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Congressional Committee Hearings to Resume March 1

Aired February 19, 2001 - 2:20 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: Sometimes an explanation can create as many questions as it seeks to answer. Case in point: Bill Clinton's op-ed piece in Sunday's "New York Times." In it, Clinton states his case for the pardon of financier Marc Rich. But critics say they're far from satisfied by the explanation, and they aren't letting this fuss go away. CNN national correspondent Bob Franken is working the pardons story, and he joins us from Washington.

What's new, Bob?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: First of all, what's new is New Orleans; that is where Bill Clinton will be speaking this evening in about 3 1/2 hours; speaking to pick up about $100,000 from the Oracle Corporation and the good news for him, is that after it became known he would be speaking, a number of people who wanted to see this speech -- which, by the way, will be behind closed doors, no cameras. The number who wanted to see the speech jumped. So, it's going to be a chance for Bill Clinton to speak. We don't know if he will say anything about this pardon.

The bad news is that, when he said something in the "New York Times" yesterday when he gave his explanation for why he in fact pardoned Marc Rich, it seemed to cause more problems than it settled anything. The explanation was the one that we already heard, time and again from Jack Quinn, Rich's lawyer, former White House counsel, who directly appealed to President Clinton for the pardon.

The main thrust of the explanation was that Clinton -- ex- president Clinton believed that there was merit to the request that he believed, as did the lawyers for Marc Rich, that this has been an improper prosecution 17 years ago, when Marc Rich fled the country. And, in fact, that some Republican lawyers had advocated the pardon, he got in a bit of trouble for that one, because the three Republican lawyers said they had represented Marc Rich at one time or another, but had nothing to do with the pardon.

So, if all of this seems to take us back down memory lane to when Bill Clinton was president just a few years ago, and constantly surrounded by controversy. We're also seeing that the debate features the same people who debated when Clinton was president.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DICK THORNBURGH, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL: It's clear that an increasing number of Americans suspect that there was a straight-line connection between the extraordinary contributions made by Mr. Rich's ex-wife to a number of interests that the Clintons had and the grant of the pardon. If the pardon was bought and paid for, that's a very serious matter. That will be the subject matter of the Justice Department's investigation in New York.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

LANNY DAVIS, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNSEL: I don't think there's any evidence at all the president has denied that there's a connection. And remember, he got a lot of money from David Geffen of Dreamworks -- Steven Speilberg's partner -- substantial amounts contributed to the Democratic Party by Mr. Geffen. Mr. Geffen was urging the pardon of a Native American, and President Clinton looked at that one and turned it down. A lot of people disagree with his decision on the merits -- I certainly do. But I don't doubt that he had a sincere conviction that this pardon was justified.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FRANKEN: Well, the accusation is that ex-president Clinton gave the pardon because of extensive political contributions particularly by Denise Rich, the ex-wife of Marc Rich, who had advocated a pardon. The president in his op-ed piece, absolutely denied that. Now, Congressional committees will continue pursuing this. The next hearing is on March 1st after Congress returns, a week from Thursday. The witnesses are going to be people who were in the White House at the end: John Podesta, the ex-White House chief of staff; they include also Beth Nolan, the White House counsel at the time; and also Bruce Lindsey, who has been a confidante of Bill Clinton almost since the beginning of his political career in Arkansas.

Bob Franken, CNN, live in Washington.

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