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Marc Rich Pardon: Former Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder Begins Testimony

Aired February 8, 2001 - 4:27 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: Back here on CNN we've been covering, throughout this afternoon, the hearing of the House Government Reform Committee into the presidential pardon by the outgoing president, Mr. Clinton, of Marc Rich, the financier who fled to Switzerland, but who had been indicted. In any case, Mr. Clinton pardoned him in his final hours in office and the man you see on your screen now, Jack Quinn, who's a former White House counsel, had something to do with that. He's the one who took the request specifically to the president, and he is testifying again -- continuing a long day of testimony for him on Capitol Hill.

CNN's Bob Franken has been watching the hearing throughout this day and joins us now.

Bob -- Jack Quinn taking some hard ones today.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: He's taking some real hard ones; not surprising to him, I'm sure.

Right now he is talking -- he's responding to questions from Republican Congressman Steve LaTourette of Ohio about some memos that indicate to the Republicans that Quinn was trying to keep this as secret as possible, to try not to let the Marc Rich matter become public and not even let other government agencies know. And now he's explaining what these memos really meant to him.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

JACK QUINN, COUNSEL TO MARC RICH: ... I'm not trying to overstate this. I'm not trying to say that I believed that senior people at main Justice thought the indictment was meritless. But I did absolutely believe that main Justice thought that the Southern District was being unreasonable in being unwilling to talk to us. I thought that there was a more sympathetic audience at main Justice. And that, sir, is why, on more than one occasion, I encouraged the White House counsel to seek the views of Mr. Holder.

Again, had that taken place at an earlier point in time in this process, had it been done in different way by the White House, had he had more time, he well might have reached out to the Southern District. But for my part, I urged the White House counsel to seek his views and the views of the Justice Department. REP. STEVEN C. LATOURETTE (R), OHIO: I understand that -- and with the indulgence of the chair -- but is there any plain reading of that e-mail on January 19, 2001, other than you all were afraid that the Southern District of New York caught wind of what you were up to, the egg was going to hit the fan?

QUINN: My preference was that the White House counsel contact main Justice, and that, based on the course of dealings we had had earlier, that they would make a recommendation that would be helpful to us.

I certainly knew that if main Justice deferred to the prosecutors in New York, they were likely to have a negative recommendation. But I thought that, based on our earlier dealings, they had enough information. And I certainly, by the way, never, ever discouraged Mr. Holder or the White House counsel or anyone else from seeking the views of any agency of this government.

LATOURETTE: Thank you.

ERIC HOLDER, FORMER DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: Mr. Chairman, if I could just have 30 seconds?

REP. DAN BURTON (R-IN), CHAIRMAN: Sure.

HOLDER: With regard to the question of equities and whether or not we thought the Southern District was being unreasonable, I think Mr. Quinn is just a little confused. What we were talking about there was them being unreasonable and not having the meeting. Equities were on their side, as Mr. Quinn's side, with regard to the meeting. No one at main Justice thought that with regard to the substance; the equities were on Mr. Quinn's side.

QUINN: I'm not trying to suggest otherwise.

HOLDER: I was just talking about the meeting. The fact of the meeting.

QUINN: That is accurate.

BURTON: OK. Now excuse Mr. LaTourette and we'll let Mr. Quinn take a five-minute break and anyone else who wants to, and the rest of us as well.

CHEN: All right, CNN's coverage of the House Government Reform Committee also takes a break as the Reform Committee does. They had been -- the House members had been questioning both Eric Holder, who you just saw step out of the screen there, the former deputy attorney general; as well as Jack Quinn, who is the former White House counsel and, of course, the man who presented the question of the pardon of Marc Rich to the outgoing President Clinton, who did grant that pardon of Rich in the final hours of his presidency, and created some -- quite a bit of controversy in the course of doing so.

We will take a break here, as the committee is taking its break and bring you a few messages -- be back in a minute with more. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

CHEN: Again, watching all of this for us on Capitol Hill is Bob Franken who rejoins us now -- Bob.

FRANKEN: One little supplement, Joie, and that is, as the committee says it's now going to go to the Justice Department to try and get immunity, which would, of course, protect Denise Rich from incrimination, and would require her, then, to answer the questions or face contempt of Congress charges.

Right now, we're going back to the hearing where I believe it's Eric Holder who's getting the question now from Elijah Cummings, a Democrat; Holder has, of course, disputed, to some degree, the claims that he had extensive knowledge of the pardon application. Quinn had been the one who said he had kept him very closely informed. So, we've sort of visited, as the afternoon has gone on, that conflict. Of course, it's gotten quite convoluted. A variety of issues have come up. But right now, let's listen to the question:

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

HOLDER: ...a comment, not anything that went into any great depth. So, there wasn't even the occasion to have that kind of prolonged conversation.

