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Did Jack Quinn Abuse His Relationship With Clinton to Obtain Pardon for Marc Rich?

Aired February 8, 2001 - 1:20 p.m. ET

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

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: There's a one-day hearing going on right now in the House Government Reform Committee. Specifically, they're talking right now about the controversial pardon of international fugitive Marc Rich.

Let's talk with CNN's Bob Franken, who's covering this story about, Bob, the critical questions that have been asked about this controversy today.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Question No. 1 concerns the man who has been taking quite a bit of a hammering today from the Republicans. Did Jack Quinn, former White House counsel for President Clinton, in fact abuse his connections with the president by going directly to him and avoiding the normal Justice Department pardon procedure. Quinn says that he acted appropriately; many of the Republicans question that.

A second question is Quinn's contention that Marc Rich had never been properly indicted; that he should never have been indicted -- and then very strong disagreement from two of the prosecutors who, back in the '80s, pursued him, saying that this man was a criminal of huge scope, and a fugitive at that, and never should have been pardoned.

There have also been side discussions, one of them very significant. Denise Rich, the ex-wife of Marc Rich, was sent a series of questions by the committee about the fact that she had donated over $1 million to the Democratic Party and had written a letter to President Clinton seeking the pardon of her ex-husband -- was there some sort of influence peddling? The committee wanted to know.

She replied through her attorney with a letter saying she would not answer these questions because of Fifth Amendment concerns -- the constitutional protection against self-incrimination. Chairman Dan Burton of the committee says he will go to the Justice Department to seek immunity for her, and then try to compel her to discuss this case.

Underlying this, of course, is a charge that perhaps there was some sort of influence peddling. Jack Quinn has been questioned sharply by some of the members of the committee. Right now a Democrat is questioning him or making a statement.

Let's listen to what Elijah Cummings is saying. (JOINED IN PROGRESS)

REP. ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: ... American system that he believes in and he supports, that he knows that there are people who really believe in that.

And then when you see something like this happen -- and don't get me wrong, I understand that the president has the right to pardon whoever he wants to pardon, I understand that. But it does concern me that we have situation with folks who go outside the country and then are able to, basically for all intents and purposes, evade the system.

And it's one thing to go trial. It's one thing to stand here, stay here and face the music. It's one thing to be found not guilty. It's a whole other thing, in my opinion, when somebody, because they have the money can go outside the country and evade the system.

And I tell you, it's really concerns me, because my constituents have a major problem with that and I do, too.

REP. DAN BURTON (R-IN), CHAIRMAN, GOVERNMENT REFORM COMMITTEE: The gentleman's time has expired. That's a powerful statement there, Mr. Cummings.

Mr. Horn?

REP. STEVE HORN (R), CALIFORNIA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Mr. Quinn, I believe you recognize these incidents, but you, sort of, flip-flopped on the citizenship issue of Mr. Rich. You said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that the client was a citizen, and later you said to the Wall Street Journal that he was mistaken, and then you referred the questions about the matter to Robert Fink (ph).

Just what is it? What is he? Is he Bolivian? Is he Spanish? Is he a citizen of the United States? He's been all three, apparently.

JACK QUINN, COUNSEL TO MARC RICH: I did misspeak when I was on "Meet the Press," not purposely, inadvertently. And upon finding out that I had misspoken, I promptly faxed a letter to Mr. Russert letting him know that I had misspoken. The pardon application is accurate as to his citizenship.

I misspoke, because, at some point in the early days of being involved in this matter, I had heard discussion about the effort to renounce his citizenship and the position on the part of the United States State Department that, in fact, the renunciation was, in the department's view, ineffective and that it regards him as a U.S. citizen.

QUINN: I misspoke because, again, this was not among the elements of the indictment that I was assisting in trying to resolve. And I, frankly, just didn't have the facts straight when I was on "Meet the Press." And I apologized for that.

