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Special Event

House Committee Questions Former White House Staff About Marc Rich Pardon

Aired March 1, 2001 - 1:52 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: Henry Waxman, the minority member of the -- ranking democratic member of the House Government Reform Committee asking questions directly of Beth Nolan, John Podesta and John Lindsey to Beth Nolan -- was there any quid pro quo for the presidential pardon? Beth Nolan's answer was no. John Podesta said the decisions were made on the merits. Any legal wrongdoing, Mr. Bruce Lindsey, the answer: no.

That's the line of questioning before the committee now.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER: ... anything that would have violated the law. Isn't that correct? That's the testimony of all you. And that was also the testimony of Eric Holder and Jack Quinn, who testified us before us last time. If anyone was in a position to detect the existence of a quid pro quo or wrongdoing, it would have been one of you three, isn't that correct?

JOHN PODESTA, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I think that's fair.

BETH NOLAN, FORMER COUNSEL TO PRESIDENT CLINTON: I think that's right.

WAXMAN: OK. Let's go to the Marc Rich pardon, and I want to ask about this pardon.

Ms. Nolan, Mr. Rich's application was received at the White House in December 2000. Is that correct?

NOLAN: I don't really -- I remember a discussion about it in December. I don't remember seeing it until somewhere around Christmas, either late December or maybe early January.

WAXMAN: Did you get a chance to form an opinion as to whether this pardon should have been granted?

NOLAN: I formed an opinion very quickly that the pardon should not be granted.

WAXMAN: And did you convey your view to the president? NOLAN: I think that -- I know I had a discussion with John Podesta. I'm not sure when it first came up with the president, but I would have conveyed it the first time it did.

NOLAN: I don't remember talking about it right away.

WAXMAN: Mr. Podesta, did you form an opinion of whether Marc Rich should receive a pardon?

PODESTA: Yes.

WAXMAN: And what was your view?

PODESTA: I thought he should not receive a pardon, that if there was any problem with his indictment, that a proper remedy was to come back and handle it through judicial channels.

WAXMAN: And, Mr. Lindsey, you've already testified you thought the pardon should not have been granted because Mr. Marc Rich was a fugitive. Is that right?

BRUCE LINDSEY, FORMER ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT CLINTON: Maybe technically not a fugitive, but that he was out of the country and had been for 17 years.

WAXMAN: Did the president know of your views?

LINDSEY: In the process, he did. Again, we had scheduled meetings with the president in which we discussed pardons. The first time that the Rich pardon came up in one of those, and Mr. Podesta believes it was on the 16th -- I wouldn't argue with that, I don't know that to be a fact -- but whenever it came up, yes, he knew my views.

PODESTA: Just to be clear about that, I think that was the first time when I was present, but I was out of the country for a couple of days the previous week, and I don't know whether there were meetings held or not.

LINDSEY: Yes, again, I can't tell you which date or when we first discussed it. We had a series of meetings in late December, early January on pardon matters. Whenever the Rich pardon came up, I think each of us expressed our views.

WAXMAN: You're the three top advisers to the president. And each of you came to the conclusion this pardon shouldn't have been granted, and you communicated that to the president, so he knew it, presumably.

Ms. Nolan, why do you think the president granted that pardon?

NOLAN: The president was the president, sir. And I even had that discussion with him on the 19th, because we were in some heated discussion about one of the pardons, and I said, "Look, my job is to tell you what I think about this and to tell you what my best judgment about it is, but I know who's president and who's not." And he got to exercise the pardon power.

WAXMAN: Mr. Podesta, do you have a view...

PODESTA: Well, I think he laid that out in his op-ed piece. I think that, you know, I'm sure there were a variety of factors. I think that the fact that this happened at the end, on the 19th, I think the fact that he heard from Prime Minister Barak, Shimon Peres and others, didn't mean that we were doing this -- that this was a significant U.S.-Israeli issue, but those were men he respected. And they were asking him to look at it.

And I think that he felt obliged, having heard from a number of people who he respected, asking him to take it under serious consideration, that he did that. And I think that, based on that, he looked at it, he bought the arguments. They're arguments that obviously the three of us didn't buy, but he bought them.

I think that, again, the process could have been done better. He could have heard more from the Justice Department, as I think he's acknowledged. But he made the decision, I believe, on the merits of the case as he understood it and based on all those factors.

WAXMAN: Well, did you, during this process of deliberations up to the president making his decision, were you aware, did you become aware of the fact that Denise Rich had made significant contributions to the Clinton Library?

PODESTA: No, I was not aware of that.

WAXMAN: And, Mr. Lindsey, were you aware of it?

LINDSEY: I may have been aware that she was a supporter. I don't know if I had any sense as to whether she had actually given money or what, but, yes, I think I probably was aware that she had indicated that she would be supportive of the library.

WAXMAN: And, Ms. Nolan, did you...

NOLAN: I was not aware.

WAXMAN: Or that she'd given to any of these campaigns? Were you aware of her financial involvement in politics?

NOLAN: No. I think I understood that she was somebody who was generally a supporter, but I wasn't aware of any specific contributions.

WAXMAN: Do any of you have any evidence to suggest that the Rich pardon was part of a quid pro quo for contributions to the campaigns, to the library, to Mrs. Clinton's efforts, to the Democratic National Committee?

LINDSEY: No, sir.

PODESTA: No.

NOLAN: No, sir.

Mr. Waxman, if I can say, too, when I said that the president did it because he was the president, I don't mean to suggest in any way that I think he did it just because he could. I agree with Mr. Podesta that the president believed there were valid reasons to do it, to grant that pardon, that I disagreed with and his staff did, but he was entitled ultimately to make the judgment about it.

WAXMAN: Thank you.

Mr. Lindsey, I'm particularly interested in your role regarding the Rich pardon. As I understand it, you were a consultant to the Clinton Library. In this role, you certainly had an interest in the success of the library, isn't that correct?

LINDSEY: Yes, I wasn't a consultant at the time, I was still in the government. But since then, I am now a consultant to the Clinton Library.

WAXMAN: And I presume that you had an interest in making sure the library received adequate funding?

LINDSEY: Yes, sir, I've been involved with the library since the initial discussions five or six years ago.

WAXMAN: Is it fair that among those affiliated with the library, you were the president's closest adviser with the most regular contact with him at the White House, at that time?

LINDSEY: I'd hate to argue among who is the president's closest adviser, but probably with the most regular contact, yes.

WAXMAN: And did the subject of Ms. Rich's contribution to the library come up in your discussions with the president about the Rich pardon?

LINDSEY: Never.

WAXMAN: The major theory of wrongdoing that we're investigating, is that President Clinton issued the Rich pardon in order to get funds for the library. Even the suggestions about Cheryl Mills seem to give us a hint that, because she was on the board of the library, maybe she was trying to influence the president's decision. It's hard to see how this pardon was done to benefit the library, if you had that concern about the library in mind and you were even advocating to the president not to grant the pardon.

LINDSEY: Well, that's correct. And also, if you look, you know, there were other people who were probably more significantly involved in the library, who are advocating on behalf of other pardons -- Michael Milken, Leonard Peltier -- that we did not grant. So if you were to accept that as a premise, there were better cases, if you will, for that. It didn't happen in those cases, and it didn't happen in this case.

WATERS: Henry Waxman asking if the Marc Rich pardon had any direct benefit for the Clinton Presidential Library. The answer, so far, No.

The Government Reform Committee hearing will continue after a break.

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