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Report revives Clinton pardon flap

Report revives Clinton pardon flap


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A report by a Republican-led congressional committee accuses the Clinton White House of mishandling several pardons issued in President Clinton's final days in office, while Democrats fired back that the report's accusations are false.

The report was obtained by CNN and written by the staff of longtime Clinton critic Republican Rep. Dan Burton. It offers some new details, but is mainly an effort to review all of the information gathered by committee investigators over the past year.

One section focuses on the much-scrutinized case of then-fugitive financier Marc Rich.

"President Clinton made his decision knowing almost nothing about the Rich case, making a number of mistaken assumptions, and reaching false conclusions," the report charges.

The report by the House Government Reform Committee was immediately shot down by Democrats and Clinton spokeswoman Julia Payne, who said the accusations were baseless.

"Aside from it being filled with accusations, allegations and innuendo, which is par for the course with Congressman Dan Burton, there is no proof of any wrongdoing by the president," Payne said.

The committee's ranking Democrat, Rep. Henry Waxman of California, also was critical. "There are a lot of omissions in it. There are some mis-statements in it. It's not a good quality piece of work," he said.

The report suggests that former Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder was directly involved in orchestrating the pardon, by working with Rich's attorney, Jack Quinn.

"Jack Quinn and ... Holder worked together to ensure that the Justice Department, especially the prosecutors of the Southern District of New York, did not have an opportunity to express an opinion on the Rich pardon before it was granted," the report states.

Holder's attorney, Reid Weingarten, directly disputed that claim.

"Eric Holder was one of the most honorable, most effective public servants in memory. He had only the most fleeting connection with the Rich pardon and any suggestion that he did something deliberately wrong in connection with this is partisan slander that is completely belied by the facts," Weingarten told CNN.

The report goes on to recount a story from an associate of Rich who said he was at a Washington dinner in 1998 and bumped into Holder. The associate, Gershon Kekst, told congressional investigators that Holder recommended hiring "a lawyer who knows the process," someone like Quinn.

But Weingarten said Holder didn't even know who Kekst was and didn't know of his connection to Rich. Weingarten said Holder never brought up Quinn's name and offered only kind words when Kekst brought up Quinn. "Eric said the sort of mildly, generally positive things he would say about any peer," Weingarten said.

Later, the report says, Quinn wrote an e-mail in which he recounted speaking to Holder the night before. In that e-mail written November 18, 2000, Quinn said Holder had advised him to "go straight to wh (interpreted as White House)" and that the "timing is good."

Weingarten said the e-mail had nothing to do with Holder. "Eric Holder never suggested to anyone that they should circumvent the Department of Justice in the pardon procedure."

Waxman said most lawmakers agree that Clinton mishandled the pardon of Rich, but he accused Burton of writing a "shoddy" report.

"I think President Clinton made a serious mistake. But that's already happened," Waxman said. "And we're already a year into a new administration. We've got other issues to deal with."

He said there is no way to un-do Clinton's pardon of Rich, so the decision should be left alone. Clinton's spokeswoman shared that sentiment.

"Pardons by their nature are controversial," Julia Payne said. "But the U.S. Constitution gives the president this right. Former presidents have all made controversial pardons. None of them were subjected to this partisan analysis."

The 476-page report also spends time examining the involvement of Clinton's brother, Roger Clinton, and his brother-in-law, Hugh Rodham.

"One of the most disturbing aspects of the closing month of President Clinton's term in office is that a number of people close to the president used their relationship with him to lobby for clemency grants which ordinarily would not have been considered," the report reads.

Roger Clinton is accused of "capitalizing" on his relationship with the president to make money.

The report suggests that President Clinton encouraged his brother to "find a way to use his relationship with the president to his advantage."

At an event in Boston on Wednesday, President Clinton denied that assertion.

The report claims Roger Clinton received at least $335,000 in unexplained travelers' checks, including checks from Taiwan, South Korea and Venezuela.

It also says one company paid Roger Clinton $30,000 to lobby the president to loosen travel restrictions to Cuba.

In addition, the report recounts accusations made previously that Roger Clinton received at least $50,000 from the family of Rosario Gambino -- a convicted heroin trafficker -- to lobby for his release from prison. Gambino was not granted clemency.

The report also repeats accusations that Roger Clinton received a good part of $225,000 from the family of convicted felon Garland Lincecum. Lincecum also was not pardoned.

In relation to Rodham, the report talks about his agreement to return a fee he received from the family of Carlos Vignali at the request of his sister, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. As of June 2001, committee investigators say Rodham had returned only about $50,000 and has no plans to return the remaining $154,000.

An investigation into the pardons and commutations issued by President Clinton continues in the Southern District of New York.