I understand -- nor, by the way, have I been engaged by Mr. Rich or anyone else on this aspect of his legal affairs. So I wasn't working for him on this citizenship issue before, and I'm not working for him on this issue now.

HORN: Well, I understand that the pardon application has his citizenship status as listed as Spanish and Israeli.

QUINN: That's correct, sir.

HORN: And was that your doing?

QUINN: Well, yes. And that is his position.

HORN: In other words, it wasn't Mr. Behan's (ph) or Mr. Fink's (ph), I take it. You did that.

QUINN: No, I can't say that. You mean who drafted that particular part of it?

HORN: Yes.

QUINN: I did not.

HORN: Did you do any research to determine whether that information was accurate and complete?

QUINN: Well, I never thought I had to do research because it was my understanding that that was how he regarded himself.

HORN: Well, we've got various newspaper columns that say he is a citizen of Bolivia. Is that accurate?

QUINN: Not to my knowledge. But, again, I'm not engaged to represent him in connection with citizenship issues. And I don't want to mislead you. I don't understand that to be the case, but I don't have the knowledge to give you a concrete answer to that.

HORN: Well, since it wasn't added on the pardon, and it was only the Spanish and Israeli -- that Bolivia was left off. I'd have my feelings hurt if I was a Bolivian.

QUINN: And all I can tell you is that the information provided to me did not included anything about Bolivia.

HORN: Did you make the president aware that Mr. Rich had renounced his United States citizenship?

QUINN: I did not.

HORN: Don't you think you should have to protect him before he decides, "Do I give this man a pardon or don't I?"

QUINN: Again, I didn't -- I understand that, from the point of view of appearances, we all might agree that that is an element that has helped inflame the reaction to this pardon. I was focused on the indictment against these men and what I thought to be the shortcomings in that indictment. So I did not focus on that chapter of his life. And I did not bring it to anyone's attention.

HORN: You've said Mr. Rich isn't a fugitive. And you also say he renounced his citizenship, I believe. So why would he have been obtaining other citizenships and renouncing his U.S. citizenship unless he were running from the indictment?

QUINN: Congressman, I'm not trying to be evasive here. I have not been engaged on these issues. I was focused on the indictment, the charges in it and the responses that our legal team had to those charges.

QUINN: I have not been engaged by him to work on citizenship issues and I feel uncomfortable making representations to you that I can't be certain of.

HORN: Mr. Auerbach, do you believe attempting to renounce one's citizenship should be relevant to considering a pardon application?

MARTIN AUERBACH, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, NEW YORK: I certainly do, Congressman. And one of the things that concerns me, and I have great regard for Mr. Quinn, but I have the impression with respect to a related issue, the issue of fugitivity, that Beth Nolan raised the concern that Mr. Rich was in some sense a fugitive and that Mr. Quinn explained why he was not. And it is hard for me to believe that any of us could think that in no sense was Marc Rich a fugitive.

And so there were, I believe, time after time in this process important factual issues that Mr. Quinn did not advise the president of. And it may have been because he was himself unaware of the facts, but I sure wish the president had had the facts when he made his decision.

HORN: Mr. Weinberg, do you agree with that?

MORRIS WEINBERG, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY, NEW YORK: Yes, I do. And the reason, by the way, that he renounced his citizenship in 1983 and became, or tried to become a citizen of Bolivia, which was the first place, was to avoid extradition. I mean, that was the whole point, is that he took the position he wasn't a citizen and therefore we couldn't extradite him. And the State Department took -- it was like an Abbott and Costello thing. The State Department said, "No, we don't recognize that." And Rich and Green said, "No, we've renounced our citizenship." And that was all part of their effort to avoid extradition in this case.

HORN: What would be the...

BURTON: Mr. Horn?

HORN: What would be the implication for the taxes for Mr. Rich?

WEINBERG: Well, I'm not...

BURTON: We'll let you answer that.

