WASHINGTON (AP) _ Former President Clinton abused his power by giving pardons to contentious figures such as Marc Rich based on the recommendations of relatives and confidants, a congressional report says.
``Clinton granted pardons and commutations to individuals who never would have received clemency but for the fact that they hired individuals close to the president to represent them,'' said the report from the House Government Reform Committee.
The 470-page report called ``Justice Undone: Clemency Decisions in the Clinton White House,'' being released Thursday, was obtained by The Associated Press.
The committee, headed by a longtime Clinton foe, Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., has been investigating Clinton's last-minute pardons since the final hours of his presidency. The report has no legal weight. However, federal investigators in New York have opened an investigation into whether any of the 177 last-minute pardons were offered in exchange for contributions.
The most controversial pardon was that of Rich, who was indicted in 1983 on federal charges accusing him of evading more than $48 million in income taxes and illegally buying oil from Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis. He left the country before he was indicted and has been living in Switzerland.
Rich is the ex-husband of Denise Rich, a major financial contributor to the Democratic Party.
Rich's pardon has ``sent a message that individuals can go from the FBI's most wanted list to a presidential pardon if they spend money and have the proper connections,'' the report said.
In addition, the Rich pardon ``raised substantial questions of direct corruption, primarily whether pardons were issued in exchange for political and other financial contributions,'' the report said.
Clinton refused to answer questions from the committee. Ms. Rich also refused to answer the committee's inquiries. Both said in other forums that there was no deal between Rich and Clinton for a pardon.
``The report is filled with nothing but the usual partisan accusations, allegations and innuendoes when it comes to President Clinton,'' Clinton spokeswoman Julia Payne said. ``There is no proof of any wrongdoing by the president in this report, although Lord know they try to make you think differently.''
The committee's report also said Clinton ``abused'' his clemency power by giving pardons to people who could afford high-priced lobbyists like former White House counsel Jack Quinn or Clinton relatives to plead their cases.
These people were able to hire well-connected advocates to lobby the White House and ``short-circuit the normal clemency review procedures,'' the report says.
The only reasons why Rich and others got pardons is because of their advocates' connections to Clinton, the report alleges.
``It's clear that none of these grants of clemency would have been issued on the merits,'' the report said. ``Only by capitalizing on relationships between President Clinton and individuals close to him were these petitioners able to obtain grants of clemency.''
Payne said all pardons by their nature are controversial. ``Other presidents have made controversial pardons but they were not subjected to a partisan investigation,'' she said.
The report also accuses Clinton of telling his brother, Roger Clinton, to ``capitalize on their relationship'' and use his ``connections to the administration to gain financial advantage.''
The committee report said Roger Clinton was paid for lobbying for as many as 15 pardons. ``Roger Clinton engaged in a systematic effort to trade on his brother's name during the Clinton administration,'' the report said.
Payne denied the charge. ``President Clinton never instructed, advised, or encouraged Roger to use his presidency for personal financial gain,'' she said. ``Any suggestion to the contrary are simply false.''