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Clinton Pardons: House Government Reform Committee Questions Clinton Aides

Aired March 1, 2001 - 3:42 p.m. ET


JOIE CHEN, CNN ANCHOR: Throughout this afternoon here on CNN, you have been watching the hearings by the House Government Reform Committee regarding the pardon made by Mr. Clinton in his final days in office -- in his final hours of office -- of financier Marc Rich.

A number of witnesses involved, both at the White House level and on behalf of Mr. Rich, have been testified throughout the day with questions before the members of the House Government Reform Committee. You see here Bruce Lindsey. He's a close adviser to Mr. Clinton, certainly throughout his administration, and in those final days as well.

Let's bring on Bill Schneider now, our senior political analyst.

Talk a little bit about what this panel is doing and what they might do with the information they learned here today.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, of course, they're -- some of the members of the panel are trying to get information that a crime was committed: that little bit of theater early this afternoon with Beth Dozoretz. And that's really what it was.

It was kind of staged as theater by the majority in the committee that wanted her on record, on camera, with cameras blazing in the background saying that she took the Fifth Amendment, because, as everyone who's watched the movies for 25 years knows, that means: I refuse to answer the questions on the grounds that I might incriminate myself -- which means somebody somewhere might have committed a crime.

There is a secondary theme the Democrats are pursuing. And that is: Do we need a constitutional amendment here to change the president's pardon powers, which are absolute under the Constitution? That doesn't have anything to do with criminal activities.

But some Democrats think -- and it's a very secondary theme, but they're bringing it up -- some Democrats think they might at least consider that possibility. And it was raised that maybe after a certain date, like October of a presidential election year, a president should not be allowed under the Constitution -- it would have to be amended -- to grant any further pardons.

I'm not sure that's a serious possibility, but they're talking about curbing that power as a possible outcome.

CHEN: And the possibility of things they can do on the House committee. Thanks very much -- Bill Schneider bringing us his insight from Washington.

And now let's go back to the hearing of the House Government Reform Committee. Bruce Lindsey, counsel to the former president is speaking.

BRUCE LINDSEY, FMR. COUNSEL ADVISER: ... follow along the lines of people we were looking at, and I told him I would take a look at it.

REP. STEVEN C. LATOURETTE (R), OHIO: Were you aware or did the pardon attorney tell you that Mr. Vignali lied upon his pardon application, in the section that asked if he had a previous criminal conviction? Were you advised of that by the pardon attorney?

LINDSEY: I don't believe so.

LATOURETTE: Were you advised of that by Mr. Rodham?

LINDSEY: No. I believe the first time I heard that, frankly, was this morning. If I remember right, he actually indicated he had several prior...

LATOURETTE: On his pardon application?

LINDSEY: I thought so.

LATOURETTE: I don't think that that's correct, and I'll be happy to supply you with the information that that's incorrect.


LATOURETTE: And just as a last matter, as my time...

LINDSEY: I was just informed that it is reflected in his pardon application. But again, we can get the application and see.

LATOURETTE: It's reflected in his pardon application that he has priors?

LINDSEY: I believe so.


Well, thank you, Mr. Chairman.

REP. DAN BURTON (R-IN), CHAIRMAN: I thank the gentleman from Ohio.

The gentleman from California, Mr. Ose, is recognized for five minutes.

REP. DOUG OSE (R), CALIFORNIA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. My question is directed, I believe, to the former chief of staff, Mr. Podesta. And that is, what is the procedure by which the White House deals with gifts received during a president's tenure, particularly this president's tenure?

JOHN PODESTA, FMR. WHITE HOUSE CHIEF OF STAFF: I think that Ms. Nolan could answer that more directly...

OSE: Well, I might ask her, but we'll start with you, OK?

PODESTA: Well, I think that if the president receives a gift, it's logged into the gift unit. The gift unit then creates a running log of those. The president has the right to accept and take gifts that are presented to him, if he chooses to do so. If he does not choose to do so, I believe they become the property of the National Archives. And I think that's set up by statute, but I couldn't quote the statutory citation.

OSE: Is there a procedure outlined at the White House for what qualifies as a gift to the president or one that's supposed to go to the archives?


OSE: When was that policy established?

PODESTA: I think it's been in existence since probably prior to the Clinton administration.

