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Congressional Hearings on Marc Rich Pardon ResumeAired February 8, 2001 - 3:22 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And just sworn in is Eric Holder, who is about to begin his opening statement. He is the former deputy attorney general -- just left office, as a matter of fact. They are going to try and reconcile the claims between Jack Quinn and Holder: that Holder had been very, very thoroughly informed about the pardon request of Marc Rich. Holder is just beginning his testimony.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)
ERIC HOLDER, FORMER DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: .. in this matter. As for my own role, although I always acted consistent with my duties and responsibilities as deputy attorney general, in hindsight, I wish that I had done some things differently with regard to the Marc Rich matter. Specifically, I wish that I had assured that the Department of Justice was more fully informed and involved in this pardon process. But let me very clear -- I'm going to be very clear about one important fact.
Efforts to portray me as intimately involved or overly interested in this matter are simply at odds with the facts. In truth, because the Marc Rich case did not stand out as one that was particularly meritorious and because there was a very large number of cases that crossed my desk that similarly fit into this category, I never devoted a great deal of time to this matter and it does not now stick in my memory. By contrast, I did spend time monitoring cases, especially in those last days, involving people who were requesting commutations of disproportionately long drug sentences.
I would like to briefly go through a chronology of the relevant events so as to explain the department's involvement in this matter. I think my first contact with the Rich case came in late '99 when Jack Quinn, the former White House counsel, called me and asked me to facilitate a meeting with the prosecutors in the Southern District of New York concerning a client of his named Marc Rich.
REP. DAN BURTON (R-IN), CHAIRMAN: Excuse me just one second, Mr. Holder. Do you have copies of your statement? Some members of the committee -- do we have copies?
BURTON: OK. Can you hand those out? Sorry to interrupt you. Proceed. Thank you. HOLDER: This was not an unusual request. Over the years, other prominent members of the bar and former colleagues, Republicans and Democrats, had asked me to arrange a similar meeting with other offices around the country.
Mr. Rich's name was unfamiliar to me. I believe that Mr. Quinn explained that he wanted the U.S. Attorney's Office to drop charges that had been lodged against his client because of changes in the applicable law and department policy. I asked a senior career person on my staff to look into the matter and ultimately the prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney's Office declined to meet with Mr. Quinn. Neither I nor anyone on my staff ever pressed the prosecutors to have the meeting. We simply deferred to them because it was their case.
In candor, if I were making the decision as the United States attorney, I probably would have held a meeting. In my view, the government, in the cause of justice, often gains from hearing about the flaws, real or imagined, cited by defense counsel in a criminal case. But my only goal was to ensure that the request for a meeting was fully considered.
Consequently, I gained only a passing familiarity with the underlying facts of the Rich case, and after the prosecutors declined to meet with Mr. Quinn, I had no reason to delve further into this matter.
On November 21, 2000, members of my staff from the United States Marshal Service and I had a meeting with Mr. Quinn and a client of his. Though it was one of eight meetings I had on my schedule that day, I remember the meeting because Mr. Quinn's client had a good idea about using the Internet to help the Marshal Service dispose of properties that had come into its possession as a result of forfeiture actions.
Mr. Quinn has recently stated that after the meeting, he told me he was going to file a pardon request on behalf of Mr. Rich at the White House. Now, I have no memory of that conversation but do not question Mr. Quinn's assertion. His comment would have been a fairly unremarkable one given my belief that any pardon petition filed with the White House would ultimately be sent to the Justice Department for review and consideration.
Mr. Quinn has also recently stated that he sent a note to me about the Rich case on January 10. I never received that note. The correct address of the Justice Department does not appear on the correspondence. The note ultimately surfaced on the desk of the pardon attorney on January 18, less than 48 hours before the pardon was signed by the president.
On Friday, January 19 of this year, the last full day of the Clinton administration, when I was dealing with such issues as the death penalty, pressing personnel matters and, most importantly, security issues related to the next day's inauguration, I received a phone call from Mr. Quinn at about 6:30. He told me that I would be getting a call from the White House shortly and he asked me what my position would be on the pardon request for Mr. Rich. I told them that although I had no strong opposition based on his recitation of the facts, law enforcement in New York would strongly oppose it. I didn't use exactly those words.
Given Mr. Rich's fugitive status, it seemed clear to me that the prosecutors involved would never support the request. But I did not reflexively oppose it because I had previously supported a successful pardon request for a fugitive, Preston King, on the context of a Select Service case had been discriminated in the 1950s because of the color of his skin.
Shortly after my conversation with Mr. Quinn, I received a phone call from the White House Counsel, Beth Nolan, asking me my position. Now, I'm not sure if it was Ms. Nolan or Mr. Quinn, I just really can't remember, who brought to my attention that Prime Minister Barak had weighed in strongly on behalf of the pardon request, but this assertion really struck me. With that significant piece of new information, I ultimately told Ms. Nolan that I was now neutral, leaning toward favorable, if there were foreign policy benefits that would be reaped by granting the pardon.
