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Burden of Proof

Did Diplomatic Influence Drown Out Opposition to Marc Rich Pardon?

Aired March 2, 2001 - 12:30 p.m. ET

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

ROGER COSSACK, CO-HOST: Before a congressional inquiry, three Clinton White House aides say they recommended against a pardon for Marc Rich. But did diplomatic influence drown out their message to the Oval Office? Meanwhile, criminal investigators want a piece of those Clinton library records.

Today on BURDEN OF PROOF: I beg your pardon.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JOHN PODESTA, FORMER CLINTON CHIEF OF STAFF: Late on January 16th, I believe, the staff met with President Clinton on some other pardon matters, and the president brought up the Rich case. The staff informed the president that it was our view that the pardon should not be granted.

REP. DAN BURTON (R-IN), GOVERNMENT REFORM CHAIRMAN: We're going to try to see if there's any connection between the moneys that were paid to different people and the pardons. So far, we don't have any evidence of that, so we wouldn't say the president was involved in a quid pro quo, but we're going to continue to look at it because there's no rational explanation as to why the president pardoned him.

REP. CHAKA FATTAH (D), PENNSYLVANIA: This is not a committee that will ever yet be satisfied, no matter what answers they have nor how many hearings they have, because, as you know, there's a sense that somehow Clinton got away, and they want to find some way to get him.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

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

COSSACK: Hello, and welcome to BURDEN OF PROOF.

In granting a pardon for Marc Rich, former president Clinton rejected the legal opinions of his chief of staff, a close aide and personal confidant and a White House legal counsel. In hearings yesterday before the House Government Reform Committee, the three aides say they recommended against the pardon. But influential calls from the outgoing prime minister of Israel, well, seem to have swayed the president. The committee is looking into pardons granted by Clinton and whether there are any connections to contributions to his presidential library.

The U.S. attorney's office in New York is also looking into the Rich case and the commutations of four Hasidic men in New York. Federal prosecutors are also reviewing a list of donors to the Clinton Foundation.

So joining us today from New York is Alexandra Shapiro, former assistant U.S. attorney for the southern district of New York, and here in Washington, Amy Sabrin, former counsel for one-time Clinton deputy chief of staff Harold Ickes, law professor Charles Tiefer, who is representing former Clinton chief of staff John Podesta, and Republican congresswoman Jo Ann Davis, member of the Government Reform Committee. And in the back, Jennifer Pascal (ph), Robert Steinbuck (ph) and Sue Henderson (ph).

I want to go right to you, Representative. Tell me why you subpoenaed these people. Why did the committee subpoena these people that appeared yesterday? And I'm talking about the three we just described, the aides.

REP. JO ANN DAVIS (R-VA), GOVERNMENT REFORM COMMITTEE: Well, I think, you know, the mission of our committee is oversight, to see whether any ethical violations. You got to subpoena the people to get the facts.

COSSACK: You know, a lot of people have asked and written to me and say, "Why are they having these hearings?" You know, your committee is not going to indict anybody. It's not going to find anybody criminally liable. The Constitution says the president has this sole power to make these -- to make these determinations. What do you expect to get from your committee? And I -- and I guess what I'm suggesting is people say, "Well, is this just Clinton-bashing?"

DAVIS: Let me ask you the flip side.

COSSACK: OK.

DAVIS: What would it look like if we swept it under the rug and didn't investigate?

COSSACK: But what do you expect to get from this? I mean, what do you expect -- what -- is there going to be a report written? Is there going to be a final result come to?

DAVIS: You know what, Roger? I'd like nothing better than to find out at the end of this committee hearing that there was absolutely nothing but poor judgment on the part of President Clinton because I believe in our system. I believe in the...

COSSACK: Sure.

DAVIS: ... president having the constitutional power to pardon.

COSSACK: Sure.