Mr. Horn, we'll have to move on. Go ahead.

WEINBERG: I'm not here to give that give of advice. But if Mr. Rich were in fact -- I suppose when he heard on television from Mr. Quinn that he was a citizen, I'm sure that it did concern him as to whether or not he had a problem over the last 20 years. And I suspect that, without knowing it, that Mr. Quinn got a call the next day saying, "No, I'm not a citizen." Because I believe that there are some very significant tax implications if he's been a citizen all these years.

BURTON: The gentleman's time has expired.

Do you think it was the next day or in 15 minutes?

Mr. Davis?

REP. THOMAS M. DAVIS III (R), VIRGINIA: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

I think it's clear to all of us who've been observing and listening to these hearings that presidential power to grant commutations and pardons is absolute. There's no question about it: The president has the power to make those decisions and that determination, and that Congress likewise has no power to change, alter or do anything except know that those decisions have been made. And so one probably would have asked why the hearing.

And I think that question has been asked, and I also think that you've answered it, Mr. Chairman, and I agree with you that the public has the right to know. Although sometimes, out of these hearings, you wonder what it is that the public has actually learned, and that is we get a great many facts, but we also get a great many opinions.

DAVIS: I mean we get feelings. We get what people think. And, of course...

ALLEN: Quick break here on CNN. We'll continue our coverage of these hearings on Capitol Hill in just a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ALLEN: Again, live to Capitol Hill. This is the one-day hearing on the issue of pardons, and the questions continue for former White House counsel Jack Quinn, about the pardon of his client, Marc Rich.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

WEINBERG: ... any merit whatsoever in the application. The fact that he was a fugitive and had renounced his citizenship.

I was asked, can I see any legitimate reason for the pardon? And the answer is, no, I don't. Do I know that there was any illegal, any wrongdoing? No, I don't. I have no idea why the president did this. I just don't think -- I disagree with Mr. Quinn, I really don't think he did it based on the merits of the case because he chose not to, apparently, seek anything of any substance from anybody from the prosecution side that knew about the case.

AUERBACH: I would not that, as Congressman Cummings said, part of the problem here is the perception of inequality. And I have to believe that Denise Rich's extraordinary contributions and connection to the White House, and Mr. Quinn's very special place of trust and confidence in the president's eyes, gave Marc Rich the kind of extraordinary access to the White House and to the ultimate decision- maker that virtually nobody else in the country, and perhaps in the world, could have achieved.

And to have made a decision in a fashion that seems so insulated from critical facts is ultimately very troubling.

DAVIS: Thank you. And that leads to my second question which is simply, there's been a great deal of discussion about going directly to the White House or appealing directly to the president, as opposed to submitting the petition through the Justice Department. Is there anything in either one of your minds that would be legally, morally or ethically wrong with taking that approach to get the petition in front of the ultimate decision-maker?

WEINBERG: From Mr. Quinn's perspective, in other words, the perspective of an advocate, no, I don't. And I also don't believe, just so the record is clear here, that, you know, there should be any limitation whatsoever in the pardon power. In other words, I don't think Congress can -- I mean it's a constitutional right -- limit in any way that power or require the president to go through or require applications be done in a particular way.

I just think the problem in this case is that because it was such a high-profile case, and because Mr. Rich on his face was so unsuited for a pardon for the reasons that the various Congressmen and -women have set forth, that, at a minimum, I would have thought that the president would have sought out in some detail information from the prosecution side as to why, in this case, this person, who had chosen to thumb his nose at the system for such a long period of time, would get the ultimate act of mercy.

AUERBACH: I understand that Mr. Quinn wrote the rules. And perhaps therefore has special insights as to how to interpret what his authority was. But I think that the principle is that one develop special relationships of trust and that one ought not to be drawing on those special relationships so soon after leaving that position of trust.

DAVIS: Mr. Quinn?

If there's no answer then, thank you, Mr. Chairman.

