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Hillary Clinton Comments On Pardons ControversyAired February 22, 2001 - 1:29 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: All right, we are watching the Rotunda in Washington, where Hillary Rodham Clinton is expected any moment now to make some statement regarding the latest revelations concerning the pardons in the last days of the Clinton administration.
Some of which she said she had no knowledge of, took no part in. But her brother, Hugh Rodham, apparently is involved in the latest revelations of two men pardoned by the president. Hugh Rodham getting almost $400,000 for his services, his legal fees. Hugh Rodham is an attorney. Bruce Lindsey was the liaison between the pardon and Hugh Rodham at the White House.
And who knew what, about what, is the subject of many inquiries going on today. Not only from reporters, but from members of the House Government Reform Committee, Senator Burton's committee, and also the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is looking into matters of money and Had there any been any quid pro quo regarding any of these pardons that we are hearing more and more about.
Here's Hillary Rodham Clinton.
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: I understand you have a few questions for me that you might want to ask. Who wants to start?
QUESTION: ... your brother and the pardon and clemency petition, first? And secondly, do you think your husband handled these pardons appropriately?
CLINTON: Well, I was very disappointed and saddened by this whole matter. You know, it came as a surprise to me, and it was very disturbing. And I'm just very disappointed about it.
With respect to any questions about the pardons or the president's handling of the pardons, you'll have to ask him or his staff about that.
QUESTION: Did you speak in favor of any pardon request, clemency request, with your husband? And if so, which ones?
CLINTON: You know, I did not have any involvement in the pardons that were granted or not granted, you know, and I'm just very disappointed about my brother's involvement.
QUESTION: Senator, did you speak to anyone at all about any of the pardons?
CLINTON: Oh, you know, as I have said in the past, when it became apparent around Christmas that people knew that the president was considering pardons, there were many, many people who spoke to me or, you know, asked me to pass on information to the White House Counsel's Office. I've already said that I did that, and I did. There were many, many people who had an interest, a friend, a relative, but it was all passed on to the White House Counsel's Office, and they, along with the president, made the decisions.
QUESTION: What about Roger Clinton in specific: Did he ask for a pardon?
CLINTON: I don't know the answer to that.
QUESTION: Did he ask the president for a pardon?
CLINTON: I don't know the answer to that.
QUESTION: Why would anyone, Mrs. Clinton, contact your brother if they were not trying to get access to you or the president?
CLINTON: Well, you'll have to ask him. If I had known about this, we wouldn't be standing here today. I didn't know about it, and I'm very regretful that it occurred, that I didn't know about it. I might have been able to prevent this from happening. And I'm just very disappointed about the whole matter.
QUESTION: Are you disappointed that Bruce Lindsey didn't tell your husband that he apparently had been contacted by your brother?
CLINTON: You'll have to ask the people involved. I don't know anything other than what has now come out, and I did not learn about that until very recently.
QUESTION: What exactly did you not about? Did you not know that he was representing them? Did you not know about the money? And finally, what about your campaign treasurer, William Cunningham?
QUESTION: Should he also return the fee that he got regarding the two other pardons?
CLINTON: Well, let's separate these out. I did not know my brother was involved in any way in any of this. I learned that there were some press inquiries, of a vague nature, last week sometime. I did not know any specific information until late Monday night. I was actually in a movie theater, and I was called and told that my brother had been involved and had taken money for his involvement.
And as soon as I found out, I was very upset about it and very disappointed about it. My husband found out early the next morning, because he was traveling and not available until then to be told. And we immediately said that this money had to be returned, and it has been.
Now, with respect to Mr. Cunningham, I knew nothing about that. But I know that he is, you know, a fine lawyer and a fine man. And I had no knowledge that he was involved. But, you know, lawyers from all over the country were involved in these matters. That has happened in the past; that shouldn't be a surprise to anyone.
CLINTON: But you'll have to ask Mr. Cunningham about the details, but I didn't know anything about his involvement at all.
QUESTION: Do you think it's appropriate for...
QUESTION: What about Mr. Ickes?
QUESTION: It sounded like...
CLINTON: I did not know anything about that either.
QUESTION: Senator, do you think it will be appropriate and necessary for your husband to come before Congress and answer these questions, much like you're doing today?
CLINTON: Well, you'll have to ask him and his staff about that.
