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Pardon Controversies Deepen With Involvement of Hugh Rodham

Aired February 22, 2001 - 12:50 p.m. ET


NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Natalie Allen; ahead on "CNN TODAY," new developments on the controversy over Bill Clinton's last- minute presidential pardons. And we'll have comments live from the former first lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton. Join us for "CNN TODAY" -- now back to Leon.

LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: All right, thanks Natalie. That pardon story is a developing one.

Let's go now to our Jeanne Meserve in Washington -- Jeanne.

JEANNE MESERVE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Leon, the center of interest today: Hugh Rodham, the brother of Hillary Rodham Clinton. He was paid almost $400,000 for work on two matters. One was a commutation of the sentence of Carlos Vignali. He was convicted and was serving time for transporting 800 pounds of cocaine. Also involved in the pardon of Almon Glenn Braswell; he was a businessman who had been convicted of mail fraud and perjury.

President Clinton put out a statement last night saying that he -- neither he nor Hillary had any knowledge of such payments.

Right now Kate Snow is up on Capitol Hill.

Kate, I understand the Senate is taking great interest in this matter.

KATE SNOW, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jeanne, the Senate Judiciary Committee has already been looking into the Marc Rich pardon case -- Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania taking the lead on that. And we have just learned -- CNN has learned, that Senator Specter has now asked his staff, instructed staff, to begin initially looking into these two cases that you mentioned -- the case of Glenn Braswell and Carlos Vignali and whether or not the involvement of Hugh Rodham poses any additional questions.

Now, again, we should stress Senator Specter initially asking his staff to look into it. I'm told that the staff has begun making calls to the attorney for Hugh Rodham and the attorney for those two gentlemen who did receive clemency from President Clinton. But that's where it stands right now; no word yet on whether the committee would, indeed, investigate further or hold any hearings or call any of those gentlemen for those hearings -- Jeanne. MESERVE: Kate, the House Governmental Affairs Committee, headed by Dan Burton, has been looking into the Rich matter as well; they had subpoenaed some documents from the Clinton library -- deadline passed about an hour ago. Have they gotten anything yet?

SNOW: No, they haven't received anything yet. They are waiting for documents from the library; their understanding is, like ours is, that they will be a partial response to what they request. They requested that they get records of donors that contributed more than $5,000 to the presidential library. Their understanding is that they're going to get some records involving Marc Rich and Denise Rich, but not all of what they've requested. And they're saying they're waiting to pass judgment on whether that is enough for them and whether that will satisfy the request that they made -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: And is that is committee, too, Kate, interested in looking into the Hugh Rodham situation?

SNOW: Absolutely, Jeanne. In fact, we should note that they are further out on this one; last night, Representative Dan Burton releasing a statement saying how displeased he was with the situation and the fact that he wanted his committee to look into the matter. They've already authored letters to the attorneys involved, to Hugh Rodham's attorney, and they've requested some documents -- they've asked for Hugh Rodham to submit documents by next Wednesday. And they say if they don't get what they would term an adequate response from Hugh Rodham -- from Mrs. Clinton's brother -- that they may then call him -- they're likely to call him to testify -- Jeanne.

MESERVE: Now, Hugh Rodham has returned the $400,000, and his attorney said that he did nothing wrong; there was only the appearance of impropriety. But is that satisfying people on Capitol Hill? What are they saying to you?

SNOW: Well, that's what everyone's talking about up here, Jeanne. It's not so much, is this a legal matter; several aides have said to me, look, legally speaking they may not have done anything wrong, it's the appearance of potential impropriety that people are focused in on. One democratic aide said anything that diverts the media's attention is going to divert the Democrats' attention as well, noting that they're not going to be able to get some of the -- perhaps not going to be able to get some of the things done that they want to be getting done right now because of media attention on this matter.

MESERVE: Kate, you're standing in the Russell Rotunda; that is where Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton will be talking about this matter shortly.

Set the scene for us there; what's going on?

SNOW: Yes, I just glanced over this way, Jeanne, because literally about 40 feet away from me is where Senator Clinton is expected. Right now, a very large crowd of media; no one beyond that, though. She is expected to take questions from reporters, so a lot of people awaiting her presence, ready to ask a lot of questions -- Jeanne. MESERVE: Kate Snow, thanks so much.

Also with me here today is Bill Schneider, our political analyst.

Why is Hillary coming out -- why Hillary Clinton coming out and making a public statement? She issued a written statement last night.

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL ANALYST: She's a United States senator; she's now a public figure in a way her husband is not. She's the former first lady, but now, of course, she's accountable to the voters of New York and a lot of people expect her to have a national career.

So this was her brother and the question is, how much did she know, and when was she aware of it?

MESERVE: What do we know about how much she knew?

SCHNEIDER: Well, she claims that she was not told -- she did not know that he was being paid. The question is, was she or the former president aware that her brother had any kind of interest in this. Someone very close to the president, Bruce Lindsey, one his closest confidants said he was aware that Hugh Rodham had some connection to one of these cases.

MESERVE: What does she need to say today to quell the furor?

SCHNEIDER: That she knew nothing about this; that neither she nor the former president was at all aware of her brother's involvement in this case. And she's -- and if that's you true, there better be no evidence of that.

MESERVE: How does this potentially affect her Senate career?

SCHNEIDER: It puts a cloud over her entry into the United States Senate because, look, I've counted seven controversies since President Clinton's last week in office, the pardons being the big one. But there were controversies over his office space and a bout his speaking fees and about the way they left the White House, which involved taking some property that might have been belonged to the White House. This creates a problem -- a cloud hanging over the name "Clinton." And a lot of Democrats believe it's time for the Democratic Party to distance themselves from being completely defined by the Clintons.

MESERVE: We only have a bit of time left; but had the controversy over the Clintons been beginning to die out before this latest revelation about Hugh Rodham?

SCHNEIDER: About six times in the past four weeks. You know, we had the election that never ended, and now we have the transition that won't end.

MESERVE: Great; Bill Schneider, thanks so much for joining us, we'll be talking again.



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