- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 15, 2001

Federal prosecutors are looking into whether gifts and political contributions by singer Denise Rich played a role in President Clinton's pardon of her ex-husband, fugitive financier Marc Rich, federal law enforcement officials said yesterday.
The officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told The Washington Times that U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White of the Southern District of New York has begun a "preliminary investigation" into the matter, which could lead to a full probe.
News of the investigation came on the heels of yesterday's Senate hearing during which Democratic senators strongly condemned the Rich pardon as favoritism to the wealthy and powerful.
"There probably isn't one person across this country today, who is familiar with this case, who doesn't think that it's a question of power, connection, money, and that, in fact, is how this pardon occurred," said Sen. Herb Kohl, Wisconsin Democrat.
"Without the power, the connection, the money, there's no doubt that this pardon would not have occurred at least that's the perception across the country," Mr. Kohl said.
Officials said the U.S. attorney's inquiry will examine whether Mrs. Rich's gifts more than $1 million to the president, the Democratic Party, and Mr. Clinton's presidential library fund, along with some personal furniture for the Clinton family led Mr. Clinton to pardon Mr. Rich even though he had been a fugitive from justice for 17 years.
The probe will also examine the source of the money for Mrs. Rich's gifts, in part to see whether Mr. Rich helped finance them, the officials said.
Mrs. White's office was closed last night. A security guard who answered the phone said "everyone ran out" after the first reports of the probe were moved by the Associated Press shortly after 6 p.m.
The guard said a press spokesman had left the New York office and "doesn't want to be paged." Before he left the office, spokesman Herb Haddad told AP that Mrs. White would not comment on any investigations.
Mr. Clinton pardoned Mr. Rich in the final hours of his administration, despite the fact that Mr. Rich had refused to return to the United States to face a 1983 indictment. The indictment charges him with violating U.S. laws limiting oil prices, with evading taxes on illegal profits, and with illegally buying oil from Iran during the hostage crisis.
The Justice Department did not do any of the customary review that accompanies a presidential pardon.
The Constitution grants the president unlimited power to pardon anyone, meaning there is nothing Congress or prosecutors can do to overturn the pardon. Neither the Constitution nor federal law, however, exempts the president from laws banning bribery and other forms of corruption, leaving open the possibility that Mr. Clinton could be a direct target of Mrs. White's probe.
At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the pardons yesterday, University of Miami professor Benton Becker testified that evidence of bribery could offer one "narrow exception" to the president's pardon power, which might prompt the first court review of a presidential pardon.
At yesterday's hearing, Senate Democrats strongly condemned Mr. Clinton's pardon of Mr. Rich.
"To my mind, there can be no justification for pardoning a fugitive from justice," Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, said at the hearing.
"Pardoning a fugitive stands our justice system on its head and makes a mockery of it," Mr. Schumer said.
Mr. Rich's attorney, Jack Quinn, argued yesterday that his client had been wrongly accused by an overzealous federal prosecutor Rudolph W. Giuliani, now the mayor of New York.
Mr. Quinn conceded that Mr. Rich might face civil charges for evading taxes on the oil he traded, but he said criminal penalties were inappropriate.
The attorney pinned blame for the 17-year impasse over Mr. Rich's case on Mrs. White. Mr. Quinn accused her of blindly refusing to discuss dropping the charges despite subsequent changes in the law and Supreme Court precedent that render the charges meaningless.
But in a letter last year to Mr. Quinn, obtained by The Washington Times, Mrs. White put the blame squarely on Mr. Rich, who has refused to return from Switzerland to face the charges. She said it was her "firm policy" not to negotiate with fugitives.
"If Mr. Rich genuinely believes in his innocence and believes in the strength of his case," she wrote, "then he should surrender to this jurisdiction and at that point we will fully and fairly consider his arguments."
Mr. Quinn told senators yesterday that surrendering was an option, but not one Mr. Rich chose to take. That comment prompted Sen. Jeff Sessions, Alabama Republican and a former U.S. attorney, to brand Mr. Rich "arrogant."
Mr. Quinn also strongly denied there was a connection between Mrs. Rich's gifts and the pardon.
He said he was unaware of the extent of Mrs. Rich's gift giving and that he got the clear impression from Mr. Clinton the case was decided on the merits.
"I never suggested she talk to the president about anything extraneous to the pardon," he said.
Despite their criticism of the pardon, Democrats expressed reluctance to give Republicans broad permission to start a new round of investigations into embarrassing behavior by the Clinton administration.
"I do not believe … that holding a hearing simply to add to the public outcry over certain pardons, or to launch attacks against [Mr. Clinton] or people in his administration is an appropriate use of our oversight authority," said Sen. Russell D. Feingold, Wisconsin Democrat.
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, said yesterday that Republicans may "be on the verge" of going too far with their investigation of the Rich pardon.
"Certainly there is an appropriate way with which to examine the propriety of any presidential action, but [Republicans] just have to keep doing this, and ultimately, as they've shown in the past, they overdo it. And I think they're on the verge of doing that again," Mr. Daschle told reporters in the Capitol as the hearing went on in a nearby office building.
Justice Department officials testified yesterday that Mr. Quinn and the White House made little effort to go through the usual process for reviewing pardon applications. Mr. Quinn never submitted a formal application and only raised the matter through conversations with Deputy Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.
Mr. Quinn instead submitted his petition for a pardon directly to the White House and used unofficial contacts such as former Democratic National Committee Finance Chairman Beth Dozoretz, a friend of Mrs. Rich's to press the president for the pardon.
Roger Adams, the lawyer in charge of reviewing pardon applications at the Justice Department, said he only learned of the impending pardon at 1 a.m. on Jan. 20, just 11 hours before Mr. Clinton's term expired.
White House officials said merely that Mr. Rich had been "living abroad," without making clear that the man was a fugitive.
Mr. Adams called the pardon "a very unusual case," and added, "It was not handled in any way approaching the normal way … but there is very little I can do about it."
Mr. Holder recalled he made favorable comments about the Rich case to the White House in the hours before the pardon because he wrongly assumed that his staff had reviewed the matter and that Mr. Clinton already had made up his mind.
While Mr. Holder did not criticize Mr. Clinton directly, he did express frustration with the pardon and with the way the matter was presented to him by White House officials and by Mr. Quinn, who assured the president that he had "run it by" the Justice Department for an opinion.
"I think 'running it by Justice' is a pretty good description of what happened," Mr. Holder said.
Dave Boyer in Washington and Jerry Seper in Chicago contributed to this report.

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