BURTON: Thank you, Mr. Davis.

DAVIS: That concludes my question. I would just say that I think maybe these proceedings should be given to all future candidates who run for president. Maybe the first thing we ought to do is...

BURTON: If the gentleman will yield, of course, he's out of time. But real quickly, one of the things that we want to do with this hearing, as the other hearing that we had on the Puerto Rican terrorists, is to make sure that future presidents do think about all these things before they make these decisions because Congress will look into them.

We have been asked by counsel for Mr. Quinn if we would like to take the 30 minutes now. But if we do that, we would want the panel to return because we do have more questions for this panel. So, unless there's objection?

Ms. Morella? Would you like to go ahead and take your five minutes and then...

REP. CONSTANCE MORELLA (R), MARYLAND: Mr. Chairman, will you persevere for five minutes?

BURTON: We'll allow Ms. Morella to take her five minutes and then we'll take a...

MORELLA: I also -- I thank you very much. I know that this is fatiguing.

BURTON: Ms. Morella, just one second.

MORELLA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

BURTON: Ms. Morella, Ms. Morella, just one second, one second.

MORELLA: I know this is very fatiguing. Yes, sir?

BURTON: I know she's anxious to get started.

All I want to say is that we will take a 30-minute break right after this. And I'd like for everybody to be as punctual as possible because we do have a lot of ground to cover when we come back.

Ms. Morella?

MORELLA: Thank you very much. Mr. Chairman, in conjunction with my responsibilities as chair of the District of Columbia Committee, I have a series of meetings within this time, which is why I very much appreciate the courtesy of allowing me just to ask a few questions now.

I know a lot has been covered. But I also noted, Mr. Quinn, that with the pardon application were a list of letters of support of Mr. Rich. And yet I notice in exhibit 97, we have a list of some of the -- maybe exhibit 97 could be put on the screen. It has a list of those letters of support and it's entitled, "Letters Expressing Support for the Pardon of Mr. Marc Rich." But then when information was brought to this committee in exhibit 98, it says, "Letters of Support for Marc Rich and Foundation." The same names are there. So, I'm rather curious about why the change of the title, "Letters of Support of the Pardon," versus "Letters of Support for Marc Rich and Foundation." QUINN: I don't know who made that change. And I accept responsibility for anything filed in my name. I will tell you that for the most part I was not involved in the effort to gather these letters. I became, aware after the petition had been filed, that some of these letters were sought simply as testimonials to his charitable activities, and that some of the people from whom they were sought were not told in advance that it was -- these letters were going to be used in a pardon application. I very much regret that. And to the extent that, as a result, any of that was misunderstood or was misleading, I certainly apologize for it.

Having said that, I do think that they are what they are. And they are -- there are a good many of them that are addressed to the pardon itself and others which are just addressed to his charitable activities.

MORELLA: I know initially when I read about the situation I thought, "My land, you have a prime minister and you have academia, other foundations writing there letters of commendation, actually, and support." And then later on, as you have alluded, there were articles in the paper that came out that said, "These are just simply letters of acknowledgement of contributions that had, in fact, been made."

QUINN: Yes.

MORELLA: And I think that my colleague, Congressman Shays, I think, probably referred to one of his constituent groups, Sacred Heart Academy, in Fairfield, Connecticut -- actually university. And the president, Anthony Cernera, said that it was the -- a letter that was just a routine thank you written in acknowledgment.

QUINN: Yes.

MORELLA: And so I think -- and maybe this is exactly what you're saying, it comes off as very deceptive.

QUINN: I understand that. And again, I'm accepting responsibility. It's something that I wish I had been aware of at the time. At a minimum, those letters would have been more accurately described.

But I'm not going to make excuses. I'm here to both press my case, but also take responsibility for anything that shouldn't have -- that happened the way it shouldn't have. And I accept responsibility for that.