Now, even after my conversation with Ms. Nolan on the evening of January 19, I did not think that the pardon request was likely to be granted, given Mr. Rich's fugitive status. I continued to believe this until I actually heard that his name had been placed on a list of pardons to be granted by the White House. I was informed of this list around 11 o'clock, or perhaps midnight, on the night of the 19th.
In retrospect, I now wish that I had placed as much focus on the Rich case as I did on other pardons involving people such as Derrick Curry, Dorothy Gaines and Kemba Smith, all of whom had received extraordinarily long drug sentences which I strongly believe were not commensurate with their conduct. I am speculating somewhat: Had I known of the reported meeting that night between the president and counsel for Mr. Rich, I might have become more active in this matter, even at that late date, sensing that there was a real possibility the pardon request might be granted.
The morning of Monday, January 22 of this year, Mr. Quinn called me. I returned his call some four or five hours later. He asked me what steps needed to be taken to ensure that his newly pardon client was not detained by international law enforcement authorities when he traveled. We talked about how he might get detainers removed from computers and notify Interpol of the pardon and about similar things of a technical nature. At no time did I congratulate Mr. Quinn about his efforts. If I said anything to him about his having done a good job, it was merely a polite acknowledgment of the obvious; that he had been surprisingly successful in obtaining a pardon for this particular client.
Now, as you can see from these facts, attempts to make the Justice Department or me the fall guys in this matter are rather transparent and simply not consistent with the facts. I, and others at the Justice Department, had nothing to gain or to lose by the decision in this matter. We had no professional, personal or financial relationship with Mr. Rich or anyone connected to him, and to the best of my knowledge, none of us ever saw the Rich pardon application. Indeed, it is now clear, and this is admittedly hindsight, that we, at the Justice Department, and more importantly, former-President Clinton, the American public, in the cause of justice, would have been better served if the case had been handled through the normal channels.
Now, I have now ended a 25-year public service career. All that I have from that time is the good work that I hope that I have done, its impact on people and I hope a reputation for integrity. I have been angry, hurt and even somewhat disillusioned by what has transpired over the past two weeks with regard to this pardon. But I've tried to keep foremost in my mind the meeting I had at my house with Derrick Curry and his father a week after his sentence was commuted by President Clinton. I know my attention to that and similar cases made a difference in the lives of truly deserving people, of that I am proud and I am grateful.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
BURTON: Thank you, Mr. Holder.
Did you review the entire file on Mr. Rich and his partner before you talked to Beth Nolan and those people at the White House?
HOLDER: No. I had nothing to review.
BURTON: Well, then, how did you -- I mean, you said in your opening statement that you would have no objection to the pardon -- and I may not quote you exactly, but you can correct me if I'm off a little bit -- you said you would have no objection if it would help our foreign policy interests, or words to that effect.
HOLDER: What I said was that I was neutral but leaning toward -- neutral to me...
BURTON: No, I understand.
HOLDER: ... meant I had no opinion based on what I knew. I didn't have a basis to form an opinion.
BURTON: I understand, but you said you were neutral but were leaning toward it if it would help our foreign policy interests.
HOLDER: If there were a foreign policy benefit.
BURTON: A benefit. If there was a -- yes. How could you say that if you didn't review the file and didn't know all the facts pertaining to the case?
HOLDER: Well, I think in saying I was neutral, which is consistent with what I had told him before, which is I don't have...
BURTON: But you said you were leaning toward it, as I recall.
HOLDER: Neutral, but leaning toward. Neutral meaning I don't have a basis to form an opinion consistent with what I had told him before. The statement I was making, he'd have to take this in context. Conversations I had had with him before I had said that I was neutral because I didn't have a basis to make a determination, not seeing anything on the pardon. I'm now saying that I'm neutral, consistent with what I said before, but leaning toward it if there are foreign policy benefits. I could not make the determination if there were foreign policy benefits.
BURTON: No, I understand that. But when you're talking about pardoning an individual or individuals who have dealt with all of the enemies of the United States in their embargoes -- almost all of them, if not all of them -- people who are dealing with Iran, when we had hostages there in violation of the embargo, people that were indicted and fled the country, I just don't see how you could make any kind of a neutral or positive statement or semi-positive statement saying that you would have -- you were neutral but leaning toward it if it would help our foreign policy interests. It seems to me that it would have been logical to really take a look at the file and to call the people in New York who'd prosecuted the case or tried to prosecute the case before you made any kind of a comment to the Justice Department.
HOLDER: Well, I mean, you assume, as we say in the law, facts not in evidence. I did not have, in my mind, all of the material that you have just described. The knowledge about the interaction between Mr. Rich and enemies of this nation, Iran, Iraq, whatever, is not information that I had.
The call also comes in at 6:30 or something the night before the request -- the night before the Clinton administration ends, and as I tried to indicate in my statement, there were a host of other things that we were dealing with on that night. This is not a matter that had my undivided attention I think at any point during the time it was being considered.
BURTON: Well, let me ask you a general question. Did you seek or talk to Mr. Quinn and ask for his support in any way to become the attorney general if there was a Gore administration?
HOLDER: Sure. We had those kinds of conversations.
