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Burden of Proof

Marc Rich Pardon: House Panel Investigates Bill Clinton's 11th- Hour Action

Aired February 8, 2001 - 12:37 p.m. ET

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

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, CO-HOST: Today on BURDEN OF PROOF: 19 days after Bill Clinton leaves office, a congressional hearing investigates an 11th-hour presidential action: the pardon of Marc Rich.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REP. DAN BURTON (R-IN), GOVERNMENT REFORM CHAIRMAN: The Marc Rich pardon has been particularly controversial. Our position is simple: the American people deserve to know the facts. At this point in time, we don't know all the facts. That's why we're holding this hearing.

JACK QUINN, MARC RICH'S ATTORNEY: In the American legal system, any person accused of wrongdoing is entitled to representation by a lawyer who advocates his position honestly, ethically and conscientiously. That is what I did, nothing more and nothing less than.

REP. HENRY WAXMAN (D), CALIFORNIA: Unless there is compelling evidence of illegal conduct by former President Clinton, the committee should not embark on a search for another scandal.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ANNOUNCER: This is BURDEN OF PROOF, with Greta Van Susteren and Roger Cossack.

VAN SUSTEREN: Hello and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF. Roger is off today.

For nearly 20 years, Marc Rich has been wanted by U.S. prosecutors for charges of fraud and tax evasion. But on Jan. 20, President Clinton's last day in office, Rich received a pardon of those charges, opening the door for his return to the United States. Questions of impropriety have been raised throughout Washington because Rich's ex-wife has been a generous donor and fund raiser for the Democratic Party.

Today on Capitol Hill, a House committee began examining the case. The first to testify: Rich's lawyer, Jack Quinn, who once served under Clinton as a White House counsel.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) QUINN: The process this pardon followed gave the president the time and the opportunity to weigh his decision carefully. For over five weeks, the White House had time to consider the views of White House attorneys, the Justice Department and anyone else with whom it might choose to discuss the matter in order to make a judgment on the merits.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAN SUSTEREN: Joining us today from Capitol Hill is Republican Congressman David Vitter of Louisiana. Also on Capitol Hill, Democratic delegate from Washington, D.C. Eleanor Holmes Norton. And here in our studio, Emily Wang (ph), law professor Robert Destro, and Lisa Kathumbi (ph). In the back, Rashmi Puri (ph) and Lori Aufdemorte (ph).

Also joining us from Capitol Hill is CNN national correspondent Bob Franken.

Bob, we heard in the beginning of the show at least one quote from Jack Quinn, who represented Marc Rich. But tell me what kind of grilling is Jack Quinn getting before this committee, light or -- or hard?

BOB FRANKEN, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Pretty tough grilling. He is -- he is being given the once over by not just the Republicans, but many of the Democrats. What they're trying to pin down is number one, did Jack Quinn inappropriately use the fact that he was a former White House counsel for Bill Clinton, and in fact had direct access to Clinton, to bypass necessary Justice Department pardon considerations.

Number two: What about his claims that when he represented Marc Rich and argued that Rich should not have ever been indicted in the first place, were those valid claims? The claims were called preposterous by two of the prosecutors who back in the early '80s were pursuing Marc Rich. They point out that he was charged with $48 million in tax evasion, the largest case tax evasion case in U.S. history, and that he was trading with Iran, which was against the law at the time.

Of course, Rich has left the United States. There was quite a bit of discussion about whether the fact that he was a fugitive might have in fact disqualified him from being pardoned -- a fugitive who had renounced U.S. citizenship.

But the underlying questions also are about influence pedaling. A name that has come up is Denise Rich, the ex-wife of Marc Rich, who is a major Democratic contributor -- gave over $1 million to the party, had fund-raisers for the Clintons. She was sent a list of questions by the committee. Her lawyer wrote back saying that on the advice of counsel, Denise Rich would not answer the questions, because of Fifth Amendment concerns, concerns against self-incrimination -- Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: Bob, let me take apart some of the things that you just said. First of all, the question of whether or not normal procedures were bypassed or not. Did Jack Quinn testify that the Justice Department was aware of his seeking a pardon on behalf of his client?

