House Panel Expands Probe of Rich Pardon

3 Former Clinton Aides Subpoenaed

James V. Grimaldi and Dan Eggen - Washington Post Staff - February 16, 2001

A House oversight committee widened its investigation of the presidential pardon of commodity trader Marc Rich yesterday by subpoenaing three of former president Bill Clinton's top White House aides and asking Clinton to permit them to speak freely about the controversy.

Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee and a longtime Clinton critic, said he was issuing subpoenas to former White House counsel Beth Nolan, chief of staff John Podesta and presidential adviser Bruce Lindsey. All three had expressed reservations about the pardon, according to people familiar with the matter, but didn't appear at Burton's hearing on the pardon last week.

Burton also wrote Clinton asking him "to waive all privileges that may be asserted regarding documents and communications related to the pardons." That would allow the White House attorneys to discuss what advice they gave the former president before he issued the pardon to Rich and his business partner Pincus Green.

Burton's moves came as U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White confirmed in New York that her office and the FBI's field office there "have opened an investigation to determine whether there have been any violations of federal law" in Clinton's Jan. 20 pardons of Rich and Green.

Last night, CNBC talk-show host Geraldo Rivera, a friend of Clinton's, said on his show that the former president told him in a phone call, "There's not a single, solitary shred of evidence that I did anything wrong, or that Marc Rich's money changed hands. There's certainly no evidence that I took any of it."

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

The crux of the New York investigation, according to government sources, is whether then-fugitive Rich bought a pardon with political donations and gifts that his ex-wife, Denise, gave the Democratic Party, Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton, according to sources familiar with the matter.

Denise Rich, who lobbied then-president Clinton about the pardon, has contributed more than $1 million to the Democratic Party and its candidates, $450,000 to Clinton's library fund, $100,000 to a fund to help Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign, $10,000 to the president's defense fund, and $7,375 worth of furniture to the Clintons. She has denied that there was any connection between the gift-giving and her efforts in support of the pardon.

Rich and Green were indicted in 1983 on charges of tax evasion and trading with Iran while Americans were being held hostage there. They left the country before the indictment and never returned.

Clinton pointed out to Rivera that Rich was once represented by lawyer Lewis "Scooter" 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."

A spokeswoman for Clinton confirmed that the former president talked to Rivera yesterday but said she didn't know what they discussed.

A Burton committee aide said yesterday that it is likely Libby will be called to testify at a hearing set for March 1. Libby produced a document in defense of Rich in October 1999 titled "Negotiations With Fugitives" to counter prosecutors' arguments that dealing with fugitives would encourage other facing charges to flee. He has not commented on the matter since joining the Bush administration.

Denise Rich declined to testify before Burton's committee last week, citing her Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. Burton's committee has subpoenaed her bank records and the donor records of the Clinton library foundation.

Sources close to Rich said yesterday that she still is willing to testify as long as she gets immunity. Burton was considering immunity for Rich and had asked for the blessing of Attorney General John Ashcroft, but in the wake of the news of the criminal probe, the committee has put the immunity question on hold for at least a week.

Prosecutors in New York are likely to seek the source of the funds Denise Rich used for her donations to determine if they originated with her husband. Federal election law outlaws contributions made by one person in the name of another.

Friends of Denise Rich said that she seems to have plenty of money to make the donations. They note that she comes from a wealthy family and received funds from her years with Marc Rich and from their divorce in 1996. She also has made numerous hefty donations to various philanthropic causes over the past decade.

It would be illegal for the former president to have taken an official act in return for personal gain. Legal experts said yesterday, however, that would be a difficult case to prove.

"Good luck trying to prove a bribery case on this stuff," said Stanley Brand, a longtime election-law lawyer who has represented defendants in such matters. "You have to demonstrate a direct link between the quid and the quo. You have to demonstrate an intent or knowledge that the campaign contribution is connected to an official act."

Staff writers Robert O'Harrow and John Mintz and researcher Margot Williams contributed to this report.

  • See Also: The Clemency Page