Clinton Defends Rich Pardon

Sunday, February 18th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former President Clinton gave his fullest defense yet of the Marc Rich pardon on Sunday but failed to silence critics who argue that political donations and connections helped the fugitive financier's cause.

``I want every American to know that, while you may disagree with this decision, I made it on the merits as I saw them, and I take full responsibility for it,'' Clinton wrote in an op-ed column in The New York Times.

``The suggestion that I granted the pardons because Mr. Rich's former wife, Denise, made political contributions and contributed to the Clinton library foundation is utterly false.''

Clinton also wrote that three well-known Republican lawyers who once represented Rich ``reviewed and advocated'' the case for his pardon. All three denied that assertion. ``I was astounded,'' one said.

The former president's last-minute pardon of Rich, who has lived in Switzerland since fleeing a 1983 indictment on tax evasion and other charges, has prompted an investigation by federal prosecutors in New York and congressional hearings.

Investigators want to know if Rich bought his pardon by passing money through his ex-wife, Denise Rich, who has acknowledged making large contributions both to Hillary Rodham Clinton's Senate race and to the presidential library. Democratic Party sources have put the library donation at $450,000.

Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., a senior member of a Senate Judiciary Committee, which is reviewing the pardon, said there are ``a great many questions which the former president has left unanswered.''

``He does not say why he did not talk to the prosecuting attorneys. He does not say why he didn't talk to the pardon attorney for the Department of Justice'' and didn't follow their regulations, Specter said on NBC's ``Meet the Press.''

``Nobody's questioning that the president had the power to pardon whomever he wanted to,'' said Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., whose House Government Reform Committee also has held hearings on the pardon.

``The American people want to know why one of the most wanted fugitives in the world was granted a pardon,'' he said on CNN's ``Late Edition. ``This editorial doesn't explain it.''

Clinton cited eight reasons for his decision, five of which he said were directly related to his conclusion that the case was improperly handled when criminal charges were filed in 1983.

He wrote that he pardoned Rich only after concluding that a civil court should have handled the case, and he fashioned the pardon to allow for the pursuit of new civil charges.

Clinton added that many high-ranking Israeli officials and Jewish community leaders urged the pardon because of Rich's contributions to Israeli charities.

The former president also wrote that ``the case for the pardons was reviewed and advocated'' by former White House counsel Jack Quinn and three Republican attorneys: Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff; Leonard Garment, a former Nixon White House official; and William Bradford Reynolds, who ran the Justice Department's civil rights division under President Reagan.

The three attorneys denied Clinton's statement.

``The assertion that Mr. Libby had any thing to do with President Clinton's pardon is nonsense,'' Juleanna Glover Weiss, spokeswoman for Cheney, said. Libby was no longer Rich's attorney by last spring, she said, although she would not comment on Libby's representation of Rich.

Reynolds, a Washington lawyer who represented Rich in the early 1990s, said of Clinton's column: ``I was astounded. I have had no communications with the Clinton administration or the president or Jack Quinn having to do with the effort to obtain the pardon at any time.''

Garment did not immediately return telephone messages left Sunday at his hotel in Connecticut. He was quoted by the Times as saying, ``It is absolutely false that I knew about and endorsed the idea of a pardon.''

Former White House spokesman Joe Lockhart said Clinton had noticed that the reference to the three Republicans was ``a very poorly worded sentence.''

It originally said the pardon ``applications were reviewed and advocated'' by the attorneys. It later was changed to say ``the case for the pardons was reviewed and advocated'' by the three.

``It was their legal analysis and their tax analysis that formed the foundation for the pardon,'' Lockhart said on ABC's ``This Week.'' ``It is incorrect to say that they were part of the pardon application, that is something Jack Quinn did, but it was all of their work that persuaded the president that he ought to grant the pardon.''