OSE: Do we have a copy of that particular policy as it applied to the Clinton administration?

PODESTA: I think that this is regulated by statute.

OSE: All right.

Mr. Quinn, is Mr. Rich a United States citizen or is he not?

JACK QUINN, MARC RICH ATTORNEY: It is my understanding now that he believes he is not a United States citizen. I understand that our State Department disputes that.

OSE: Ms. Nolan, is your recollection of the manner in which gifts are received by the White House consistent with Mr. Podesta's?


OSE: If a gift comes to the White House, what happens? Just take me through just a brief synopsis. Let's say I sent a gift to the president valued at $275, and it's a portrait, what happens? What are the questions that are asked?

NOLAN: The gift, as I understand it, is sent to the gift unit in the White House for evaluation, and the gift unit puts on a list who the donor is, what the value is, and the president makes a determination whether to accept the gift or not. OSE: The president makes the determination whether to accept the gift personally or as a representative of the federal government or...

NOLAN: Well, it depends on whether the gift is -- if the gift is given to the White House -- as I understand it, the gift unit records reflect gifts given to the president personally.

OSE: What happens to the gifts given to the White House?

NOLAN: I believe that the resident's office keeps a record of those. But I haven't seen such records. I don't know.

OSE: How would we go about establishing what those records contained?

NOLAN: I'm have to say I'm not quite clear what you're asking me.

OSE: Well, where are those records?

NOLAN: I assume that they are with the archives now, as part of the president's records, but I'm not sure.

OSE: OK, and, my final question, Mr. Chairman, I see that I'm almost out.

I was here for the testimony about the relative lack of knowledge about Mr. Rich's past behavior in terms of his activities overseas. Relative to Mr. Vignali and the behavior that he engaged in, transporting 800 pounds -- you're all aware of Plan Colombia? The official United States government policy...

PODESTA: I certainly am.

OSE: OK, do you have any observations about the conflict that might be perceived between the president pardoning somebody transporting 800 pounds of coke and our efforts in Colombia to ameliorate or eliminate the production?

PODESTA: I think that Mr. Lindsey has already corrected the record. He knows more about the case than I do with regard to the specific facts, but I think that what you're suggesting is that no one who's involved in a drug case should ever receive a commutation or ever receive a pardon. And I think that's -- I understand that you may believe that, but I think that's a harsh thing.

OSE: That's not the suggestion I'm making, Mr. Podesta.

LINDSEY: If I may correct the record again, the judge made a specific finding in the Vignali case that he was responsible for 5 to 15 kilos, which I understand translates to 11 to 33 pounds, not 800.

REP. BOB BARR (R), GEORGIA: I think we've established the ratio between pounds and kilos sufficiently.

The chair recognizes the gentleman from Illinois, Mr. Davis, for five minutes.

REP. DANNY DAVIS (D), ILLINOIS: Thank you very much.

CHEN: And the hearing before the House Government Reform Committee does continue now. A reminder to our viewers as you see here, Chairman Burton and Henry Waxman who is the leading Democrat on the committee, the House Government Reform Committee, will appear on CNN's LARRY KING LIVE coming up later in the day, 9 p.m. Eastern. Stay tuned for that.

And stay tuned for more coverage of the House Government Reform Committee Hearing after a break.


CHEN: Throughout this day here on CNN, you're watching the House Government Reform Committee as it conducts hearing into the pardons made by former President Clinton in his outgoing hours of office. Particularly, of course, interest in the pardon of financier Marc Rich.

The questioning does continue at this hour. Let's return to this.

LINDSEY: I don't believe so. I can't recall any conversation with him.

D. DAVIS: So any interaction you would have had would have been part of the group activity where someone else was present, other than just the two of you?

LINDSEY: I think that's correct. I do recall one conversation that was not part of a meeting in which I indicated to him that he should consider Mr. Quinn in this to be an advocate on one side, and not his adviser, and that Jack had a client. And I don't believe that was in a group meeting. I think that was the night of the 19th, at some point.

D. DAVIS: Ms. Nolan, were your discussions with the president individual or part of a group discussion or where other people were present?

NOLAN: Yes, my conversations with the president were part of a group discussion. I did talk to him on the telephone late on the night of the 19th, morning of the 20th, for a few minutes. There were people in my office, but I talked with him on the phone.