QUESTION: Senator, was your brother a guest at the White House for the final two weeks of your husband's administration?
CLINTON: He was a frequent guest at the White House. You know, he's my brother. I love my brother. I'm just extremely disappointed in this terrible misjudgment that he made.
QUESTION: But during the course of...
QUESTION: But are you upset that he took money or that he represented these people at all?
QUESTION: Have you spoken to him since?
CLINTON: No, I have not.
QUESTION: Senator, when you first heard the rumors, why didn't you just pick up the phone and ask him about it and express your opinion? And, secondly, what does it say about the moral climate fostered among the people closest to you that this kind of thing could happen and all the other controversies regarding the pardon?
CLINTON: Well, you know, I hear so many rumors all the time that, you know, I really -- you know, vague rumors don't mean anything to me anymore, after all of the years that I've been here. And as soon as I had anyone with solid information, I immediately acted. But at that point, I did not think it appropriate to call my brother, because I didn't want anyone asking what we talked about or putting either him or me in a very difficult position. So I have not talked with him.
CLINTON: As soon as we found out Monday night, I was heartbroken and shocked by it, and, you know, immediately said this was a terrible misjudgment and the money had to be returned. And that's what we worked on.
You know, this is a very sad matter to me, personally, and it was a surprise. But more than being surprising, it was extremely disappointing.
QUESTION: What did he say when you asked him to give the money back?
CLINTON: I did not ask him. I did not ask him directly. I have not talked...
CLINTON: No, I'm sorry you didn't hear me. My head was turned the other way. No, I did not talk to him. I have not spoken with him. I did not want to speak with him because, frankly, I didn't want anybody to draw any wrong conclusions about what I might or might not have said to him. So I have not spoken with him.
QUESTION: Well, the fact that you're so close, it seems sort of odd that you wouldn't...
CLINTON: Well, but I understand how these things are. And once I had solid information late Monday night, I did not think it was in his interest and certainly did not believe it was appropriate for me to speak with him. So I have not.
QUESTION: You reacted as a lawyer would react.
CLINTON: Well, I was reacting as someone who was extremely disappointed in this whole matter. This was a very sad occurrence to have happen. And I wanted to be sure that the money was returned, and it has been.
QUESTION: Do you feel he betrayed a trust? You said you were heartbroken. Were you disappointed with him personally, feeling he betrayed a trust?
CLINTON: Well, let me use my own words, and my own words are that I'm very disappointed, I'm very saddened, and I was very disturbed when I heard about it.
QUESTION: ... using their connections to you to have the president grant clemencies, commutations...
CLINTON: Well, it's very regrettable, and it shouldn't have happened. And if I'd had any knowledge or notice of it, I believe I might have been able to prevent it. I don't think we'd be standing here talking about it. But I did not.
QUESTION: But on the whole broad scheme of things...
QUESTION: ... the number of people...
CLINTON: Well, you know, this will have to be put into a broader context. It's not for me to do that. You'll have to look at the broad context, compare it with, you know, past actions that have occurred around this constitutional power, and I'm just not going to comment on that.
QUESTION: Senator, you've had a kind of a rocky start as a senator. How do you put all this scandal behind you and move on as a senator in this light?
CLINTON: Well, you know, I'm very disappointed about what's gone on for the last weeks. It is certainly not how I would have preferred or planned to start my Senate career, and I regret deeply that there has been these kinds of matters occurring.
And all I can tell you is that I have gotten up every day and worked as hard as I can to be the best senator I can be, and that's what I intend to do. You know, I'm here today to meet with my staffs, both from New York and from Washington, about our legislative agenda.
CLINTON: We'll be rolling out our upstate economic plans next week. I've spent a lot of time in the last two weeks traveling around the state talking with people about what we intend to do.
I'm very much looking forward to President Bush's address to the Congress and his presentation of a budget and trying to figure out what the impact of that will be on New Yorkers.
So I have my hands full being a senator, learning the ropes, you know, working with my colleagues, dealing with my constituents, and I love doing it. I'm having a really good time doing it, but, of course, I'm disappointed and saddened that, you know, these matters are up.
QUESTION: What have you found out about your brother's involvement in these cases? How he became involved and what he did?
CLINTON: I have nothing to add to -- other than his public statement, which was made yesterday.
QUESTION: If the committees investigating the pardons on the House and Senate side wanted to talk to your brother, wanted him to become the committee, would you encourage him to do so?
