Feds Open Rich Bribe Probe

Eying whether pair bought clemency

Greg B. Smith and Richard Sisk - NY Daily News - February 15, 2001

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White has launched an investigation into former President Bill Clinton's controversial pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich, a source told the Daily News last night.

The probe will look at whether Rich, who renounced his U.S. citizenship after fleeing an indictment on tax evasion charges, made illegal campaign donations through his ex-wife, Denise Rich, to win the eleventh-hour presidential pardon, the source said.

The source, who is familiar with the investigation and spoke on the condition of anonymity, said White had been mulling opening an investigation and decided early this week to go forward.

"This is at the very early stages," the source told The News.The source said White would examine Denise Rich's bank records to see whether she received compensation from her ex-husband for the many donations she made to Democratic causes.

Apparently in response to White's action, Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, said he was backing off for at least a week on seeking immunity for Denise Rich to force her to testify. Burton said he was acting at the request of the Justice Department, which needed time to assess "its own investigative needs."

Denise Rich has donated more than $1 million to the Democrats since Clinton came into office in 1993 — and gave $450,000 to the Clinton library in Arkansas.

Foreign citizens — which Marc Rich is believed to be since renouncing his citizenship — are prohibited from donating to U.S. campaigns.

But investigators would face a difficult task in trying to find cash-flow patterns between Denise Rich and her ex-husband that matched her political campaign contributions, according to the source. Prosecutors also could go after a bribery case, which would be much more difficult to prove.

The news of the White investigation came after Republican senators urged a possible criminal case against Clinton during the opening day of Senate Judiciary Committee hearings.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) said there "could be a criminal offense" in the political contributions made by Denise Rich before Clinton pardoned her fugitive ex-husband.

Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said the former President "is not personally exempt from federal laws that prohibit the corrupt actions of all government officials."

Even fellow Democrat Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York said, "If there are allegations of criminal wrongdoing, that is something for the proper authorities, not this committee, to look at."

Clinton issued this statement last night: "As I have said repeatedly, I made the decision to pardon Marc Rich based on what I thought was the right thing to do. Any suggestion that improper factors including fund-raising for the DNC [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."

Mayor Giuliani, who as Manhattan U.S. attorney prosecuted Rich in 1983,said: "The U.S. attorney here in New York is appointed by President Clinton, so this whole excuse that these are Republicans picking on the ex-President is nonsense.

"This is an appropriate investigation. From the very beginning, I've said this is a questionable situation that needs to be investigated."

  • See Also: The Clemency Page