Clinton Aide Says Barak Had Key Role in Rich Pardon

Sue Pleming - Reuters - March 4, 2001

WASHINGTON - Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak played a crucial role in former President Clinton 's decision to grant a last-minute pardon to fugitive financier Marc Rich , a close friend of Clinton said on Sunday.

Former Clinton aide and longtime friend James Carville said the president had been through a "long, torturous, important process" with Israel to try to hammer out a Middle East peace agreement and wanted to help Barak by granting the pardon.

"He wanted to help them (the Israelis). They wanted Rich pardoned for reasons I can understand partially. ... He made a judgement call," said Carville.

"To say there is some kind of illegality here is nutty," added Carville on NBC's "Meet the Press."

Several of Clinton's top aides, who advised him not to pardon Rich, have also said Clinton was influenced by Barak, who was defeated in the Israeli prime ministerial election on Feb. 6 by right-winger Ariel Sharon and could step down as early as this week.

Former White House counsel Beth Nolan told Congress last week it was Barak's telephone call to the Oval Office on Jan. 19 that turned the tide in the Rich case.

Rich, who has donated generously to causes in Israel, fled to Switzerland 17 years ago to avoid prosecution on racketeering, wire fraud, income tax evasion and illegal oil trading charges.

"Prime Minister Barak made enormous concessions to try to get a peace agreement. ... On the last day, he (Barak) called and said, 'I really would like you to do this (pardon Rich),' and the president did it," said Carville.

In Jerusalem, a source in Barak's office declined to comment directly on Carville's comments, but confirmed the prime minister had called Clinton and "mentioned the various contributions to Israeli society that Marc Rich has made."

Carville dismissed suggestions the president was influenced by political donors.

Friend Says Money Did Not Buy Pardons

"If money was talking, he certainly would have pardoned Michael Milken," Carville said, referring to the financier who made millions in the junk bond industry before pleading guilty to securities fraud in 1990.

Milken served two years in prison and had attracted high-profile support for a pardon, which Clinton did not grant.

The House of Representatives Government Reform Committee, a Senate panel and federal criminal investigators are looking into allegations that more than $1 million in donations from Rich's former wife, Denise, to Democratic candidates and groups may have played a role in the pardon, as well as money given to the Clinton presidential library.

Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who leads the Senate investigation, said Clinton was considering an offer to be questioned in private over the pardons.

Specter said one option was "very professional questioning by me with another Democrat, if the president chooses, in an office, his office, if he would like, getting to the basic facts."

Clinton Mulls Private Questioning

Specter, who wrote a letter to Clinton last week, told ABC's "This Week" that Clinton's new chief of staff told him the former president was considering the offer but had not yet made a decision.

"But as more facts emerge ... and I think as the facts build up, the president ... may be inclined to come in," Specter said.

Indiana Rep. Dan Burton , chairman of the House Government Reform Committee , told the NBC program there was no logical explanation for the pardon of Rich.

"If Mr. Rich thought he wasn't guilty, you can bet your bottom dollar he wouldn't have given up his American citizenship and fled the country," he said.

The only explanation for the pardon, said Burton, was "possibly a quid pro quo."

Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia also was critical of Clinton's pardon decisions. "Malodorous. They stink,' said Byrd on "Fox News Sunday."

"I think he abused the constitutional power that is there for purposes when there's a need to make justice out of injustice."

See Also:
  • The Clemency Page
  • Exposé: Using Pollard to Get Rich: Yediot Achronot Exclusive
  • Barak Call Changed Clinton's Mind On Rich, Say US Officials
  • Barak Refutes Testimony on Calls for Rich