DAVIS: But we have not been able to ascertain all the facts. When we can ascertain all the facts, at that point in time, I hope what we do, if nothing else, is give the next president who has pardons at the 11th hour pause to think, "Is this a wise decision?" and not just automatically pardon. And I got to -- I got to tell you this. You know, the old cliche. If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it's got to be a duck.

COSSACK: It isn't a hippopotamus.

DAVIS: It isn't a hippopotamus. And right now, all we've been able to see is it walking and quacking like a duck.

COSSACK: OK, Charles, I -- you represent Mr. Podesta, who testified yesterday. First of all, I'm not going to ask you to characterize on whether it's a duck or a hippopotamus yet, but I do want to ask you about the fact that your client was able to testify, the notion of executive privilege. And how do you go about preparing a client like that?

CHARLES TIEFER, COUNSEL FOR JOHN PODESTA: It was extraordinary that President Clinton dropped executive privilege. A number of the members of the committee mentioned it yesterday. And so the preparation is a rather painful process in which a top staffer for President Clinton, very loyal, has to say to himself, "I guess I'm going to go and bare the fact that I made a recommendation, and I was right in my recommendation and the president has suffered embarrassment for not taking it." That's painful.

COSSACK: Now, in terms of how you prepare your client -- I mean, obviously, you have to go through this whole thing with him and -- how many hours do you spend? And do you try and -- when I practiced law and we would -- I would know I was going to have a client that would testify, I would try and anticipate the questions, figure out what the other side was going to ask so that my client would be better prepared. Do you do that here when they're testifying in front of Congress?

TIEFER: Well, there's a real need to prepare because there has been an extraordinary amount of innuendo, of third-hand e-mails and press reports. And so you try to go over with your client, "If this weird press report, which turns out not to be true, were thrown in your face, what would you say?" and go down the list of them.

COSSACK: All right. Is there a -- who are you -- I know you represent your client, but are you -- is there -- is there a sense, as a lawyer, that you're representing your client, but you have one eye on trying to make sure the president comes out of this OK, or is this just something you go in there solely with the idea of "I'm just going to make sure that Mr. Podesta's OK"?

TIEFER: Well, Mr. Podesta has multiple feelings himself. He retains some loyalty to the president. I solely represent Mr. Podesta in this matter. He's the one who has to decide how much pain he's going to take in saying things that reveal that there are criticisms to be made of his -- his president.

COSSACK: Amy, in your job, you also had to represent some people who -- Harold Ickes, who at some time had to be talked to. Now, in terms of how you prepare and what you had to deal with, was it the same experience?

AMY SABRIN, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: It was very similar. I think these proceedings are like Kabuki plays. Everybody has a role to play. I think the president is the absent accused in many of these hearings. And other people are, too. And you work with the staff of the sympathetic side of the committee to anticipate the questions. There are no procedural safeguards.

COSSACK: Yes.

SABRIN: There's no rules of evidence. You can't call witnesses in your client's defense. You can't cross-examine witnesses. And the lawyer isn't even supposed to really say anything during a proceeding in Congress. So you have to work these issues through bank shots through committee members to get them to ask questions perhaps of other witnesses that redound to the interest of your client, to anticipate what kind of questions your client might get asked from the other side that might be challenging. And yes, you prepare them very thoroughly, especially when there's a concurrent grand jury investigation going on.

COSSACK: Right. And I want to get to that in a second. And just get back to this other side. Now, how do you prepare for this hearing?

DAVIS: I go in and listen for the facts.

COSSACK: Do you have questions prepared ahead of time? Do you have a point if view that you're -- is there something specific that you're looking for that you want to find out?

DAVIS: I want to find out the facts.

COSSACK: Is there...

DAVIS: Why did -- why did it happen? Why did -- especially after we heard yesterday that the three White House counsel cautioned against or recommended against providing the pardon, why did President Clinton do it? What was the motivating factor? This was the number- six fugitive at the time he was pardoned. We're not talking a run-of- the-mill whatever.

