Congressional panel probes Clinton's pardon of financier
Committee chairman wonders about motive for pardon
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A House Republican has launched an investigation into former U.S. President Bill Clinton's controversial last-minute pardon of wealthy financier Marc Rich, who had been a fugitive on tax evasion and fraud charges for 17 years.
The chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, Dan Burton, R-Indiana, sent six letters to government officials and private attorneys Thursday demanding documents for his committee's probe.
Burton's action came amid mounting criticism of Clinton's pardon last weekend of Rich, who had been listed on the Department of Justice's Web site as an international fugitive.
"This man should not have been let off like that and we need to find out why," Burton told CNN, adding that he wanted to know whether "undue influence" played a role in Clinton's decision.
Rich's ex-wife Denise is an active Democratic Party fund-raiser and contributed to Hillary Rodham Clinton's Senate campaign.
'Disgrace' and 'inappropriate'
In a letter to acting Attorney General Eric Holder, whose Justice Department houses the files of pardon applications, Burton demanded records relating to efforts to obtain clemency for Rich or associate Pincus Green.
Burton, a longtime critic of Clinton's, acknowledged the department may not have any relevant documents.
"The Justice Department didn't know anything about this," said Burton, charging Clinton had taken the unusual step of circumventing the normal procedures. Applications for presidential pardons generally go to Justice Department U.S. Pardon Attorney Roger Adams, who compiles information and forwards it to the White House for consideration.
Clinton pardoned 140 people, including Rich, about two hours before he left office last Saturday.
The pardons, particularly Rich's, have drawn some criticism. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, called it "a disgrace," and even Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota said he was troubled by that pardon, describing it as "inappropriate."
Rich fled country
Rich fled the United States in 1983 after being indicted on charges of wire fraud, racketeering and income tax evasion. He was also charged with violating trade restrictions with Iran at the time the government in Tehran was holding U.S. diplomats as hostages.
Rich, 66, is an active businessman in Switzerland.
New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who as a federal prosecutor at the time brought the charges against Rich, said a congressional investigation was warranted into the "very unusual" pardon of a fugitive.
"The Marc Rich pardon cries out for an explanation," he said, describing the 1983 case as the "most extensive tax evasion case" in the country. "There is no explanation for it beyond the fact that the president had the raw power to do it."
Asked whether he believed there was a quid pro quo for the Rich pardon, Giuliani refused to rule it out.
"I don't think it would be fair to suggest that there was a payoff, but I also don't think it would be fair to dismiss the question without an investigation," he said.
The 1 1/2-inch-thick pardon application and recent letters praising Rich and his indicted business partner detail intense efforts by Rich's lawyers dating back at least to 1987 to get his 1983 indictment thrown out.
According to the December 11 application filed with the president, former Clinton administration White House counsel Jack Quinn turned to his ex-boss for help in pardoning Rich after federal prosecutors refused to negotiate.
"It is our firm policy not to negotiate dispositions of criminal charges with fugitives," said a February 2000 letter from federal prosecutors in New York to Quinn.
"In 1987, an assistant in this office met with Mr. Rich's counsel and listened to the same presentation by Professor Martin D. Ginsburg referenced in your letter regarding the merits of the tax charges," the letter said.
"If Mr. Rich genuinely believes that he is innocent and believes in the strength of his arguments, then he can surrender."
In a Washington Post editorial on Friday, Quinn defended Clinton's decision to pardon his client. Quinn wrote that the pardon was "granted strictly on its legal merits."
Burton said he wants his House committee "to determine whether the president had an improper motive for the pardons, whether law enforcement authorities were consulted before the pardons were granted, and determine if any regulations governing the lobbying of the president may have been violated."
Clinton defended the pardons, telling reporters Sunday that they should not be viewed as an exoneration, only that the individuals have "paid in full." He said he spent "a lot of personal time" on the Rich case but declined to explain his reasoning for the pardon.
Others pardoned by Clinton include Whitewater figure Susan McDougal, former Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros, ex-CIA chief John Deutch and publishing heiress Patty Hearst.
Clinton also commuted the sentences of 36 other people, including four Hasidic men from New York who had been convicted of bilking the government of millions of dollars. Hillary Clinton, who had been lobbied on the issue during her Senate campaign in New York, received the vast majority of votes of the small Hasidic community.
Friday, January 26, 2001