besides this pardon, also reporting that about a third of those pardons granted by former President Clinton on the last day of his administration skirted the Justice Department. How unusual is that?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, I think that's clearly what's got a lot of eyebrows raised and will be part of the hearing today. I think this is going to be different than a lot of the hearings we've seen of this sort.

KAGAN: How so?

BROWNSTEIN: Well, you know, I think a lot of people will say, look, this is a very predictable pattern. You have the Republicans in the House raising ethical questions about Clinton, Democrats defending him. The difference is Democrats, I think, are as mystified as the Republicans as to why he pardoned Marc Rich, and you may not see quite as polarized an event as you had in the past. Well, I'm always cautious about saying that when Congressman Burton is involved because he has been a very polarizing figure.

But I think this is a different situation. Democrats are truly uncertain what explains, if anything, why Clinton did this. And I think a lot of Democrats -- I was talking to some fund raisers for the party yesterday -- are quite anxious to see what if anything can be found out about what explains this.

KAGAN: And the Democrats that are there today, they don't have to have the same political allegiance that they had to have to Mr. Clinton when he was president.

BROWNSTEIN: I think that's right. But I also think -- but more importantly, I think that they don't really feel that this is something that they want to defend. And that may be even more important than the fact that he's out of office.

KAGAN: How do you think it changes the story -- not just the Marc Rich story, but how does it change the story by what you're reporting in the "Times" today -- the "L.A. Times" -- that so many of these pardons did skirt the Justice Department's review?

BROWNSTEIN: I think it gives more validity to the idea that there needs to be an investigation of what went on there at the end. I also think the overall story changes the trajectory of Clinton's post-presidency. You know, talking to people who were close to him right before he left office, I think it was clear he wanted a more active role than most ex-presidents have in helping shape the Democratic response to his successor.

But this has put him back in a very familiar position where he's going to have to spend more time defending his ethics than advancing his ideas. And I think it will force him to keep his head down much more than he might have wanted to in these first months out of the box.

KAGAN: Certainly not the best start. And we're going to talk about that a little bit more in a bit.

Let's, first of all, go ahead and listen in to the committee.


REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: ... Bush pardoned Aslam Adam, a Pakistani individual who had been convicted of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute $1 million worth of heroin. Both the prosecutor and the judge, who sentenced Mr. Adam reportedly did not want him freed.

Questions were also raised when on December 24, 1992, then- President Bush pardoned former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger.

Mr. Weinberger was being investigated by the independent counsel, Lawrence Walsh, regarding the Iran-Contra matter, and was scheduled for a trial on January 5, within a month, the independent counsel, Walsh, called the pardon terrible and grossly wrong. But President Bush had the power to issue that pardon.

When a president makes a bad judgment, whether it's former- President Bush or former-President Clinton, it's appropriate for us in the Congress to raise questions and express our views.

There is a crucial distinction, however, between bad judgment and a presidential scandal. Here's the key issue this morning: Is this a case of bad judgment, or is it a case involving bribery, corruption or criminal conduct? To date, I see plenty of bad judgment, but no evidence of criminal wrongdoing has been presented to us, to this point. And I see no indication that we're going to get any evidence along those lines.

This distinction is important to how this committee proceeds. Unless there is compelling evidence of illegal conduct by former- President Clinton, the committee should not embark on a search for another scandal. The committee should put away its subpoenas and shelve its endless document requests.

I do want to make note for the record the chairman indicated Beth Nolan refused to come and cooperate with the committee. Beth Nolan, as the White House counsel for former-President Clinton, served admirably, with great distinction in that position. And she is out of the country on vacation. She has not indicated her unwillingness to come before us or to assist the committee, but that she was unable to be with us today.

Well, in the spirit of bipartisanship, I'm withholding judgment on today's hearings until we get the testimony from the witnesses. But if there is no evidence of wrongdoing, if there is only evidence of clear, bad judgment by President Clinton, which I sincerely see in his action, I will strongly object that this committee embarks on another wild goose chase.

Everyone is eventually going to have to come to grips with the facts that President Clinton is no longer president. And there has been a cottage industry, and this committee has been part of it, for Clinton scandals. Well, this cottage industry at some point is going to have to go out of business. We've got other matters before us that deserve very, very careful attention, through oversight and investigative responsibilities. Mr. Chairman, I have no quarrel with your holding this hearing today, because we ought to get the evidence before us. Let's get that evidence. If it simply shows bad judgment -- I don't want to say "simply" -- but if it shows bad judgment, I think we ought to recognize that President Clinton is to be criticized by us all for the judgment that he made. But if it's a bad judgment by the president, the Constitution gives him that authority to make that judgment, and we ought to let the matter rest.

I yield back the balance of my time.

REP. DAN BURTON (R-IN), CHAIRMAN: Thank the gentleman from California. Is there further comment from members of the committee? If not, the gentleman is recognized.

REP. EDOLPHUS TOWNS (D), NEW YORK: Mr. Chairman, as we begin this hearing, I urge all the members of this committee to keep its purpose in mind. This hearing should be about whether President Clinton acted within his authority and followed the law in granting a pardon to Marc Rich, period. This hearing should not be about relitigating the Marc Rich case. Our job should be to review the circumstances around the pardon and sort through the allegations that have been made in a fair and impartial way.

I want to remind all of my colleagues that Bill Clinton is no longer the president of the United States, in case you're not aware. If people do not approve of this pardon, history will judge Bill Clinton... KAGAN: All right, we're going to come out of these hearings for just a moment from the Government -- the House Government Reform Committee looking at the situation of the last-minute pardon of billionaire financier Marc Rich. We will hear more of that in just a bit.



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