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Special Event

House Committee Investigates Rich Pardon

Aired March 1, 2001 - 2:58 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: CNN's coverage continue now, of the House Government Reform Committee. The committee is in a break at this hour, and so we are standing by, waiting for them to return. The members have gone out to take a vote on the floor and they will be back; they're due back any minute now.

CNN's Bob Franken is standing by on Capitol Hill today following the proceedings at the hearing.

Bob, what did we learn today?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, not a huge amount. What we've learned is what we'd heard before: that the top White House officials at the end of the Clinton administration, in fact, were all against the pardon of Marc Rich and his partner Pincus Green, but of course, their recommendation was ignored by President Clinton. And we have heard them say that they have no evidence whatsoever that there was any quid pro quo -- any exchange of the pardon for some sort of consideration.

We also were confronted with Beth Dozoretz; Beth Dozoretz, along with Denise Rich, A: strong advocates of a pardon for Marc Rich and secondly, major democratic contributors -- major contributors or pledgers to the Clinton presidential library -- really key to the investigation.

Now, Denise Rich has already declined to testify before the committee, citing Fifth Amendment considerations against self- incrimination. And Beth Dozoretz, earlier this week, told the committee through her lawyer she, too, would not testify. There's been quite a bit of debate, anticipation over that. Her lawyers said it was because of the pendency of other investigations, meaning the federal criminal investigation.

This has been debated to death, but at the beginning of the hearing, shortly afternoon -- during the noon hour, Beth Dozoretz's moment of truth came.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BETH DOZORETZ, CLINTON FRIEND: Upon the advice of my counsel, I respectfully decline to answer that question based on the protection afforded me under the United States Constitution. REP. CHRISTOPHER SHAYS (R), CONNECTICUT: Let me ask you this: Will that be your response to all our questions, or are those -- there are specific subjects or persons you will not discuss and others you are willing to discuss with us?

DOZORETZ: Sir, that will be my response to all questions.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FRANKEN: The questions, of course, had to do with, were there any considerations because of the contributions and pledges made by them. As you heard, she said that she was citing her constitutional protections.

Now, that was supposed to be it; that was supposed to be the choreography -- a couple of questions from Chris Shays, the Republican, and it would be over and Beth Dozoretz would be released. But that was before Bob Barr got into the act. Robert Barr is a Republican senator from the Atlanta area in Georgia. He is somebody who has been one of the harshest critics of the Clinton administration, continues to be even though the administration is over. And he decided that before Beth Dozoretz could be excused, he wanted to extract a pound of flesh.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. BOB BARR (R), GEORGIA: Is it your intention to cooperate with any investigation being conducted by the U.S. Attorney's Office for the southern district of New York?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You will rely on the advice of your counsel.

DOZORETZ: I will rely on the advice of my counsel, sir.

BARR: In other words, your counsel has instructed you not to cooperate with any probe by the U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York?

DOZORETZ: I will rely on the advice of my counsel, sir.

BARR: And does that advice include telling you not to cooperate with the U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York?

DOZORETZ: I will rely on the advice of my counsel, Mr. Barr.

BARR: Which is to assert your Fifth Amendment rights even as to that question?

DOZORETZ: It's privileged, sir.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

FRANKEN: Well, if you'd ever heard proof of what somebody is saying, there it was, she said she was relying on the advice of her counsel, and she was relying on the advice of her counsel to rely on the advice of her counsel. Now, what we've been hearing throughout the afternoon that President Clinton, as he left office, did not rely on the advice of his counsel.

And now we have to go to the committee hearing, where Dan Burton is about to resume the proceedings.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

REP. DAN BURTON (R-IN), CHAIRMAN: We're missing a couple of witnesses here. OK, we'll be back on your side? OK.

No, no; it's all right, no problem.

FRANKEN: Ok, as we -- we're waiting, now, for the witnesses to show up. This should be a continuing hearing now that's going to go probably until about 7:00 this evening, is the estimate that we're getting. And, of course, we're waiting for everybody to take a seat and to resume this.

We were talking a moment ago, Joie, about the recommendations from these top White House advisers; President Clinton ignored them as far as the hearing is concerned.

Let's listen to Congressman Burton now -- Chairman Burton now.

