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CNN Today

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton Speaks Out on Clinton Pardons

Aired February 22, 2001 - 4:01 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: It's Thursday, February 22nd. Good afternoon, and welcome to CNN TODAY. I'm Joie Chen, thanks for being with us today.

Well, President Bush gave his first official news conference today, but it's the pardon controversy swirling around the Clintons seems to be never-ending and back in the news today.

In the latest chapter, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton today said she was very disappointed to learn that her brother had lobbied for two felons who were pardoned by the former president, Mr. Clinton. The two men in question: businessman Glenn Braswell and Carlos Vignali; he's a convicted cocaine trafficker. Senator Clinton also said today it was news to her that her campaign treasurer helped to prepare pardon papers for two Arkansas men.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: 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 everyday and worked as hard as I can to be the best senator I can be.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CHEN: Joining us in our Washington studio for more on all of this, and a developing story it is, national correspondent Eileen O'Connor -- Eileen.

EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there is a lot to sort out today, because there are an awful lot of developments, Joie. As you heard, Senator Clinton is saying that she knew nothing about Hugh Rodham's involvement or his $400,000 fee for working on two clemency applications, but she said that it was wrong that Hugh Rodham was, of course, involved, because he was a family member.

She drew the distinction between that and the involvement of her campaign treasurer, who was a lawyer who applied for pardons for two of his clients, but he went through the normal Justice Department channels.

Now why are the controversies that Hugh Rodham -- why are the pardons that Hugh Rodham was involved with so controversial? Well, one is that one was for Carlos Vignali, who was convicted on transporting 800 pounds of cocaine. That application was for a commutation of sentence, not a pardon. He was -- his sentence was commuted to time served, and Mr. Vignali, though, his application did go to the Justice Department. The Justice Department recommended against commuting his sentence.

They also said that they knew nothing about the other pardon application which Mr. Rodham was involved in, and that was for Almon Glenn Braswell, who is a multimillionaire Florida businessman. While the pardon was granted, he was still under investigation by the U.S. attorney. They were actually considering filing more charges, pertaining to his health care product business. Those charges would have been tax evasion and money laundering, and so they were very surprised by that pardon, and they too say that they would have -- the Justice Department -- argued against that pardon.

Now, Hillary Rodham Clinton, as you know, as you've said before, denied any involvement. She said she knew nothing, and she demanded that Hugh Rodham, her brother, give the money back.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON: I have not talked with him, and as soon as we found out Monday night, I was heartbroken and shocked by it, and, you know, immediately said this, you know, this is a terrible misjudgment and the money had to be returned, and that's what we worked on.

You know, these are -- these are very, 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'CONNOR: And her husband said, disappointing for him. He says he does not recollect having had any conversations with Hugh Rodham about these two clemency applications, but we do know, sources close to the situation say, that White House counsel Bruce Lindsey was contacted about the Vignali commutation of sentence application, but that he did not know that Hugh Rodham had been hired by Vignali, he thought it was just an inquiry by Hugh Rodham on behalf of Vignali's father, who was described to Lindsey by Hugh Rodham as a pillar in the community in Los Angeles.

Now, in another development today, Joie, we do have a response from the Clintons on a subpoena by the Burton committee, the House Government Reform committee, they say that they will comply in part. They are not going to give up all the donor lists, but they will give documents pertaining to the Marc Rich pardon, Denise Rich's contribution records -- and also, they do say -- the Burton committee says that this is unacceptable; they may subpoena the president of the foundation.

And another development, a grand jury subpoena has gone out from Mary Jo White, who's conducting a criminal investigation into the Marc Rich pardon. That, according to legal sources, could be a harder subpoena to fight -- Joie.

CHEN: CNN's Eileen O'Connor for us in our Washington bureau today.

As we've heard from Eileen, the controversy over the Clintons -- Clinton pardons involves a host of players. Joining us to help sort all of this out for us is Amy Walter, political analyst with "The Cook Political Report." She is in our Washington studio today.

Amy, thanks. We need to play a little bit of six degrees of separation today, as we put all of this together, Amy. Now, what we want to do is look at some of the figures and help -- you can help us understand who these players are.

In the first case that's gotten a lot of attention today -- it's Senator Clinton's brother, Hugh Rodham, who actually is the one who's accused and who has acknowledged taking money to assist in the clemency petition and the pardon petition for Glenn Braswell and Carlos Vignali. Put together where Hugh Rodham stands in the family -- he's not a figure that we've heard a lot about in Washington while the Clintons were in office.

AMY WALTER, "THE COOK POLITICAL REPORT": That's right. The last time we've really heard that much about him -- in 1994, he ran for the Senate in what was never termed to be a particularly good bid. And his name came up a couple more times. There was some controversy involving his involvement in a foreign country, but other than that, he's been sort of, you know, off on the sidelines.

So, this is a relatively new development for him. It's not like somebody who continues to pop up in the administration like some other famous siblings, namely Billy Carter would be one of them.

CHEN: And Roger Clinton, of course, too.

WALTER: You're right. Exactly. Exactly.

CHEN: Who was one of the figures, of course, who was given a pardon in Mr. Clinton's final hours there. Talk to us a little bit about the business of the Clintons having scandals sort of following them wherever they go. And the questions that still sort of arise here, and what it does for Democrats?

WALTER: Well, you know, it's really almost remarkable that we can't go a couple of days without this showing up in the papers. And certainly Democrats, you know, you don't have to look very far to find Democrats who are coming out all over the place to say, we absolutely condemn what's happening here.

At the same time, you know, the dirty little secret is, Democrats still need the Clintons, and they can't divorce themselves all that far from a man -- and Hillary Rodham Clinton's in the same place -- who still is such a central part of the party, both -- we talked about this before, Joie -- fund-raising, certainly they are the force behind that. Terry McAuliffe who now is the head of the DNC is a strong confidant of the Clintons -- raised money for the Clintons. Obviously, he still needs to be very much plugged in with the Clintons to raise money for the party.

CHEN: Amy, let's talk about one of the other cases -- the pardon cases that has come up and other people who are very close to both the Clintons and the situation with the pardons at large. In this case, if we can put this all together, Mr. Clinton has a very close confidant, that would be Harold Ickes, who's been adviser of his for a very long time. He has a law partner, James Cunningham, who assisted, apparently, in the pardon petitions of Bob Fain and James Manning, who are both from Arkansas -- both Republicans, interestingly enough.

So, the circle around the Clintons also seems to be included in all of this. And I guess in a certain sense, it's this circle of people that has led Mr. Clinton into more trouble even in his days after office.

WALTER: That's true. And I think it goes back to the central piece of this entire puzzle, which is the fact that the process of pardonings is a very political thing.

To think -- to try to take this outside of politics is really impossible to do. And, you know, certainly from the very first days that Bill Clinton was running for office, his friends and allies and those around him have either gotten him in trouble, or vice versa.

So, this is certainly not a new development. Obviously, it takes on a tremendous weight when you have Hillary Clinton trying to get her feet set in the United States Senate.

CHEN: Amy Walter of "The Cook Political Report".

Of course, the case we haven't mentioned, but was one that Eileen O'Connor was talking about earlier, does involve Marc Rich, which is still a question that is coming up on Capitol Hill today. But, Amy Walter, we appreciate your insight. Amy, of course, from "The Cook Political Report." We'll see her again.

For more information on the presidential pardons, including a list of the people receiving them, you can -- for that you can log onto cnn.com and look at the links on the home page. For AOL users, the keyword is "CNN."

TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT www.fdch.com

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