CLINTON: He should fully cooperate with any and all inquiries by anyone about this matter.
QUESTION: Let me ask you, just in a broader context, people say, "With the Clintons, it's always something."
CLINTON: Have you noticed that?
QUESTION: Why is that?
CLINTON: I don't know. I wish I knew. Look, I think that we are apparently, you know, people who attract a lot of attention, and that's both good and bad. There's no doubt about that.
I think that, you know, the two terms that my husband had as president were good for this country. I think, even standing here today, he did a good job for America. And we had a lot of good, positive things happening.
CLINTON: Obviously, I wish that the last weeks had unfolded differently, and I'm very sorry that they have not.
But all I can say is now I've got a position and a responsibility that I'm going to do my very best to fulfill to the very best of my ability. And people will have to judge me at the end of my term based on what I do, and that's what I'm going to ask people to do.
QUESTION: The Democrats are all trying to put distance between themselves and both of you, really, and certainly, "the Clintons." Doesn't that make it difficult to defend anything he did over the last eight years?
QUESTION: And hasn't it been difficult for the Democrats to rely on his accomplishments because of...
CLINTON: I don't think so. I mean, I really think that everything has to be put in context. And I know that that's often difficult to do, but I feel that our country is stronger and better because of the Clinton administration.
And yes, there have been difficulties, and there have been problems. And those have to be viewed, and people have to take responsibility for them and have to answer for them, which I certainly think we have done over the last eight years.
But I don't believe that, in the view of history, this administration will be judged lacking. I think, instead, there will be very many positive attributes and accomplishments that people will look to.
And I, for one, believe that much of the work that is still to be done in our country has to build on the progress and prosperity of the last eight years. I don't want to change direction. That's one reason why I'm, as the senator from New York, very anxious to see what the administration is going to be proposing on the budget. CLINTON: These are very big issues that will affect the quality of the lives of the people I represent. And, you know, I think we have a good framework for knowing how to keep the economy going and dealing with people's needs, and doing a lot of the other important work of keeping the crime rate down and improving education and health care. And I believe that this administration has shown us how to do that effectively. So I think, historically, you have to put everything in context, and I'm someone who believes that, overall, the accomplishments are ones that will stand the test of time and history.
QUESTION: Senator, did you have conversations with either Mr. Lindsey and/or...
QUESTION: Senator, what made you finally speak out today?
CLINTON: I'm sorry?
QUESTION: What made you finally speak out today? And what do you hope to accomplish by speaking out?
CLINTON: Well, you know, I found out about this, as I said, late Monday night, and, you know, it's 48 hours later, I guess. And I know that people have questions. I believe I have an obligation, as a public official, to answer those questions, and so this was my earliest opportunity to do that.
QUESTION: Senator, an interior decorating question for you? Today some tables, some furniture, was delivered to your house.
CLINTON: Right. Right.
QUESTION: Anything to do with Denise Rich?
CLINTON: No, my dear, nothing to do -- not at all.
QUESTION: Senator, did you ever have a discussion with your brother, notwithstanding his professional involvement, about pardons or commutations? And the same question as regarding Bruce Lindsey?
CLINTON: No, I did not. You know, I don't have any memory at all of ever talking to my brother about this. You know, that's my best memory.
But I have to say, and I will repeat once again, information was coming to me, information was passed on. So, you know, if I said information came, people wanted to look at, I might have said that. I just don't remember anything further than that.
QUESTION: That's not in conceivable your brother...
CLINTON: To the counsel's office.
QUESTION: So your brother may have spoken to someone who had spoken to you? CLINTON No, I mean, it was just passed on.
QUESTION: So your brother may have spoken to someone who then spoke to you.
CLINTON: No, not about any involvement of my brother. No, I want to make that 100 percent clear. I don't want you to try to put words in my mouth. I knew nothing about my brother's involvement in these pardons.
CLINTON: I knew nothing about his taking money for his involvement. I had no knowledge of that whatsoever.
QUESTION: Why specifically are you disappointed in your brother? What is wrong with him taking this role? And secondly, why are you not disappointed, or are you, in the treasurer of your campaign also representing...
CLINTON: Well, I think that, you know, you really have to draw a distinction, which I hope the press can do, between lawyers who are doing their job and going through, as I understand it, the ordinary course of business on these matters, and a family member. I think it's a very big difference.
