Clinton Pardon Statement Questioned

David Ho - Associated Press - February 19, 2001

WASHINGTON - Former President Clinton's latest explanation for his pardon of Marc Rich raises more questions than it answers, say critics intent on finding out whether political donations and connections aided the fugitive financier's cause.

The former president's last-minute pardon of Rich, who has lived in Switzerland since fleeing a 1983 indictment on tax evasion and other charges, has prompted congressional hearings and an investigation by federal prosecutors in New York.

Clinton said Sunday he made his decision "on the merits as I saw them, and I take full responsibility for it."

"The suggestion that I granted the pardons because Mr. Rich's former wife, Denise, made political contributions and contributed to the Clinton library foundation is utterly false," Clinton wrote in an opinion column in The New York Times. "There was absolutely no quid pro quo."

Clinton also wrote that three well-known Republican lawyers who once represented Rich "reviewed and advocated" the pardon case. All three denied that assertion and Clinton appeared to back away from it.

His spokesmen said Clinton did not mean the three lawyers were involved in the pardon process now, but rather that legal arguments made by them on Rich's behalf in past years were taken into account.

Investigators want to know if Rich bought his pardon by passing money through his ex-wife, who has acknowledged making large contributions both to Hillary Rodham Clinton's Senate race and to the presidential library. Democratic Party sources have put the library donation at $450,000.

"The American people want to know why one of the most wanted fugitives in the world was granted a pardon," said Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., whose House Government Reform Committee has held hearings on the pardon.

"This editorial doesn't explain it," he said Sunday on CNN's "Late Edition."

New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who as U.S. attorney obtained indictments against Rich for tax evasion, fraud and racketeering, called the pardon procedure Clinton described "a very strange, new way to handle the criminal process."

"The op-ed piece raises more questions than it answers," Giuliani said on "Fox News Sunday."

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is also reviewing the pardon, agreed.

"He does not say why he did not talk to the prosecuting attorneys. He does not say why he didn't talk to the pardon attorney for the Department of Justice and didn't follow their regulations, Specter said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Clinton cited eight reasons for pardoning Rich and his partner Pincus Green. He said five reasons were directly related to his conclusion that the case was improperly handled when criminal charges were filed in 1983.

He wrote that he pardoned Rich only after concluding that a civil court should have handled the case, and he fashioned the pardon to allow for the pursuit of new civil charges.

Clinton added that many high-ranking Israeli officials and Jewish community leaders urged the pardon because of Rich's contributions to Israeli charities.

The former president also wrote that "the case for the pardons was reviewed and advocated" by former White House counsel Jack Quinn and three Republican attorneys: Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff; Leonard Garment, a former Nixon White House official; and William Bradford Reynolds, who ran the Justice Department's civil rights division under President Reagan.

Reynolds, a Washington lawyer who represented Rich in the early 1990s, said of Clinton's column: "I was astounded. I have had no communications with the Clinton administration or the president or Jack Quinn having to do with the effort to obtain the pardon at any time."

Juleanna Glover Weiss, speaking for Cheney, said Clinton's assertion about Libby's involvement is "nonsense."

Garment did not immediately return telephone messages but was quoted by The Times as saying, he hadn't "endorsed the idea of a pardon."

The column, as published in early editions of the paper, said the pardon "applications were reviewed and advocated" by the attorneys.

But during the press run, Clinton's office called to ask that the column be changed to say "the case for the pardons was reviewed and advocated" by the three, The Times said. Subsequent editions carried that wording.

Even the revised column, however, left the impression that the three were directly involved in the pardon review.

Clinton's intended point was that past arguments made by the lawyers were used by Quinn, Rich's attorney in the pardon application, the former president's spokesmen said.

"It was their legal analysis and their tax analysis that formed the foundation for the pardon," Lockhart said on ABC's "This Week." "It was all of their work that persuaded the president that he ought to grant the pardon."

See Also:
  • Mr. Clinton's Explanation
  • US Jewry Slams Clinton for Blaming Rich Pardon on Jews
  • The Clemency Page