Hearing Continues on Rich Pardon

Wednesday, February 14th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — Members of former President Clinton's own party openly criticized his pardon of financier Marc Rich amid new testimony Wednesday that the White House initially failed to tell the Justice Department pardon attorney that Rich was a fugitive.

``The pardoning of fugitives stands our criminal justice system on its head,'' Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said the Rich pardon ``certainly raises the appearance of impropriety.''

The Democrats' criticism came as Justice Department pardon attorney Roger Adams testified that in a midnight phone call on Clinton's last day in office, White House lawyers didn't bother to mention that Rich was a fugitive from justice.

Adams testified that the White House counsel's office said in the call that ``the only two people'' on a long list of names ``for whom I needed to obtain record checks were Marc Rich and Pincus Green.''

The White House counsel's office said ``that it was expected there would be little information about the two men because they had been ... `living abroad for several years,''' Adams testified. Adams said the long White House list of names ``included no other information.''

``You were not told'' about the fugitive status of Rich and Green? asked Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa.

``I was not told,'' Adams replied. ``I learned that from the FBI.'' Specter said Adams ``should have been told more'' than ``Marc Rich is living'' in Switzerland.

Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Wis., an advocate of campaign finance overhaul, said he has suspicions about the Rich pardon because the financier's ex-wife, songwriter Denise Rich, donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Democratic Party.

Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont said he disagrees with Clinton's pardon of Rich. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said she has ``concerns not only about the Rich pardon but about a number of'' others granted clemency on Clinton's last day in office.

After discovering that Rich and his indicted partner were fugitives, Adams fired off a fax to the White House summarizing the facts of their criminal case on charges of tax evasion, fraud and participating in illegal oil deals with Iran. The White House then asked Adams to fax over the materials that he had gotten from the FBI.

Rich's Jan. 20 pardon was one of 141 by Clinton, who also commuted the sentences of 36 others that day. Of the 177 total clemency actions, 32 were not reviewed in advance by the Justice Department's pardon attorney, which is the usual, though neither legally nor constitutionally required, procedure.

At the Senate committee hearing, Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder faulted himself in the Rich pardon, saying he didn't realize the Justice Department staff had been ignored by the White House.

``I assumed there were conversations going on at staff level,'' testified Holder, the department's No. 2 official.

It ``could have changed the whole thing'' if he had known there was a complete absence of discussion between the White House and Justice Department pardon attorney's office, said Holder.

According to Holder, ``somebody at the White House had to know that whatever I said'' regarding a possible pardon for Rich was not based on any recommendation from Justice Department staff. Holder has said he was ``neutral, leaning toward'' granting the pardon.

Rich lawyer Jack Quinn testified that he acted ethically and had no intention of circumventing the Justice Department. Quinn said he approached Holder because ``I wanted the Department of Justice involved. ... I encouraged the White House counsel's office on more than one occasion to seek'' the views of Holder and the department.

Specter suggested Rich's pardon may not be valid, questioning whether all the documents that supplemented the pardon were signed before Clinton left office.

Adams said that in signing some of the paperwork after Jan. 20, he was simply ``carrying out a ministerial act'' on Clinton's decision before the president left office.

Rich has lived in Switzerland since just before he was indicted in New York on federal charges in 1983.

The House Government Reform Committee, seeking to determine if Rich's money influenced his pardon, on Tuesday asked the Secret Service for logs that would indicate how often Rich's supporters, including Quinn, who was Clinton's former White House counsel, visited the White House before the pardon. The panel also issued its first subpoenas, including ones to Clinton's presidential library and for bank records of Rich's ex-wife.

Ms. Rich contributed an estimated $450,000 to the library and more than a million dollars to the Democratic Party.

Ms. Rich has refused to answer questions from the House committee about her donations, and Attorney General John Ashcroft said Monday he would be open to a proposal to grant Ms. Rich immunity in order to prod her to testify in the House investigation.