D. DAVIS: And so, for the most part, it seems to me that all three of us are saying that our conversations were part of normal interaction that one would have expected to take place, given the roles that each one of you played?

NOLAN: That's correct.

D. DAVIS: At any time or any other time, did you ever get the impression that there was anything to be considered other than the legal determinations, in terms of trying to make a rational decision about the situation?

NOLAN: I did not. I disagreed with the president's judgment, but I believed he had his reasons for doing it that involved his view of the merits of the case and the advice or recommendation of people he respected.

PODESTA: I agree with that.

LINDSEY: Yes, same answer.

D. DAVIS: Thank you very much.

I have no further questions, Mr. Chairman.

BURTON: Ms. Davis?

REP. JO ANN DAVIS (R), VIRGINIA: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

I'd sort of like to go back to the process under which a pardon application comes in. And I guess this is directed to Ms. Nolan, Mr. Lindsey and Mr. Podesta.

It's my understanding you all knew about the pardon application some time in December. Correct?

NOLAN: I think that's right, yes.

J. DAVIS: At any time, did you all, any of you, discuss it with the prosecuting attorneys or the U.S. attorney or get any input from them or notify them?

NOLAN: I discussed it with Mr. Holder some time early in January, which was right after I first took a look at it. It had come in some time in December, but I don't think I took a look at it until early January. I discussed it with Mr. Holder, the deputy attorney general.

J. DAVIS: I'm talking about the prosecuting attorneys.

NOLAN: Well, he...

J. DAVIS: Would he be the one that would have contacted them?

NOLAN: Right, I normally would talk to main Justice and to the deputy's office, or my office would, more commonly. And we wouldn't normally reach out individually. We did on some occasions, but rarely. It usually went through the Justice Department.

He represented to me at that time that he was, you know, clear what the U.S. attorney's office would think about the matter, but that he did not think we would hear any objection from main Justice.

J. DAVIS: Is it normal procedure that the prosecuting attorneys would get to weigh in on a case, especially one of this magnitude?

NOLAN: Yes, normally they would. J. DAVIS: Mr. Podesta or Mr. Lindsey, did either one of you all think to tell the president or anyone that, "We need to talk to the prosecuting attorneys"?

LINDSEY: The president has indicated -- and I think we did indicate -- that the U.S. attorney's office in the Southern District was opposed to it. We knew that as a fact.

J. DAVIS: How did you know that as a fact, if they had not had the opportunity to weigh in on it?

LINDSEY: Because we knew that there had been discussions prior to this application for the U.S. attorney's office to sit down with representative attorneys for Mr. Rich to discuss the matter, and that their position is that, until they came back, there would be no discussions.

Again, their position was that as long as they remain fugitives, there would be no discussion of any of these matters. And I just assumed that that would clearly be their position with respect to a pardon application.

J. DAVIS: Did you relay that to the president?

LINDSEY: You know, can I recall, specifically? I believe the president was aware of all of that, that there had been attempts -- I think Mr. Quinn may have mentioned it in letters -- that there had been attempts to talk with the U.S. attorney's office in the southern district, and that they refused to have those conversations.

J. DAVIS: Mr. Podesta, weigh in, then I'm going to yield my time...

PODESTA: I think that the proper channel for soliciting the U.S. attorney's views in this case was through main Justice, through Mr. Holder or through the pardon attorney. And I think it was a mistake not to have done that.

I think that, from the perspective of the three people sitting up here, and I think with respect to Mr. Holder, I think the reason that that wasn't done was because no one thought this was going to happen, and no one supported it. And I think it wasn't until the evening of the 19th that that proposition was put to Mr. Holder, and I think that it would clearly have been better to have solicited the views of the U.S. attorney in the southern district of New York and to have that in front of the president before he made a final decision on this matter.

And I think, as I said earlier in my testimony, I think we bear some responsibility for not having had that done, but I think it's explained by the course of conduct we were all engaged in, which was we were busy; we were working on a lot of things; we didn't think this was going anywhere; we didn't think it was a live option on Tuesday night. But obviously, I think, the president made a decision.

I think it's fair to say what Mr. Lindsey said, which the president understood that the U.S. attorney in the southern district of New York would not support this, but I think, in due regard to her equities, that he at least should have been able to hear what her views were.

