Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Defends the Marc Rich Pardon

CNN Transcript - Larry King Live - February 28, 2001

LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, highways buckled, buildings crumble and people flee to the streets after a strong earthquake rattles Seattle and surrounding areas. We'll go there live for the latest.

Then, an exclusive interview with a close friend of Marc Rich. Live from Jerusalem, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin. He just spoke to Marc Rich today.

And joining us from Washington on the eve of more hearings on the pardon, we'll hear from Senator Arlen Specter. Also in the nation's Capitol, Republican Congressman Bob Barr; in Little Rock, Susan McDougal, who received a pardon from President Clinton. Back in Washington, the chief minority counsel for the House Judiciary Committee, Julian Epstein and in Richmond, Virginia, former federal prosecutor Barbara Olson. They're all next.

We begin by going right to Seattle for the big story of the day and we start with Katharine Barrett, our CNN reporter on the scene, who's been in that spot all day long. We've just received a report from Reuters that someone apparently died of a heart attack and they're saying that's related the earthquake and that's only the fatality. Can you add to that?

KATHARINE BARRETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, certainly Larry, it was a terrifying moment and a shock to citizens here in more ways than one. This is something that the city has not experienced, anything like this, in more than 50 years. Walls shook, shuddered, filing cabinets toppled over in offices, windows broke, skyscrapers swayed, people tried to control their cars on the road.

But, there is still rather a sense of relief here tonight, relief that it could have been much, much worse given the magnitude of that quake. You mentioned that possible heart attack, but as far as the injury tally goes, fewer than 30 people were reported injured. Five of those seriously, but, again, considering the magnitude of that quake, it could have been much, much worse.

Now, many workers tonight are unsure whether they'll be going back to the office tomorrow. Many of them were evacuated from downtown buildings here, and city building inspectors and structural engineers will be working overtime tonight and in coming days to inspect for damage that might not be immediately visible, to check that these buildings are structurally sound and all right for people to go back to work in. But again, the city's infrastructure seems to have weathered things remarkably well, but it certainly has shaken people here.

KING: Mayor Paul Schell is the mayor of Seattle. He's standing next to Katharine Barrett and we'll go to him now. Mayor Schell, what's Seattle's history with earthquakes?

MAYOR PAUL SCHELL, SEATTLE: Well, we've had earthquakes in the past, and they've gone back since the beginning of time, and we keep learning more about the level of intensity that's possible here. So, we have been preparing for years for what we expect will be a large earthquake.

This was certainly big enough. And spent a lot of money and time retrofitting our bridges and roads and schools and homes, and teaching our citizens how to act when it occurs.

I have to say I'm very proud about how we -- everybody, didn't panic, did what they had to do. We got all of the basic services up and running quickly, and people evacuated buildings. There were school children who were well taken care of, and I think it shows that being prepared does pay off in the end.

But we've had damages. We've got bridges that we're not certain about. We've got some buildings in Pioneer Square. We've got Starbucks with some major damage. It's really, indeed, fortunate that we have no fatalities, at least that I'm aware of, and only 25 people in the hospital that I think we were blessed.

Today, it was terrifying experience for people who went through it, and it'll be a lot of family time at home tonight where people talk to their children and trying to deal with fear that this creates.

KING: Mayor, where were you?

SCHELL: I was to enter a press conference on the top floor of city hall, and it's a building that we're replacing because it doesn't meet earthquake code, and so we moved around a lot and I left quickly and went down the stairwell and I couldn't even -- it was moving from side to side and paint was dropping and I didn't know whether we'd get out of the building. It was that severe.

But, everything held together and again I think, it's a lot of good work in terms of preparing for this event. Something we know likely to occur here, we just don't know when, and so you have to be on the alert all the time.

KING: Now, next to Mayor Schell, we'll have a few words with Tony Quamar. He is a seismologist associated with the University of Washington. This was a magnitude of 6.8. Is that like, Tony, on a scale of 10, this was a seven?

TONY QUAMAR, SEISMOLOGIST: Excuse me, I didn't quite here you.

KING: If this -- we were going it like scale of 10, would this be a seven? QUAMAR: Yes, a 6.8 is about 10 times more shaking than a 5.8. Every time you go up one step on the magnitude scale, it's 10 times greater shaking.

KING: Were you surprised at how little injury there was?

QUAMAR: Yes. I would say that in some respects, we were pretty lucky. This earthquake was close to the size of the earthquake that occurred in 1949. It was somewhat less, and I think we came through pretty well.

Many of our more modern buildings are well constructed and come through very well during shaking of this type. We did have damage, of course, in some of our older, unreinforced masonry buildings.

KING: We know about Los Angeles. We now know about Seattle. We certainly know San Francisco. What other major cities at risk for an earthquake which of course are not predictable?

