Prosecutor Opens Rich Pardon Probe
Pat Milton - Associated Press - February 15, 2001
A federal prosecutor has cranked up the heat on
former President Clinton, launching a criminal investigation to
determine if money played a role in the last-minute pardon of
fugitive financier Marc Rich.
U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White, in a brief statement issued
Thursday, confirmed her office and the FBI "have opened an
investigation to determine whether there have been any violations
of federal law" in the pardons of Rich and his partner, Pincus
Green. It did not elaborate.
White's probe is expected to examine bank and telephone records
and other documents for evidence of illegal conduct, according to a
source with knowledge of the investigation.
"She is trying to determine if there was a transfer of money to
buy the pardon," the source told The Associated Press on
Wednesday, speaking only on condition of anonymity.
White, who was appointed to her post by Clinton in 1993, has
said the pardon was granted without consultation with her office,
which indicted Rich in 1983.
The move comes after Senate and House committees launched
similar probes of the Rich pardon, one of 141 granted by Clinton on
Jan. 20, his final day in office. With the federal investigation
opening up, Rep. Dan Burton, head of the House committee, asked the
Justice Department to delay his request to grant immunity from
prosecution to Rich's ex-wife, Denise Rich.
Critics have noted that Denise Rich contributed an estimated
$450,000 to the Clinton Presidential Library Fund, more than $1.1
million to the Democratic Party and at least $109,000 to Hillary
Rodham Clinton's Senate campaign.
According to the source, the White investigation will try to
determine if there was any link between the contributions and the
Clinton decision. Under the U.S. Constitution, presidents have an
absolute right to issue pardons that are not subject to review by
any other government entity. The federal probe would focus instead
on possible criminal wrongdoing stemming from the contributions.
In a statement issued through transition office spokeswoman
Julia Payne late Wednesday, Clinton again denied any wrongdoing.
"As I have said repeatedly, I made the decision to pardon Marc
Rich based on what I thought was the right thing to do," he said.
"Any suggestion that improper factors, including fund raising for
the (Democratic National Committee) or my library, had anything to
do with the decision are absolutely false. I look forward to
cooperating with any appropriate inquiry."
White's spokesman, Herb Haddad, said her office would have no
comment on the report of an investigation. In Washington, Justice
Department spokeswoman Mindy Tucker also had no comment on the
Rich, who fled to Switzerland in the 1980s, was wanted by the
Justice Department on charges of evading more than $48 million in
taxes, fraud and participating in illegal oil deals with Iran.
In testimony Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee,
Justice Department pardon attorney Roger Adams said the White House
initially failed to tell him during a midnight phone call that Rich
was a fugitive.
"I was not told," Adams said. "I learned that from the FBI."
After discovering that Rich and his indicted partner were
fugitives, Adams fired off a fax to the White House summarizing the
facts of their criminal case. The White House then asked Adams to
fax over the materials that he had gotten from the FBI.
The revelations prompted several Democrats to questions
Clinton's decision to later pardon Rich. Sen. Richard Durbin,
D-Ill., said the pardon "certainly raises the appearance of
Rich's pardon was one of 177 total clemency actions Clinton
handled Jan. 20. Thirty-two were not reviewed in advance by the
Justice Department's pardon attorney, which is the usual - though
neither legally nor constitutionally required - procedure.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said the pardoning of fugitives
"stands our criminal justice system on its head." And Sen. Dianne
Feinstein, D-Calif., said she has "concerns not only about the
Rich pardon but about a number of" others granted clemency.
Despite the Rich flap, officials at the Democratic Senatorial
Campaign Committee and in the Clinton camp said there were no plans
to return the Denise Rich contributions.
"There's been no discussion about it," Clinton adviser Harold
Ickes said Wednesday.
Mrs. Clinton, through a spokesman, said she would have no
comment on the reported probe and referred calls to her husband's
Denise Rich has refused to answer questions from the House
committee, citing her constitutional right against
self-incrimination. The AP left a message on an answering machine
of her spokesman seeking comment on the report of the White probe.
The chairman of a House committee said Wednesday he was told by
the Justice Department it will be "at least one week" before
officials there act on the panel's request to grant Denise Rich
immunity from prosecution in exchange for her testimony to the
The House committee also expects to subpoena records this week
from two of Denise Rich's American banks; records from the Clinton
library on all donations and pledges of $5,000 or more; and records
from the DNC related to Denise Rich.
See Also: The Clemency Page