COSSACK: Right. You're not talking shoplifting here.

DAVIS: Right. Why the pardon?

COSSACK: OK.

DAVIS: I want to know that. Why?

COSSACK: All right. Let me take a break.

When we come back, let's talk about the criminal investigation into the Clinton pardon controversy. Do federal investigators have ways of making you talk?

Don't go away.

(BEGIN LEGAL BRIEF)

Michael Skakel appeared in court Thursday for a hearing on a prosecution request to change the venue of his murder trial. The judge said he would decide in "plenty of time." Skakel is charged with the 1975 slaying of teenage neighbor Martha Moxley. An evidentiary hearing is scheduled for April 18.

(END LEGAL BRIEF)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

COSSACK: The House Government Reform Committee was unsuccessful in its bid for testimony from Denise Rich and her friend, Beth Dozoretz. Now, Rich donated $450,000 to the Clinton library foundation, and Dozoretz pledged to raise a million dollars. But a federal probe is looking at an alleged link between the library and the pardons. The criminal case is being investigated by the U.S. attorney's office in New York.

Alexandra, tell us about how this investigation's going to go on? What's going to happen? And what about the suggestion that perhaps some of the witnesses that we saw invoke the 5th Amendment yesterday -- or in fact, we only saw one, Beth Dozoretz -- would perhaps get immunity if she was called upon to testify in the New York probe?

ALEXANDRA SHAPIRO, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, the U.S. attorney is obviously going to be subpoenaing records and subpoenaing witnesses. And I guess there were reports in the newspaper that both Dozoretz and Denise Rich apparently, according to the reports, are talking to the U.S. attorney. So there is a possibility if -- that they could both cut a deal and either get immunity or perhaps, you know, have to plead to something and work -- but basically work out a deal in exchange for their testimony.

COSSACK: Well, I think we're a little early in the road to talk about pleas to anything. I mean, I don't think anybody has suggested that either Ms. Dozoretz or Ms. Rich are the subject of -- of this criminal inquiry. I think right now we're just at the investigational stage. What exactly do you think the U.S. attorney wants to find out?

SHAPIRO: Well, the U.S. attorney's obviously trying to find out whether a crime was committed here, and that could involved either -- if -- you know, if -- if there was a quid pro quo, that would potentially be a bribery violation. There may also be criminal election fraud going on. For example, if it turns out that Marc Rich himself was -- was, you know, providing some of the money. This doesn't really go to the library but more to the fund-raising for the -- political contributions. If it turns out that he was contributing -- he's renounced his citizenship and so it would be illegal for him to be contributing to any American political campaigns.

COSSACK: What if it turned out that Marc Rich had given Denise Rich the money to donate to -- to donate to the library or to any other thing that she donated for? Would that be a -- would that be money-laundering?

SHAPIRO: Not necessarily. It really depends on the context. And for example, you know, whether -- if it was a campaign contribution, whether it's -- it was reported that it was him or whether, essentially, kind of a nominee was used and it was his money and it was funneled through another person. That would -- that would be a potential criminal violation.

COSSACK: Charles, I want to talk to you a little bit about something that we spoke with during -- during our break. We talked about the issue of -- of the purpose of this legislative committee's hearings. And I tried to speak -- I spoke a little about that with Representative Davis at the beginning. You have sort of a different view, that perhaps -- as I understand it, that perhaps the committee doesn't really have the jurisdiction to do what they're doing?

TIEFER: Well, traditionally, a congressional committee has no authority to do oversight where it can't legislate. The president's pardon power, coming from the Constitution in an absolute way, it looks like the only reason the committee has for doing this is a Republican partisan agenda, rather than legislating.

COSSACK: Well, what about the -- what about what I -- the argument that Representative Davis makes, which -- and I should let you speak for yourself, but at least the argument that you've made earlier, where you said, you know, there's a -- there's an informational purpose here, and perhaps the notion that future presidents will see, you know, even though we have this power, maybe we shouldn't act this way.