QUAMAR: Well, in addition to those, some people don't realize that the Pacific Northwest is also at risk to earthquakes. We have three different types of earthquakes in the Pacific Northwest. The type we had today, the deep earthquake. We have shallow earthquakes very much like the earthquakes that occur in much of California, and then we have, every 500 years or so, we have a truly great earthquake, a subduction zone earthquake or magnitude 8 to 9, but those don't occur very often and the last one was in 1700.

KING: Any cities in danger in the central United States or eastern or southern United States?

QUAMAR: Well, it is interesting that in the central United States, particularly in Southeast Missouri, New Madrid region, Tennessee, so forth, that some very large earthquakes did occur in 1811 and 1812, and that area is in fact -- has a fairly high degree of seismicity even today, although not the very large earthquakes that occurred in 1811 and '12.

KING: The mayor has told us that his city did a great job, and it's obvious they did. The governor has declared a state of emergency, and the president assures that federal help is on the way. And we thank Katherine Barrett, Paul Schell and William -- Tony Quamar for joining us. By the way, one hour from now, there'll be a special, one-hour report on all of the events of the day in Seattle.

When we come back, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, the friend of Marc Rich who wrote to President Clinton to help get Marc Rich a pardon, spoke to Marc Rich today. We'll talk about that friendship, and why he sought a pardon for him right after this.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I send my prayers and express our country's concern for our fellow citizens in Seattle, Tacoma, and Olympia, areas of the state of Washington. Those folks were affected by a major earthquake today. Our prayers are with those who were injured and their families, and with the many thousands of people whose lives have been disrupted.



KING: We now welcome to LARRY KING LIVE, exclusively from Jerusalem, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin. Rabbi Riskin is the chief rabbi for the city of Efrat. That's right outside Jerusalem. He's been a friend of Marc Rich for the last 12 years. First met Marc Rich in Switzerland 12 years ago.

What was the occasion of your meeting?

RABBI SHLOMO RISKIN, FRIEND OF MARC RICH: I was actually on a speaking tour, and I was in Switzerland. I was giving a number of lectures. And he came to hear. He wanted to meet with me. And he asked very searching, philosophical, theological questions about Judaism, and that really began the friendship.

KING: Did you know who he was, that he was a fugitive from the United States? Did you know any of the background?

RISKIN: No. I had absolutely no idea of the background at all. I discovered that...

KING: Did he tell you of the background?

RISKIN: No, no, we never discussed it, and it was not an issue.

KING: Did a friendship then develop, Rabbi?

RISKIN: Yes, without a question. When I came to Switzerland, I always met him. I actually stayed in his home. And the friendship, I believe, deepened when his daughter, Gabriella (ph), became so very ill. Actually, he had asked me to meet with Gabriella, because she also had questions about Judaism. And I met with her in New York. We met for dinner a number of times. I was enormously, enormously impressed.

I will tell you she was one of the most beautiful and accomplished and intelligent women I've ever met. And then...

KING: When you learned...

RISKIN: ... when I heard she was ill.

KING: Yeah.

RISKIN: Pardon?

KING: No, I'm sorry. Go ahead.

RISKIN: Then when I heard she was ill and Marc couldn't visit her, I asked if I -- if he thought it would be OK if I would visit her. And I went to the Hutchinson a number of times to see her, and of course, talked to Marc each time. KING: When...

RISKIN: And I felt to a very great extent his pain.

KING: When you learned about Marc Rich's difficulties, did that affect your opinion of him?

RISKIN: No, it really didn't. First of all, I'm not -- I don't really know or understand everything that was involved. But that wasn't the nature of our relationship. The nature of our relationship were the questions he asked, the searching kind of issues that concerned him in terms of philosophy, in terms of theology, in terms of Israel, in terms of Israeli politics. And that was the nature of the things we discussed. And as I said, when his daughter became ill, that became an all-consuming issue as well.

KING: Were you with him the day she died or near him or did you talk to him because he couldn't even go -- he didn't go to the funeral.

RISKIN: That was the tragedy. And I think more than the fact that he couldn't go to the funeral was the fact that he couldn't be with her in the hospital when she was suffering so terribly.

KING: Of course, he could have come back, though.

RISKIN: And...


KING: He could have just -- he could have come back, faced the charges and have been there.

RISKIN: Yeah. That could very well be. I don't know about that actually, but I -- from his point of view, he couldn't come back.

KING: All right. Why...

RISKIN: He didn't come back.

KING: Did he ask you to write to President Clinton or did you do that on your own?

RISKIN: No, no. He never asked me to do anything for him actually. No. Abner (UNINTELLIGIBLE), who was orchestrating the letters, asked me if I would think of writing to him, and I said I certainly would. And of course, I did.

KING: And let's hear -- here -- I don't want to read the whole letter, but here are some of the things you wrote in the letter. And I'll read them out now, and we might have them on the screen.

"All those who know Marc Rich personally are impressed by his warm personality, his willingness to help every individual, whatever his or her social or economic standing may be. He enjoys a good reputation both as a fair businessman and an honorable human being. "Marc Rich, always a very devoted and loving father, endured unimaginable anguish not to have been able to visit his daughter during those trying months at the end of her life.