I would add something else, which is that I don't think the president in all these matters -- and I think I heard him say this on several occasions -- wanted to not know what the Justice Department thought. I think he always wanted to know what the Justice Department thought, but he didn't want them to have, in essence, a de facto veto power by not giving them the applications or what their views were.

So I think that he was perfectly happy to get recommendations not to grant a pardon, which he then could consider and then decide to do or not do. But in this case, I think that from that perspective, the system didn't work well. And we bear some of the responsibility for that.

CHEN: John Podesta, the chief of staff for Mr. Clinton in his final days in office, speaking before the House Government Reform Committee. CNN has been covering in entirety, pretty much, the hearings before the House Government Reform Committee throughout this day.

Appearing on the witness table today is Mr. Podesta, Bruce Lindsey, who is a close adviser to Mr. Clinton; White House Counsel Beth Nolan, as well as Jack Quinn, who was, of course, previously the White House counsel and also was the lawyer for Marc Rich, the financier whose pardon caused so much of this controversy.

Our coverage will continue after another short break here. Please stay with us.


CHEN: Welcome back to our viewers just joining us here on CNN. We are watching affairs in Washington today, specifically on Capitol Hill, the meeting of the House Government Reform Committee and its hearings in the question of the Clinton pardons made in his final hours in office.

You are looking here at one of the members of the House Government Reform Committee, it is Adam Putnam, he is a Republican just elected in the last election from central Florida, from an electoral district of central Florida.

And if he appears to be very young to you, that's because he is. He is in his mid-20s. And he is here, though, as a representative, his age not belying his experience, and he's important to this committee, where he is asking questions of the White House staffers of the Clinton administration, as well as Jack Quinn, the representative for Marc Rich, about their roles in the pardons in those final days.

Let's listen to the questions and the answers.

PODESTA: ... campaign and the RNC campaign, and those may have been factors in granting that pardon as well. PUTNAM: And you had indicated that your concern about this pardon was not great because, quote, "No one thought it was going to happen. It was not a live option." Had you had an opportunity to review exhibit 67, the e-mail that indicates that, "As we previously indicated, the staff are not supportive, but not in detail mode," but that according to you, Mr. Podesta, "The efforts with the president are being felt. It sounds like you're making headway and should keep at it as long as you can." That was sent on the 16th.

PODESTA: I mean, again, my recollection of that conversation was that I said to Mr. Kadzik that I was opposed to it, that the counsel was opposed to it, and that we would recommend to the president that he not grant it.

PUTNAM: Mr. Quinn, do you have any idea why Mr. Fink would have thought that, based on Podesta's remarks, you were making headway and your presence was being felt?

QUINN: No, and you'll notice that Mr. Fink is not reporting on a conversation he had with me. But I know that Mr. Kadzik and Mr. Fink will both be before the committee today.

PUTNAM: And just one final question for you, Mr. Quinn. According to exhibit 72, there was an e-mail that indicates, from Robert Fink to Mr. Azulay, "I have been asked who lobbied the president on behalf of Marc and Pinky, and said it may be private and therefore did not immediately respond. Who should I say?"

Why would there be any reason for embarrassment or shame or reluctance to disclose who had advocated this supposedly meritorious pardon application?

QUINN: Again, sir, that's not my e-mail, so I can't speak to what was in his mind. I do know that there's at least one other document that indicates that Mr. Azulay was sensitive to public opinion in Israel. But beyond that, I can't comment.

PUTNAM: Thank you.

BURTON: Gentleman's time has expired.

Mr. Schrock?

Mr. Schrock, would you yield to me, please?

BURTON: Thank you.

I hope I'm not redundant. I was gone for a little bit. I had to leave. But there's a few questions I'd like to ask.

I know that when Mr. Quinn presented his application to the president, he presented the best case possible. And when you met with the president, the three of you, and talked to him about the Rich pardon, did you talk to him about Mr. Rich breaking embargoes by trading with Mr. Moammar Gadhafi of Libya, or trading with Iran when our hostages were being held in violation of the embargo, or that he traded with Iraq when we were involved in problems with Iraq and the embargoed oil, or the grain embargo on the Soviet Union when we had the grain embargo? Was the president aware of that?

