- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 22, 2001

Bill Clinton is sinking into another squalid scandal of his own making. This one is about his outrageous pardon of a 17-year fugitive from justice whose ex-wife poured $1 million into Bill and Hillary's coffers.

And in the process, as he always does, Mr. Clinton is dragging a lot of good people into the swamp with him not to mention his own party in Congress, whose frustrated leaders are finding that the news media's attention to his embarrassing sideshow is hurting their efforts to interest the public in their agenda.

As he has done in so many of the seamy scandals that have irrevocably disgraced and stained his presidency, Mr. Clinton is trying to blame someone else for his behavior. Last week he told CNBC talk-show maestro Geraldo Rivera, "I just wanted to go out there and do what past presidents have done, but the Republicans wouldn't let me."

The Republicans wouldn't let him? It turns out that Mr. Clinton's top White House aides White House Counsel Beth Nolan, Whitewater-fixer Bruce Lindsey and Chief of Staff John Podesta pleaded with him not to pardon Marc Rich, who fled the country after being indicted on 50 counts of tax fraud and other charges.

He only did what other presidents have done? Name another president who pardoned a fugitive from justice after the fugitive's former wife had donated huge amounts of money to his presidential library and the first lady's Senate campaign and some very expensive furniture for their luxurious homes.

Name a president who granted a pardon without consulting the Justice Department to get its opinion in the matter. You won't find one.

And Mr. Clinton still makes things up to defend himself. In an excuse-laden op-ed piece in Sunday's New York Times, he wrote that three Republicans had "advocated" or "reviewed and advocated" the pardons. In fact, all three denied they had done so. Clinton aides confirmed their denials were accurate.

To say this pardon broke all the rules of due process and justice is the understatement of the century. Mr. Clinton relied on the arguments of Mr. Rich's attorneys and so-called "experts" who were on Mr. Rich's payroll.

Mr. Rich and his attorneys had, with his vast fortune, obtained the support of important figures in Israel by giving millions to Israeli causes and hinting of more to come. His ex-wife, immensely wealthy in her own right, plied the Clintons with money, too. The former president insists there was "no quid pro quo," but who can believe a man who admitted on his last day in office (in a signed plea bargain to avoid indictment) that he had given false testimony under oath in the Monica Lewinsky scandal, which led to criminal fines and the temporary suspension of his license to practice law?

Needless to say, many people don't believe him. United States attorney Mary Jo White, the Justice Department, and two congressional committees are investigating to see whether Mr. Rich reimbursed Denise Rich when she handed over $450,000 to the Clinton library and other sums to the Clintons. The goal of the investigations is to find out whether there was indeed a quid pro quo.

But this latest scandal runs even deeper than that. It runs to the very core of our system of justice the system Mr. Clinton abused by perjuring himself in a court of law.

"Mr. Rich has defied the courts for years, and now he has been rewarded in a way that undermines respect for the law and longstanding Justice Department pardoning procedures," the New York Times editorialized on Monday.

Mr. Clinton's argument that Mr. Rich was wrongly indicted by zealous prosecutors "does not pass legal muster," the Times said. If Mr. Rich feels that way, let him come back and argue his case in court.

It seems that Mr. Clinton, still bitter and unrepentant over his impeachment and trial in the Senate, is looking for one more way to attack the legal system that punished him. He maintains Mr. Rich was wrongly charged, just as he still believes he was wrongly charged by the House prosecutors; and he, as president, intended to correct this miscarriage of justice with his pardon.

Like a spoiled, delinquent schoolboy who refuses to obey the rules and is always in detention, Mr. Clinton is defiant to the end, determined to break every rule and undermine every law, no matter whom it may hurt. He insists that the money he and Hillary got had nothing to do with the pardon.

No one apart from his die-hard supporters believes him. Even his loyal White House staff tried to dissuade him because of the way it looked. "The story of this pardon begins and ends with money and the access afforded by money," the Times said. Exactly.

There's a lot more to investigate here than just the Rich pardon. There's the commutation of the sentence of a politically connected California drug dealer. There's his decision to commute the sentences of four Hasidic men whose supporters had given big bucks to Hillary.

After all the sordid scandals of his presidency, you would think Mr. Clinton would be somewhat chastened by the humiliation he has inflicted upon himself, his family and on the country. But no. He continues to be the boy who never grew up, who is always in trouble, who is always breaking the rules and defying authority.

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