"Whatever his crimes may have been he has already more than paid his debt."

You -- you know all those things in your heart to be true. I want to ask you why you like him so much.

RISKIN: Look, my relationship to him is a person who is a very good person and always willing to help. I saw him suffer. And that's very difficult. I listened and discussed with him major issues in philosophy and theology. Whenever I raised with him a human issue, a humanitarian issue, the kind of help, for example -- and I'm not talking about all of the help that he gives throughout Israel or America and leukemia and the cancer funds and underprivileged children. In my case, he never directly helped any of our institutions, built a building or a wing of a building.

But when there was a person who needed help, who needed a stipend -- most importantly, there's a Palestinian village, and one could call it my kind of charity, the kind of thing that has nothing to do with my institutions per se or my city per se. But I see the Palestinians without any health insurance, and in a terrible, terrible state. He helped send a Palestinian, through my suggestion, to medical school. He built an early child-care center for the Palestinians.

When I see the villages near Efrat are in need, especially of a medical clinic, he helps and he's there. And he never asks for anything in return: not even a sign, not even a plaque. And these are the kinds of things that I think are very important.

KING: We'll take a break, come right back with Rabbi Shlomo Riskin. This is his first interview regarding his friend Marc Rich. He spoke to Rich today. We'll ask about that. We'll ask about what next and where he thinks all this is going to go. We'll be right back with Rabbi Riskin live from Jerusalem, right after this.


WILLIAM J. CLINTON, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I did what I thought was right, and I -- I still think that on balance it was probably the right decision. I wish we had more time to work it. But you should -- nobody else needs to be called about this. I am responsible for it, and I take responsibility for it.



KING: Back with Rabbi Shlomo Riskin. We understand you spoke with Marc Rich today. About?

RISKIN: He heard that I was coming on the show. He thanked me for coming on the show. I had -- I said to him actually -- I quipped, you know, that I had been thinking about you. So he said, of course, you've been thinking about me. You open the newspapers, you see my pictures, you an article about me. Of course, you've been thinking about me.

KING: Did he expect to be pardoned? Did he ever tell you that he was hopeful?

RISKIN: It's interesting. Actually, I was in Switzerland with him about a day or two before the pardon came through. And we spoke about many things. Again, we spoke about personal things, about family things, about theological things, as usually we speak about. And I brought up the question of the pardon, and he seemed rather skeptical that anything would happen. And it was like two minutes of the time that we spent together.

KING: How -- how would you describe him? Is he happy now? Content? Feeling better about -- give us a personality description of this man all America is interested in.

RISKIN: The Marc Rich that I know is a very fine person who has a certain strain of sadness -- I have always felt that strain of sadness; I felt it the first time I met him -- who wants to know how to help and wants to help in a very broad way. And I speak now about specific humanitarian issues.

A family person who cares very much about his family.

KING: What do you mean -- what do you mean by a certain sadness?

RISKIN: It's difficult for me to go -- to say more than that. I've always felt that there was a certain strain of sadness. Difficult for me to judge exactly what the reason for that was. Of course, it became intensified when his -- when his daughter was so ill.

And one of the reasons that he wants to come to America is to visit his daughter's grave. That's very important to him. And to visit his father's grave -- he speaks to me about his father. He has a very profound sense of Jewish identity, and he is very caring.

I spoke to him, for example...

KING: You know his mother, do you not?

RISKIN: Yes, I do. We've spent evenings with his mother actually when I've come for dinner. His mother has been there. His mother is ailing a little bit, and you know, he's a good son, a very devoted son. And she's often there when I'm there.

KING: You said you spoke to him. About what? I'm sorry, I interrupted you.

RISKIN: No. I think that, you know, that -- that...

KING: You mean the desire to visit the grave. Jack Quinn...


KING: ... his attorney, said he has no doubt that Marc Rich will come back to America. Do you think he will?

RISKIN: Well -- yes, I think he certainly will. I think his daughter's grave, I think his father's grave. He has, although he's not a completely observing Jew, from that perspective he has a very deep sense of Jewish consciousness. And recently, he was in Israel because of the birthright program of Jewish people who had never been exposed to Judaism before. And when he spoke to me about the program that he witnessed -- he was here for just one or two or three days -- I don't know. But he came to see the program, he was weeping on the phone. He was very, very much moved seeing Jews regain their sense of Jewish consciousness.

I think he got this from his father, and I'm sure he wants to visit his father's grave.

KING: We'll spend some more moments with Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, and then we'll talk with Senator Arlen Specter, and then our panel will assemble. We'll be right back with more of Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, the chief rabbi for the city of Efrat. That's right outside Jerusalem. He's coming to us from Jerusalem. And we'll be back right after this.


SEN. HILLAY CLINTON (D), NEW YORK: You will have to ask the president and his staff any specific questions about any pardons that were or were not granted.

