Sen. Clinton Denies Role in Pardons
Thursday, February 22nd 2001, 12:00 am
News On 6
WASHINGTON (AP) â€” Awash in controversy, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday ``I did not have any involvement in the pardons that were granted or not granted'' by her husband just before he left office.
At a crowded news conference, the former first lady said she did not know that her brother, Hugh Rodham, had lobbied on behalf of two men who sought relief from Bill Clinton in the waning days of his presidency. She added she was ``very disappointed'' to have learned Rodham had been paid $400,000 to do so.
She also said she had no prior knowledge that her campaign treasurer had helped prepare official papers for other pardon-seekers.
With the controversy swirling, Mrs. Clinton was driven to Capitol Hill from her new home a few miles away for an attempt at damage control. Without any opening remarks, she invited reporters to question her. They did, and she remained composed throughout, at one point addressing a reporter as ``my dear.''
Mrs. Clinton turned aside questions about the pardon decisions her husband had made, telling reporters they should address those issues with him and his staff. She specifically declined to answer when asked whether he should agree to appear voluntarily before congressional committees looking into the pardons.
The former first lady said she had heard rumors last week about her brother's involvement, but didn't follow them up. She said she learned definitively about his role Monday night, while she was at the movies. She said she was ``heartbroken and shocked ... and extremely disappointed.''
She said she had not spoken to her brother since â€” and doesn't want to.
The pardon controversy has plagued her husband's departure from office and shadowed the beginning of her term as a newly elected Democratic senator from New York.
The twin disclosures also opened up a new area for congressional investigators. They, as well as federal prosecutors in New York, were already looking into a controversy over Clinton's pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich and his business partner.
The Associated Press learned Thursday that Mrs. Clinton's campaign treasurer, William Cunningham III, helped obtain last-minute pardons for two convicted felons.
Cunningham is a law partner of longtime Clinton adviser Harold Ickes, and said Ickes referred two Arkansas pardon-seekers, both Republicans, to him about a week before Bill Clinton left office on Jan. 20.
``Harold does not do this kind of work, and we are partners so Harold contacted me and asked if I would speak with them,'' Cunningham told AP in an interview. ``I told them I would be happy to review the paperwork and submit the applications.''
Cunningham said his and Ickes' firm was paid just $4,000 for the work of preparing and sending the applications to the Justice Department. He said neither contacted the White House nor discussed the pardons with Hillary Clinton or the former president.
Cunningham said he did not believe his role as Mrs. Clinton's treasurer during her Senate campaign in New York last year had any effect on the ex-president's decision.
``My connection is really with Senator Clinton, and not the president,'' Cunningham said. ``These applications really cried out on the merits that these are the folks who should be pardoned, and the fact that their request was assembled by me really operates independently,'' he said.
Ickes said he did not talk to either Clinton about the two men â€” Robert Clinton Fain and James Lowell Manning â€” who were convicted in the 1980s on tax charges.
``He (Cunningham) acted as a lawyer. He never consulted her (Hillary) in any way shape or form, nor did I,'' said Ickes, who served as deputy White House chief of staff to the former president and later as a key adviser to Mrs. Clinton's campaign.
The revelation comes as a day after Mrs. Clinton's brother returned nearly $400,000 he collected for helping secure a pardon and a prison commutation for two other clients.
At the request of the Clintons, Rodham refunded the payments Wednesday. A congressional investigative committee immediately demanded documents and answers.
On Thursday, AP also learned that former White House spokesman Lanny Davis, a frequent defender of the Clintons during controversies, was asked by former Rep. Larry Smith, D-Fla., to help win a pardon. Smith was convicted of tax evasion and misusing political contributions.
Davis said Thursday he declined to take the case, instructed the ex-congressman to file his pardon application through the Justice Department and then called the White House counsel's office simply to let them know Smith's application would be arriving.
The Clintons said they were unaware of the arrangements with Rodham and were ``deeply disturbed'' by what had happened.
Rodham contacted Clinton's closest adviser in the White House, Bruce Lindsey, at least once in connection with one of the cases, which involved a major political contributor's son convicted on drug charges, legal sources said.
Rodham ``acceded to his family's request that he return legal fees earned in connection with pardon requests,'' his attorney Nancy Luque said.
``Their request, presumably made because of the appearance of impropriety, is one he cannot ignore,'' Luque said. ``There was, however, no impropriety in these matters.''
Legal sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Rodham, who is a lawyer, was paid for months of work on the prison commutation request of Carlos Vignali and received a ``success fee'' for helping win the pardon of Almon Glenn Braswell.
The money included $200,000 after the Braswell pardon was granted and the rest paid over a period time as Rodham worked on the Vignali commutation, the sources said. They declined to provide an exact amount but said it totaled just below $400,000. The money was returned to Braswell and Vignali's family, the sources said.
``Yesterday I became aware of press inquires that Hugh Rodham received a contingency fee in connection with a pardon application for Glenn Braswell and a fee for work on Carlos Vignali's commutation application,'' the former president said in a statement. ``Neither Hillary nor I had any knowledge of such payments. We are deeply disturbed by these reports and have insisted that Hugh return any moneys received.''
The Braswell pardon has generated controversy because after it was granted on Jan. 20 it was disclosed that the businessman was under investigation on new allegations.
Braswell didn't apply for his pardon through the Justice Department, but Vignali did seek his commutation through the department in August 1998.
The 140 pardons and 36 commutations Clinton granted just hours before President Bush took office have generated criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike and prompted congressional probe and a U.S. attorney's criminal investigation.
Until now, however, critics have mainly focused on the clemency Clinton granted to fugitive financier Marc Rich, who was indicted in 1983 on charges of tax evasion and making illegal oil deals with Iran. Investigators want to know whether donations by Rich's former wife contributed to the pardon.
Clinton has denied any wrongdoing, saying all the clemency decisions were made on the merits.
In response to a subpoena from a House committee, The William J. Clinton Presidential Foundation on Thursday released an eight-page letter, saying it was providing some, but not all, of the information the committee requested.
The letter confirms that Denise Rich, ex-wife of the fugitive, made three contributions totaling $450,000 to the library project â€” $250,000 on July 15, 1998, $100,000 on Aug. 7, 1999, and $100,000 on May 11, 2000.
The foundation did not respond to the committee's broad request for information on all persons who have contributed or pledged more than $5,000. Foundation attorney David Kendall argued in the letter that the request violated the First Amendment, intruded on the operation of the foundation and its effort to keep donor lists confidential.