BURTON: So you talked to Mr. Quinn about asking possibly for his help to become the new attorney general under a Gore administration?
HOLDER: We had conversations of that nature, yes.
BURTON: Do you recall Mr. Quinn talking to him about his possibly being the new attorney general under a Gore Administration?
QUINN: I only recall having that conversation once and I'm confident that it was not in connection with this or any other business I was doing. Eric Holder is somebody who I have known for a long time, worked with, have enormous regard for and who has been a friend.
BURTON: No, well, I understand that. But you could see why that question would be asked under the circumstances because...
QUINN: Sure. BURTON: ... of the possible connection between the Justice Department non-opposition to the pardon and the possibility that Mr. Holder might be the next attorney general.
When did this conversation take place? Do either one of you recall when or where or what was said?
HOLDER: I don't remember when the conversation occurred.
BURTON: Was it in close proximity to the time when Mr. Rich's pardon was being discussed?
JACK QUINN, COUNSEL TO MARC RICH: No, sir. My recollection is that that conversation took place earlier in the fall before the election, before the decision to seek the pardon and certainly before I discussed with him in late November the fact that we were going to file a pardon application.
BURTON: Mr. Holder, my...
QUINN: I mean, that's my recollection.
BURTON: ... my counsel just said that you have indicated that there was more than one conversation with Mr. Quinn about becoming attorney general; is that correct?
HOLDER: I don't know how many conversations -- I don't remember -- I don't remember. I remember one conversation that we had. I don't know -- nothing other than that one sticks in my mind. I simply don't know.
BURTON: Do you remember when that was?
HOLDER: No. It...
BURTON: Was it near the time?
HOLDER: It was clearly before the election, but before -- I don't know far...
BURTON: Were there any conversations after the election before the administration left office?
HOLDER: About becoming attorney general? I didn't think President Bush was going to appoint me, no.
BURTON: Well, I understand that, but there was some question about whether or not Mr. Bush was going to win the election all the way up until...
HOLDER: Oh, I see what you mean.
BURTON: Yes. Was there any -- were there any conversations in that time frame?
HOLDER: I don't think so. I really don't know when the conversation -- that conversation occurred. I don't -- I think it was before the election, but I'm not sure.
BURTON: Well, I think that's pretty important because...
HOLDER: Well, it's only important if you presume something here that I think is not in any way supported by anything that's -- any fact -- as any factual basis for what I think you're implying here.
BURTON: No, no. I understand. I'm not implying anything. I'm asking questions.
HOLDER: Well, I think you are.
BURTON: Well, Mr. Holder, you can think whatever you want and I can think whatever I want, but the thing is you wanted something from Mr. Quinn; you wanted his support for attorney general of the United States and he wanted a pardon for Mr. Rich and his partner. Now, you can understand why somebody would ask a question about that. I mean...
HOLDER: Well, let me...
BURTON: ... that's called a quid pro quo, and we don't know that it took place, only you and Mr. Quinn know.
HOLDER: Let me make it...
BURTON: But the fact of the matter is...
HOLDER: ... very clear.
BURTON: But the fact of the matter is you knew Mr. Quinn had great influence with the president and probably the vice president and you knew that they could help you become attorney general. So I can -- I mean, you must understand why I would ask that kind of a question.
HOLDER: That's fine and...
BURTON: The actual word...
HOLDER: ... you can ask the question, but let me just answer that question...
HOLDER: ... to make it very, very clear. My actions in this matter were in no way affected by my desire to become attorney general of the United States, any desires I had to influence or seek to curry favor with anybody. I did what I did in this case based only on the facts that were before me, the law as I understood it and consistent with my duties as deputy attorney general. Nothing more than that.
BURTON: I understand.
QUINN: May I interrupt?
BURTON: No, I want to say -- I'll just make one more comment. I want to make sure we have this very clear.
At 6:30 or approximately the night before the pardon was granted, when the president was leaving office, they called and you said that you were neutral but you would lean in favor of it if it would help our foreign policy interests; is that correct?
HOLDER: If there were foreign policy benefits that we would reap from the granting of the pardon, right.
BURTON: OK. What's that?
Well, I think we established that. We wondered why you were neutral since you didn't have all the facts before you, that's what I was asking a while ago.
HOLDER: And what I said was when I -- as I indicated, neutral meant that I did not have a basis to form an opinion. I didn't have a basis to say yes or no. I didn't have any factual information in front of me.
BURTON: Why didn't you just say that? Why didn't you just say, "I have no basis for this, Mr. President," or whoever it was, Beth Nolan, "because I don't have the file in front of me and I've working on other things"?
HOLDER: What I said was -- what I said before was in the context -- you have to understand that I had at least, I think, one other conversation with Ms. Nolan about this and what I indicated to her was that I was neutral because I didn't have a basis to form an opinion. And when I used the term neutral on the 19th, it was consistent with the way I had used the term neutral in that other conversation. I think that's...
BURTON: Thank you, Mr. Holder.
Did you have something briefly, Mr. Quinn, you'd like to say?
