Ashcroft gives N.Y. prosecutor chief role in pardons probe

Tuesday, March 13th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Justice Department has put a New York prosecutor in charge of investigating last-minute pardons granted by President Clinton, officials said Tuesday.

Attorney General John Ashcroft has made U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White responsible for looking into cash-for-pardons allegations concerning some of the 177 clemencies and commutations granted by Clinton on the last day of his presidency, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

They characterized the move as a routine consolidation of work that allows White to investigate matters outside her jurisdiction, the Southern District of New York. Some of the allegations involve individuals in Arkansas, Texas and California.

The move does not mark an expansion of the pardon probe, officials said, adding that White can pursue allegations having to do with any of the pardons but has not been asked to investigate all 177.

The Justice Department has not assigned a special team of prosecutors to work on pardon cases and no additional investigators have been detailed to White's office for the pardon investigation, officials said. A small number of investigators at the Justice Department in Washington will be kept apprised of her work, they added.

If White finds evidence of criminal wrongdoing, she would decide whether to prosecute those cases or could refer any evidence she gathers to other jurisdictions.

White's Manhattan office already is investigating three cases: the pardon of fugitive commodities broker Marc Rich, commutations for four Hasidic Jews convicted of fraud, and the allegation that Clinton's brother, Roger, received up to $200,000 for promising to help a Texas man win a pardon.

Under the new arrangement, White can also look into the pardon of convicted drug dealer Carlos Vignali, whose father is a major political contributor. Los Angeles leaders supported Vignali's early prison release, and U.S. Attorney Alejandro Mayorkas in Los Angeles phoned the White House on behalf of the Vignali family.

The Vignali commutation also is under scrutiny because of the role of Clinton's brother-in-law, Hugh Rodham, who was paid $200,000 by Vignali's father, Horacio Vignali, to help get his son released from prison after serving six years of a 15-year sentence. Rodham later returned the money.

Mayorkas told the Los Angeles Times he would seek Justice Department guidance on how his office should work with the New York U.S. attorney.

``I would have to consult with the department as to how they deem it might be proper to proceed,'' Mayorkas said.