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He also testified that he had “only a passing familiarity with the underlying facts” of the case and had “no memory” of Mr. Rich’s attorney, former Clinton White House Counsel Jack Quinn telling him he would file a pardon request on behalf of his client directly with the White House, bypassing the normal Justice Department pardon process.

But public records show Mr. Holder’s interest in the Rich case surfaced in October 1999, 15 months before the pardon, when he met privately with Mr. Quinn for a presentation about what the Rich defense thought were flaws in the government’s case.

Following that briefing, Mr. Holder sought to arrange a meeting for Mr. Quinn with prosecutors in New York who had handled the case, although the government lawyers refused the request because, in part, Mr. Rich had been a fugitive for 17 years and had taken no steps to turn himself in.

Mr. Quinn acknowledged that he personally lobbied the president and Mr. Holder for the pardon. A Nov. 18, 2000, email from Mr. Quinn to his Washington law firm also acknowledged Mr. Holder’s involvement in the pardon process. The email said: “Subject: Eric … spoke to him last evening he says go straight to wh. also says timing is good. we shd get in soon. will elab when we speak.”

In his February 2001 testimony before the SenateJudiciary Committee, Mr. Quinn said he “personally notified Mr. Holder in his office on Nov. 21, 2000, that I would be sending a pardon application directly to the White House. I told him then that I hoped to encourage the White House to seek his views. He said that I should do so, and I did later encourage the White House to seek his views.”

Mr. Quinn also said he “hoped the consultation with Mr. Holder by the White House would help me make my case for Mr. Rich, because I believed Mr. Holder was familiar with the charges and with our arguments as to the flaws in the indictment.”

Mr. Clinton said at the time that he awarded the pardon based on the merits of the case as argued by Mr. Quinn and that contributions to the Democratic Party from Mr. Rich’s ex-wife had nothing to do with the decision.

The Rich pardon was among 176 pardons and commutations issued by Mr. Clinton less than two hours before he left the White House for the final time as president.

Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican, who chaired the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee at the time, said Mr. Holder “certainly had more than a passing familiarity with this case.” He said Mr. Holder “abdicated his responsibilities as the deputy attorney general and took actions that ensured the Justice Department would have no meaningful input” on the pardon.

In a report, Republicans cited a typewritten note sent by Mr. Quinn to Mr. Holder 10 days before the Jan. 20, 2001, pardon. It said, “Your saying positive things, I’m told, would make this happen. Thanks for your consideration.”

House committee Democrats, led by Rep. Henry A. Waxman of California, said Mr. Rich and his business partner, Pincus Green, “did not deserve the pardons they received from President Clinton,” but the committee’s Republican members had failed to prove that any Clinton administration official “was bribed or otherwise corrupted.”

Executive privilege

In the clemency order for the 16 convicted Puerto Rican nationalists, Mr. Holder cited a claim of executive privilege by Mr. Clinton in refusing to tell a Senate committee whether the Justice Department had recommended against the president’s offer of clemency.

The committee’s then-chairman, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, said the Justice Department had described the release from prison of members of the Armed Forces of National Liberation, known by the Spanish acronym FALN, and a separate terrorist group known as Los Macheteros, as an increase to the national security threat to the United States. In granting clemency, Mr. Hatch said Mr. Clinton had set free people who had engaged in sedition and openly advocated war against the United States.

Mr. Clinton granted clemency to the 16 convicted terrorists after determining that their prison sentences were excessive, given that none was directly involved in bombings the group carried out from 1974 to 1983 that killed six people. He also denied that the decision was political, based on first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton’s then-pending run for a Senate seat in New York.

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