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Clinton Pardon Controversy Deepens

Aired February 22, 2001 - 12:31 p.m. ET


DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: The story of the Clinton pardons -- of those last-minute pardons -- new news coming out, apparently becoming a little bit more complicated.

With more on that, let's go up to Washington and Jeanne Meserve -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Daryn, just a half hour ago a deadline passed -- a congressional committee -- the House Government Affairs Committee had subpoenaed records from the Clinton library. They wanted to know who donated money to that library.

Eileen O'Connor has been following this story for us.

Eileen, what did the committee get?

EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're still waiting to see the official response, Jeanne, but one of the things we're being told by sources -- legal sources close to the Clintons, is that what they are going to get is a response to part of that subpoena -- basically the part that asked for specific records relating to Marc Rich, Denise Rich -- his ex-wife -- and Beth Dezoretz, the former finance chair of the Democratic National Committee.

The Burton committee -- he is a Republican congressman -- the House Governmental Reform Committee is the one he chairs. They are looking into whether or not there was a quid pro quo for a pardon. For instance, that -- whether or not $450,000 that was donated to the Clinton library from Denise Rich was -- that that donation was made with the expectation that she was going to get a pardon for her ex- husband, the fugitive financier Marc Rich.

Now, that's what they are investigating, and that's why the Clinton lawyers -- legal sources are indicating are going to respond to give them those documents. But, they say, the other part of the subpoena, which was for all documents relating to any donors or pledges over $5,000 they are not going to comply with that part of the subpoena because, they say, that would be a fishing expedition and very intrusive. And they also say this is a not-for-profit organization, and they do have case law on this; and they say that those documents are privileged.

MESERVE: Now, is that is going to satisfy Dan Burton and the rest of House Governmental Affairs Committee? O'CONNOR: Well, we're not sure. I spoke to a spokesman for Dan Burton and he says that, basically, they want to see the response in full; they want to see the legal reasoning behind this partial response to the subpoena, and then they will decide from there. It could be, though, that they might come back with some more specific names that they want the pertaining documents to.

MESERVE: And now we found out that somebody else wants to see some of these same documents.

O'CONNOR: Exactly; now we're finding out -- sources are telling CNN -- legal sources -- that the U.S. Attorney's Office in New York -- Mary Jo White who, as you know, is conducting a criminal investigation into whether or not the pardon of Marc Rich was, in fact, from a quid pro quo -- basically a direct link to the donations given by his ex- wife.

She, too, has, again, sent a grand jury subpoena for all of the government documents, the library records on those -- on this pardon.

MESERVE: Now, the library became a focus of interest because of the Marc Rich pardon. There is another pardon and another commutation which are hitting the headlines today; those, the ones that Hugh Rodham was involved in. Tell us more about that and where that stands at this hour.

O'CONNOR: Well, basically, there's a lot of controversy swirling around Mrs. Clinton. At this point, Senator Clinton's about to come out at about 1:30 Eastern time with a photo-op, and she will be taking questions.

There's -- her -- the treasurer of her campaign was a lawyer who sent in applications for two other pardons. But, I'm being told by a spokesman for Mrs. Clinton, that this was in no way connected to her campaign -- that she knew nothing about those applications -- that they went through the normal Justice Department procedures, although we see from a document from the committee that one of them may not have gone through the normal Justice Department approval.

Now, on the other ones, pertaining to Hugh Rodham Clinton, we know that two -- a commutation of sentence was granted for Carlos Vignali. He was convicted for transporting 800 pounds of cocaine; and that was granted, actually, against the wishes of the Justice Department. Sources tell us that the Justice Department actually sent a letter under the name of Roger Adams, as you know, who's the pardon attorney at Justice, against that commutation of sentence for Carlos Vignali.

But Hugh Rodham apparently was representing him -- was paid to represent him -- spoke with Bruce Lindsey, the White House counsel. Bruce Lindsey, though, says that he knew nothing about any payment to Hugh Rodham, he just thought that he was inquiring about this.

The Clintons themselves say that they know -- knew nothing about Hugh Rodham's involvement with either the commutation of sentence for Vignali or a pardon for Almon Glenn Braswell, who is a Florida businessman.

Now, with the Braswell pardon -- that, too, is controversial because, in fact, the Justice Department had -- did not know about the application, and he was still under investigation for further charges.

MESERVE: For different charges than those he'd already served time for?

O'CONNOR: Yes; and as you know, Jeanne, these -- now the Burton committee, again, this Governmental Reform Committee has now sent letters to Hugh Rodham and to the Vignalis and has sent a letter to a representative -- a lawyer for Glenn Braswell. And they, too, are asking for any information; and they've asked some questions of Hugh Rodham -- specific questions they want answered about those pardon applications and what his involvement was. They say they want to get to the bottom of this, and they say that if he doesn't answer the questions, they may well call him to testify. They want to investigate this further.


EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The former president and first lady say they learned through press inquiries that her brother, Hugh Rodham, was paid nearly $400,000, according to sources, to lobby for two clemency applications.

The former president said in a statement: "Neither Hillary nor I has any knowledge of such payments. We are deeply disturbed by these reports and have insisted that Hugh return any monies received."

Senator Clinton was very upset, her spokesman said, and issued her own statement saying: "Hugh did not speak with me about these applications." Rodham, a lawyer, visited the White House numerous times during the last month of the administration, but says he never told the president or then-first lady of involvement.

His attorney issued a statement saying: "Hugh Rodham has done absolutely nothing wrong. He has returned these fees solely because his family asked him to do so. Their request, presumably made because of the appearance of impropriety, is one he cannot ignore. There was, however, no impropriety in these matters."

Yet both these cases were controversial, bypassing normal Justice Department clearances. Florida multimillionaire Almon Glenn Braswell was convicted on perjury and tax evasion charges for selling dubious health care products. His pardon angered prosecutors who were still considering further charges on tax evasion and money laundering.

Carlos Vignali Jr. is the son of a prominent California businessman and political donor, convicted in Minneapolis for moving 800 pounds of cocaine. Even Democrats on Capitol Hill questioned the merits of granting his petition for a pardon.

SEN. DIANNE FEINSTEIN (D), CALIFORNIA: The relevant United States attorney in Minnesota strongly opposed the petition and Vignali's trial judge, who the Department of Justice did not consult, says that if asked he would have opposed the petition.

O'CONNOR: Republican Dan Burton, who is chairing one set of investigations into the pardons, has sent a letter to Hugh Rodham, the Vignalis and one of Braswell's lawyers asking for details.

Congressman Burton said in a statement: "Yet again, this makes it look like there is one system of justice for those with money and influence and one system of justice for everyone else."


O'CONNNOR: Now, sources close to president say some of his aides may well go down to the archives and look at -- these are now located in Little Rock -- and look at the cases, the files pertaining to these cases because the former president says he has no recollection of ever having had any conversations with Hugh Rodham about these pardons, but they want to make sure that, perhaps, he's just not recalling -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: Eileen O'Connor, thanks; I know you'll be looking into this further -- all of us will be watching, too.



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