BURTON: ... hit and missed on some questions, so I'm going to try to do this in a little more organized manner so maybe we can expedite this a little quicker.

Who among the White House staff supported the pardons of Marc Rich and Pincus Green? Who at the White House staff supported the pardons of Marc Rich and Pincus Green?

JOHN PODESTA, FORMER WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: Let me speak for the panel, I believe we all opposed it.

BURTON: Was there anybody else at the White House that you know of that supported the pardon of those gentlemen?

PODESTA: The president reviewed the matters, and he decided to grant it.

BURTON: So it was the president alone, as far as you know.

OK, who opposed it? I know you say...

PODESTA: Start with the three of us.

BURTON: And was there anyone else that opposed it? That expressed opposition to the president?

BETH NOLAN, FORMER COUNSEL TO PRESIDENT CLINTON: There were a couple of associate counsels who worked on pardon matters, and they opposed it. BURTON: OK, who participated in the debate about the pardons on the 19th and any other time? Who participated in a debate on the pardons?

NOLAN: I did, Mr. Lindsey, the two associate counsels, the president, and Ms. Mills.

BURTON: And everyone was opposed to it, except ultimately the president, when he made his decision?

NOLAN: I think, as I said before, I don't believe Ms. Mills expressed a view on the bottom line. She didn't support it.

BURTON: What did Ms. Mills say?

NOLAN: She argued, or suggested, I think is a fairer way of saying it, suggested that we should be looking at the selective prosecution question seriously, had anyone looked at that. But she also had very strong views that normally pardons -- or the arguments about selective prosecution were less available or plausible to rich white people.

BURTON: Was there a formal recommendation from the entire staff to the president?

I mean, did you all collectively say, "We think this is...." Was there a formal recommendation that he not pardon them?

NOLAN: I'm not sure what you mean by a formal recommendation. I think the president knew that each of us opposed the grant.

BURTON: Besides the three of you, you said there were two others. Who on the White House staff expressed their opposition directly to President Clinton, besides the three of you and Ms. Mills? Or Ms. Mills didn't, but besides the three of you? You said two associate counsels...

NOLAN: There were two associate counsels.

BURTON: Who were they?

NOLAN: Meredith Cabe and Eric Angel (ph).

BURTON: Meredith Cabe, she had contact with the pardon attorneys on occasion, didn't she?

NOLAN: Yes.

BURTON: I want you to take a look at exhibit number 63. According to this January 10, 2001, e-mail, President Clinton called DNC finance chair Beth Dozoretz and spoke to her about the pardons, saying, he, quote "wants to do it and is doing all possible to turn around White House counsels."

BURTON: What was the president doing to try to turn you around?

NOLAN: I'm not aware that he did anything.

BURTON: Well, in the memo, as you can see there, it says very clearly, he was talking to Ms. Dozoretz and Ms. Rich was with her. He was saying, he, "was having difficulty," and he says, "I'm doing everything I can to turn them around." I think he also said you should pray about it, or she should pray about it.

NOLAN: Mr. Chairman, I don't know if this is accurate or not. All I can tell you is, from my end, other than -- the president did sometime, I think, the last week of January, the last week of his presidency, it might have been the week before, raised the pardon, seemed to be familiar with the issues, but I didn't...

BURTON: But he didn't try to turn you around, as denoted in this...

NOLAN: I did not experience that.

BURTON: Mr. Lindsey?

BRUCE LINDSEY, FORMER ASSISTANT TO PRESIDENT CLINTON: No, sir.

BURTON: There was no -- I mean, he discussed it with you, but he wasn't trying to turn you around or anything?

LINDSEY: No, sir.

BURTON: Mr. Podesta?

PODESTA: No. And I think that the president -- I don't know where this comes from. It's third-hand conversation. I have no reason to believe that it's accurate. But it sort of inverts the authority in the White House. The counsel doesn't -- the president does not report to the counsel; the counsel reports to the president.

BURTON: No, I'm very well-aware of that. That's why it was troubling when I read that. OK, I have one more question, and I think we'll be out of time.

If the staff had been in a veto mode, could you guys have prevented the pardon, if you had been in a veto mode? I mean, you would have said, you believed it shouldn't have been done?

PODESTA: The president understood our views, and ultimately, it's his decision to grant or not to grant the pardon.