QUESTION: Senator...

QUESTION: Is Marc Rich among the people that you passed information on?

CLINTON: No. You know, I never knew about Marc Rich at all. In fact I don't even -- you know, frankly, I couldn't -- you know, people would hand me envelopes. I would just pass them. You know, I would not have any reason to look into them. I didn't -- I knew nothing about the Marc Rich pardon until after it happened.



KING: We're back with Rabbi Shlomo Riskin. Rabbi, do any of the things being said negatively about Marc Rich in this country and elsewhere bother you?

RISKIN: Larry, there is one thing I would want to say about that. And I want to say it and I want to thank you. I cannot tell you how many people called me today telling me not to come on the show. What they kept on saying to me is, listen, he didn't give you a building, didn't give you a part of a building, he's the most evil person in the world as he's being depicted by the newspapers. You know, we have a fascinating law in the Talmud, and the law in the Talmud states that if someone is on trial for his life and all 23 judges call him guilty, he's innocent, because it can't be that a person is all that bad.

Now the Marc Rich that I know has done a great deal of good, very much good. All of us are ultimately going to be judged.

In my letter to President Clinton -- which I wrote, by the way, on personal stationary, it was a personal letter -- I said, I don't know the case and I can't assess it. But can we ask for a pardon? Certainly. Innocent people are not people who are -- who ask for pardons. We can ask for a pardon. And I think when all of us are judged, the good that we have done dare not be forgotten.

I thank you for allowing that good to come to light as well.

KING: We always try to be fair.

RISKIN: And that I think is very important.

KING: Rabbi, what does that siren mean behind you? Is that any dangerous thing?

RISKIN: I hope not. The people hopefully here in CNN will be able to know that better than I, but I hope not.

KING: Do you know Marc Rich's current wife and children?

RISKIN: Easala (ph). Yes, I do, and I've met his sons as well, yes.

KING: Because we all know a lot about Denise Rich, his ex-wife. What is his wife like, his new wife?

RISKIN: She's a charming, very intelligent woman, who also contributes and is involved in many of our discussions.

KING: How do you think it's all going 0-- is he optimistic about coming back and living out a life, or does he think this is going to plague him forever even though he is pardoned from criminal activity?

RISKIN: It is very, very difficult. I don't know. That's an issue that we have not discussed.

Generally, in all of our discussions, he never zeros in on the problems. When his daughter was ill, of course, I saw the suffering. But even then, he always tried to talk about ways in which he could be helpful.

KING: Rabbi, does he pray?

RISKIN: I'm sure he does, although not so much in the formalistic kind of way in which I pray and which I believe that a Jew should pray.

KING: So he is a Jew but not an observant Jew?

RISKIN: He's not necessarily an observant Jew in that sense, but he's a very deeply committed Jew. And he's a deeply committed universalist humanitarian, as I said. I -- I, a number of years ago, participated in a conference, an inter-religious conference in Auschwitz, to try to make certain that a holocaust would never happen again: rabbis, priests, imans. And to my surprise, he was one of the very strong backers of that particular conference.

So he's involved...

KING: Rabbi, thank you for this -- thank you. We're out of time.

RISKIN: ... in many things.

KING: Thank you for sharing the time with us.

RISKIN: Thank you very much.

KING: Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, a friend of Marc Rich for 12 years, who helped participate in the pardon. Senator Arlen Specter may have some thoughts on what the rabbi just said and other things, right after this. Don't go away.


KING: Now we're going to spend some moments with Senator Arlen Specter, Republican of Pennsylvania, who's heading the Senate inquiry into the pardons. Did the rabbi say anything Arlen, and as a Jewish- American, it must have interested you, any of his opinion impress you about all this?

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER (R), PENNSYLVANIA: I think that the rabbi stated some strong humanitarian reasons in favor of Marc Rich, and I appreciate what he said. But I do not think that his limited knowledge of Mr. Rich compares with the overwhelming weight of evidence against Marc Rich.

I think that President Clinton, former President Clinton was correct to consider what Rabbi Riskin had to say, but I think that former President Clinton, at the same time, should have considered what the prosecutors had to say, and what the Internal Revenue Service had to say when they disagreed with the facts outlined in the letters from Professor Wolfman and Professor Ginsburg, and should have considered that even aside from those charges, Marc Rich had a very serious outstanding charge of trading with the enemy Iran.

So that when you consider the totality, and I respect what Rabbi Riskin has said, it seems to me that it was not an appropriate use of the presidential pardon power

KING: Have you heard anything from President Clinton or anyone regarding the letter you sent about him speaking with Senate investigators? Any news on that front? SPECTER: Larry, I was a little disappointed that there has been a leak. One of my colleagues inadvertently made a disclosure that we have written to the president. I think it is important to give the president some time to respond.

I have been searching for a way to have a professional dialogue with the president. I think that the Senate Judiciary Committee is not inclined to bring in the president because of the sensitivity of calling a former president, and also because the kind of hearing we have would be a circus-like atmosphere.