Was he aware that Mr. Rich was violating the embargo of South Africa or that he was trading with Cuba during the Cuban embargo? Did you tell the president any of that?

NOLAN: Mr. Burton, I don't think I knew or know any of that. I don't except I did know that part of the indictment was a Trading with the Enemies Act violation, and the president knew that.

I told the president, late in the evening, that there was an allegation of arms-trading, that I had spoken with Mr. Quinn several times to try to determine what that allegation was and if that was something different from trading with the enemy. I...

BURTON: I want to get to that in just a moment, but did you or any of you talk to him about any of these violations of embargoes that was in violation of the law? Any of them? And there was one, two, three, four, five, six that we know of. Did you tell the president...

NOLAN: Other than the thing I just referred to, the Trading with the Enemies Act, and the allegation of arms-trading, no, I don't believe so. I don't think I knew about it.

BURTON: Did you ask for an intelligence briefing? Did you talk to anybody at the Justice Department about any other violations that may have taken place by Mr. Rich so you could convey them to the president?

NOLAN: No. I agree with Mr. Podesta's description, and want to make clear that until 8 or 9 or later in the evening of January 19, I did not know this pardon was going forward.

BURTON: Yes, but you knew it was being considered earlier, did you not? I mean, you knew Mr. Quinn...

NOLAN: I thought that it was not going forward. I knew it had been considered, but I left a meeting sometime earlier in that week with the clear impression that it would not go forward.

BURTON: Well, what I can't understand is, even if something of this significance is being considered, and you knew that this was one of the most wanted fugitives in the world by the United States, if you thought it was even being remotely considered and you knew Mr. Quinn was pushing for it, you knew there was calls coming in from people, leaders around the world, why didn't you ask for an intelligence briefing? Why didn't you ask if there were other laws and embargoes and things like that that had been broken, so that the three of you could have at least explained to the president, you know, what was going on? The Justice Department knew about these things.

NOLAN: Sir, I did not know until that evening that it was a live issue. For all the kinds of matters Mr. Podesta described, we were extremely busy, and we weren't spending time on pardon applications that looked like they weren't going anywhere. And that was simply a matter of trying to manage the best we could with an extremely heavy load. I didn't have the time and wasn't inclined to do work on matters that I thought weren't live matters.

Once we had the president's determination, we did ask the Justice Department for an NCIC check.

BURTON: You reached out to Mr. Quinn about some of the issues, did you not? I mean, you talked to him.

NOLAN: On the 19th. And I...

BURTON: If you talked to Mr. Quinn, why didn't you call over to the Justice Department and say, "Hey, this thing is a hot item. I want as quickly as you can get it, I want a complete rundown..."

NOLAN: I spoke with Mr. Holder, sir. I spoke with the deputy attorney general.

BURTON: And what did Mr. Holder say?

NOLAN: He said he was neutral, leaning toward favorable.

BURTON: No, did you ask him about specific things, like, "Tell me what was going on Mr. Rich. Tell me where he violated the law. Tell me what was going on, so I can tell the president, clearly, what the problems are with this pardon"? Did you ask him that?

NOLAN: If the deputy attorney general gives me a view on a pardon, I don't normally get all of the underlying facts of it, sir.

BURTON: So he says, "Well, I'm neutral, leaning yes," but the fact of the matter is, you knew this was a very, very wanted fugitive and you didn't pursue it any more than, "I'm neutral, leaning yes"?

NOLAN: Well, my view, as clearly expressed to the president, was that this should not be done because he was a wanted fugitive.

BURTON: But the problem is, on what basis?

NOLAN: My view was, if Mr. Quinn's arguments were all correct, if Mr. Rich and Mr. Green had been selectively prosecuted, it didn't matter...

BURTON: I think I'm next. Do you want to take your time? Well, I'd like to go on and continue the questioning, if you would let me take my time, but I'll yield to you if you like.

Go ahead.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: It just appears to me this whole pardon process broke down because, ideally, the president should have had all of this information. He should have known what the prosecutors had to say about it. He should have known all of this background about Mr. Rich, which he apparently did not have at his disposal. So this whole pardon process broke down, and we're trying to understand how the president could make this decision. And he made it contrary to his top advisers who worked for him at the White House. Sometimes, when we step back and try to figure out what is going on, we miss the obvious.