BURTON: Well, let me go ahead and yield to Mr. Waxman or one of your staff. My time is expired.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D-CA), RANKING MEMBER: Mr. Cummings?

REP. ELIJAH E. CUMMINGS (D-MD), MARYLAND: Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.

First of all, I wan to thank all of you for being here. I must tell you that your testimony has helped me tremendously in feeling a little bit better about this situation. And I wanted to just zero-in on one point. It seems as if, I think almost all of you, Ms. Nolan, Mr. Lindsey and Mr. Podesta, said that there was a certain point where you all felt, because of the circumstances of the Rich case, that it was basically not going to happen.

And I think it was you, Mr. Lindsey, who said that on the 19th, apparently a call came from Prime Minister Barak and that things began to change. I'm not trying to put words in your mouth, but it seems as if things were going in one direction, and then all of a sudden, or it may not have been all of a sudden, but they started going in another direction.

Could you help us with that because it seems to be -- the president, in his New York Times explanation, said that the Barak call was of some significance. Can you or Mr. Podesta or you, Ms. Nolan, shed some light on that?

LINDSEY: Let me start. We had, on at least one occasion prior to the 19th, had a fairly full discussion of the Marc Rich, Pincus Green application. We each expressed our views, and there was no indication at the end of that meeting that the president was going to grant the pardon request.

CUMMINGS: When was that?

LINDSEY: Well, Mr. Podesta believes the first one he participated in was the 16th. I don't have access to a calendar, so. But I wouldn't argue with that. It was sometime three or four or five days prior to the 19th.

CUMMINGS: All right.

LINDSEY: On the 19th, we had put off discussion of pardons for the people involved in various independent counsel investigations, and we had scheduled a meeting with the president for the purposes of discussing those applications and requests. During that meeting, or at some point during that meeting, the president raised with the group -- Mr. Podesta may have been gone at this point -- that Prime Minister Barak had spoken to him that afternoon and had asked him -- again, I don't believe it was the first time that the prime minister had raised the Marc Rich pardon -- had asked him again to consider it.

We then had an additional discussion concerning their status, the arguments that Mr. Quinn had been making to the counsel's office. At that point, it was sometime that evening that the president made the decision, after speaking again with Mr. Quinn and getting from Mr. Quinn a commitment that they would waive all civil procedural restrictions, statute of limitations and so forth, that the president indicated that he intended to grant the pardons.

CUMMINGS: Ms. Nolan? And then I want to come to you, Mr. Quinn.

NOLAN: Again, like Mr. Lindsey, I'm not exactly sure when the first discussion was. But I did not realize until the evening of the 19th that it was live and the president did specifically did mention his conversations with Mr. Barak. CUMMINGS: Did you have something, Mr. Podesta?

PODESTA: No.

CUMMINGS: All right.

Mr. Quinn, Mr. Lindsey just referenced a conversation about the waiving of the civil situation. Is there a point where, things in your efforts to represent your client, where things seemed to be going down hill and then they seemed to turn? During that discussion that Mr. Lindsey just referenced, and I assume that you're familiar with it, do you remember the president ever mentioning that he had gotten more than one call or had recently gotten a call from Mr. Barak?

JACK QUINN, COUNSEL TO MARC RICH: Congressman, I came to the impression, as we approached the end of the term, that he had spoken to Prime Minister Barak more than once. But I quite honestly can't tell you how I came to believe that. I think in all likelihood, I was hearing that reported back from people associated with Marc Rich in Israel. I'm rather confident that no one in the White House told me of those calls, but I was aware that on the 19th this matter was raised by Prime Minister Barak with the president.

In retrospect, it strikes me, as I think it does a good many people, that that was a significant development; it was a turning point. And in all honesty, I can't tell you that I ever thought that this was anything other than a tough decision. I thought we had put together a persuasive case and had a meritorious argument, but I was well-aware, not so much of Mr. Podesta's views, but I was certainly well-aware that Mr. Lindsey and Ms. Nolan were, at a minimum, highly skeptical.

CUMMINGS: Thank you very much.

BURTON: Thank you, Mr. Cummings.

Mr. Barr?

REP. BOB BARR (R), GEORGIA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Ms. Nolan, you had a number of phone conversations with Eric Holder on January 19. That's correct, isn't it?