So I'm trying to find a way that the president would have a way to tell his side of things, and I don't want to get involved in the specifics because I think the president is entitled to some time to consider that, and I was a little chagrined when the news media found out about it because I think the president was entitled to more respect to consider.

KING: It was Senator Hatch who said that he fully approved of the letter. I guess they asked Senator Hatch about it; right?

SPECTER: Well...

KING: Somebody found out.

SPECTER: Larry, as usual, you're right. I won't disagree with you. I think that Senator Hatch did not focus on the fact that it should have been kept confidential to give the president a chance. I don't want the president to think that we're looking for any notoriety or publicity in what we're doing here. It's a very serious, professional suggestion. The president's entitled to some time to think about it.

KING: There's no hearing scheduled. Where do we stand in the Senate?

SPECTER: Well, we are looking at a potential hearing on changes in the laws relating to disclosure of contributions to presidential libraries. It seems to me that if somebody gives more than $5,000 to a presidential library during the term of office, that ought to be disclosed.

Then we're also taking a look at the specifics of the famous letter from Professors Wolfman and Ginsburg, where they have a specific disclaimer that they are just relying on the facts given by Marc Rich's lawyer, and I have talked to Otto Obermeyer (ph), who was the U.S. attorney between Rudy Giuliani and Mary Jo White, who is very emphatic that the information that Professors Ginsburg and Wolfman had was not the whole story.

And we may want to go into that to pursue the issue that the president should have done a lot more than simply take what Jack Rich said at face value. There was a lot more to be heard, which the president didn't make any effort to hear or to hear from the pardon attorney or what had happened with Beth Dozoretz.

KING: Can you definitely say, senator, there will be more hearings, there will be something else happening in your committee?

SPECTER: Yes, I think so, Larry. We want to see what develops with our current activities, but I think there will be more hearings.

KING: Are you paying attention to the House hearings? They are more tomorrow; right?

SPECTER: I'm paying very close attention to House hearings. I think it's very important that we not duplicate what the House is doing. They have the subpoena power. People don't understand right now that the Senate is very much in the stalemate with a 50-50 split, and our subcommittee does not have the subpoena power. I has a hard time getting subpoenas when we had a 10-8 Republican majority last year, investigating Wen Ho Lee and espionage matters. So, we're watching the House very closely.

KING: Do you think you will get a law that says people have to reveal all the $5,000 contributions to presidential libraries?

SPECTER: I think we will. We have taken a look at some of the background, and we're interested to find, for example, that President Reagan's library got very substantial contributions while he was in office. But after he left office, they trickled off.

Neither President Ford nor President Carter tried to raise any money while they were in office because they both were running for reelection and had an expectation of staying in office. But I believe that there may be a real inducement with big contributions to the library, very much like campaign contributions, and that ought to be a matter of public disclosure in my opinion.

KING: Always good seeing you. Thank you, senator. We'll be calling on you frequently.

SPECTER: Pleasure to be with you, Larry. Thank you.

KING: Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. When we come back, Susan McDougal, pardoned by President Clinton, a not controversial pardon; Congressman Bob Barr; Julian Epstein and Barbara Olson, the former prosecutor. They're all next. Don't go away.


KING: Now let's welcome out panel. Susan McDougal: She was pardoned by President Clinton. She served 22 months in jail, refusing to cooperate with Ken Starr. Congressman Bob Barr is in Washington, Republican of Georgia, member of the House Committee on Government Reform. Also in Washington, Julian Epstein. He is chief minority counsel, House Judiciary Committee. And in Richmond, Virginia, the author Barbara Olson, former federal prosecutor who wrote "Hell to Pay: The Unfolding Story of Hillary Rodham Clinton."

Let's start with Susan McDougal. Is it true, you said he should have pardoned a lot more people?

SUSAN MCDOUGAL, PARDONED BY PRESIDENT CLINTON: Well, you know, Larry, I have a little bit of a different perspective on this than most of your other panelists because I have been there. You visited me in federal prison. You know, where they say it's a country club, and I think you saw that it wasn't.

I have fought the rats and the roaches for my breakfast, and I know how bad it is. When people say, "Why didn't Marc Rich stay?" I have to say to them, you know, the country's jails and prisons are really terrible.

Amnesty International has just released a new report that says that America's jails and prisons are among the worst.

KING: So for that reason more should be...

MCDOUGAL: No. Everyone. There are women in federal prison today who will never walk again, Larry, who have IV fluids, who are not being released to their families, and if there is someone on here for government reform, then I'm all for it. Let's let all of them go.

KING: Congressman Barr, we have pardons in order to forgive, right? I mean, pardons are for people who are criminals. What is your argument with the current -- the current concept?

