Former Prosecutors Decry Pardon

Thursday, February 8th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former prosecutors complained to Congress on Thursday that President Clinton never consulted with them before granting a pardon to fugitive financier Marc Rich just before leaving office.

Morris ``Sandy'' Weinberg, a former assistant U.S. attorney, told the House panel looking into Clinton's last-minute pardons ``it appears that the president received no input from anyone who had knowledge of the case from the prosecution side.''

``It's like looking at half the scoreboard and thinking you know the score,'' Weinberg said at a hearing called by Rep. Dan Burton, the Republican chairman of the House Government Reform Committee.

Rich, who has lived in Switzerland since just before he was indicted in the United States in 1983, was accused of evading more than $48 million in taxes, committing fraud and participating in illegal oil deals with Iran.

Former White House counsel Jack Quinn, who had made Rich's case to Clinton, testified Thursday that he had encouraged the White House to consult the Justice Department before issuing the pardon.

``I did not do anything to circumvent them or keep them out of the process,'' he said.

Clinton said Tuesday that Rich's attorneys ``made a persuasive case'' for the pardon and Justice Department officials approved it before it was issued.

Republicans have noted that Rich's ex-wife was a major contributor to the Democratic Party and to Hillary Rodham Clinton's Senate campaign.

Presidential pardons are not subject to appeal, but the hearing was called to discuss the issue and Clinton's motive.

``Everything about it seems sleazy,'' said Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn.

Rich's former wife, Denise Rich, refused to answer questions sent to her by the committee. ``Ms. Rich is asserting her privilege under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution not to be a witness against herself,'' her attorney, Carol Bruce, said in a letter to the panel.

The lawyer also told the committee Ms. Rich had given an ``enormous sum of money'' to the Clinton Presidential Library Fund, said Burton, R-Ind.

Burton later said the committee would like go to the Justice Department and ask for a grant of immunity for Ms. Rich so she might be compelled to testify.

Weinberg and Martin Auerbach, two lifelong Democrats who worked on convicting Rich and his partner Pincus Green and now vehemently oppose his pardon, told the committee that for years they were always consulted about Rich's case as it proceeded through the court system.

In the end, he said, Clinton ``relied exclusively on the presentation of Mr. Rich and Mr. Green's counsel ... which in our opinion completely mischaracterizes the circumstances and facts.''

Green also was pardoned on Jan. 20.

Quinn contended that Rich deserved the pardon because of flawed prosecution.

New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who was U.S. attorney in 1983, along with Auerbach and Weinberg misused the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act to indict Rich, Quinn said.

Rich was one of the first RICO targets that did not involve organized crime, and the Justice Department has since banned the use of RICO in cases like Rich's, Quinn said.

``I was convinced that Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Weinberg, Mr. Auerbach and their colleagues had constructed a legal house of cards,'' Quinn said. ``It was a misuse of RICO on top of misuse of RICO predicates and underlying it all, a tax and energy case with no merit. The case was flawed.''

Weinberg and Auerbach said if the government didn't have a case, Rich and Green wouldn't have fled the country and renounced their citizenship. If their case against Rich and Green was a house of cards, ``it was all aces,'' Auerbach added.

The pardon of Rich has been criticized by some congressional Democrats as well. Rep. Henry Waxman of California, senior Democrat on the committee, called the pardon ``an end run around the judicial process.''

``But under the current system, the president is allowed to make bad judgment,'' he said. ``I see no evidence of criminal wrongdoing that has been presented to us.''