House Panel Delays Rich Immunity

Friday, February 16th 2001, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — A House committee investigating President Clinton's pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich won't give immunity to Rich's ex-wife until federal prosecutors decide whether to move ahead with their own criminal probe, a spokesman said.

Denise Rich has asked the House Government Reform Committee for immunity from prosecution in exchange for her testimony. But the committee will hold off on a decision, committee spokesman Mark Corello said Thursday.

``The committee will do nothing to impede the U.S. attorney's investigation,'' Corello said.

Congressional investigations have hampered federal prosecutions before. The Iran-Contra convictions of former White House aides Oliver North and John Poindexter were set aside by courts that said the testimony they gave Congress under immunity grants might have prejudiced their trials.

U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White announced she had opened a criminal investigation into whether money played any role in Clinton's last-minute pardon of Rich. Senate and House committees are also probing that question, with the House holding its second hearing on the matter next month.

Three of Clinton's closest White House aides — former chief of staff John Podesta, lawyer Beth Nolan and adviser Bruce Lindsey — will be subpoenaed sometime next week for the March 1 hearing, officials said Thursday.

The questioning also will reach into the Bush administration, a committee source said, with Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis Libby, one of Rich's former lawyers, likely to be called to testify.

The House committee also asked Clinton and Rich to release all their aides and lawyers from any executive privilege so they may testify at the committee's March 1 hearing without betraying any confidentiality oaths.

``We're also asking Mr. Rich, if he has nothing to hide, to let his counsel speak freely,'' Corello said.

Separately, the Senate Intelligence Committee is investigating Clinton's pardon of former CIA Director John Deutch for mishandling classified documents on his home computer, sources close to Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., chairman of the panel, said Friday.

The committee sent a letter to CIA Director George Tenet to determine whether he or anyone else in the intelligence community was consulted before Clinton issued the pardon. A senior intelligence official responded that neither Tenet nor anyone else had advance knowledge, according to The Washington Post.

Rich was wanted by the Justice Department on charges of evading more than $48 million in taxes, fraud and participating in illegal oil deals.

Critics have noted that Rich's ex-wife, Denise, contributed an estimated $450,000 to the Clinton Presidential Library Fund, more than $1.1 million to the Democratic Party and at least $109,000 to Hillary Rodham Clinton's Senate campaign.

Clinton has denied any wrongdoing.

The House panel asked Podesta, Nolan and Lindsey to testify at their first hearing last week but none of them appeared. This time the committee plans to issue subpoenas sometime next week to ensure their presence, officials said.

A November 2000 e-mail from Rich's lawyer, Jack Quinn, listed the people he expected to read the pardon application: ``POTUS (Clinton), Beth Nolan, the White House Counsel (she worked for me when I was there; is a former Georgetown Law Prof and an expert on legal ethics); conceivably Bruce Lindsey, Beth's deputy, but more importantly a very close confidant of the Pres from Arkansas and some whose law practice was in labor relations,'' Quinn wrote.

Quinn and Libby also will be called for the March 1 hearing.

Democrats pointed out Libby's connection to Rich during the House and Senate hearings and called for him to be questioned. The House committee chairman, Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., is likely to approve that request, a committee source said.

Clinton himself pointed out the Cheney connection in an interview Thursday with Geraldo Rivera. ``I mean, (Rich) had three big-time Republican lawyers, including Dick Cheney's chief of staff,'' he said in a telephone call to the host of CNBC's ``Rivera Live.''

Clinton, according to Rivera, said there was ``not a single, solitary shred of evidence that I did anything wrong, or that his (Rich's) money changed hands. And there's certainly no evidence that I took any of it.''

Clinton's comments were not recorded, but a transcript of Rivera's notes was provided to The Associated Press.

Clinton spokeswoman Julia Payne referred questions to lawyer David Kendall. A message left for Kendall was not immediately returned.

The Justice Department also plans its own investigation of the pardon. Officials will focus on issues such as whether the department got the proper information to process the pardon, said a Justice official, who requested anonymity.

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