FRANKEN: He did testify that in fact he had considerable consultation with Eric Holder, who was the deputy attorney general. There is apparently some dispute between Holder and Quinn about just how extensive that consultation was. We'll be hearing later in the day from Holder, by the way, who accepted an invitation by the committee.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, let me focus in now on this $48 million allegation of tax evasion. Correct me if I'm wrong, but did Jack Quinn -- did he talk at all about the fact that -- that there were companies who were doing the same thing as his client and they were not charged criminally, but instead they paid a civil penalty?

FRANKEN: He did talk about whether this was appropriately done as a criminal investigation, saying in fact, other companies had been charged civilly. He also, of course, we know -- that the Marc Rich company's paid as corporations were involved in criminal charges for which they paid a large fine. What Quinn is saying is that pursuit of Marc Rich was overzealous prosecution, should never have occurred -- that was the argument, apparently, that he made to Bill Clinton, President Clinton, who then responded with a pardon.

VAN SUSTEREN: And of course, the one other additional matter before I go to one of our other guests is the fact -- and correct me if I'm wrong on this, Bob -- is that in connection with the pardon, did Marc Rich specifically waive the right to defend against any civil penalties? Is that still out there, that he'll pay civil penalties if that's appropriate?

FRANKEN: He waived according to the deal that was set up, the pursuit of his opposition to going up against civil prosecution, that is to say civil penalties. However, some of the Republicans on the committee said that that was really irrelevant, that for a variety of reasons that the civil penalties were not a threat anymore.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, let's go to Congressman Vitter from the great state of Louisiana.

REP. DAVID VITTER (R-LA), GOVERNMENT REFORM COMMITTEE: Good to be with you, Great.

VAN SUSTEREN: Nice to be with you.

Congressman, to quote the name of a television show at night, what's the point, what are you doing in this investigation?

VITTER: The point is that, in my opinion, this is the biggest case of political pay-off and abuse of power that I've seen, and coming from Louisiana, that's really saying something. I'm not saying that I know there was a quid pro quo, which is sort of the general line of illegality. I'm certainly not saying that that can be proved; I didn't think you'll ever prove that, even if that existed. But I am saying it's blatant abuse of power which stinks to high heaven, and I think it's very appropriate and very necessary that we shine the light of day on it and focus public attention on it if we are ever to hope avoid -- hope avoiding this abuse of power again.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, let me pull out two things that you said that struck me -- that first of all -- three things: First of all, you said this is a pay-off suggesting political corruption.

But then you say two other things: that there's no evidence of quid pro quo; and you say that there's no proof. Well, right away that seems to see just sort of Republican venom and not necessarily, you know, making a case.

VITTER: No, I think something can stink to high heaven and be a blatant pay off without necessarily being a clearly proved criminal case, and I don't think we should just accept any blatant abuse of power like that just because there's not criminal proof. I think it remains a serious matter that the public is outraged about, and we can only avoid this in the future by focusing attention on it now.

VAN SUSTEREN: What is exactly what was wrong? What do you object to? What is the -- I use the word crime, but I don't mean in a criminal sense?

VITTER: The blatant influencing pedaling.

VAN SUSTEREN: In what way?

VITTER: The simple way that Denise Rich gave $1 million to Democratic causes, bought the Clintons $8,000 worth of furniture, according to her lawyer today gave a lot money to the Clinton Library, and oh, yes, just as a pure coincidence, got this enormous favor, this completely unjustified presidential pardon.

VAN SUSTEREN: Now, I don't know any of the personal issues between Denise Rich and Marc Rich, but it would almost be extraordinary to me -- I mean, I don't know -- but this is -- we're talking about an ex-husband, not a current husband. Is that irrelevant?

