WHITEWATER: NEWSMAKER INTERVIEW WITH SENATOR PAUL SARBANES
DECEMBER 15, 1995
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Sen. Sarbanes, thank you for joining us.
SEN. PAUL SARBANES, (D) Maryland: (Capitol Hill) My pleasure, Charlayne.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Have you seen any indication that the White House has attempted to abuse its authority, or curtail or impede the investigation into the--into all of these matters?
SEN. SARBANES: There's no evidence of that. This Committee has held 30 days of hearings. We've had depositions, tens of thousands of pages of documents. My Republican colleagues, at least some of them, create a whole series of conjectures and speculation. But there's no evidence of that. There's no evidence of any illegal or improper conduct and no evidence of any abuse of governmental authority. And it's very important to keep that in mind.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: So why wouldn't the President just hand over the notes?
SEN. SARBANES: No, the President has said he's willing to make the notes available, but he doesn't want in the course of doing that to be caught in a situation where he has waived completely the lawyer-client relationship, the--
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But you just--
SEN. SARBANES: --confidentiality of the lawyer-client relationship.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But you just heard the interview with Sen. D'Amato, who said that they're not interested in what went on between his private lawyer and the President, that what he's interested in is what went on between the President and the lawyers who paid for--the taxpayers- -that this--
SEN. SARBANES: No, no, no. Look, we had one meeting that involved both private lawyers and the government lawyers. The legal experts have said that such a meeting is entitled to the privilege, some of the leading legal experts in the country. Nevertheless, the President said we'll make the notes available for that meeting, and we'll permit questioning of the government lawyers that were there, but we want some assurances that in the course of doing that, we are not waiving the privilege more broadly with respect to my confidential communication with my lawyer. It's a perfectly reasonable request, and in my view, it's something that could have been worked out and could have been accommodated. I feel very keenly that what's happening here is that Chairman D'Amato and his colleagues are seeking to precipitate a crisis for political reasons. This is a matter that could be accommodated. I mean, in other words, the White House has indicated we're willing to provide the notes and we're willing for this information to become available to the Committee, but we want to be safeguarded on the question of the attorney-client privilege, and the majority is unwilling to provide that latter assurance, and as a consequence, they keep moving forward to precipitate a crisis.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But you heard what Sen. D'Amato just said. I mean, he says that that's--
SEN. SARBANES: Well, I hear Sen. D'Amato all the time, yes.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But he says that this is not what they're interested in. You just don't accept that?
SEN. SARBANES: No. If that were the case, they would be willing to work out an accommodation. They're unwilling to do that. They keep moving forward to precipitate a crisis, and I think they're doing it for straight political reasons. I think this has now turned into a political gain. Now, we had worked consistently up to now in a thorough sort of cooperative way. We've joined in the various requests for documents and so forth. But I think there's an overreaching here, and I think the reason it's being done is for political purposes.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Well, he, of course, accuses the administration of that. He says--you heard him say that the administration is just trying to run out the clock on this.
SEN. SARBANES: Well, the course D'Amato's choosing will run the clock even longer, because if you go into court, it's going to take a very considerable period of time. The White House has said, look, these notes are available, we're prepared to give 'em to the Committee, but we want to work out some assurances so we're not caught in the posture of it being asserted in other fora that we have waived completely the lawyer-client privilege. That's a perfectly reasonable position to take. And, in fact, you know, a number of legal experts have said that the White House's claim with respect to privilege here is well grounded and well founded.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: But, of course, Sen. D'Amato says that some of the conditions that the White House presented in order to, to give up the notes were acceptable to them, but that some of those conditions were just too onerous to meet.
SEN. SARBANES: He was unwilling, really, to engage in a process of discussion to try to resolve that matter. You're going to have to make--you will have to, in the end, make some tough analysis. I mean, D'Amato asserts that this--that the White House is imposing unreasonable conditions. But I assert very strongly that the conditions are reasonable, that the position the President has taken is a reasonable position. The Congress needs to accommodate and reach an understanding with the White House about this matter. The basic fact is that no impropriety and no illegal conduct has yet been shown in this matter, and now--
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: And so--
SEN. SARBANES: --what has happened, I think, frankly, as a consequence of the fact that no substance has been produced, there's now an effort on the part of Chairman D'Amato and the Republicans to create a procedural or a process question. So they then say, well, if the President doesn't have anything to hide, why doesn't he provide this material? Of course, the logic of that argument is that you would completely eliminate any confidentiality between the President and his attorneys. The White House says, look, we want to provide the Committee with information, we're willing to undertake to do that. We're trying to find a way to do that without, without losing our attorney-client confidential relationship. Now, it ought to be possible to do that if what the majority is interested in is solely getting the information. But I think they are interested in provoking a controversy and having a political issue. And that's what's taking place.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: So do you think this is headed for a court battle, I mean, there is going to be a clash between the White House and the Congress on it?
SEN. SARBANES: Well, that certainly is present posture, unless the majority decides that they--I think it would be good for the country, frankly, and good for this inquiry and good for the work of the Committee if an accommodation was reached. I think the White House has offered a genuine basis for such an accommodation, but Chairman D'Amato and the majority spurn it and press on. Now, as long as they hold to that attitude, since they're the majority, you have no, no way to reach an understanding or an accommodation, and I regret it, but it's very much a political exercise.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Let me ask you briefly his charge--he said that Mrs. Clinton was involved with a bank that he describes as a criminal enterprise, and that was troubling for him. Just very briefly, is that troubling for you?
SEN. SARBANES: Well, they've been out to get Mrs. Clinton from the very beginning. I mean, they keep circling around Mrs. Clinton and trying to implicate Mrs. Clinton.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: Is there anything--
SEN. SARBANES: There's nothing--there's nothing here on the basis of which to make those kinds of charges. Now, Mrs. Clinton had a law practice when she was--when she was in Arkansas, and it's reasonable to examine her law practice, but we've found--we have found no wrongdoing on her part. What you're getting are these wild speculations. I mean, I sat on the Committee one day--you know, we had a smoking gun. By the end of the hearing, there was no longer a smoking gun. Another day, we had the missing telephone call. By the end of the hearing, there was no missing telephone call. You're getting these wild allegations that are not substantiated by the facts.
CHARLAYNE HUNTER-GAULT: All right. Well, Sen. Sarbanes, thank you for joining us.
SEN. SARBANES: Certainly.