MORELLA: Right. We were certainly disappointed, distressed, felt it was very deceptive. But I appreciate your commenting on the fact that you would not have done this.

QUINN: I certainly would not. And I can assure you...

MORELLA: And you regret that it happened.

QUINN: ... I did not know it. I did not know it before the fact. MORELLA: Thank you.

Mr. Chairman, that's all I have to ask at this time.

BURTON: Would the gentlelady yield, since she just has a few more seconds?

MORELLA: Yes, indeed.

BURTON: Did you read those letters?

QUINN: I can't say I read each and every one of them, no, sir.

BURTON: Did you read any of them?

QUINN: Yes, certainly.

BURTON: And so you knew that those letters were in the information that was being sent to the president asking for the pardon.

QUINN: Oh, I knew there were letters being included. None -- there was no letter that came to my attention before we filed it which signalled to me that it was something -- that we might be mischaracterizing it.

BURTON: Well, I mean, this letter from this university president thanking him for the $25,000, did you read this letter?

QUINN: I did not.

BURTON: You did not read that letter.

Thank you.

QUINN: And just by the way, since you mentioned the prime minister, the prime minister knew what this was about, of course.

MORELLA: So, did he write on behalf of the pardon?

QUINN: Prime Minister Barak?

MORELLA: Barak.

QUINN: He spoke to the president on several occasions about it -- in support of it.

MORELLA: And Mr. Rich had given significant contributions to a number of foundations in Israel.

QUINN: Yes. And it's my understanding that the prime minister believed that at least some of his charitable giving in Israel was constructive in the peace process.

BURTON: If the gentlelady would let me -- yield to me for one last question. MORELLA: Yes, indeed.

BURTON: One of the things that we want to do is have confidence in what you say, Mr. Quinn. And it's troubling to me that if you were not very thorough in looking at these letters, how can we have confidence in any of the other things that have dealt with this issue?

QUINN: Well, I'm trying to be very careful to testify as to only those things I know about. Now, the questioning...

BURTON: But you put the petition together and you set it to the president.

QUINN: Well, not all by myself.

BURTON: Well, I know. But you were responsible for it. You were the attorney that was putting it to the president. I mean, you sent to the president information that you didn't look at thoroughly, is that what you're telling us?

QUINN: I'm not trying to leave you with that impression. I was focused on the legal arguments in this case. Frankly, the letters of support I thought were necessary and useful, but not central to this petition. So I did not read each and every one.

BURTON: Well, counsel reminds us that the first 20 pages of your petition was about the character of Mr. Rich. And I think this was -- was this a part of that? This was a part of that, so it seems that that would have been something that you would have taken a good look at before you sent it to the president.

QUINN: Right. And I certainly went over carefully the first 20 pages.

BURTON: We will stand in recess for 30 minutes, and I hope everybody will be back here by about 20 after 2:00.

ALLEN: The House Government Reform Committee trying to find out why President Clinton gave a last day in office pardon to international fugitive Marc Rich. This committee very much would like to talk with the ex-wife of Marc Rich.

And to CNN's Bob Franken.

Bob, I guess that this means this one-day hearing will not be such -- it will continue.

FRANKEN: As a matter of fact, they've already said that now that they have subpoena power, they will bring in other witnesses. Denise Rich, of course, the ex-wife of Marc Rich -- she has taken the Fifth, saying that she couldn't answer questions from the committee. They are seeking immunity from the Justice Department for her, so she'd have to answer the questions.

What we just heard now, by the way, was questioning of Quinn about some of the letters that was presented in some of Rich's getting the pardon that he got and some charges that some of the letters were in fact inaccurately represented as support for the pardon. That what you heard going back and forthright now. Quinn, the former White House counsel who directly appealed to President Clinton, who then gave the pardon -- many people saying that was an inappropriate use of a connection.

ALLEN: Bob Franken, thanks.

We will continue our coverage of the hearings as they continue. They're in a 30-minute break right now.

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