QUINN: Well, I just want to underscore the fact that, as far as I'm concerned, the most -- the important conversation is the one you were just focused on on the night of January 19, and there was no doubt in anybody's mind who was going to be president of the United States on January 20.
BURTON: Well, sure.
BURTON: Yes. Mr. Waxman?
REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D), CALIFORNNIA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I want to, first of all, say that I've had the occasion to meet with Mr. Holder on a couple of occasions and to observe his work, and he has, certainly, given very distinguished service to this country. He has a reputation of high integrity and honesty and extraordinary ability. And if anyone has any evidence of any wrongdoing on your part, they ought to come forward with it, because I don't believe it.
FRANKEN: For those of you who have a scorecard, it is probably a good idea right now to catch up on just all the names here. Beth Nolan (ph) was the White House counsel, the president's lawyer in the White House. At the end of his administration, Eric Holder: deputy attorney general. Really, there are two tracks going here.
On the one hand, Holder is disputing Jack Quinn, his claim that he had been kept thoroughly involved in the pardon application of Marc Rich, Quinn's client. Holder is saying that just wasn't the case. He only had a cursory knowledge of it. But then you had the other discussion, the one that was just led by the Republican committee Chairman Dan Burton, where he was implying, according to Holder, that because Holder wanted to be attorney general in a Gore administration and had asked Quinn to possibly use his influence to do that, that that might have been the quid pro quo.
That is to say: one favor for another. Holder, as you saw, denied that emphatically. Now you have what will probably be a little bit more more friendly questioning from the Democratic ranking of the committee: Henry Waxman.
WAXMAN: ... didn't think he was so informed. Isn't that the where we -- the way we that...
QUINN: I didn't hear Mr. Holder say that, on the 21st of November, I didn't say that. I think he said that he doesn't challenge my saying I had that conversation with him, but that if we did have it, he simply didn't attach great importance to it.
HOLDER: It was, for me, as I said, a rather unremarkable thing, assuming it was said. And I don't doubt what Mr. Quinn said. Given the fact that Mr. Rich was a fugitive and that it was only one of many things that I was dealing with and also based on my assumption, I think this is the key, that anything that he sent to the White House would ultimately work its way to the Justice Department. So it was something that I heard and, I'm sure, probably didn't even remember the next day.
WAXMAN: And so you thought that the petition would get to the Justice Department, and it never got to the Justice Department.
HOLDER: Never did, no.
WAXMAN: So the Justice Department had no opportunity to comment.
HOLDER: That's correct.
WAXMAN: Mr. Quinn, did you know whether that was the case or not, whether the Justice Department ever had an opportunity to comment on your petition filed on behalf of your client?
QUINN: I believe that Mr. Holder did comment on it on the night of the -- I'm sorry -- that's my impression that he did comment on it.
WAXMAN: And how did you get that impression?
QUINN: He has so testified here today that he commented on the pardon application.
WAXMAN: Yes, I see, but not in an official way.
QUINN: Do you mean on the document, itself?
WAXMAN: The document, itself, and the official process of having the people in the Justice Department look into the submissions that would go to a president for him to look at all the facts in the matter.
QUINN: Again, I did not know, after filing the petition with the White House, whether it copied it to any other agencies of the government.
The Los Angeles Times says that 47 of those pardons and commutations were handled at the White House and not through the Justice Department. I don't know the truth or untruth of that assertion.
But I did -- and it remains my testimony -- on more than one occasion, urge the White House counsel to seek the views of Mr. Holder. I did so because it was the right and professional thing to do. And I was hopeful...
JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: CNN will continue its live coverage of the hearings into the Marc Rich pardon on Capitol Hill under way at this hour. We will take a break here and come back with more of the hearings after this.
CHEN: Back on Capitol Hill at this hour, the hearing into the pardon of financier Marc Rich is still underway at this hour. They have new witnesses though.
CNN's Bob Franken joins now us again now from the Hill -- Bob.
FRANKEN: And at issue, Joie, is whether Jack Quinn -- who was former White House counsel, close personal connections with President Clinton -- bypassed Justice Department procedures in his successful pursuit of a Marc Rich pardon by going directly to President Clinton. He claims that he went through the Justice Department thoroughly by going Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder.
Holder says that that was not the case, that he had only a peripheral knowledge of it. One of the committee members, a Democrat, said there is definitely a disconnect here. Right now, we have Henry Waxman, who made that comment, just finishing his questioning from Holder. And now we are going to probably be hearing from a Republican. By the sound of the voice -- we have a wide shot up there. Hard to see. They look like very little dots. Yes, it's Bob Barr, who is, of course, one of the strongest critics of the Clinton administration and will be very aggressively questioning, I am sure, the two people who are on the panel: Quinn and Holder.
REP. BOB BARR (R), GEORGIA: ... Mr. Auerbach, who is sitting behind you. Why don't you turn around and tell him to his face that if you had called him up you wouldn't have paid any attention to what he said? Because that's the import of what you just said: Just because the public at large might not have known who Mr. Rich was, that's the basis on which you made a decision that I think has been a disgrace and possibly harmed our nation's security. Now, that may not be important to you...
