Isn't It Rich?

William Safire - New York Times - February 1, 2001

...Rich's direction of some ill-gotten gains to charities induced Israel's Ehud Barak to use up his one big pardon favor with Clinton, dooming the unrich Jonathan Pollard to a life in jail.

WASHINGTON Marc Rich, the billionaire on the lam for 17 years for helping Iranian kidnappers and South African white supremacists evade U.S. sanctions, was unable to buy off Presidents Reagan or Bush.

But then he hired Jack ("Tell 'em nuthin' ") Quinn, the former White House counsel privy to Bill Clinton's darkest secrets, for what Quinn says is a mere "low six figures." Rich's former wife contributed over $1 million to Democratic campaigns, while Rich's direction of some ill-gotten gains to charities induced Israel's Ehud Barak to use up his one big pardon favor with Clinton,

dooming the unrich Jonathan Pollard to a life in jail


Result: the most flagrant abuse of the presidential pardon power in U.S. history. Even Clinton stalwarts are openly disgusted at their man's departing display of shamelessness. But Rich's hired guns in public relations and the law will soon claim that "every president did it" or that "Rich was persecuted by evil prosecutors."

How can Clinton's final presidential wrong be righted? A constitutional amendment to restrict the undemocratic kingly power is far off, and this unpardonable pardon can never be undone. But though justice in this case is denied, truth can be served, and the truth can hurt Rich and the perpetrators of his pardon.

Congressional hearings will begin next week to determine how the end run was made around all normal procedures. To display nonpartisanship, Dan Burton's Government Reform Committee should call a predecessor chairman, John Conyers, who held hearings a decade ago into Republican failures to bring Rich to trial.

A threshold question: Why did Clinton decide the case on a one-sided presentation by Rich's lawyer, Quinn, with no analysis from Justice's pardon attorney, Roger Adams? Why was Rich's prosecutor in the Southern District of New York, Mary Jo White, kept in the dark rather than asked for her rebuttal?

Quinn says, "I notified the deputy attorney general two months before the pardon was granted." That would be Eric Holder, who is now stonewalling. If Holder was informed, did he then promptly notify the pardon attorney and prosecutor or did he presume Clinton did not want to see the case against Rich?

Quinn, who slipped past Clinton's revolving-door ethics rule on a clause written by the unpardoned Web Hubbell, told NBC's Tim Russert that "the comments of the Justice Department, when asked about this by the White House . . . contributed to its being granted." But who at Justice advised what person at the White House that Rich should be pardoned, and how were "those comments," if such existed, transmitted to Clinton?

I asked Quinn for specifics yesterday. He replied: "Mr. Holder told me, after the fact, he had said to the White House he was 'neutral, leaning positive' on the pardon. The president himself confirmed to me that was the case, and said that had they not had that view from Justice, the pardon would not have been granted."

So, according to Quinn, "the president himself" chose Holder to be the fall guy. When did Quinn, who apparently wants company in leading Clinton into this mess, notify White House Counsel Beth Nolan that Holder was on board? Quinn insists he told counsels Nolan and Bruce Lindsey twice in mid-December and mid-January to seek Holder's views: "Contrary to what you hear, this was no surprise. They were working with me."

Congress will want to know if the former Mrs. Rich, a major Clinton contributor who begged Clinton for Rich's pardon, was used as a conduit for the pardonee's funds. And were the C.I.A. and National Security Agency asked if Rich's companies were taped doing business recently with Saddam Hussein, Muammar el-Qaddafi or other previous associates?

If Rich attempts to enter the U.S., House and Senate committees will subpoena him to testify under oath about his pardon campaign. Rich cannot plead the Fifth Amendment because Clinton's pardon gives him immunity. Quinn will advise him to cooperate, "including appearances," but not wishing to risk fresh perjury charges if caught lying about this deal, the unrepentant billionaire may refuse to testify. Chairman Burton could then ask a federal court to jail him for contempt of Congress.

Money doesn't buy pardons from prospective crimes. Send in that clown.

  • See Also: The Clemency Page