ELIJAH CUMMINGS (D), MARYLAND: Now, you said, Mr. Holder, in your written statement, it says, at the end of paragraph 2, it says, "Specifically, I wish that I had ensured that the Department of Justice was more fully informed and involved in this pardon process." What'd you mean by that?

HOLDER: Well, I wish that, you know, I guess, as Mr. Kanjorski had said before, I think he implied before that maybe the bells had the rung, the lights had gone on, and I had, either at the end of November or at some point, some point, said to the person on my staff who worked on pardon matters, you know, "You ought to look into this Rich thing."

But you should understand that from what I thought was a fairly unremarkable comment from Mr. Quinn back in late November until sometime in January this was not something that I was thinking about, not something that I was considering. I wish there were a point at which I had had those lights go on and said to the person on my staff who handles pardon things, "Let's look into the Rich thing," or, "See what's going on in the Rich thing," just to somehow get it into the system in a way that it never got.

CUMMINGS: One of the things that was very interesting is that I handle for the Congressional Black Caucus numerous pardons, I was the chairman of the Pardons Committee, so I had an opportunity to review many, many requests for clemency and pardons and commutations. And the applications quite often were quite lengthy, and there's a lot involved. And a lot of those we recommended -- we recommended a few and rejected a lot. And I was just wondering, what would be the kinds of things that you would take into consideration? Let's say if you had an opportunity to make a recommendation for or against. I think you mentioned Mr. Curry, which was also, by the way, one of the Congressional Black Caucus' recommendations. I mean, what kind of things would you be looking for?

HOLDER: Well, I mean, I think the kinds of things you look for are people who have made contributions perhaps after they have served their sentence, who have turned their lives around. Obviously contrition is important. Ways in which people have somehow contributed to society, somehow done something positive for the nation. Those are the kinds of things I think you take into consideration and I would take into consideration in looking at a pardon request.

CUMMINGS: Now, is it my understanding that you don't recall receiving the documents from Mr. Quinn, I mean any kind of documents with regard to the details of this, the background of this case?

HOLDER: That's correct. I don't think Mr. Quinn said that he sent them to us. I was saying that we never got them from the White House. He sent them to the White House, we never received them from the White House.

CUMMINGS: Now, if you had received those documents would you have probably reviewed them?

HOLDER: Oh, sure.

CUMMINGS: You personally?

HOLDER: I'm not sure personally, but they certainly would have gone to the pardon attorney and to a woman on my staff who looked at pardon matters. And what I would typically see after that would be a summary that they would prepare of the pardon request and what the pardon attorney generated as a result of his work in interacting with both the investigative agencies and the prosecutors.

CUMMINGS: I realize that you weren't the president, but I mean, I guess, looking at just on hindsight, reading this document, your statement that is, it appears from this that if it were up to you a pardon probably would not have been granted in this case. Is that right? If it were up to you?

HOLDER: Knowing everything that we know now, yes, I think that's right. I'm not so sure that -- yes.

CUMMINGS: Well, let me put it like this: Would your recommendation, if you knew everything that you know in this case now, then, before the pardon was granted, would you have recommended to the president that he grant a pardon? That's a better way, I guess, of asking it.

HOLDER: No. I mean, knowing everything that I now know, I would not have recommended to the president that he grant the pardon. CUMMINGS: Why not?

HOLDER: Well, aside from the fugitive status, which, as I said, I think you can somehow -- in extraordinary circumstances can overcome, you could not overcome it -- it was not overcome in this case. And then just understanding the facts of the matter and the breadth of the wrong done by Mr. Rich and Mr. Green, the things they had done with regard to their citizenship, things I did not know before.

I mean, the combination of all of these things, it seems to me, make these matters not ones for which a pardon would be appropriate, and I would not have made that recommendation.

CUMMINGS: Now, Mr. Quinn, you had said that you felt that main Justice believed that the Southern District of New York was not necessarily being fair. I don't want to take words out of your mouth, OK. And at the end of the questioning just a moment ago we were trying to get that clear, and I want to make sure we're cleared up.

Did anybody tell you that they felt -- anybody from main Justice ever tell you that they felt that the Southern District attorneys in New York might be unfair with regard to your client or was this just an impression that you, kind of, just got over a course of time?

