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Burden of Proof

'The Breach': Looking Back at the Impeachment and Trial of President Clinton

Aired September 22, 2000 - 12:30 p.m. ET

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

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT RAY, INDEPENDENT COUNSEL: Except with regard to certain limited, pending matters, the investigation in connection with the Madison Guaranty/Whitewater matter is now closed.

KATHLEEN WILLEY SCHWICKER, FORMER WHITE HOUSE VOLUNTEER: My children have been threatened, my government files have been released, and my life's innermost secrets have been dragged through the press. I am only one private citizen, and he is the president.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CO-HOST: Today, on BURDEN OF PROOF: It's been a legal roller-coaster week this week for President Clinton. Within the last 48 hours, the final report was filed in the Whitewater case. Then, a former White House volunteer sued him and others for allegedly violating her civil rights.

Plus, in another unrelated story, just a short time ago, a British appeals court ruled that doctors can separate conjoined twins against the wishes of their parents.

Hello, and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF. Roger is off today.

This week in the chronicles of President Clinton's legal history, one chapter was closed and then another one was opened. Yesterday former White House volunteer Kathleen Willey Schwicker announced a lawsuit against the president, the first lady and others.

Just one day before, though, independent counsel Robert Ray submitted a final report on the Whitewater investigation. This morning at her weekly Justice Department briefing, Attorney General Janet Reno was asked about the closure of the Whitewater case.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

QUESTION: Do you have a view as to the propriety of independent counsel Ray releasing statements of conclusions, prior to the court authorizing the release of a final report?

JANET RENO, ATTORNEY GENERAL: I think he was trying to do what was right under the act, while, at the same time, trying to properly advise the American people.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAN SUSTEREN: Joining us today from Los Angeles is Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters, and in Portsmouth, Arkansas, we're joined by Republican Congressman Asa Hutchinson. And here in Washington, J.D. Goodall (ph), "Washington Post" reporter Peter Baker, who has written a new book on the impeachment, titled "The Breach." And Mike Mandelberg (ph), and in our back row Gabe Rorenbeck (ph) and Scott Magiac (ph).

Peter, new book, "The Breach," you did a lot of research for -- what surprised you the most as you were putting it all together.

PETER BAKER, "THE WASHINGTON POST": Well, I think what surprised me the most was, that here was the most covered story, probably, maybe in our lifetime, maybe in history and, yet, there were so many things happening behind the scenes that we really didn't know about.

We didn't know how precarious President Clinton's political position really was with the Democrats. We didn't know about the turmoil in the White House to the degree that we should have known. We didn't know about the torment among the Republicans as they were struggling with how to -- how to handle this situation. And I think I was really surprised that there was so much that we -- under the surface -- that we didn't understand.

VAN SUSTEREN: What do you will think surprise the readers most when they pick up your book?

BAKER: I thank that what may surprise them the most are that the characters in the book are familiar faces and yet, I don't think they really know them. I think that what they'll be surprised at is that they're three dimensional characters. They are human. They struggle with what's right and wrong, and they try to reconcile their doubts with their bitterness and their resentment and their sense of morality.

And I think that they're going to find that politicians, in fact, actually aren't cut out figures. They're not stick figures. They are actually much more interesting as flesh and blood people than we give them credit for.

VAN SUSTEREN: Let's go to California, to Los Angeles, where we have Congresswoman Maxine Waters standing by.

Congressman Waters, I'm looking at "The Breach," which is a new book, and let me just read you a short passage, where it talks about -- it says several of the African-American Democrats were outraged, including Maxine Waters of California, Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas and Mel Watt of North Carolina, all members of the House Judiciary Committee. This was a railroad, they complained.

Let me ask you two questions. Do you think that the African- American members of Congress were more passionate about this issue, and if so, why? REP. MAXINE WATERS (D), CALIFORNIA: Absolutely, at that time I was chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, and I absolutely developed a leadership strategy for the Congressional Black Caucus. We even had buttons made up where we called ourselves the fairness cops.

We were struck by Ken Starr's rather overzealous pursuit of Bill Clinton. And it was a familiar theme to us. We have, as you know, been fighting against overzealous prosecutors in minority communities for many years, and we have always felt that the criminal justice system was something that needed to be led by people who were absolutely fair, and that their approach to things would be unquestionable.

