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Clinton Pardons: Is Taking the Fifth a Crime?

Aired March 1, 2001 - 4:24 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: We are standing by here, watching at the House Government Reform Committee. The room is in recess. Chairman Burton called that just a minute ago. We're waiting to see when they step back into position there. This has been going on throughout the afternoon. And the panelists will continue, we understand, for some hours yet to come.

CNN's Bob Franken watching all of this on Capitol Hill.

Bob, it seems like they were asking of these advisers to Mr. Clinton: Why didn't you do more? Why didn't you do something else to try to stop him if you didn't agree with the possibility that Mr. Clinton was going to pardon Marc Rich?

But I am not sure that the committee members got the answers that they were looking to hear.

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No, I think that what the advisers are saying is, about the only thing that they didn't do was to tie him to the chair. They say that they repeatedly advised him that they were against the pardon, that it was unanimous, not only among the three of them, but also among some of the subordinates in the White House, but that President Clinton was motivated by other factors.

Now, their explanation is, is that he was quite interested in the international aspect of this. He had been contacted by the then- Israeli prime minister and others, and perhaps that that was a consideration. We also heard earlier that President Clinton was of the belief that the claims that were made by Marc Rich through his attorney Jack Quinn were -- quote -- "meritorious," something that they did not agree with.

But, of course, as somebody said -- I think it was Both Nolan -- said the president is the president. He is the one who has that pardon power. So, basically, the answer that they are getting, the members of the committee are getting, is that these advisers did just about everything they could. Let's not forget what the fundamental investigation is: Does the president -- did this president get influenced by the considerations that were given by some of his political contributors?

Specifically, Denise Rich, who was the ex-wife of Marc Rich, who is a major Democratic contributor, a major contributor to the Clinton Presidential Library -- and Beth Dozoretz -- Dozoretz, similarly, a major Democratic contributor, a big one, and very close friend of the president's, and someone who has pledged $1 million the presidential library. She, of course, today took the Fifth Amendment, did not testify out of concern of self-incrimination.

That was the little bit of the drama that was provided by the hearings today. But, so far, we keep on hearing over and over again the advisers advised against; the president ignored their advice -- Joie.

CHEN: In addition having to having Bob Franken standing by for us on Capitol Hill, we have in our Washington bureau for us legal analyst Roger Cossack.

Roger, Bob just made mention of Beth Dozoretz and her continuing to plead the Fifth Amendment earlier in the day. I think the thing that always comes back to those of us who watch cases unfold is: Hey, if you don't have anything to hide, why do you need to invoke this right? I mean, after all, if you are perfectly clean, why don't you just testify? And why does your lawyer tell you not to?

ROGER COSSACK, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You mean all of those guys that we see on "The Sopranos" taking the Fifth?

(LAUGHTER)

COSSACK: Well, you know, Joie, I think it's really important to put the Fifth Amendment in context. This is a right that we citizens have that was granted to us under the Constitution. And this is, you know, the part of the Bill of Rights.

CHEN: Well, that's swell, Roger, but why do you lawyers tell your clients not to testify?

COSSACK: Because there are those prosecutors out there that wish to take all of this evidence -- instead of being able to prove their case without evidence that my client could give them -- which the Constitution says should not happen -- and force that evidence from a defendant.

And so what happens is, is that the founding fathers, when they put the Constitution together, they said; You know what? We don't like the way that it happened in England before we had our revolution. We don't like the way that people could get called up and be forced to be witnesses against themselves, that the Crown could do whatever they wanted to.

We are going to have a criminal law system in which, if a prosecutor wishes to prove somebody guilty, they are going to have to do it without being able to force the person who they are charging into taking the witness stand and making their case. They are going to have to do it by independent means. And, you know, for 200 years now, that has served our country quite well.

CHEN: All right, CNN's legal analyst Roger Cossack, standing by for us in our Washington bureau. 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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