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Sunday Morning News

Clinton Editorial Defends Marc Rich Pardon

Aired February 18, 2001 - 6:01 a.m. ET

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

KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: It's been nearly a month since Bill Clinton left the Oval Office, and for much of that time, he's made front-page news. But this morning, he's making news on the op-ed page.

In an article in "The New York Times," Clinton is answering his critics on the controversial pardon of Marc Rich.

CNN's Eileen O'Connor joins us now with more on the former president's latest attempt to get his message out.

He got his message out, Eileen.

EILEEN O'CONNOR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: He certainly did, and this is clearly another attempt by President -- former President Bill Clinton to get another controversy behind. And he says he did nothing wrong in pardoning fugitive financier Marc Rich.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

O'CONNOR (voice-over): Former President Bill Clinton is taking his case directly to the people, telling just why he decided to pardon fugitive oil financier Marc Rich.

In an article he wrote for "The New York Times," Mr. Clinton said: "I believe my pardon decision was in the best interests of justice. If the two men were wrongly indicted in the first place, justice has been done."

Mr. Clinton cited how other similar cases were settled in civil court, how he received compelling arguments from Israeli officials and others about Rich's charitable deeds, and how even other prominent lawyers, including Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis Libby, had reviewed the case.

President Bush's spokesman denied Libby had anything to do with the pardon, though according to documents given to Congress he had at one time worked on the case.

The fact that Mr. Clinton had to tell his own tale shows the difficulty former presidents have of getting the message out.

CHARLIE COOK, "NATIONAL JOURNAL": He's no longer the president and so he can't go off on a foreign trip. He can't do anything to generate new news a different direction to deflect, to move away, to shift the subject. He's stuck with it now.

O'CONNOR: Even as the U.S. attorney in New York decided this week to launch a criminal investigation to determine whether a campaign or presidential library contributions were linked to the pardon, former aides and friends grappled with just how to get the message out.

Some are taking to the airwaves themselves.

JOE LOCKHART, FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: But I think he found there were compelling reasons based on how the case was brought, how the U.S. attorney brought the case, and the subsequent changes. And that there -- as he said recently, there were calls from the prime minister of Israel, from the king of Spain. There were compelling reasons.

O'CONNOR: Aides and friends will continue to press Mr. Clinton's case and the argument that he again is the subject of a hate campaign waged by Republicans. That, they hope, could bring the current president to bring a stop to it all.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'CONNOR: And you know, Kyra, they're going to be pressing that case this morning on all of those Sunday talk shows -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Eileen, Lockhart just mentioned in your piece how Israeli officials, you know, that Clinton mentioned, they had shown support for the Marc Rich pardon. However, the Jewish community is saying, no, no, we didn't do that, we were sending letters of support for Clinton, not Marc Rich.

O'CONNOR: No, what they were saying is there were Israeli officials, there were officials in Israel, and it said that Marc Rich had helped through charitable donations, philanthropic donations to certain organizations in Israel. Those organizations were sent in, the heads of those organizations sent some letters. They were organized by a man who has links to Mossad, the Israelis security services, and many times businessmen will help Mossad in some way.

It's been indicated, reported that during -- over the years, that perhaps Marc Rich did help the Israeli security services in some ways. But mainly, they're saying that those letters were written because of his philanthropic duties and the fact that he could help the future of Israel if there was a peace settlement.

Those were the way the letters were written, certainly, to President Clinton.

PHILLIPS: Eileen, do you think this controversy with regard to Clinton is helping or hurting Bush?

O'CONNOR: Well, you know, I've talked to some political analysts here and in fact some members of Congress, Republican members of Congress, and they basically said that so far it's -- it's helping Mr. Bush. No. 1, you know, you have the sort of the investigative juices of reporters focused still on the former president and not on anything that Mr. Bush is doing, which gives him some time.

You also have the fact that the Democrats themselves, according to some Republican members of Congress, are distracted. They're having to go out. They're having to defend the former president, some of them. And that's distracting them away from issues like tax cuts, health care reform and other -- and other things that are currently on the table that Mr. Bush is putting forward.

So, so far it's helping him. But if the Republicans overplay their hand and if friends of Mr. Clinton can -- can point that out and say that this is a revenge campaign of sorts, then -- then it could start to hurt the president -- Kyra.

PHILLIPS: Eileen O'Connor, live from Capitol Hill, thanks so much.

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