QUINN: Yes, sir. It's an impression that I formed quite clearly in my mind based on the course of dealings that I had with Mr. Holder back in 1999. And again, I don't want to overstate, Mr. Holder never said, "The equities are on your side on the underlying indictment," or, "These guys should never have been indicted." But he quite clearly reported to me -- as is reflected, by the way, in the attachments to my testimony here -- that senior people at the Department of Justice thought it was, in the word I believe he used at the time, ridiculous that the Southern District wouldn't meet with us.

As we hopefully clarified at the end of the last round of questionings, he did use the phrase "equities on your side," but in the context of, I believe, saying that the Southern District should have been willing to sit down with us and at least consider the arguments we were making that these RICO charges couldn't be brought today under current DOJ policy, that under case law developments the fraud charges were wanting, and most importantly, that on the basis of the tax analysis by Professors Ginsberg and Wolfman, and what I know to be the conclusions of the United States Department of Energy, that, in fact, the tax case shouldn't stand.

CUMMINGS: Mr. Quinn, let me ask you this, because I'm running out of time, I'm just curious. Are you surprised by all of the controversy that has taken place subsequent to the president's decision? For example, us being here today?

QUINN: Yes, sir. My notes clearly reflect that I at least considered in the conversation I had with the president pointing out to him that this would be a controversial pardon. But I want to emphasize I had no idea that it would have resulted in the fanfare that it has. CUMMINGS: Just one, Mr. Chairman, just...

BURTON: Sure.

CUMMINGS: Why not?

QUINN: I guess, Congressman, I'd have to say to you that when you do, as you know, work on something as a lawyer, come to believe in it, come to believe in the merits and the righteousness of your cause, you think others will see your point of view. Now, here the president saw my point of view.

QUINN: I believe some others saw my point of view. An awful lot of people have not.

But look, you know, I win some and I lose some. I won this one, and a lot of people ended up on the disagreeing end of that win. But I've lost plenty, too.

BURTON: The gentleman's time has expired.

CUMMINGS: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

BURTON: Ms. Davis, you have the time. Could I convince you to yield a little bit of it to me?

REP. THOMAS M. DAVIS III (R), VIRGINIA: Yes, Mr. Chairman.

BURTON: Or do you have a question?

DAVIS: I have one question, and then I'd be happy to yield the balance, if that's OK?

BURTON: Proceed. Proceed. No problem.

DAVIS: First, Mr. Holder, I'd like to say that I've heard very good things about your reputation. And I appreciate you being here today.

But having said that, I believe I heard you say earlier that you knew Mr. Rich was a fugitive, and you thought it was remarkable that you were even discussing the pardon. Given that, would it not have prudent, the night of January 19, when you talked to Beth Nolan, I believe it was, rather than saying that you were neutral but leaning favorable, would it not have been prudent to say, "Hey, we haven't seen the petition. The Justice Department cannot give a recommendation on this knowing he is a fugitive. Perhaps we should not give the pardon at this time"?

HOLDER: Yes, and I think that's what I was saying to her. As I said before, I had a conversation with her, previously, where I used the term "neutral" and said I was neutral because I had not had a chance to look at the relevant materials. And so when I used the term neutral again, on January 19, what I was conveying to her, I hope, was that the position I had or the reason I was neutral was the same. But that, given this added new thing, the foreign policy possibility, that that was something that might move me toward favorable.

DAVIS: And you don't think that that led her to believe then that the Justice Department would be in favor of it. Don't you think you should have said you had not spoken to the...

CHEN: As we continue to watch the proceedings of the House Government Reform Committee, we want to turn now to Bob Franken, who has also been watching the proceedings today; and has some additional information about what might lie ahead in the investigation into the pardon of Marc Rich --Bob

FRANKEN: Well, one of the things that we have been hearing all day is that the president's right to pardon is absolute, Article 2, Section II of the Constitution. But now comes Senator Arlen Specter, who has also been exploring this. He has put out, what they call, a Dear Colleague letter to his fellow members of the Senate, saying that he would like to propose a constitutional amendment which would allow the vote of the Congress --2/3 vote in the House and 2/3 vote in the Senate -- to overturn a pardon within 180 days of that pardon being granted. That would, of course, require a constitutional amendment.

He goes on to point out that this was also recommended in the 93rd Congress by Walter Mondale, of course, a Democratic icon -- and so Specter is trying to conjure up some support for a constitutional amendment, which would take away the president's absolute power for a pardon. Of course, constitutional amendments are extremely hard to put into effect, but Specter is saying that the process should start now -- Joie.

