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CNN Today

Criminal Investigation Into Rich Pardon Will Proceed

Aired February 15, 2001 - 2:34 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: The probe is widening into former President Bill Clinton's pardon of Marc Rich. In New York, federal prosecutor Mary Jo White has launched a criminal investigation to see if there is any link between Mr. Clinton's last-minute decision to grant clemency to the international financier and political contributions made by Rich's ex-wife Denise Rich.

All the while, Congress continues to pursue the Rich pardon, as well, and CNN's Bob Franken is on Capitol Hill with the latest about that -- Bob.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Natalie, what's interesting is, is the fact that this is ratcheted up; that it is now a higher-stakes investigation -- that is to say, a criminal investigation -- could mean that the volume of the congressional investigations ratchet down a little bit. The congressional committees normally defer to criminal investigations and, as a matter of fact, there's already some evidence of that. The House reform -- Government Reform Committee has decided it's going to, for the moment, abandon its request for immunity for Denise Rich so she can testify. She, of course, is the ex-wife of Marc Rich, and very much a principal in this investigation.

All of this because the U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York, Mary Jo White, who's going to be conducting the investigation is going to look into the possibility that there was a connection between some sort of transfer of money and the decision to have the pardon.

Here is what she said -- a statement that she put out which, in itself, is unusual. She says: "Various questions have been raised concerning the activities and pardons of Marc Rich, Rich's business partner and Pincus Green. The United States Attorney's office and the FBI New York office have opened an investigation to determine whether there have been any violations of federal law. There will be no further comment."

Of course, those violations of federal law could involve some sort of charges of bribery -- something like that.

Now, President Clinton -- ex-President Clinton has also been moved to put out a statement, in which he said: "As I have said repeatedly, I made the decision to pardon Marc Rich based on what I thought was the right thing to do. Any suggestion that improper factors, including fund-raising for the DNC or my library had anything to do with the decision are absolutely false. I look forward to cooperating with any appropriate inquiry."

Now he, of course, is a private citizen. He would, in fact, have to cooperate with a criminal investigation. There have also been some suggestions that maybe one of the ways that he could put this to rest would be to testify before a congressional committee. That becomes a little more problematic now because who do -- are possibly exposed to legal action are less likely to make public comments about the subject of that action -- Natalie.

ALLEN: All right; as you said, the heat has been turned up on this issue. Thanks, Bob Franken.

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