June 23, 2000
Margaret Warner leads a discussion with Independent Counsel Robert Ray on his findings in the White House travel office investigation.
WARNER: When Robert Ray took over from independent counsel Kenneth Starr
last October, he inherited four different investigations involving President
and Mrs. Clinton. On March 16, Ray concluded the first, clearing Mrs.
Clinton of any wrongdoing in the White House's acquisition of more than
900 FBI Files of previous Republican appointees. Yesterday, Ray announced
he'd concluded his second probe-- involving the White House Travel Office--
by again declining to prosecute.
SPOKESMAN: I would ask to you raise your right hand.
MARGARET WARNER: The case stemmed from the May 1993 firing of seven long-time Travel Office employees. There was no question of the new President's right to fire them. At issue was whether Mrs. Clinton lied under oath and later denied that she played a significant role. In a statement issued yesterday, Ray said: "There was substantial evidence that she had a 'role' in the decision to fire the Travel Office employees nevertheless, the evidence was insufficient to prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that any of Mrs. Clinton's statements and testimony regarding her involvement in Travel Office firings were knowingly false. Accordingly, the Independent Counsel has declined prosecution of Mrs. Clinton " White House Spokesman Joe Lockhart responded by saying: "The Independent counsel confirms what we have said all along - there is no evidence that the First Lady did anything wrong. In fact, the Independent Counsel confirms what the President and First Lady have always said about this matter." Ray's full report was filed under seal with the three-judge federal court panel that oversees the Independent Counsel.
|The First Lady's role in the Travel Office firings|
ROBERT RAY, Independent Counsel: Well, as you know, what caused the Independent Counsel to investigate this matter were allegations that she did in fact have a role with regard to the firing of the Travel Office employees. Our findings and the conclusions that I announced yesterday with regard to the investigation, I think we made fairly clear that the role was substantial, that it had the effect ultimately of placing pressure on David Watkins, who was then an assistant to the president. He was responsible ultimately for making in fact the decision to fire the Travel Office employees.
MARGARET WARNER: Now give us a few more details if you can, and you laid out some of those in the statement - we just didn't go into all of them - that she had conversations with certain people. In other words, how was this pressure created on David Watkins?
ROBERT RAY: Well, it wasn't just certain people. They were high level and important people in the Clinton administration. They included the chief of staff Mack McLarty, Harry Thomasson and Vince Foster, the deputy White House counsel. Her concerns were communicated to those individuals and in turn those individuals discussed the matter. I said in my statement that that created a momentum -- and that momentum eventually developed and was shared with Mr. Watkins. The First Lady had one direct communication with him, expressing those concerns and ultimately he made the decision to fire the Travel Office employees.
MARGARET WARNER: Now, meanwhile, as we've said what you were really looking at... That wouldn't have been illegal for her to do that.
ROBERT RAY: That's correct.
MARGARET WARNER: It was what she said about it.
ROBERT RAY: That's right.
MARGARET WARNER: What statements were you looking at that you were trying to figure out if she committed perjury or knowingly made false statements?
ROBERT RAY: Well, we reviewed her testimony...
MARGARET WARNER: Before...
ROBERT RAY: Before the General Accounting Office, the Congress, and with regard to other investigative bodies. At this time I can't be more specific than that. There's a process that's in place, and that will have to await further opportunity for those findings to be shared with the public more explicitly. But we did review the testimony, and we reviewed it thoroughly after an extensive investigation. We determined that no jury, based upon the evidence that we would be able to present, would convict based on this evidence. Once having made that judgment, it was appropriate, in my judgment, to remove the lingering cloud that an investigation creates... to bring the investigation to a close and to publicly share with the with the country our findings and conclusions. That's what we did yesterday.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. But just to help people understand who haven't been following this much, how would you characterize, and I know some of this has been in the press, but how would you characterize the way she characterized her role? In other words what were you looking at? How did she describe it?
ROBERT RAY: Well, it's not appropriate for me at this time to discuss in any real further detail those characterizations. That's going to have to await a process without commenting specifically on this case -- as you know, at the conclusion of an investigation, Independent Counsel files a report with the special division. There is an opportunity for those named in the report to comment on it. That takes a period of time. Only at the end of that process are those specific findings shared with the public.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. But there have been statements that have come out I think from her lawyer to some of these congressional committees, that she said she didn't have a substantial role. Is that fair to say?
ROBERT RAY: Well, our findings with regard to the investigation was that her role was in fact substantial. We can have discussion about whether that was a direct or an indirect role in connection with the relationship with Mr. Watkins who ultimately made the decision. But remember, that's just the beginning of the process. That was what caused an investigation to be put into place. My job was a very limited one. And that was simply to determine based upon the testimony and the statements she made with regard to that role, whether or not that testimony was knowingly false. And we emphatically found that the answer to that question was no.
|Lack of evidence to prosecute?|
MARGARET WARNER: David Watkins did issue... write a statement, which became public, and said that he had... first he said he hasn't fired them, that she had nothing do with the firing and then he wrote that he had done it at her insistence. How did you resolve the conflict between what he said and what she said? Did you conclude that one or the worry was telling the truth?