We did not have that feeling about Ken Starr at all. We really did feel that he and others around him were out to get Clinton. We wanted fairness, and we -- we sounded that theme inside the Democratic caucus, we challenged our own caucus in a very tough meeting to come aboard and to not allow themselves to be caught up in the dumping of salacious material on the Internet and being frightened that somehow they couldn't stand up for what was right. And, it was a strong thing.

VAN SUSTEREN: What about, though, the white Democrats? where were they on this? I mean, in the book Peter has written, it certainly seems like the African-Americans were out front being the advocates. What were the members of Congress who were white saying about all this, behind the scenes?

WATERS: Well, it was just a few. It took them some time to come along. There was one of our caucus meetings that was -- that was -- it was very tense, where we basically took the microphone and said that the Democratic caucus needed to stand up for what was right.

Our communities began to come aboard. They agreed with us. And finally, when the members of the caucus started to hear more and more from their constituents that it was something wrong with all of this, many of them were surprised. And I think they were slow in coming along until they felt they absolutely had the support of their constituents and, of course, America sounded, I think, the right response, and that is, we don't support wrongdoing by Bill Clinton, but we don't think that this -- all of this information should be out there on the Internet and we don't think it's impeachable. We don't think that he has endangered our democracy in any way.

VAN SUSTEREN: Peter, you know, when I read your book and I learned so much more behind the scenes that I hadn't known. I mean, frankly, you get a little different picture as you go through the event than after you've passed through it.

But, you are the author of the book, but step back, don't be the author; be a citizen. Do you have more respect for the process or less respect, after studying it?

BAKER: I think I have more respect in some way because I had a chance to, after the book -- after the trial was over, to spend a year really getting to know people, getting to understand the Congressmen who were involved, getting to understand the White House people.

VAN SUSTEREN: But wait a second, you report -- you report in your book that representative Delay and his staff were almost salivating with the thought that the report was going to be released, the Starr Report. You don't necessarily portray a very attractive picture of some members of Congress. I mean, they actually seemed glad this was happening and eager to go in for the kill.

BAKER: Well, everybody had their own point of view, and Tom Delay's point of view was that it was a legitimate and principled stand that he was taking to go after the president, because he thought the president was guilty of crimes.

VAN SUSTEREN: But you use very harsh language when you quote their staff members, saying, about basically, when you kick them when they're down, you kick them again.

BAKER: Well, it was their language and not mine. I simply tried to show what they were saying to each other and what they were talking about among each other and what they were thinking. But, I tried not to draw any conclusions, myself, in the book. I think I tried to put it in their words and let the readers decide for themselves how they liked or didn't like the various characters in the book.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, we're going to take a break. Stay with us. We're going to be back with more on the impeachment trial after this short break.

(BEGIN LEGAL BRIEF)

Jury selection begins today in the civil trial between Anna Nicole Smith and the son of her late husband who was left his fortune.

Smith claims that her late husband promised her half his fortune, estimated between $48 million to $1.6 billion, in return for her hand in marriage.

(END LEGAL BRIEF)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAN SUSTEREN: Good news for our Internet-savvy viewers: You can now watch BURDEN OF PROOF live on the World Wide Web. Just log-on to cnn.com/burden. We now provide a live video feed, Monday through Friday, at 12:30 p.m. Eastern time. If you miss that live show, the program is available on the site at any time via video-on-demand. You can also interact with our show, and even join our chat room.

Although the work of the independent counsel is not yet complete, Robert Ray closed the books on an original inquiry this week with the submission of the Whitewater report.

One of our guests today has written a book on the impeachment and trial of President Clinton. "The Breach" provides an inside view of the developments which almost ended the Clinton presidency. Congressman Hutchinson, I want to go to you. In the new book that's been written, there is one quote, apparently in reference to whether or not the videotape of the president's grand jury testimony should be released or not. And you are quoted as saying "The videotape should be released, but the issue is timing."

Let me ask you a question: Did you see your role as an advocate for a certain position as member of the House? or did you see it as a dispassionate fact finder? Because throughout book, it makes you look like an advocate?

REP. ASA HUTCHINSON (R), ARKANSAS: Well, No, I think at the outset, when it was in the House Judiciary Committee, I was a fact- finder. I was trying to determine almost as a juror what my decision should be on the question of impeachment. Once I reached that conclusion, once I was appointed as a House manager, then I became an advocate. I assumed a different role.

