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Former President Carter Blasts Bill Clinton Over Last-minute Pardons

Aired February 21, 2001 - 1:13 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: A month after leaving the presidency, Bill Clinton continues to cause controversy. Now he's the target of harsh criticism from the only other living Democratic ex-president. Making a speech in Americus, Georgia, former President Jimmy Carter blasted Clinton's last-minute pardons.

Carter declared that many of them were questionable and the pardon of financier Marc Rich was "disgraceful" -- his word. The former president said there's no doubt the Rich pardon was at least partially linked to large political contributions. Mr. Clinton, of course, as you know, has denied any wrongdoing.

And joining us now to discuss this controversy and other matters of national politics: National Public Radio political editor Ken Rudin.

Is there a political subtext here, Ken. Is it about the pardons, the Marc Rich pardon, in particular? Or is there something else going on that has been going on between Clinton and Carter in the past?

KEN RUDIN, NPR POLITICAL EDITOR: Well, I think you're right, Lou. I think it's the latter.

There's a history of bad blood between these two men. Remember, in 1980, when the Mariel boat import of Cuban refugees, President Carter sent them to Fort Chaffee, Arkansas in 1980. And there were riots there. And Bill Clinton has always blamed that decision by President Carter for causing Clinton's defeat for reelection for governor in 1980.

But throughout the whole Clinton presidency, we have seen a lot of carping from Carter basically on everything between Monica Lewinsky, which he called an embarrassment to foreign policy in North Korea and Haiti. And the Balkans: He said the Balkans policy was atrocious. So this has been going on at least since 1980. You know, there is a tradition that former presidents don't criticize their successors. But, obviously, Carter is not held back by that.

WATERS: Well, it certainly can't help any as the Democrats decide to get organized up on Capitol Hill with all of this going on as background noise, for one, Democratic -- the only other Democratic ex-presidents to criticize the other one. RUDIN: Right, you would think these two gentleman have a lot in common. They both come from small states. They both were governors of states that later ran for president, both Southern Baptists.

Of course, one obvious difference is that Carter only lusted in his heart. But for the most part, the two of them, you would think they would have the kind of sameness and the kind of quality that they would be allies. But we've seen that both are very headstrong men. Carter has always been very loath to admit that he's wrong on things.

And there's always been a feeling inside the White House that Carter had been a freelance secretary of state, almost, in the fact that he would condemn foreign policy, he would coddle up to dictators. So there was always a bad blood between the two of them.

WATERS: How do you read the effect of this, if at all, on the new president, the new Congress? Some are saying it's bad for the Democrats, good for the Republicans, that George Bush is sailing along now because of the Clinton controversy. How do you read it all?

RUDIN: Well, there are a lot of Republicans who are privately saying that this is great news, that there's no controversy about George Bush anymore. All the criticism and all the controversy is on Bill Clinton and his days since leaving the White House. George Bush -- for his part, the president says that he wishes this would go away, that it's time to move on.

That may be true. But polls do show that Bush is showing some good numbers. But we've seen -- you know, the history of Bill Clinton in trouble has always been that Republicans will overreact. There will be congressional investigations, further investigations. And then Clinton's numbers invariably goes up -- they go up. So maybe perhaps the best thing that could happen to Bill Clinton is the Republicans to get involved.

WATERS: And I guess we will talk again about all of this. Always good to talk with you, Ken Rudin, National Public Radio political editor.

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