REP. BOB BARR (R), GEORGIA: Well, in the current concept, what we had, Larry, was an unprecedented number of midnight pardons, many of which, including the pardon which was granted for Ms. McDougal, hadn't even requested formally pardons. The president just issues these blanket pardons, about 144 of them on the final day, without going through any of the normal channels that even prior presidents, Democrat presidents, such as Jimmy Carter, would go through to ensure that the pardon power truly is used to meet out mercy.

And the Marc Rich pardon is just the worst of these examples. There is no reason whatsoever to have granted this pardon in light of the -- the position of the Department of Justice and the prosecutors in this case.

KING: Julian Epstein, as the law is written -- is it true the president can do anything -- I mean, he doesn't have to go through any committee, he doesn't have to go through any Justice Department. He could pardon 4,500 people at will, right?

JULIAN EPSTEIN, CHIEF MINORITY COUNSEL, HOUSE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE: Yes, that's absolutely correct. There are no constitutional checks whatsoever in what the president can do. He has plenary authority. This has been reviewed by the Supreme Court in a number of instances.

Interestingly enough tonight, Congressman Barr and I probably also agree on another matter, which is this President Bush probably has the constitutional authority -- it's not settled -- but probably has the constitutional authority, if he really doesn't like these pardons, to rescind them. So the question is, is he really -- and if the Republicans really don't like these pardons that much, why not rescind them? And I think look, we probably all agree on this panel tonight that -- with the exception of Susan McDougal, I'm glad she was pardoned -- some of the other pardons, the Rich pardons...

MCDOUGAL: Thank you.

EPSTEIN: ... were probably unwise and were mistakes on the part of the president. But the real question here is, is the criticism being fair or are there politics at hand?

And the fact of the matter that I think that President Bush and the others don't want to talk about, whether they want to rescind the pardon or not: the fact of the matter that many of the oversight activities will not engage in oversight of pardons by President Bush, one of a Pakistani drug smuggler that was very controversial, the fact that we don't put the microscope to those pardons in the same way, and the fact, as I said the other night, Larry, that there is a continual pattern of making accusations about President Clinton -- Air Force One and the White House vandalism stories are exhibit a and exhibit b -- they turn out to be false stories, there's never an apology made. And I think some of the accusations about venality in the Marc Rich case will go the same path.

KING: Barbara, is this a case of not being fair, that if we looked at all pardons, we could find reasons to chastise every president?

BARBARA OLSON, FORMER FEDERAL PROSECUTOR: Well, I disagree. I mean, I know Julian keeps sort of titillating us with this Pakistani drug dealer, and of course, he never gives you the real facts. That wasn't a midnight pardon. There wasn't money exchanged. It was someone who other people did voice -- and the head of DEA talked about the drug dealer who was pardoned.

These are all issues that have come up with President Clinton...

EPSTEIN: Not what I said...

OLSON: ... that it's a good thing that we have hearings, that we're looking at this. It's important that the American people shed some sunlight on this and see what happened, that it was a midnight pardon.

Sure, a president can do this. But is this the kind of person we want? And perhaps future presidents...

EPSTEIN: Larry, I didn't say any of those things. Bill Bennett on the program the other night, as you remember -- we were all on -- said that what really upset him about the Vignali pardon was the fact that you had drug dealing involved.

Now, there may be some of those -- there may be some of those issues that Barbara spoke about. But many of the Republicans have spoken about the Vignali pardon in Los Angeles...

OLSON: Julian, they don't all do it. I know... EPSTEIN: ... by saying that there were -- you know, but the point is that you didn't put the same type of microscope to Republican pardons...

OLSON: The point is they don't all do it.

EPSTEIN: ... as you are putting to the Democrats.

OLSON: Absolutely...


KING: Do you think it's fair? That was the question. Do you think it's -- it is fair to look at any pardon, isn't it?

OLSON: Of course it is, and we have never had a situation -- regardless of what Julian would like to lead people to think -- that's not the facts. We have never had a situation of midnight pardons where a president purposefully subverted the system...

KING: But how?

OLSON: ... his own system. We have never had a situation where money was was exchanged.

KING: How is it -- how is it -- how is it preventable?

EPSTEIN: Lots of cases where prosecutors...

KING: I think the question -- hold it.

EPSTEIN: ... Republican pardons where prosecutors didn't -- didn't check.

KING: Hey, guys, I go through this -- if you jump on top of each other, I can't control the show. And I've got other guests, too.

Barbara, how is it possible, since the law says he can pardon 17,000 people at midnight...

OLSON: That's right.

KING: ... to prevent it tomorrow?

OLSON: It is -- the law says people can do a lot of things that we don't necessarily think we want our president to be doing.

KING: That's right, but how can you prevent it?

OLSON: The law -- how you prevent it I think is exactly what's going on with these hearings, with Senator Specter and Chairman Burton, is we expose this. We let the American people see this. And I think in the future other presidents are going to realize this is going to be open to inspection, and I think that's the best deterrent there is.

We give a lot of power to the president and it is unchecked, and the Congress is responsible for exposing it.