HOLDER: No, that's not what I said.
BARR: ... but did you pick up the phone and call the CIA? They knew who Marc Rich is? Did you pick up the phone and call NSA? They knew who Marc Rich is.
I'll tell you some other people that knew who Marc Rich is if you had bothered to look into this case. The ayatollah. His people, even though he's no longer around. Moammar Gadhafi. Saddam Hussein. The former apartheid government of South Africa. These are all people and institutions and governments and terrorist regimes that Marc Rich dealt with against our laws and benefited from. And you sit there and you say that this case was unremarkable? And you say that simply because the public might not have known about this case that you didn't have any obligation to look into it?
Who was the senior career person that you asked to look into the matter?
HOLDER: Mr. David Margolis.
BARR: And did he look into it?
HOLDER: He was looking into the matter only to try to facilitate the meeting that had been requested with the Office of the U.S. Attorney in the Southern District of New York.
BARR: His name came up here also in exhibit 1. Exhibit 1 are Mr. Quinn's notes of November 8, 1999, apparently his recollection or his notes at the time, the conversation with you. Apparently what he's saying is you've suggested to him that he send a letter to Mary Jo, Mary Jo White, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District, copy you, which he did, and that you will call her and say, "You should do it."
Now, that is not consistent, I don't think, with your testimony today. Did you tell him that you would relay to Ms. White that she should do it, meet with him?
HOLDER: No, I don't remember that. What we...
BARR: I didn't think so. HOLDER: Excuse me?
BARR: I didn't think you had said that. His notes, you know, it's one of a number of discrepancies.
HOLDER: No. I mean, what we were trying to do, as I said, was try to facilitate the meeting. It wasn't a question. And as I indicated in my opening statement, we never pressured anybody to have the meeting; the call was for the Southern District of New York to make.
Later on in your testimony, at the bottom of page 3, you say shortly after a subsequent conversation with Mr. Quinn you received a phone call from White House Counsel Beth Nolan asking for your position. And then you say, further down in that same paragraph, "I ultimately told Ms. Nolan that I was now neutral, leaning toward favorable." Was that all in the same conversation?
HOLDER: I'm not sure I understand the question.
BARR: OK. You say, "Shortly after my conversation with Mr. Quinn, I received a phone call from White House Counsel Beth Nolan."
BARR: In the same conversation with her, in other words, you received a call from her. Is that when you told her that you were now neutral, leading toward favorable?
HOLDER: Right. Yes.
BARR: That was just one conversation.
BARR: OK. So in one conversation you were swayed from, "Let's give you the benefit of the doubt," that you didn't know about the case and it was unremarkable to you, to understanding that it was important enough for a foreign leader to become personally involved in. And just based on that information alone, not having heard anything back from Mr. Margolis, not having heard anything back from your prosecutors, who identified this case as one of the most significant in white collar crime history, you all of a sudden become leaning toward favorable simply because some foreign leader, for whatever reason, says that he wants us to act favorably on this pardon?
HOLDER: What I said was that I was neutral, leaning toward. Neutral meaning consistent with what I'd said before, which was I don't have a basis to form an opinion one way or the other.
BARR: Is it your presumption, as the second top official at Justice, that if somebody comes in and asks you about a pardon that you don't know anything about, that your position is immediately neutral, and therefore their job is to move you toward favorable? I mean, wouldn't your position be, as a prosecutor, that you stand by your prosecutors and that your initial position when you don't know about a case is to oppose it?
HOLDER: No. Without a basis to know how the decision should go, I think it would be incumbent upon...
BARR: But don't you presume that your prosecutors have prepared good cases and therefore you would operate from the presumption, as their superior at the Department of Justice, that you're going to stand by them and not take a neutral position?
HOLDER: I suppose that's the presumption, but as I indicated in my prepared remarks, there was a case involving a man who was a fugitive who had been, frankly, abused by the system, racial animus had been allowed to get into the system.
BARR: That's a red herring the same as this other fellow is a red herring.
HOLDER: No, it's not.
BARR: We're talking about a case that was an extremely significant white collar crime case with very significant national security ramifications. Did you make a recommendation to the president on the pardon of Mr. Rich?
HOLDER: The request...
BARR: Yes or no? Did you make a recommendation to the president, Mr. Holder, with regard to the pardon request for Mr. Rich?
HOLDER: What I told the White House counsel was that I was neutral, leading toward...
BARR: Was that your recommendation to the president?
HOLDER: That is what I told the White House counsel.
BARR: Why did you tell the White House counsel?
HOLDER: She asked me what my opinion was.
BARR: OK. Was she asking that on behalf of the president?
HOLDER: I don't know what the process is there. I presume...
BARR: You don't know what the process is there?
HOLDER: I presume that is what it is. I don't know who she then -- I don't know if goes directly to the president, whether there is an intermediary, I don't know.
BARR: It's like Keystone Kops. But I don't think it is. I think the president knew exactly what he was doing. You didn't request information, so you could probably say, "I don't know." In other words, have you ever heard of the concept of deliberate ignorance? Well, maybe not. Well, most prosecutors have.