And, you know, if he were, you know, Joe Smith from somewhere who had no connection with me, we wouldn't be standing here, would we? So I just think you have to see it in context. That's what I keep asking people to do, is put these things in context. And there's a very big, very big difference.
QUESTION: ... sometimes blame your political enemies for your troubles. Do you in any way blame them for this?
CLINTON: Not at all. Not at all.
QUESTION: Who do you blame?
CLINTON: You know, I mean, I've said that I think my brother made a terrible misjudgment.
QUESTION: Senator, the past few years, the Democrats, by and large, have really stood by you and your husband over everything that's happened. And for the first time we kind of see Democrats not standing by you and really coming out against the actions, both on the pardons and the gifts that you all received. Why do you think that is, and what do you think about that?
CLINTON: Well, you know, I can't speak for anybody else, and I'm not going to speculate on anybody's, you know, feelings or motivations. But, you know, I think it's understandable. And, you know, what I want to try to do is, you know, answer any questions anybody has for me and give you my, you know, best information and then let people make their own judgments.
QUESTION: Since Bruce Lindsey was key in negotiating all of these, many of the pardons, why don't you blame him for some of the fallout...
CLINTON: I don't blame anyone for this right now. You know, we don't need to be making judgments about this. I don't personally have any information. I think that it's regrettable that my brother was involved at all, and I'm very sorry that he was.
QUESTION: Did he ever speak to you about the pardons?
CLINTON: No, he did not.
QUESTION: Have you asked your husband what kind of contact they had?
CLINTON: You know, I never talk about conversations with my husband.
QUESTION: But this is a question that is being investigated. Have you sat down, at least -- even if you don't want to say what you talked about -- have you sat down with your husband and said, "What went on?"
CLINTON: You will have to ask the president and his staff any specific questions about any pardons that were or were not granted.
QUESTION: Senator, is Marc Rich among the people that he passed information on?
CLINTON: No. You know, I never knew about Marc Rich at all. You know, people would hand me envelopes, I would just pass them. You know, I would not have any reason to look into them. I knew nothing about the Marc Rich pardon until after it happened.
QUESTION: Had your brother warned at all to avoid this kind of thing after the episode with the hazelnuts?
CLINTON: I don't know the answer to that. I believe so, but I don't know the answer to that.
QUESTION: Senator, do you think your husband made a mistake in pardoning Marc Rich?
CLINTON: I know that other senators have commented on this, and I think you might understand why I'm not going to have any comment on any of the pardons, on the merits or demerits that might surround any of these pardons.
QUESTION: Some of your Democratic colleagues, Senator, suggested that your husband has become a distraction to the agenda for the Democrats. Do you think that your husband has begun to take a spotlight away from the Democratic agenda here on the Hill?
CLINTON: Well, I think that the Democratic agenda is the agenda that Democrats on the Hill set. It's clear to me that both the House Democrats and particularly the Senate Democrats, because of the 50-50 split, are the leaders of the Democratic agenda. And I think that's what people expect, and that's what we're going to try to deliver.
QUESTION: Just to clarify something: You don't think that there's anything inappropriate about what Mr. Cunningham did?
CLINTON: I don't know any facts. But I just must say that there's a very big difference between whatever he did and my brother being involved. And I know Mr. Cunningham is, you know, a fine person and a good lawyer. And I know lawyers prepare and process pardon applications.
CLINTON: So I'm not going to make any statement of any kind about something I know nothing about, other than to please ask you to make a distinction between a gentleman with, you know, Mr. Cunningham's background and experience and my brother who, you know, as a family member, should not have been involved in this situation.
QUESTION: The person who is handling your campaign finances is also pushing pardon matters before the president you're married to. Doesn't that send a signal?
CLINTON: Well, you know, I don't know anything more about this than what has been reported. And what has been reported is that he filled out an application and sent it to the Justice Department and did not talk to anybody about it. That's all I know about it.
And he certainly did not talk to me about it. I did not know about it until it was, I guess, written about today.
QUESTION: Are you going over any of these pardons now, yourself, to see which one next could possibly create another political problem for you and/or your husband?
CLINTON: You know, I have no idea what is coming next. You know, I was talking to a friend of mine today, and you know, we were just amazed by what has unfolded over the past weeks. I don't have nay information. I don't know anything about these.