TIEFER: Well, I think the Framers wisely said that the pardon power was for the president's alone because it is so controversial in its nature, always, to pardon whoever it is -- Jefferson Davis after the Civil War -- that it shouldn't become a matter for partisan politics in Congress. It should be left to the president, with perhaps, in this rarest of situations, a criminal investigation to brush away suspicion.

COSSACK: Representative Davis, what about that? I mean, the notion that your committee perhaps -- well, the -- the attack that's been voiced, the notion that this is an exercise in politics and really nothing more.

DAVIS: I for one have not attacked in politics. I think it would be worse if we swept it under the rug, if we didn't let the American people see what went on. Let's face it, we have, you know, cynicism in our youth right now with the government. What kind of message are we sending to those young people when you've got what looks like a problem and we ignore it?

You know, I think very clearly that part of our mission in the Government Reform Committee is oversight. And whether you say there can be legislation on this or not, whether you agree with it, you could change the Constitution, if you wanted to. I don't advocate that. I think -- I think we have an obligation because we have a high-profile fugitive, a man who didn't even come back and go through our judicial system, a man who reportedly denounced his American citizenship, a man who reportedly spit on the American flag.

And we have a president who pardons him in the 11th hour, a man who Beth Nolan herself said she got the knowledge at about 2:30 in the morning on the 20th that there was possibly in the indictment...

COSSACK: You know...

DAVIS: ... trading with the enemy...

COSSACK: Let me just interrupt you for a second. I don't think there's anybody here that I see who's raising their hand saying that they believe that this may have been the best exercise of judgment that President Clinton ever did. But I think what I hear is that, you know, whatever the reason is, that President Clinton has the ability to do this and has the ability to have bad judgment. You know, Amy, isn't that sort of pretty much what it gets down to?

SABRIN: Well, I think there's a -- I actually think there is a legislative function to be played, if you wanted to consider a constitutional amendment, but that's not what these hearings are about. And I don't think this matter would be swept under the rug if there wasn't these congressional hearings going on. It was first reported in the press. There's grand jury investigation going on. So this isn't something that's going to go away, whether or not we have these hearings.

COSSACK: All right, let me -- Alexandra, in -- is there a criticism to be made of what the U.S. attorney's office is doing in New York in saying that, really, what Mary Jo White is reacting to is -- is reacting in anger, and that there really is no belief here or probable cause here that you're ever going to find that quid pro quo or smoking gun that you're looking for?

SHAPIRO: Oh, I don't think so. I mean, I think Mary Jo takes her job very seriously, and she wouldn't be opening this investigation unless there was at least some indication that there may be some evidence of criminal violations. So I don't think that's correct.

COSSACK: But in sense of "some evidence" -- I mean, really, what you have here is -- is really very little evidence. What you have is people who -- a man who got a pardon who clearly had the ability and may have had people -- you know, places -- people in high places on -- speaking for him. But that's not a crime.

SHAPIRO: Well, no, it's not. But you have to remember, Roger, that a grand jury investigation, you know, can be opened even if there's only a little bit of evidence. And in fact, the whole point of a grand jury investigation is to find out whether there is evidence of a crime. It's not as if, you know, one should assume that the U.S. attorney is rushing to judgment...

COSSACK: All right...

SHAPIRO: ... and is going to indict someone.

COSSACK: Let me just then end up -- and we have just a few seconds. Is there any of the three of you who would advocate that we change the way pardons are given now and amend the Constitution? Representative Davis?

TIEFER: Absolutely not.

DAVIS: No.

COSSACK: So even in light of all of the things that we talked about -- the anger, the disappointment, the bad judgment, as you put it, or perhaps even defend and say maybe he should have had -- there's no one that would take away that sole power.

That's all the time we have for today. Thanks to our guests, and thank you for watching. Join us again tomorrow for another edition of BURDEN OF PROOF. We'll see you then.

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