Attorney General-designate Eric H. Holder Jr. told Congress under oath that he had “only a passing familiarity” with the criminal case against billionaire Marc Rich before President Clinton pardoned the fugitive financier in 2001- testimony that is now raising concerns among lawmakers reviewing Mr. Holder’s nomination.
Correspondence with the Justice Department and testimony secured by Congress from other witnesses show that 15 months before the pardon, Mr. Holder met privately with Mr. Rich’s attorney and received a presentation about what Mr. Rich’s defense believed were flaws in the government’s case.
Mr. Holder, then serving as the No. 2 official in the Clinton Justice Department, later took the rare step of contacting federal prosecutors handling Mr. Rich’s case in New York and, according to his own testimony, tried to “facilitate” a meeting with the defense.
“We never pressured anybody to have the meeting; the call was for the Southern District of New York to make,” he said. The prosecutors refused the request, in part because Mr. Rich had been a fugitive for 16 years and had taken no steps to turn himself in.
The Republican lawmaker who investigated the controversial Rich pardon told The Washington Times that evidence documenting the 1999 contacts conflicts with Mr. Holder’s testimony and that he has forwarded information he has on the subject to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which will examine President-elect Barack Obama’s choice for attorney general.
Mr. Holder “certainly had more than a passing familiarity with this case,” said Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican, who oversaw the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee when it investigated the Rich pardon in 2001.
“I know human beings are fallible and they make mistakes, but making statements that are not accurate while under oath before a congressional committee goes beyond the pale,” he said. “Sure as the dickens, he was not straight with our committee.”
Mr. Holder and the Obama transition team did not respond to repeated e-mails and telephone calls for comment.
During his House testimony, Mr. Holder said his actions in the Rich case were “consistent with my duties and responsibilities as deputy attorney general,” although in hindsight he said he wished he had “done some things differently” with regard to the matter.
“Specifically, I wish that I had assured that the Department of Justice was more fully informed and involved in this pardon process,” he said, adding that the Justice Department, Mr. Clinton and the American public, “in the cause of justice, would have been better served if the case had been handled through the normal channels.”
Mr. Holder told the House committee in sworn testimony in February 2001 that he was not “intimately involved or overly interested” in the government’s $48 million fraud case against Mr. Rich, that the investigation “did not stand out as one that was particularly meritorious,” that he “never devoted a great deal of time to this matter” and that it “does not now stick in my memory.”
He also testified, according to a committee transcript, that he had “only a passing familiarity with the underlying facts” of the case and that after New York prosecutors refused his invitation to meet with Mr. Rich’s attorney, former Clinton White House Counsel Jack Quinn, he had “no reason to delve further into this matter.”
Mr. Holder also said he had “no memory” of Mr. Quinn telling him that he would file a pardon request on behalf of Mr. Rich directly with the White House, bypassing the normal Justice Department pardon process.
But public records, including a 467-page House Government Reform Committee report, show that Mr. Holder’s interest in the Rich case surfaced during the October 1999 contacts with Mr. Quinn. At the time, Mr. Rich had been a fugitive from justice since a 1983 indictment in what was described as the biggest tax fraud case in U.S. history.
Mr. Rich and his business partner, Pincus Green, were indicted on 65 counts of tax evasion, fraud and racketeering in a scheme to evade $48 million in taxes and for violating U.S. sanctions by trading with Iran while American hostages were held in that country.