And so, on the House side, I had one role; on the Senate side, I had a totally different role.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, well, let me quote another portion of the book. This is not a quote of you, but it is from the book. It says, "After the collateral damage from releasing the Starr Report on the Internet sight unseen, he -- meaning you -- was convinced that it would be an even bigger mistake to put out the videotape of the president's grand jury testimony."

That sounds like an advocate to me. Is that a wrong statement or am I reading that -- am I interpreting it incorrectly?

HUTCHINSON: Well, what you're seeing is someone who's very concerned about the process, and I've been a prosecutor, like you, Greta, I've been in the courtroom, and I know how evidence should be presented. I was very concerned about simply releasing this to the public. And I felt like the best way would have been to release it as it is presented as evidence in the Judiciary Committee. As we were hearing the facts, if we heard a portion of the video as evidence, then it should be released to the public.

So I think that would have been much more effective. But I was making my case to the members of the committee. I did not prevail on that point, and it was released.

VAN SUSTEREN: Congresswoman Waters, let me ask you: Did you think that the members of Congress were being dispassionate fact finders or do you think they all sort of -- you know they had a dog in that fight, in the sense that it was a little bit more than meets the eye?

WATERS: Well, I was amazed at the way that many of the members of the Judiciary Committee and certainly the managers just took on this fight with such relish. They had to get Bill Clinton.

And I have to tell you, Asa is on, you know, we both serve on that committee, and I kept looking for somebody on the other side to, you know, come to their senses, to try and stop this train. I kept saying every day, we are impeaching the president of the United States of America about an extramarital affair, not about a violation of our Constitution in our democracy. And I thought Asa was going to be one of them. And I have to tell you, I was oftentimes a little disappointed.

VAN SUSTEREN: What about that Congressman Hutchinson, I will let you respond to Congresswoman Waters. She said she is a little disappointed or she was?

HUTCHINSON: Well, you know, I don't think two years after the fact we need to rehash all the difficulty of that moment. I think Peter Baker has written an excellent books. It is very insightful. It is really the first unbiased account of what transpired and has a lot of inside information that I was not privy to.

I think what is important -- What I saw as a premise of Mr. Bakers' book was that there was partisanship on both sides. I think the Republican side, we could have worked together for a better process, and I regret that, and I wish we would have done that.

On the Democrat side, as Mr. Baker points out, they manufactured partisanship. They did not look at the evidence. What struck me is whenever they were viewing the evidence in the Ford Building, that they would go through there, and they would mark anything that was exculpatory of the president, anything that made Starr look bad, but there was no sticker for anything that was incriminating the president.

And so there was too much partisanship. But, ultimately, it came down to strong matters of conviction. Miss Waters, I respect her, and she felt very strongly that this was not an impeachable offense. She should have the same understanding about people on our side, who had a conviction in a different direction.

And I think it is a very good and unbiased account that is presented, but it certainly points out that the Democrats manufactured partisanship. They promoted that and that was their defense of the president.

VAN SUSTEREN: Do you subscribe to that Congresswoman Waters? Were you like -- Was your team as well a little bit up to their eyeballs in this?

WATERS: Well, we clearly were on the defensive, and we clearly was trying to make the case that this was not an impeachable offense. And we took necessary steps to do that, trying to point out everything from inconsistencies to you name it, and clearly Asa and I are going to disagree about whether or not we were appropriate in our own way of handling this. And, as he says, that is behind us.

But, of course, we are part of history now, having been involved in the impeachment of the president of the United States of America. And we must all reflect on what we did. And I know most of us want to feel good about the role that we played. And I feel very good that I was on the right track, that we were on the right track, that we stood up against that impeachment, even though it sailed out of the House of Representatives, thank God, on the Senate side it was stopped.

VAN SUSTEREN: Peter, reading your book, I tell you, I'm quite surprised about the level of even acrimony between the two sides as you get inside. Is there a hero in your view?

BAKER: It is a very good question, one I have been asked, and I have a hard time coming up with a hero. I think you have to view this through your own lens. If you are a conservative and believe that the president should have been impeached, then, of course, there are heroes in Henry Hyde and Asa Hutchinson. If you are a liberal Democrat and you believe the president was railroaded, then Maxine Waters and so forth are heroes.