VITTER: I don't think -- I don't think it would be extraordinary at all to think that she was in favor of a pardon of the father of her kids. I think that's not the least bit of a stretch. I mean, I think quite frankly to argue that all of this stuff is just coincidence is being blind to the obvious.

VAN SUSTEREN: And let me go back to Bob Franken.

Bob, we've had Jack Quinn this morning -- or it's ongoing -- who else is on this line-up to testify?

FRANKEN: Well, we are also hearing from Martin Auerbach, who was one of the prosecutors. We also heard from Morris Weinberg, who was another of the prosecutors -- who by the way, in the early '80s, were working with somebody whose name is very familiar: They were working with the New York U.S. attorney Rudy Giuliani -- and there were charges at the time that there might have been some political motivation for all of this kind of thing.

But they argue strenuously that this was a highly justified prosecution, that Marc Rich, in fact, should have been indicted, should have been brought back to United States.

By the way, may I make one very short point, Greta.

VAN SUSTEREN: Yes.

FRANKEN: And that is is that ex-wife Denise Rich did write on behalf Marc Fischer (ph) to Bill Clinton.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, let me ask you now quick question: I've seen battered around newspaper articles that Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff was once Marc Rich's lawyer. Was he involved in any way in this pardon process?

FRANKEN: Certainly nobody has brought up that possibility, no.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, we're going to take a break. When we come back, the pardon process within the Justice Department. What type of people traditionally receive pardons, and was this case handled any differently?

Don't go away.

(BEGIN LEGAL BRIEF)

On Wednesday, a Colorado coroner released portions of autopsy reports of a teacher and 10 students killed in the Columbine High School massacre two years ago. The reports were released because of pending lawsuits related to the April 1999 shooting.

(END LEGAL BRIEF)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

VAN SUSTEREN: Welcome back; want to take you back into the House Government Reform Committee, they're holding a hearing on the pardon of Marc Rich.

Let's listen.

(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

MORRIS WEINBERG JR., FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY/NEW YORK: ... one count out of 51. The guts of this case was a tax fraud case; it had to do with $100 million worth of income which happened to be illegal as a result of violations of the energy regulations that were laundered out of the country. And it was a crime in 1983 to not pay taxes on $100 million worth of income and to devise a scheme to avoid paying taxes, and it's a crime in 2000.

It was a crime in 1983 to violate the energy regulations, and the fact that there are no regulations anymore doesn't make the crime any less. I mean, it was a crime to lie about it. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That was really not my point, that it made it any less. I asked the question as to whether the change in policy justifies consideration of the new circumstances...

WEINBERG: I'll answer that directly: I think not. I mean, if you're away for 20 years and you're fortunate enough to be able to persuade two foreign states not to extradite you, the gloss of time is always going to change the interpretation of the law. You can look at indictments that were brought in 1980 and, if you examine them in 2000, the gloss of time is -- you're going to find that the courts interpret the law different in 2000 than they did in 1980.

But you've got to look at the guts of what the case was about, and these people. And when you look at the guts of what the case is about and the people -- doesn't make any difference whether or not we would bring a RICO charge today -- it is whether or not we would bring a criminal charge today and whether or not it is acceptable to be pardoning folks who have done things like renouncing their citizenship, becoming fugitives, not coming back and making these arguments that they say are so clear -- I mean, was it justified?

And you can't come in and say, well, 20 years have past and, you know, the courts now interpret -- or the Justice Department interprets the RICO statute differently.

REP. DAN BURTON (R-IN), GOVERNMENT REFORM CHAIRMAN: Thank you.

May I, Mr. Chairman, very briefly?

BURTON: Yes, briefly.

MARTIN J. AUERBACH, FORMER ASSISTANT U.S. ATTORNEY/NEW YORK: I'm afraid that the argument with respect to the change in RICO policy is as disingenuous as I find the argument with respect to fugitivity. While it is true that the Justice Department changed its view with respect to tax counts as a predicate for RICO, it has not changed its view with respect to mail and wire fraud as a predicate for RICO.