HOLDER: I will stand here and have people say that I've made a mistake, and I'll debate that.
BARR: You don't think you have?
HOLDER: But you're now implying that I have done something that's essentially corrupt.
BARR: Well, convince us...
HOLDER: And I will not accept that.
BARR: ... otherwise. I mean, you sit here and you tell us you don't how the White House counsel works. You say, well, you told somebody to look into it. They didn't. But that's OK; it was an unremarkable case.
Your own prosecutors have said this was a very significant case. And you say, based on one conversation with the White House counsel that mentions a foreign leader's name, that you changed to leaning favorable.
HOLDER: What I said was, "If there were a foreign policy benefit, that would come from the pardon" If, if. And I was leaving to them to make that determination. I didn't have a basis to know that.
I'm saying if Barak is calling in and saying this is something significant, and if there is a basis to conclude that we might get a foreign policy benefit.
BARR: What about the basis of your prosecutors? That counts for nothing?
HOLDER: I said in connection with that that I was neutral; I didn't have a basis to form an opinion one way or the other.
As the deputy attorney general must ultimately make a recommendation to the White House in pardon matters, there is certainly a presumption, I suppose, that you presume regularity in the way convictions were obtained.
But the default position, seems to me, should not be one way or the other. You should try as objectively as possible to look at all the evidence, look at the applicable law, and then come up with a recommendation, a determination.
And what I told the White House counsel in the meeting, the earlier conversation, I think, consistent with what I said on the 19th, was I did not have a basis to make a determination, because I had not had access to the relevant documents, the relevant materials.
BURTON: The gentleman's time has expired. Mr. Kanjorski?
REP. PAUL E. KANJORSKI (D), PENNSYLVANIA: Mr. Holder, I have a great deal of respect for you over your tenure at the Justice Department. And I don't find myself very often...
CHEN: The former deputy attorney general, Eric Holder, is testifying before the House Government Reform Committee into -- looking now into the pardon of financier Marc Rich. CNN's coverage will continue after a break.
CHEN: Back here at CNN, to viewers who are just joining us, we have been bringing you all this afternoon on CNN live coverage of the House Government Reform Committee hearings into the pardon of Marc Rich by the outgoing President Clinton in his final hours in office.
The congressmen have been asking a number of lawyers a number of significant questions throughout this afternoon. CNN's congressional correspondent Bob Franken joins us now from Capitol Hill.
Bob, I'm just wondering, as a result of all the information the congressmen get out of this hearing, what can they do?
FRANKEN: Well, they can -- they can, first of all, if they get any information that there was an illegality, they can turn it over to the Justice Department. Secondly, they can come up with recommendations that might cause future presidents to change the way that they do pardons. And, thirdly, of course, they can get one more political pound of flesh out of the Clinton administration.
Now, what's going on right now is that Eric Holder -- who was the deputy attorney general in that administration -- is getting a grilling, not just from the Republicans on the committee, but Democrats like Paul Kanjorski, who is talking to him now and saying: How come that this case -- as significant as the charges were against Marc Rich, how come it didn't raise such a red flag with you?
And Holder is trying to explain why he, at one point, characterized it as unremarkable to him.
KANJORSKI: But you didn't take that position?
HOLDER: What I -- you know, I did. What I said was, I was neutral on -- when I had that initial conversation with Beth Nolan, was I was neutral because I didn't have a basis to make a determination one way or the other. I didn't have enough factual material to form a conclusion.
KANJORSKI: At that point didn't it trigger in your mind that this looks like it's moving at the White House, and somebody from the Department of Justice, and that's primarily you as the head administrator, really, to get these facts and make sure that the case is properly presented to the president, pro and con, instead of just pro? HOLDER: Well, see, I guess, that's one of the keys, I never really thought that this was a case that was going to move, using your term, given the fact that he was a fugitive. I didn't see how there was likely to have -- a pardon request was likely to be successful, given the fact that Mr. Rich was a fugitive.
KANJORSKI: But if a foreign leader called up, then even though he's a fugitive that doesn't matter, and you would have been leaning toward?
HOLDER: No. What I said was, "I'm neutral, but if there is a foreign policy benefit that we might get from granting this pardon, if there is, that would make me think that I would be leaning toward it." But again, I didn't know whether or not that was true or not. I was putting it...
KANJORSKI: I understand, Mr. Holder. But it just doesn't make sense to me that's the secretary of state would be saying that or the national security advisor. What the hell is the attorney general have to do with foreign affairs?
HOLDER: And that's why I said, "if," if there is a foreign policy benefit. I don't know if there is or not. That was something that was...
KANJORSKI: And that's right. And it's not even in your bailiwick; it's not important to you. Why should that have an affect one way or another in the administration of justice? That's for somebody else to weigh in on the proposition and say, "For foreign policy reasons we should have some extra consideration here." Not the...
HOLDER: We make decisions within the department on the basis of foreign policy at times with regard to -- I know we certainly had that with regard to with Pakistan and the purchase of F-16s, there was a foreign policy consideration there that we took into account in forming our ultimate position.