And if issues are raised, I'm going to be in the same position as I've been in, which is to say that, you know, I was not involved in the decisions. I didn't even know about the vast majority of these things ever being considered. And you'll have to, really, ask the president and his staff who handled all of this.
QUESTION: ... the $400,000 your brother received had absolutely nothing to do with the president's decision to pardon these two men?
CLINTON: I believe that's the case. I absolutely believe that's the case. As far as I know, there was no connection whatsoever, and, you know, there was certainly no basis on which I even thought it was going on. And my husband has said that he didn't know that was going on. So as far as I know, there was no connection.
But again, with respect to any of these decisions. You'll have to talk with people who were involved in making them, and that leaves me out. I don't know enough to answer your questions. And I don't want to say anything that leads you to believe that I either know something or don't know something, because I don't. And so you'll have to ask people who were involved in them.
QUESTION: And again, the president's brother, Roger Clinton, did you talk to him?
CLINTON: Did I talk to Roger Clinton?
QUESTION: Was there any discussion of a pardon?
CLINTON: No, but I think that that's one that, you know, was, obviously, particularly personal to my husband. And you'll have to ask him what went into his making that decision.
You know, the pardon power, under the Constitution, is an absolute power vested in the president.
CLINTON: I've learned more about it in the last few weeks than I ever knew about it before. And if you compare my husband's use of it with his predecessors, it's about the same, on the par of the numbers, and in fact less than some. And you could go back, I'm sure, and pick apart any one of these, going back decades. That doesn't in any way excuse the involvement of some people who I think acted inappropriately, and that, you know, is my brother, in this particular case.
But I believe that, again, there is a context for all of this, and it's important to put these things into context. And there have been controversial pardons in our country's past going back, you know, hundreds of years, 100 years. And what goes into the mind of the person who makes the decision is something that is very hard to determine.
But I only can tell you that, based on what I know and what my husband has said, he believed in every one of these instances that it was appropriate to do. You may disagree with that judgment, but that is, you know, that is what he believes. And he's the person who, as he did in his op-ed column last week, will have to tell you what he took into account in making any of these. And really, I can't, you know...
QUESTION: Former President Carter has said that these pardons and commutations were disgraceful and brought discredit on the process and one of the biggest mistakes that your husband has ever made. So is Mr. Carter wrong?
CLINTON: No. Mr. Carter is someone whom I admire and respect deeply, and he has every right to express his opinion. And I believe that, you know, people will have to make their judgments based on the facts as they are available, and the vast majority of these pardons, so far as I'm aware, have not been subject to controversy, and the ones that are, people will have to make their own decisions.
But there is a very big difference between saying what someone did and why they did it and what their motivation for doing it was and whether you agree with it or not. And, you know, we all I'm sure make decisions in our life that we believe we make for the absolutely, you know, right reasons and right motivations which someone can disagree with. You know, that is, you know, part of life, I think.
So I would just say that anyone can draw whatever conclusions they choose, but ultimately the reasons rest with the president and his staff. And he can put those reasons out and people can say, "Well, I agree or disagree," and that's the way it has to be. And I believe that's, you know, the appropriate context for all of this to be discussed and judged.
CLINTON: Thank you all very much.
WATERS: Hillary Rodham Clinton appearing very at ease answering an enormous number of questions centering around the pardons in the last days of her husband's presidency.
She drew a clear distinction between the involvement of her Senate campaign treasurer in helping obtain last-minute pardons for two convicted felons and the involvement of her brother, who collected nearly $400,000 for helping secure a pardon and prison commutation for two clients, from President Clinton.
Of her brother, she said she was disappointed, saddened and disturbed by Hugh Rodham's involvement. Hugh Rodham is an attorney. He was involved with the two clients and Bruce Lindsey, a Clinton aide at the White House in securing those pardons. She said, if I'd known, I would have been able to prevent it. She said she did not know until late Monday night about her brother's involvement and had not spoken to him since, or before.
In their statement yesterday, the Clintons said: "Neither Hillary nor I had any knowledge of these payments to Hugh Rodham. We are deeply disturbed by these reports and insisted that Hugh return any moneys received."
Hillary Rodham Clinton says she has not spoken with her brother. We still don't know who insisted that Hugh Rodham return the moneys, which he has done, and there's still much more about the pardon story we don't know: The beat goes on, and we'll continue to tap our foot.
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