And, as Mr. Quinn knows, as the indictment reflects, there are both mail and wire fraud counts which were predicates for RICO. So I believe that the Justice Department might well approve this indictment today; and I, in fact, believe that, were they to review this indictment today -- and, of course, they did review it before it was brought, there would be money laundering charges in this case.

BURTON: Thank you. The chair recognizes himself for five minutes.

Mr. Quinn, Mr. Rich is a citizen...

VAN SUSTEREN: The hearings before the Burton committee, called the House Government Reform Committee, on the controversial pardon of Marc Rich.

Let's go to Bob Destro.

Bob, on the whole issue of pardon, what does a pardon do? What is it? Give me some basics.

ROBERT DESTRO, LAW PROFESSOR: Well, the basics of a pardon is it's part of separation of powers, where the president is the chief law enforcement officer of the United States, he or she has the ultimate responsibility to make sure that justice is done in a criminal case.

VAN SUSTEREN: And where does the power come to give the president the right to pardon?

DESTRO: Article II of the Constitution gives the power of pardon to the president; it's part of his law enforcement powers.

VAN SUSTEREN: Is it unusual -- there's a pardon office at the Justice Department -- is it unusual or unique that this would go straight to the White House and not through the Justice Department?

DESTRO: Usually, even if it goes straight to the White House it will go back to the Justice Department because the Justice Department has been delegated the power to enforce the law by the president, but the president is still ultimately responsible for the enforcement of the law.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, let's go to Jeff Connaughton, who was a lawyer at the White House.

Jeff, tell me: this pardon -- good idea? Bad idea? Can you defend it?

JEFF CONNAUGHTON, FORMER WHITE HOUSE COUNCIL: Yes, because one has to believe that there's a defensible basis on the merits for one to not automatically assume that the process was somehow corrupt. And I think when people listen in this hearing and understand that the Justice Department did, indeed, change its policy in 1989 about the use of the racketeering statute, and understand that that racketeering statute has a crushing effect on defendants because Congress designed it for going after organized crime.

If one accepts the premise that RICO is no longer used in this type of case, which basically amounts to a civil regulatory tax dispute, then I think one has to concede that there is a basis on the merits. You may not agree with the president's decision, but there is a bases on the merits.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right; there are several issues, here. Jeff, first there's the issue of the process -- whether the process was right or wrong, whether it was follow correctly. And frankly, you know, presidents do pardon people even before they're even charged. That's the first issue.

The second: whether or not this man deserved a pardon; and one the issues to be raised is whether or not he was unfairly singled out and targeted, perhaps by an overzealous prosecutor.

But then you've got the other issue: the fact that he didn't come back to this country but, rather, he stayed overseas, outside the reach because he was in Switzerland.

Looking at that, what is the core argument in favor of the pardon?

CONNAUGHTON: I think the core argument is that no one would disagree that in 999 cases out of 1,000 you would never consider granting a pardon to a fugitive. The question is whether this case warrants the exception.

And because both the department of justice agrees that RICO was inappropriately used, that the Department of Energy had reached a contrary finding to that contained in the indictment, then -- and the fact that the southern district refused to even acknowledge in discussions with Mr. Rich's lawyers for 10 years those errors in the indictment already acknowledged by other agencies of the government, that created, in my mind, an appropriate opportunity for the president to look to see whether these people should have been charged civilly versus criminally.

VAN SUSTEREN: And, of course -- and I hate to interrupt you, but we're out of time.

But I just want to add one other thing as this story is ongoing, is that Representative Burton has told CNN that he will seek immunity through the Justice Department to compel Denise Rich, the ex-wife of Marc Rich, to testify before the committee.

That's all the time we have for today. Thanks to our guests, and thank you for watching.

Today on "TALKBACK LIVE": should Professor Gore's journalism lectures be off the record? Send your e-mail to Bobbie Battista, and tune in at 3:00 p.m. Eastern time.

And we'll be back tomorrow with another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF; we'll 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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