KANJORSKI: At this point in time did you know that they had worked with the enemies? That at time of stress, you knew none of the facts?
KANJORSKI: And in spite of that, you say, "I'm neutral. But if a foreign leader calls then I would be leaning positive if it had foreign policy implications."
HOLDER: I didn't say if a foreign leader calls, and what I said was I was neutral, consistent with what I had said before, but if there's a foreign policy benefit. If you all, in essence, determine there's a foreign policy benefit that might accrue from this, then I would lean toward favorable.
KANJORSKI: I pose to Mr. Quinn -- and I like Mr. Quinn, he's a friend of mine, as you are, through the years of the administration. Did the fact that he had a prior role at the White House, the chief counsel of the president, did that in some way disarm you in dealing with him on this particular case that you imagine that he probably would have taken extra steps to make sure that it wasn't just an advocasary role that he was playing, but also a full disclosure role?
HOLDER: No. I mean, I assume that Mr. Quinn was acting as a lawyer here.
I'm not at all -- I don't think that his former status was something that necessarily...
KANJORSKI: Well, you know what kind of good lawyer he is. So you know that he would have put the petition in the best light of his client. Why didn't you think, then, that somebody should be advocating the negative side of that proposition?
Somebody in Justice, somebody in the White House, somebody should have been scurrying around, recognizing that one of the best lawyers in Washington is putting a petition in, with, singularly, his side of his client's case, and it's very late in the period of time. Didn't it dawn on you that somebody better make sure that the con should be developed and given to the president?
HOLDER: Yes, in hindsight, in seeing how this has turned out, I mean, obviously, some bells should have gone off, some lights should have gone on.
But, at the time, again, what stuck in my mind was this was a request for a pardon for a person who was a fugitive. And the likelihood -- it made this case very unlikely to happen. And it made it one that did not make those bells go off for that reason.
If I'd known, obviously, that it was going to turn out this way, I mean, I certainly would have done things differently. And that's why I said in my opening remarks: Yes, I wish there were things that I would have done differently, but...
BURTON: The gentlemen's time has expired.
REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS (R), CONNECTICUT: Thank you.
Mr. Holder, welcome to the committee.
What makes this story so remarkable is that you thought it was unremarkable that a person who was a chief adviser to the president of the United States' counsel would have requested a pardon for a fugitive who, basically, did business with our enemies.
So, please, once again, try to explain to me why you don't think it was a remarkable request, with a lot of chutzpah.
HOLDER: Well, you're presuming, again, facts that we now know, that I did not have in my head at the time. I didn't have before me all of the information that the trial lawyers very ably presented in the first panel this morning.
SHAYS: So you're basic bottom line is...
BURTON: Mr. Shays, I think this bears on -- may I just ask one question?
There was a phone call, according to your phone logs, from 10 to 11 am that morning with Sheera Nenan (ph). She is the deputy U.S. attorney in New York. You talked to her for almost an hour. Was this any part of that conversation?
HOLDER: I don't remember a conversation between Sheera (ph) and I.
BURTON: Well, your phone log, right here, has it from January 19 from 10 am to 11 am, Sheera Nenan (ph), deputy U.S. attorney.
HOLDER: No, the call came in at 10:00. I returned the call at 11 o'clock.
BURTON: Well, we would like to know. And I'll yield back to my colleague and thank him for yielding.
But I would like to know what that conversation was about. And we will probably talk to her as well, so I think it's important that you recall the facts.
SHAYS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
What you call an unremarkable thing makes me want to ask you what it would have taken to be a remarkable thing.
You told Jack Quinn you had no problem with the pardon; is that correct?
HOLDER: I had no problem with the pardon? No, I don't remember saying that.
SHAYS: So you don't recall saying that. You told Jack Quinn you didn't need a copy of the application; is that correct?
HOLDER: That I didn't need a -- no, I didn't say that.
SHAYS: You failed to inform the Southern District of New York or the pardon attorney about Quinn's effort to get a pardon, even though you know back in November; is that true?
HOLDER: That's true.
SHAYS: You told the White House you were neutral, leaning toward the pardon, and the president took this as sign of the DOD's support for the pardon; is that correct? HOLDER: I don't know how the president reacted to what I said, but I said what you said with a little more.
SHAYS: You congratulated Jack Quinn in the wake of the pardon and offered him advice about handling the press about the Rich matter?
HOLDER: No, that's not correct.
SHAYS: None of those things are true.
What this hearing has illustrated to me is that we not only have a pardon problem, we have a revolving door problem. Because you had an individual who signed an executive order, who adhered to an ethics commitment by executive branch appointees of Executive Order 12834 of January 20, 1993, which was, interestingly, revoked, effective January 20, 2001. And that was signed on December 28.
Mr. Quinn did you contact White House officials about the pardon before December 28, 2000?
QUINN: Yes, sir.
SHAYS: Did you sign this executive order like other employees?
SHAYS: Why shouldn't I come to believe that Bill Clinton gave you a pardon? And the pardon is your not adhering to this executive order.
