Clinton 'Bewildered' by Pardon Mess

Pat Milton - Associated Press - February 15, 2001

Bill Clinton said Thursday that he is "bewildered" by the controversy over his last-minute pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich and he blamed Republicans for fueling the criticism.

In a telephone call to Geraldo Rivera, host of CNBC's "Rivera Live," the former president again denied any wrongdoing in pardoning a man who had faced federal charges of evading more than $48 million in taxes, fraud and participating in illegal oil deals with Iran.

"There's not a single, solitary shred of evidence that I did anything wrong, or that his (Rich's) money changed hands," Clinton said, according to Rivera. "And there's certainly no evidence that I took any of it."

Clinton's comments were not recorded, but a transcript of Rivera's notes was provided to The Associated Press. A call to Clinton's transition office was not returned.

The pardon is the subject of congressional inquiries and a criminal investigation by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's office in New York, which indicted Rich in 1983. Prosecutors are trying to determine whether Clinton was somehow bribed to grant the pardon.

"I was blindsided by this," Clinton told Rivera. "I just wanted to go out there and do what past presidents have done, but the Republicans had other ideas for me."

Clinton pointed out that Rich was once represented by lawyer Lewis Libby, now Vice President Cheney's chief of staff.

"It's terrible!" he told Rivera. "I mean, he had three big-time Republican lawyers, including Dick Cheney's chief of staff."

U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White, in a brief statement issued Thursday, confirmed her office and the FBI are investigating whether federal laws were broken in the pardons of Rich and his partner, Pincus Green.

The probe is expected to examine bank and telephone records and other documents.

Critics have noted that Rich's former wife, 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.

Denise Rich has refused to answer questions before Congress, citing her constitutional right against self-incrimination. Her spokesman has not returned calls seeking comment, but Rivera said he spoke to her by telephone Thursday.

"I spend half my time crying and half my time laughing," she said, according to Rivera. "But that's not so unusual for me - I'm such an emotional person."

Days after the pardon, Denise Rich said in a statement that it was "entirely appropriate" for her to be among those who petitioned Clinton. She said her political fund-raising and charitable activities had nothing to do with the pardon granted to her ex-husband.

"The pardon given to Marc Rich will give him the opportunity to visit his daughter's grave for the first time," she said in the statement. One of the couple's three daughters died from cancer in 1996.

As part of the probe, federal investigators are expected to determine whether campaign finance laws were broken - in particular, whether Rich, who renounced his U.S. citizenship, illegally funneled money through his former wife's accounts.

In any event, legal experts said prosecutors will have a difficult task proving bribery in the case.

"It may not be difficult to show a transfer of funds, but proving that it was done with the intent of getting preferential treatment is tough," said Philip Weinberg, a professor of constitutional law at St. John's School of Law. "It goes to what was in the person's mind when they did it."

  • See Also: The Clemency Page