KING: Do you think -- Susan, do you think it's going to be harder for people now to get pardons?

MCDOUGAL: Well, Larry, I have to answer that. I think the way to stop it is to have the campaign finance reform bill passed. And these same Republicans that are screaming about Clinton will never vote for that. I say let's count the same heads that are yelling about the money passing hands when it comes to voting for the campaign finance bill, and I'm all for that, because all the time...

OLSON: Well, what Susan doesn't...

MCDOUGAL: ... that I was in jail I never met a rich person. And I think it's very unusual that it's only poor people who are going to jail, who are staying in jail, and who are going to prison. You know, the whole thing about money is that...

OLSON: Great point, Susan. Marc Rich.

KING: Let me get a break and we'll come right back. I've got to get a break...

OLSON: Marc Rich -- I was...

KING: We'll come right back -- we'll come right back with Susan and Bob. We'll get -- Bob Barr will get a word in. Not very often that Bob doesn't get a word in. And Julian and Barbara. This is LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.


KING: Bob Barr, Julian Epstein mentioned it: Can Bush rescind these pardons?

BARR: Absolutely. There is case law going back to the last century, Larry, which clearly establishes that a president can rescind a pardon issued by his predecessor. And with regard to the 44 pardons in this case that had no supporting documentation -- and that includes one for Ms. McDougal -- I believe they are clearly defective. And I don't think that that's going to change her situation. But the fact of the matter is it just points out the very unusual way in which former President Clinton issued these pardons.

He didn't give any reasons for them.

KING: Do you think -- do you think President Bush should rescind?

BARR: Oh, I think on those 44, yes. Now whether or not it's too late to do that, I don't know. But in other words, where you have a president, such as President Clinton, signing a document granting pardons -- and there is no application or supporting documentation to tell what the scope of the pardon is -- clearly, it's a defective exercise of the pardon authority and ought to be undone.

KING: Julian, if it's clear, should he rescind?

EPSTEIN: I wouldn't give him that advice. I think that if the Republicans and if the White House, which has clearly expressed its disapproval of this, really believes it, then they may want to consider doing that.

Mr. Barr mentions the issue about whether or not it's properly identified, the scope of the pardon, that's one issue that may be a basis on which the president may or may not rescind it. But the president I don't think really has to have a reason to rescind other than the fact that the pardons may not have been delivered.

So I think again this may be another example of trying to have it both ways here.

KING: I see. Susan, was yours delivered?

MCDOUGAL: No. It's not delivered.

KING: Ah-hah. And do you think he should rescind, Barbara Olson?

OLSON: Absolutely not. I think President Bush has spoken to this. He's not going to get mired in the muck of Bill Clinton. I think he's going to go forward. We heard...

KING: But if they were wrong, shouldn't they be rescinded?

OLSON: You know what...

MCDOUGAL: No, he's just going to let Republicans make all of the accusations just like they've done all along. And he's going to be the nice guy...

OLSON: Susan, you know, it's not surprising...

KING: The question was for Barbara.

MCDOUGAL: ... and say, oh, gee, they didn't trash the White House.

OLSON: It's not surprising...

KING: Barbara, the question is, if they're wrong, shouldn't they be rescinded?

OLSON: Yes, they're wrong, and yes, President Clinton used his power. It's a constitutional power.

KING: So shouldn't they be rescinded?

OLSON: You know what, they were...

MCDOUGAL: No, he's just going to let Republicans make all of the accusations, just like they've done all along, and he's going to be the nice guy... (CROSSTALK)

OLSON: Susan, it's not surprising...

MCDOUGAL: ... and say oh, gee, they didn't trash the White House.

KING: Barbara, the question is if they're wrong, shouldn't they be rescinded?

OLSON: Yes, they're wrong and yes, President Clinton used his power, his constitution power...

KING: So, shouldn't they be rescinded?

OLSON: No, I don't think they should be rescinded. I think Marc Rich...

KING: So, let the wrong go?

OLSON: You know what, we've seen eight years of wrong with Bill Clinton. He wasn't indicted for Whitewater. Susan McDougal is living proof that if you sit there and you refuse to testify, she got her pardon at the end. People figured it out...


EPSTEIN: But you know, Larry, this is exactly what we talk about. We've seen eight years of wrong. I mean, the Whitewater matter turned out to be a big fizzle. The Travelgate office turned out to be a big fizzle.


OLSON: That's not fact. Unfortunately, Julian, that's not true.

EPSTEIN: Well, you know, unfortunately, Mr. Ray and Mr. Starr seemed to disagree with you on that.

OLSON: Well, there were 12 convictions. But I'm sure...


MCDOUGAL: Even, finally, Starr had to admit there was nothing Whitewater.

EPSTEIN: Again, the allegations about so many of the other things that President Clinton left office were also untrue.

OLSON: And I guess they all do it.

KING: Bob Barr wins the award tonight of not interrupting. St. Louis, hello.