QUINN: I'm not sure if you were in the room during our earlier discussion of this, but I believe the executive order does not cover the communications I had, on this matter, with the White House. I specifically had a discussion with the White House counsel about whether it did prohibit them.
SHAYS: Why did you have that conversation if you didn't think it affected you?
QUINN: She asked me, the first time I mentioned to her -- or perhaps it was when I filed the petition, she asked if my making an appearance in this matter was permissible under the executive order.
SHAYS: And why did she ask you that?
QUINN: I think it's an obvious question.
SHAYS: Yes, she thought it was not permissible.
QUINN: No, she had a question. She didn't have a conclusion. And when I brought to her attention the exception that I've discussed before the committee, she asked me no further questions about it. She acquiesced in my making the appearance.
SHAYS: Acquiesce is a good word. QUINN: I think it's accurate, and I think she did not have the view that it was impermissible. I believe her conduct from that point further that she agreed with me that it was permissible.
SHAYS: See, the problem with that logic is that you were hired specifically because of your White House connection, because you had defended the president, because you were a close associate of Al Gore's. You were the person to hire.
If I went in there, I wouldn't have gotten any impact. Obviously not.
You had that. That's the reason why we, Republicans and Democrats alike, rejoiced when the president signed that executive order, why we're pretty astounded that after you had these contacts, he, basically, repealed it.
QUINN: You may think the executive order should have been drafted differently than it was, but it means what it means. You may even think that the current administration should have a similar executive order.
SHAYS: I think Congress should draft one that is very clear, and that's one of the outcomes that I think...
QUINN: And that's fine.
SHAYS: Because it is very clear to me that Mr. Holder was put in a very tenuous situation. You're coming to ask him and to notify him of something, and he is basically asking you for assistance in a place that you can be very helpful.
QUINN: Yes, there are a couple...
SHAYS: It's a very awkward kind of dialogue to have.
QUINN: I need to address a couple of other points that I think you are in error on.
First, again, I was hired in the spring of 1999, not to go to the White House, but to work with main Justice and the Southern District of New York.
SHAYS: I'm sorry, you weren't an employee of the White House? I'm missing what you're saying. You were not an employee of the White House?
QUINN: You made the assertion that I was hired because I had worked in the White House to go to the White House. That's what I thought you were saying.
SHAYS: And your contacts with the president. I mean, I think you would even acknowledge that.
QUINN: We're talking past each other. All I am saying is that the initial purpose of hiring me was not to go to the White House but to do something else.
Secondly, in your exchange with Mr. Holder, you asked him -- and I may have created this misimpression on your part, but I want to clear it up.
It is not my testimony that Mr. Holder ever told me he did not need a copy of the petition. Rather, what I was referring to is that, in that conversation he and I had on the 21st of November, when I said to him that I hoped to or wanted to or intended to encourage the White House counsel to contact him, I asked him if he thought I should put that in writing to the White House counsel, and his response was, "You don't need to put that in writing; just ask him to call me. I'll take their call."
SHAYS: Just one last question, Mr. Quinn. Do you know how much Denise Rich contributed to the Clinton Library?
QUINN: I do not, sir. And -- I do not. And I certainly did not at the time I was working on this matter.
SHAYS: Thank you.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
BURTON: The gentleman's time has expired.
DELEGATE ELEANOR HOLMES NORTON, WASHINGTON, D.C.: Thank you -- thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I have a single question. Before I ask it, I want to say, you recall that I was concerned as to how this hearing will be read. I thought that the hearing would have in itself an important effect on presidents, set the kind of precedent we need to have set, because it shows that Congress is willing to do oversight, even as to matters it has no control over which raise problems, appearance problems or even worse.
But I must say, I am very disappointed that apparently in a news report that came out as this hearing was going on, it was announced that Arlen Specter is going to introduce an amendment to the Constitution that would give Congress the power to overturn a presidential pardon. I mean, that is the kind of overkill and overreaction that I just want to separate myself from, and I hope we will separate this hearing from.
A president makes a mistake, and somebody wants to turn the Constitution, something we've lived with for 200 years, on its head. Well, I'm not willing to do that on the basis of one president, one pardon and one mistake. I do want to get at the reasons for this mistake. I want to get at whether there was indeed more than a mistake. And I want to get at the appropriate remedy.
And, indeed, my question will ultimately go to remedy, because I certainly don't think this is the remedy, nor do I think it will happen. And I think it's the wrong message from this hearing. And I've not heard any of colleagues say that that's what they were about. Indeed, I heard the U.S. attorney say that they didn't think the constitutional pardon power should be tampered with.
Mr. Holder, I know you to be cautious man. I know you to be a man of high integrity. As I have listened to the exchanges here, one can see that running through this entire episode are a whole set of appearance problems. And that appearance problems create substance problems, even when they aren't there. It's very unfortunate, that's the way life is.
I must say, I part company with those who see your notion of neutral leaning toward if there are foreign policy implications, as raising some kind of serious question. That is to say, if I put myself in your position...
CHEN: CNN will continue its coverage of the hearings before the House Government Reform Committee, looking into the pardon of Marc Rich by the outgoing president, President Clinton, in his final hours of office.
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