And two things are going through my mind, as I recollect that period of time.

The failure of the Middle East peace process, it must have been a tremendous blow to the president, and here Prime Minister Barak was calling him and asking for a favor. The president must have known at that point that Mr. Barak was likely to be out of office fairly soon.

Second thing was that that was the day that the president had to come to terms with the independent counsel and make a public statement of his statements not being completely accurate, if I could just be mild in my way of putting it. But the president, nevertheless, had to come forward and make a public statement about the testimony he had given. These were two things on his mind.

Mr. Podesta, no one can quite know what was going on in his head, but his concern about overzealous prosecutors, a request from the prime minister of Israel, probably his exhaustion, the failure to get all of the information, how much of this was contributing to the president's decision-making?

PODESTA: Mr. Waxman, I am loathe to kind of psychoanalyze the president and try to figure out exactly what factors went to what. But I do know that Mr. Barak had, as I think Mr. Lindsey said, raised it a couple of times. I think that was, as you properly point out, an emotional time. The peace process, obviously, wasn't coming to fruition. He had enormous respect for Mr. Barak.

I think Mr. Barak had asked him for several things, if you will, that were intended to show support for the state of Israel, not so much for Mr. Barak, but for the state of Israel, including, for example, the pardon of Jonathan Pollard. This was one of things...

WAXMAN: And the president was not going to give that pardon to Jonathan Pollard?

PODESTA: That's correct. And I think this was one...

CHEN: John Podesta, the chief of staff for Mr. Clinton as the pardons were coming down in the final days the Clinton administration, taking questions from the House Government Reform Committee. We note that in the past few minutes, the two leading figures on the House Government Reform Committee -- Chairman Dan Burton, a Republican, Congress Henry Waxman of California, who is the ranking member who is a Democrat on this committee -- both asking questions of the panelists.

CNN's coverage will continue of the House Government Reform Committee's hearing into the Clinton pardons after a break.


CHEN: Throughout the day here on CNN, you have been watching the hearings of the House Government Reform Committee into the Clinton pardons, those made by outgoing President Clinton in his final hours in office. Before we go back to the hearings, which are still under way and are expected to continue for several years yet, we want to turn to Roger Cossack, our legal analyst standing by in our Washington bureau.

Roger, talk to us a little bit about the proceedings and what happens next here.

ROGER COSSACK, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, Joie, you know what I think that each side is trying to do is to find out exactly, you know, pretty much like we are, what happened here? The Republicans are trying to find out, you know, why this pardon was given.

The Democrats are suggesting a reason, that perhaps, even though the president was told by his advisers not to do it, that after he received phone calls from world leaders -- we heard earlier, the king of Spain and Mr. Barak from Israel -- that perhaps he felt that that time that this was enough of a reason for him to grant these pardons.

Each side is looking for a reason and you can see that each side is beginning to posture to come up with a reason, not the quid pro quo reason.

CHEN: Roger Cossack, our legal analyst reporting to us from our Washington bureau. Now, let's go back to the hearing. John Podesta speaking.

PODESTA: ... because he thought that they all had children at home and it made more sense at that point to reduce their jail terms, to let them go home, and to begin to work and pay off the restitution fines that they had, which he left in place.

Again, one could disagree with it, but I think it was a decision made on the merits. We heard from people outside the community as well, on that particular case. And I think it was a justifiable decision, based on the fact that they had all served significant jail terms, and it made more sense to have them home with their kids and earning money to pay the restitution back.

WAXMAN: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

BURTON: I understand that there's a need for a brief break, so we'll take about a five or 10 minute break, then we'll go to the next round.

Stand in recess for 10 minutes.

BURTON: I understand that there is a need for a brief break, so we will take about a 5 or 10 minute break; and we'll go into the next round. Stand in recess for 10 minutes.

CHEN: Chairman Burton calling a bit of a recess there for the House Government Reform Committee. CNN's coverage will continue when the committee returns, it is continuing to hear its second panel of the day. Several figures from the outgoing days of the Clinton administration as well as Jack Quinn, who represented Marc Rich, the financier whose pardon, of course, generated all of this controversy and, of course, the need for this particular set of hearings. CNN's coverage will continue after this.



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