St. Louis, hello CALLER: Hi, congratulations to Susan McDougal and I just wonder if Julian or anyone else with the opportunity is willing to go ahead and to further investigate the controversial pardons that President Bush himself made, including the Iran-Contra pardons. Thank you.

KING: You want to go back to the old ones, Julian?

EPSTEIN: I don't want to, but I think what we want to point out is the lack of evenhandedness. There were many pardons that Mr. Bush made, the Pakistani drug dealer I spoke about. There was a Cuban national who many people, according to reports, law enforcement believed was involved in an airliner bombing.


EPSTEIN: There was the Armand Hammer. There were many other that people -- that people believed that if you put a microscope to it...


BARR: The Democrats were in power during the time and immediately after when former President Bush issued those. If you feel so strongly that they were wrong, why didn't do you something when you all were in power in Congress?

EPSTEIN: I think that the reason for that is Congressman Barr, is that Democrats after Mr. Bush left the office, did not attempt to make political hay...

BARR: Well, you're trying to make political hay out of it now.

EPSTEIN: Look, I think people can say -- no, let me make the point. Let me answer the question.

OLSON: They weren't midnight pardons.

EPSTEIN: If I could answer the question, Barbara. I think people disagreed with pardon, but did not attempt to create all of this political theater in which many accusations are made about the venality, the corruption, the dark underside, which we then find out four weeks, five weeks, six months after the accusations are made are in fact not true. And that's the objection that we have.


KING: Barbara, I'll come right back to you. We'll start with you. I've got to get one break. We'll be right back. Don't go away.


KING: Get a quick call and then some comments from everybody.

Atlanta, hello.

CALLER: Hello, Larry. KING: Hi.

CALLER: I've got a legal question. If Denise Rich and the other witnesses refuse to show up, plead the Fifth, and Dan "Mr. Watermelon" Burton decides to issue a contempt of Congress against them, what are their legal rights? Are the sheriffs going to run around pick up Denise Rich and drag her into Congress.

KING: Can Congress do that, Julian?

EPSTEIN: No, and Mr. Barr knows this better than anybody, being a former federal prosecutor. What would have to happen is it would go to floor for a contempt citation. But then, interestingly enough, the Bush Justice Department, the local U.S. attorney would have go into court to enforce the contempt citation. That would again, we talked about the rescission issue, that would again bring the Bush administration deep into this...

KING: Finally, one for each of you. Barbara, where do you think all this is going?

OLSON: Well, I mean, hopefully it will go where some people will get real facts and real information understand that we have never in the past had a president who subverted the system, who took money very close to pardons, and who did midnight pardons without any information, being shared with prosecutors.

That's what Julian's not telling you about past presidents. They all went through the system. Everyone knew about it. It was the president's decision, but it was not done at midnight without the prosecutors having information the way Clinton did those 44.

KING: Susan, have you spoken to President Clinton since all of this?

MCDOUGAL: No, I haven't. And you know, in my final word, I would like to say, I think one of the big things about Clinton that is he went through an investigation that he thought was really unfair. He knew himself to be innocent. He knew that I was innocent. And I think it did have a big change on him. It really did change his thinking. And I think that had a lot do with the pardons in the end. When I saw the people that he pardoned, I think it had lot to do with what happened to him during his administration.

KING: Bob Barr, where do you think it's all going, Mr. Congressman?

BARR: I think that there probably will be some indictments. They may come out of the southern district of New York, Mary Jo White's office. it may be based on information we uncover and send to the Department of Justice. But I don't think we've seen the end of this. It smells bad. There's a lot of smoke here and we're just looking for the facts, Larry, and I think they're there.

KING: And Julian Epstein, where do you think it's going? EPSTEIN: Well, Barbara just said that these contributions were made close to this midnight decision when in fact the contributions by Denise Rich to the presidential library were made mostly in 1998, 1999 and in 2000, the last one was made in May of 2000, long before the pardon effort was ever begun. I think these investigations, these hearings and the press oversight will begin to separate the wheat from the chaff. And we'll see many allegation like that proven to be again, untrue.

KING: I thank you all very much. It's always good having you with us: Susan McDougal; Congressman Bob Barr of Georgia; Julian Epstein, the chief minority council of the House Judiciary Committee; and Barbara Olson, the former federal prosecutor. Barbara was in Richmond, Susan in Little Rock, Bob Barr and Julian Epstein in Washington.

Hey, check out my Web site and send us an e-mail with questions and comments, cnn.com/larryking. Stay tuned for "CNN TONIGHT." And tomorrow night, in addition to other guest, we've got a great panel of Bob Schieffer, David Gergen, Sally Quinn, and Hamilton Jordan. Schieffer, Gergen, Quinn and Jordan, sounds like a law firm.

Stay tuned for "CNN TONIGHT," a complete wrap-up of the doings today in Seattle. Thanks for joining us and good night.

  • See Also: The Clemency Page