CHEN: And Bob, what happened when Walter Mondale made that same sort of recommendation? How did that turn out? It obviously didn't happen, but...

FRANKEN: I was going to say, Article 2, Section II is still in tact.

CHEN: Still in tact.

FRANKEN: Here we are today.

CHEN: But in any case, Senator Mondale -- or Vice President Mondale had not been persuasive on that point. And again, let's talk again of what would come from this House Government Reform Committee, and that was what we had discussed earlier. Can they do anything absent what Senator Specter is talking about?

FRANKEN: Well, they can, first of all, raise consciousness about this, they can, in fact, propose possibly some legislation which could affect some of the periphery of the pardon matter -- some procedures that must be followed, as opposed to optionally be followed. Of course, the president currently does have that absolute power; doesn't have to follow these procedures at all.

They can also serve notice to future presidents that there is a very painful price to pay if, in fact, things are not played according to specific rules where they are not questioned. And, of course, if they should uncover some sort of criminal activity during their investigation, they could refer to that to prosecution.

Right now the chairman of the committee -- the very aggressive chairman of the committee, Dan Burton, is beginning some questions right now, so why don't we listen in:

BURTON: So it looks like the White House and Mr. Quinn is in cahoots, saying, "You know, this is under the radar screen. That's good. Maybe we can get this pardon done for Mr. Rich." And then you aren't able to get a meeting for him with the people at the New York office of the Justice Department, the U.S. Attorney's, and so it was kept under the radar screen.

Let me just proceed with another question.

HOLDER: Again, Mr. Chairman, the meeting was well before, about a year before.

BURTON: Was it about Mr. Rich?

HOLDER: Yes, but it was not about the pardon.

BURTON: I know, but the point is this gentleman was very close to the president of the United States, very close. He was a chief counsel to the president. If the former chief counsel of the president goes and talk to two attorneys at the New York District Attorney's Office and asks about Marc Rich, then it's going to come up on their radar screen, "Hey, something's going on here."

And so you kept them -- when the meeting wasn't held, then it's very clear, to me -- maybe not to anybody else, that this was kept below the radar screen.

HOLDER: The people in the Southern District clearly knew it was Mr. Rich who was seeking the meeting -- I mean Mr. Quinn on behalf of Mr. Rich.

BURTON: I understand, but there was no meeting held. So they probably thought the whole issue was being dropped.

Let me just ask this question: I asked you earlier about Sheera Nenan (ph). You talked to her on the day before the pardon was issued. In fact, you talked to Beth Nolan at 6:30, I believe, and you talked to this lady, who was a deputy U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York, at about 11 o'clock. Do you remember what you talked to her about?

HOLDER: No, I do not.

BURTON: Was it about Marc Rich?

HOLDER: I don't think so.

BURTON: You don't think so? Can you say, categorically, it wasn't about him?

HOLDER: Yes, I can say that we did not discuss Marc Rich. BURTON: Did you discuss pardons at all?

HOLDER: I don't know. There was an ongoing conversation that day -- that night, that I had found out about, between people on my staff, the pardon attorney's office, and people in the Southern District, about New York matters that were possibly being considered for pardons.

BURTON: What other pardons were pending that dealt with the Southern District of New York? Were there a lot of them?

HOLDER: I think they called them New Market cases, involving some Hassidic Jewish folks. I think their New Market -- that's the name of it.

BURTON: And we're aware of that pardon as well, which is, kind of, controversial.

But nevertheless, it's hard for me to believe or understand why they would talk about other cases that were pending for pardon and not discuss the Marc Rich case. And it's hard for me to believe that you would be talking to them about pardons and not mention the Marc Rich case since this is -- you know, was a topic that was high on the agenda at that time.

I mean, Mr. Podesta, at the White House, new about it. Mr. Podesta, a close adviser to the president, had talked to Quinn and said, "Hey, this is fortuitous that it's being kept under the radar screen." And it's hard for me to believe the president didn't know about it at that time.

CHEN: Again, what you have been watching here on CNN throughout much of this afternoon is the testimony before the House Government Reform Committee, chaired as you see there by Chairman Dan Burton of Indiana; and questioning late this afternoon, the former deputy attorney general Eric Holder, as well -- we saw a good bit of questioning of Jack Quinn who represented Marc Rich in the course of his seeking a pardon through President Clinton, who granted that pardon in the final days of his administration, and led to this investigation by the committee itself. CNN's coverage of the House Government Reform Committee will continue, as it continues, after a break.

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