NOLAN: I think I did, yes, sir.

BARR: OK. What was the subject matter of those phone calls, beginning with your call to Mr. Holder at 9:45 that morning? These are logs found at exhibit 127.

NOLAN: I'm sorry, exhibit 127?

BARR: Yes, ma'am.

NOLAN: Found them.

I'm not sure I can remember the specifics of each, you know, what each call was for. I remember several pardon discussions with him that day. The only one I had with him regarding Marc Rich was late in the evening. It would be the last phone call on the log, the 6:38.

BARR: The one where you called him at 6:38?

NOLAN: That's correct.

BARR: And what precipitated that particular phone call about Mr. Rich?

NOLAN: As I'd said earlier, Ms. Mills was in my office. Jack Quinn had, I believe, called my office and ended up speaking to her, and she told me that he said Mr. Holder favored the pardon, and I called Mr. Holder right away to determine if that was correct.

BARR: And did he say to you, "Yes, I favor the pardon."

NOLAN: I had talked with him the first week in January about it, and I did not have the impression that he was in favor it, so that's what I said.

I said, "I'm hearing you're in favor of it. I didn't think you were in favor of it." He said that he was neutral, which I think is the language he had used earlier in January about it.

And I said, "Well, I'm a little confused, because I'm hearing that you're not just neutral." And he said that he had heard that Mr. Barak was interested, that if that were the case, while he couldn't judge the foreign policy arguments, he would find that very persuasive.

And I finally said, "Well, you know, I still don't understand what neutral means here," and he described it as neutral, leaning toward, or neutral, leaning favorable. I'm not sure the exact phrase.

BARR: So he never really answered the question.

NOLAN: Well, at the end of the conversation he said he would consider himself "neutral, leaning favorable," which I thought was an answer. It wasn't, you know -- it was an answer.

And I informed the president of that conversation when I met with him sometime fairly soon after that. I think we met around 7:00, 7:30.

BARR: And what was the president's reaction?

NOLAN: I think that was significant to the president. I don't think it was the thing that made his mind up entirely, but I think it was a significant piece of information, that the deputy attorney general had said that.

BARR: From the standpoint that that would give him something to hang his hat on?

NOLAN: I didn't understand it that way. Mr. Quinn had made what were to the president very persuasive arguments.

NOLAN: Mr. Quinn was somebody he greatly respected. Mr. Barak, who the president respected a great deal, had weighed in, in favor, several times, and Mr. Hogan...

BARR: Who made the persuasive arguments on the other side, against granting the pardon to this fugitive?

NOLAN: We argued, Mr. Barr, that if Mr. Rich and Mr. Green had such great legal arguments, there was a place to make them, and it wasn't there. It wasn't in the Oval Office.

BARR: And Mr. Clinton apparently disagreed?

NOLAN: He did disagree, and I think he disagreed because people -- other people he respected had a different view, and he made a judgment in favor of their view.

BARR: Returning to the phone logs on that final sheet, there are calls to you, there are calls from Roger Adams to Eric Holder, calls from Eric Holder to Roger Adams, calls from Eric Holder to you, but none of those, as far as you know, related to the Rich case?

NOLAN: No, the only one I spoke with him about was at the end of the day.

BARR: OK, did these other calls...

NOLAN: I mean, I don't know about the Roger Adams calls to Mr. Holder.

BARR: These other calls between you and Mr. Holder, they related to other pardon cases?

NOLAN: They related to other pardon cases, as far as I'm aware. There may have been other matters that weren't pardon cases, because we did deal with other things. The only thing I can remember is pardon discussions.

BURTON: The gentleman's time has expired. We'll have several more founds.

Ms. Mink?

REP. PATSY MINK (D), HAWAII: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I, too, want to join my colleagues in commending your presence here today, Ms. Nolan, Mr. Lindsey and Mr. Podesta. And I think that you've added a great deal of light to the testimony and news articles and other things that we have read about the circumstances that some people think led to the decision that the president made with respect to the Marc Rich case.

And I think that the fact that there were discussions between the three of you and the president with respect to this pardon is very material to the public's understanding that there was consultation amongst the people that the president trusted the most to give him their honest opinion.

