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Justice Department to Speak on Immunity for Denise Rich

Aired February 12, 2001 - 2:01 p.m. ET

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

LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Washington is buzzing about the Clinton pardon of Marc Rich. It just won't go away, the billionaire financier who spent years living large in Switzerland while the U.S. wanted him for tax evasion.

CNN national correspondent Bob Franken brings us up to speed on the story the story. What's going on today, Bob?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, let me say this as quickly as I can since I suspect that seconds away before we hear from Ashcroft. The Justice Department has been asked by the House Government Reform Committee, that's Dan Burton's committee, to pass on immunity. That is to say that it has no objections. It's part of the procedure. That would be followed by Burton's committee then meeting, in two or three weeks, actually, where two-thirds of the members would have to agree that they wanted to seek immunity.

It would ultimately before a federal judge and then Denise Rich, if all of this in fact ends up in the positive note, that is to say everybody says yesterday; Denise Rich could be granted immunity from prosecution, would lose, then, her Fifth Amendment protections again self-incrimination, which she claimed when refused to take part in committee proceedings last week.

All of this about the investigation into the pardon of her ex- husband Marc Rich. The committee plans also to subpoena Denise Rich's bank records. She is a major political contributor to the Democratic Party. The committee trying to find out if in fact somehow Marc Rich's money from overseas got into her account and then was turned into campaign contributions which could probably be a violation of the law.

So, all of that is going on. We could expect that the attorney general might be asked if, in fact, the Justice Department would raise any objections to the granting of immunity. As I said, it is just part of the process.

It's a procedural effort now as the committee seeks to push along its investigation into whether the pardon that was granted by now ex- President Clinton as he left office was in fact handled properly not only by the ex-president, but by the attorneys who represented Marc Rich and, of course, questions have been raised about Denise Rich, since she was such a major contributor to the Democratic Party, contributed over a million dollars, has contributed a rather large amount to the presidential library of President Clinton which, of course, is still in development.

The committee may also try and subpoena records of her contributions to that, and there's some questions that come up, since the library claims that under the laws of its formation, it does not have to disclose donors and how much they gave. So that could be another legal battle.

But the first thing that's going on is that effort to grant immunity to Mrs. Rich. I will point out that even if that occurs, she would not testify for at least two or three weeks -- Lou.

WATERS: Do you get the sense, Bob, that this Rich pardon issue is waxing or waning? Do we get indications that there will be even more committees of Congress, for instance, getting involved in the act?

FRANKEN: Well, if another committee getting involved in the act means it's waxing, then it's waxing. The other committee is the Senate committee, subcommittee, actually, that's headed by Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania who is planning to hold hearings on Wednesday. Much of the same ground to be covered.

One of the things, of course, that caught everybody's imagination over the weekend was his speculation, and Specter has a habit of looking at the law and looking for infinite possibilities, his speculation that you could in fact impeach an ex-president. That in fact, he would not be surprised, he said, if somebody in the House of Representatives did that.

Now, a lot of people quite frankly are rolling eyes, but Specter says that his view of the law is you could. And of course, the question would be, well, why would you do that? And the answer, according to other people, is that well you could possibly, if you wanted to punish Bill Clinton for unspecified reasons, by the way, right now, if you wanted to punish him, then you could take away his pension and other things. That would go if in fact he was actually convicted.

But most people consider this just part of the Arlen Specter whimsy. Of course, Specter would probably say that no, this is a serious possibility. That I will point out; however, that during the Senate trial of Bill Clinton he decided to vote according to Scottish law.

WATERS: And Bob, there has also been speculation about whether or not Bill Clinton might be called before a committee of the Congress to be questioned about what we don't know. But, the matter is not without precedent with President Ford having appeared over the pardon of Richard Nixon. Is this a possibility?

FRANKEN: Well, right now, we're told by the committees in question, in particular, the House committee, which has thus far been the most aggressive, that that should be put, quote, "into the fat chance category." But nobody is saying it couldn't possibly happen. But everybody is saying at the moment they can see no reason -- nobody can see any reason whatsoever to do that just to create a spectacle. So, don't hold your breath on that one.

WATERS: All right. Bob Franken.

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