ROBERT RAY: Based upon what is publicly available with regard to Mr. Watkins testimony before the Congress, I don't believe he ever said it was done at the First Lady's insistence. I think what he said was that he did feel pressure. That was a pressure that was reflected in the evidence that we developed and uncovered during the course of the investigation. But, again, whether that happened or didn't happen doesn't answer the direct question. My job as a prosecutor is to determine whether or not a case should be brought, and a case should only be brought if there is evidence of criminal wrongdoing that was provable before a jury beyond a reasonable doubt. And once that determination was made, it was appropriate for us to conclude the investigation. That's what we've done.
MARGARET WARNER: Was she aware that she had created this pressure?
ROBERT RAY: Well, it's not really for me to say. My job is not to discuss what I may believe. I mean it's not a matter of what I think about the evidence. It's a question of what I can prove before a jury. Obviously in any trial, a defendant would have defenses. Until such time as the government is in a position to prove beyond a reasonable doubt any statements made were knowingly false, it's not appropriate to proceed. A responsible prosecutor then stops at that doorstep knowing a case should not be brought. That's when it's appropriate to close an investigation, which is what we've done.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let me ask you about some your statement that does sounds like less than full exoneration. We put it up on the screen, that the evidence was insufficient to prove to a jury beyond a reasonable doubt that any of her statements were knowingly false. In other words, you didn't say there was no credible evidence. You said you couldn't prove it to a jury. The White House yesterday accused of you engaging in innuendo. Are you trying to imply something without actually saying it? What are you really trying to say with this statement?
ROBERT RAY: What I'm trying to say is that a prosecutor makes a judgment about evidence that he has about whether or not that would be sufficient to persuade a jury to convict. Once I've made that judgment, there are no further judgments for a prosecutor to make. I'm not in the business as a prosecutor of deciding whether or not someone is exonerated in that sense. I'm only in the business of deciding whether or not charges should be brought. In that sense, I have fully discharged the First lady as well as Mr. Watkins from criminal liability. That's enough. That's all I should do. That's the role that an Independent Counsel appropriately plays and I should not step out of that role.
|Ongoing Independent Counsel investigations|
MARGARET WARNER: A couple of things to wrap this up. On this particular investigation, first of all, will that full report with the evidence and the testimony, will that be laid out publicly, and if so when?
ROBERT RAY: Well, that's up to the special division.
MARGARET WARNER: The judges.
ROBERT RAY: That's correct. And the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, a special division of that court, will ultimately render that judgment that comes at the end of the process however. And we're at a point now where the investigation has been concluded and we've announced our findings and conclusions. I thought it appropriate to share with the public the point at which we've reached the judgments. There will be obviously further discussion regarding the matter and we'll have to just simply await that time if and when it occurs.
MARGARET WARNER: Some people might look at this and say, these events occurred in '93. I think she first started testifying in '94. Here it is the year 2000. Kenneth Starr in '98 indicated there would probably not be prosecution. Why did it take so long?
ROBERT RAY: Well, I think, in part, as we explained in the statement that the Office released, there was substantial resistance from the White House with regard to our need to obtain relevant documents and information. Delay causes an investigation to linger. One cannot make a responsible prosecutorial judgment until there is a sufficient body of information to understand the facts and make a credible determination about whether or not to bring a case. Also in connection with litigation that occurred, we made a point of expressing the fact that there were a number of privileges that were asserted by the White House that proved to be unfounded when tested in court. That, again, further delayed the investigation. So in part, the difficulty of a complicated investigation is that you depend on the timely receipt of information. Until we had that information, we were not in a position to conclude the investigation. Now I understand, look, the public is weary but it's important that we move speedily to a prompt conclusion of these investigations. I have set on a course to do that with the conclusion of the FBI Files matter and now the Travel Office matter and we look forward to the fall of concluding the Whitewater matter as well.
MARGARET WARNER: And will you be influenced in the timing of that at all by the fact that Mrs. Clinton is running for the U.S. Senate on the November ballot?
ROBERT RAY: Well, the Independent Counsel doesn't exist in a political vacuum. I am well aware of the fact that this is an election year. But you also have to understand -- the public has to understand that if I were to do nothing, that also has an effect on the electoral process. My job is to follow my oath -- which is to promptly responsibly and in a cost effective way conclude this investigation; that's what I intend to do. I am mindful, however, of not having any undue, untoward or improper effect on the electoral process and hope to provide timely information to the public so that the voters can adequately and responsibly and effectively evaluate that information and make a judgment about the credibility of my office and this investigation.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. And the final matter you're looking at concerns the president's statements in the Monica Lewinsky matter. Are the reports correct? Are you still considering indicting President Clinton after he leaves office?
ROBERT RAY: That is a matter that remains under investigation. I have commented to that effect previously, but, beyond that, I'm not prepared to comment.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Bob Ray, thanks very much for being with us.
ROBERT RAY: Thank you for having me.