Your opinion was not regarded by the president, and he went another course, but that's the president's prerogative in these cases, that's what the Constitution allows.

The first question I wanted to ask was with reference to executive privilege, which he has waived and allowed you to come to testify. Is it the clear understanding of the law that, after the president has left the White House, that this executive privilege continues on with respect to conversations that you had with him that led to some executive decision?

NOLAN: Yes.

MINK: That continues on. So I think then that it is of paramount importance that the president has issued this release to allow you to come to testify, to give some clarity to what happened.

Now, in terms of your discussions about the Marc Rich case, from what you have said already today, there were discussions on April 19. I think the three of you have indicated that.

LINDSEY: January 19.

MINK: That he had still not made up his mind. Is that a clear conclusion of the status of your discussions, that your impression was on January 19 when you met with him, he had not yet made up his mind?

LINDSEY: I think I'll speak for Mr. Podesta and Ms. Nolan. I think their impression was that the matter had been resolved at an earlier meeting and that he was not going to grant it. When the president re-raised it on the 19th, it was clear, once he re-raised it, that he was still considering it and that he had not made a decision. But it was their clear impression, prior to that, that he had accepted our recommendation and was not going to grant it.

MINK: So there was an earlier meeting where the three of you were fairly sure that the president had decided not to grant this pardon? Is that accurate?

PODESTA: That was my impression, that was on January 16.

MINK: And Mr. Lindsey, that was your clear understanding?

LINDSEY: I was not as clear as they are as to what the president's -- when we left that meeting -- what the president intended or didn't intend to do.

MINK: Did he specifically articulate it? Or did you just make that assumption because he didn't have a rebuttal?

PODESTA: In may case, I'd say the latter, that he raised the points that had been made in at least some of the points had been raised by Mr. Quinn. We argued that, given his status as a fugitive, if you will -- we can go back and forth on that a little, but I think we viewed him as a fugitive in at least a common sense -- that the proper forum to raise those was before judicial tribunal. And it was my impression that he accepted that.

MINK: So given your long experience of working with the president, your assumption was, since he give you a clear rebuttal on the other side, that he would be persuaded by the advice that he was getting from people that had worked with him and whom he trusted the most in the White House. Is that a fairly good understanding?

PODESTA: I think that's a fairly good understanding.

MINK: OK, then after that, is it, in the factual circumstances of things, where Mr. Barak made a phone call, was it after that discussion or somewhere earlier or before? I'm trying to get a feeling as to when things might have changed, in view of this particular pardon.

PODESTA: Well, the conversation...

MINK: When was the Barak...

PODESTA: ... occurred in midafternoon, I think, on Friday, January 19.

MINK: So it was after your earlier discussions? PODESTA: No, after the conversation on the 16th. Then Prime Minister Barak talked to him one more time on January 19, on Friday. And later that evening, there was a further discussion, as I said, between my colleagues here. I wasn't present for that conversation. But it was early or, I guess, late in the evening. It must have been 9 or 10 o'clock on the evening of the 19th. So it was subsequent to his conversation with Prime Minister Barak.

MINK: So Ms. Nolan and Mr. Lindsey, you can verify that it was likely that the telephone conversation he had with Prime Minister Barak may have had an impact on his prior decision not to grant the pardon?

LINDSEY: He actually, I think, indicated that.

NOLAN: Yes, he did.

MINK: He specifically said that to both of you.

LINDSEY: That's correct.

NOLAN: And I would be clear, though, I wouldn't characterize that he had made, as Mr. Podesta said, I don't think he had made...

MINK: But it had an influence on his thinking?

NOLAN: But it certainly seemed that he was not going to grant it and then that Mr. Barak's phone call had been significant.

BURTON: The time of the gentlelady from Hawaii has expired.

The chair recognizes the gentlelady from Maryland, Ms. Morella, for five minutes. REP. CONSTANCE MORELLA (R), MARYLAND: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I want to thank -- thank you, Ms. Nolan...

CHEN: All right, CNN's coverage will take a little break here as we continue to watch the questioning from the House Government Reform Committee. Of the several panelists, this is the second panel of the day regarding the question of Mr. Clinton's pardons in his final hours in office, particularly, of course the pardon of financier Marc Rich.

CNN will take a break here. And we'll be right back with more.

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