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Special Event

Senate Judiciary Committee Hearing Case of Clinton Pardon of Marc Rich

Aired February 14, 2001 - 10:07 a.m. ET

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

DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We want to go ahead and join the Senate Judiciary Committee, Senator Orrin Hatch speaking, looking at the Rich pardon. Let's listen in.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

SEN. ORRIN HATCH (R), CHAIRMAN, SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Moreover, I think virtually everyone agrees that the pardons given to Marc Rich and Pincus Green were particularly outrageous because they were fugitives who had never taken responsibility for their actions or even appeared in court to challenge them. In fact, the Justice Department had Mr. Rich listed as an international fugitive wanted by the FBI. Moreover, these pardons allegedly were preceded by lavish gifts, political contributions and pledged donations to the Clinton presidential library.

As we've come to find out over recent days, Marc Rich and Pincus Green were indicted in the largest tax evasion case in U.S. history. The record is replete with their stonewall tactics and refusals to produce documents responsive to numerous grand jury subpoenas.

Former prosecutors in the case have even described an effort by Mr. Rich and Mr. Green to ship subpoenaed documents out of the country in steamer trunks, a plan which was thwarted by law enforcement after a tip allowed them to stop the airplane with the documents on it before it took off.

We've also learned that Mr. Rich's ex-wife, Denise Rich, has donated large sums of money to the Democratic Party, reportedly pledged $450,000 to the Clinton presidential library and gave expensive furniture to the president at the end of his term. These gifts and donations raise obvious questions and they deserve an action.

Pardons to individuals such as these and under these circumstances raise serious questions in the public's mind about what does go on in the pardon process, how such decisions are made and who can be held accountable.

Similar questions arose in the summer of 1999 when numerous members of the FALN and Los Macheteros were also granted clemency by President Clinton. This committee examined the process that led to that decision and discovered that while proponents of the clemency were granted meetings with very high level governmental officials, victims were shut out of the process. The concerns of law enforcement were also apparently not heard or were disregarded.

For example, many violent acts for which the FALN had claimed credit were never solved. A codefendent in one case, a man named Victor Gerena, has never been brought to justice and remained on the FBI's 10 most wanted list.

Despite this, none of the individuals granted clemency was asked to provide information to law enforcement on the unresolved cases or the whereabouts of Gerena.

As pointed out by a Washington Post editorial on Monday, there are legitimate questions about some of the last-minute pardons, including the Rich and Green pardons that, quote, "weren't a full accounting," unquote. The Post suggests that President Clinton should volunteer a full explanation. I agree.

I am one of those who believe that the president's pardon power, under the Constitution, is absolute, and there's nothing we can do to change what has happened in these particular cases. That being said, I also believe that there is, in the public interest, a need to have a full explanation of what's gone on, so if there are any improprieties, they'll never happen again.

There are many appropriate ways President Clinton could do that in a variety of settings that would respect the office he used to hold as well as help the public understand what has happened.

The focus of today's hearing will be process. Today we will continue the earlier examination of the pardon process we began during the FALN controversy and examine the role, or lack of the role, played by the Justice Department.

It appears that as many as 47 of President Clinton's final grants of clemency did not go through the normal process.

Many were not investigated or vetted by the Justice Department to any significant degree, and I think we have seen some of the problems that can occur when that happens.

Today's hearings will identify for the American people what process is in place and what is the normal role of the Justice Department. We will then turn to a few examples of pardons that did not go through that process and try to understand how they came to be. Finally, we have some distinguished scholars to discuss constitutional and other legal issues that could arise from legislative efforts to revise the current system which members may suggest in the future.

I have asked Senator Specter -- I delegated authority to Senator Specter to conduct these hearings, and I'm very appreciated that he's willing to do so, and I can't imagine anybody better on our side to do so or anybody better on the Democrat side other than the ranking minority member, Senator Leahy, both of whom have been prosecutors in the past and both of whom are excellent lawyers and with both of whom I enjoy working. So that's what we're going to do, and I want to thank all of you again for your attendance today. I look forward to an interesting and informative hearing. I'm going to turn the hearings over to Senator Specter and Senator Leahy, and, of course, we'll now turn to Senator Leahy and then go from there.

Senator?

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY (D), VERMONT: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and like you, I will have to leave for another event.

But let me say this, I think today's hearing can perform a very useful and constructive service to the American people and to our institutions of government. Of course, it may not. It can illuminate valuable lessons for the future; it could turn into partisan recriminations about the past. I would hope and expect that it would do the former.

Now, from what I have read in the press about the pardon of Marc Rich, this appears to me to be another occasion on which I disagree with a president's use of his constitutional pardon power. I have read that this pardon was supported by a number of well-respected lawyers -- counsel to the staff of Democrats, counsel to the staff of Republicans. I understand that in addition to Mr. Quinn, who has counseled Democrats, that it also had the backing of Louis Libby, who's currently serving as the chief of staff to Vice President Cheney.

So we have former President Clinton's counsel in favor of it, Vice President Cheney's chief of staff has favored it, outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Barak favors it. But, frankly, I think they're all wrong. I don't happen to favor this pardon, but I understand the right of a president to pardon even though I disagree, as I said, with whether it's Mr. Barak or Mr. Cheney's chief of staff or Mr. Quinn. And I understand different people have different views on different pardons.

For example, on the Marc Rich pardon, someone said that the prosecution was too aggressive, but one of the prosecutors involved in that, now mayor of the city of New York, Mayor Giuliani, feels that he should not be pardoned. I happen to agree with Mayor Giuliani on this. On other things I disagree with him. Mayor Giuliani thinks, for example, that one of the great traitors of our lifetime, Jonathan Pollard, should be pardoned, and yet, of course, a very respected former prosecutor, Joe diGenova, feels he should not be pardoned. I know there's a lot of discussion about Michael Milken, pardoning him, but the president did not.

But you see the point I'm making, different people take different views. And concerns have been raised about the wisdom of President Clinton's judgment in granting some of these pardons, especially when they're done in the waning hours and days of his presidency. Last year, Mr. Chairman, we had a hearing on his clemency decisions regarding certain members of the FALN. I disagreed also with those pardons. So maybe this hearing will yield insights to help guide the current president and future presidents in the exercise of their constitutional power of clemency. I worked last year with my friend Senator Hatch in a bipartisan effort to improve the pardon process, to better ensure that crime victims and law enforcement views were taken into account. In advance of this hearing, I wrote the White House counsel, asking what the current White House view is with regard to the pardon process and about efforts to establish procedures to make sure that both crime victims and law enforcement are taken into consideration if we're going to have a pardon.

President Bush has indicated he has little enthusiasm for a congressional investigation of President Clinton's final action in office, including the pardons. He told reporters yesterday, "I think it's time to move on."

Well, I'm optimistic that we can make progress on a number of fronts. Senator Hatch and I...

KAGAN: And we will get back to the Senate Judiciary Committee in just a bit.

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