I think that there is not a consensus view. I don't think there is anybody who emerges from this book or from this tale that the public as a whole could agree on as a hero because it was so polarized, it was so calcified.

VAN SUSTEREN: You use the term polarized. In reading your book, in some ways, I think it is almost downright dirty in some ways, in terms of how bad the fight got between the two sides.

We're going to take a break. Up next: We change our focus to a case in London, where a court has ruled that doctors can operate on conjoined twins against the wishes of the parents. Stay with us.

(BEGIN Q&A)

Q: A Pennsylvania man is on trial for allegedly damaging baked goods in a Yardley food market. How much damage has he been accused of causing?

A: $7,100 worth of baked goods. The defendant pleaded not guilty; he faces up to four years in prison if convicted.

(END Q&A)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAN SUSTEREN: A three-judge panel in London has ruled that doctors can perform an operation on conjoined twins, separating them without the consent of their parents.

The operation will kill one of the twins, and without the surgery doctors say that both will die. The mother and father were determined to submit to what they called God's will.

Joining us to discuss this case from London is CNN chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour, and by telephone we have Alan Kaufman, who is a family-law specialist in London.

Alan, first to you: What is the recourse in terms of appeal? Is there another place that the parents can go?

ALAN KAUFMAN, SPECIALIST FAMILY LAWYER: Yes, there is, because the judges today not only came to their decision, which they took with enormous sadness and after great difficulty, but they gave the right to the parents and, indeed, to the lawyer representing the child who is going to die, the right to appeal further to our highest court, known as the House of Lords.

The parents have now got to decide whether they're actually going to appeal or not.

VAN SUSTEREN: Alan, the child who is going to die if they're separated is Mary.

KAUFMAN: Yes.

VAN SUSTEREN: She has her own lawyer, does she not?

KAUFMAN: Say that again.

VAN SUSTEREN: The child who will die when they separate the two children is Mary, she has her own lawyer, does she not?

KAUFMAN: She has her own separate lawyer, making legal submissions on her behalf.

VAN SUSTEREN: And do you know if that lawyer intends to take the next step to the court of appeals, to that next higher court?

KAUFMAN: He has made a public statement; he is actually somebody here called the official solicitor, he's really a representative of the government, but put in to act, as it were, independently on behalf of Mary; and his statement said he is going to consider everything very, very carefully and, ultimately, he must take into account whatever the parents' wishes are.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is there any legal precedent for this?

KAUFMAN: It's been quite clear from all the comments we've had over the last few weeks there is no precedent and, indeed, the judges bent over backwards in their judgments to say, this is absolutely a unique case and their decision mustn't really be taken as authority to anything else.

It's a very, very special case with special circumstances.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, let's go to our chief international correspondent Christiane Amanpour who is in London.

Christiane, where are the parents now and the children?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, I asked that very question of the parents' lawyer and, of course, he would not divulge that.

This case has been shrouded in secrecy and privacy. The judges here absolutely determined that they will not allow the privacy of this family to be invaded and their pain, as he put it, to be made even worse by what he called, ghoulish invasion and pry, pry, pry. So the children, we understand, are still at St. Mary's Hospital in Manchester where they were born and where they have been kept since then. The parents, we simply we do not know.

The judge, under a request from the BBC television today, lifted the ban on being able to publicize where the family comes from, so that now we're able to say they come from Malta.

This, apparently, had been known widely, because it was available on the Internet, but the judge had banned that knowledge and that publication until right before he delivered the judgment today, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: Christiane, in the 15 seconds we have left, what's the role of the Vatican in this case?

AMANPOUR: Well, they have lodged a petition, and they have throughout this case, through their representative here in England who is the Archbishop of Westminster, the highest Roman Catholic prelate here in England.

And they have submitted their -- as you can imagine -- on the parents' behalf, to allow God's will, as the parents and the church say, to allow nature to take its course. I mean, they have not been able to countenance the ethical dilemma that is posed which is, in sense, to kill off, take one life in order to save another.

It simply has never happened. You've heard your experts say that there has not been a precedent for that kind of decision here; and many people are saying that these parents have made an informed decision, it's not as if that they are belonging to some religious sect, who, as we know, for instance...

VAN SUSTEREN: And Christiane, unfortunately, we have run out of time.

That's all the time we have. Thanks to our guests and thanks for watching, we'll be back Monday with another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. We will see you then.

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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