- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 10, 2001

As the civic equivalent of Lent fast approaches that dark and cheerless time known as tax season congressional hearings show that financial sacrifice is not required of all. Marc Rich, former fugitive financier, skipped out on a $48 million tax bill, fled the United States, renounced his U.S. citizenship and spent the last 17 years globetrotting and avoiding extradition. But he's no longer a "fugitive" financier because former President Clinton, possibly touched by Mr. Rich's lack of contrition, pardoned him in the closing hours of his administration.

Let other U.S. taxpayers be forewarned, however: Do not try this at home. Mr. Rich had the swag and the allies to succeed in this case at least with the Clinton administration that most taxpayers do not.

Former White House Counsel Jack Quinn represented Mr. Rich. Mr. Quinn, who once advised Mr. Clinton as to the public's, or at least the president's, best interests in political matters, moved easily to advising Mr. Clinton as to Mr. Rich's best interests. No conflict of interest there, it seems. But Mr. Quinn was trading on far more than his past relationship with Mr. Clinton. He understood the pardon process intimately, knew who would review the pardon application and, just as importantly, knew who shouldn't review it. In testimony this week before the House Government Reform Committee, Mr. Quinn said he wanted the support of federal law-enforcement authorities without having to tell local U.S. attorneys who had sought Mr. Rich's prosecution in the first place and would surely attempt to block a pardon now. "Yes, I wanted those views to be articulated by main [U.S.] Justice [Department]," Mr. Quinn told the committee. That also meant a months-long effort to block any leaks about pardon negotiations, the subject of many e-mails among those involved.

Mr. Rich's pardon application benefited from Justice Department oversight that was at best see-no-evil and at worst secondary to the political ambitions of the No. 2 official at Justice, Eric Holder. Mr. Holder told the Government Reform Committee that he had "only a passing familiarity" with the Rich controversy and denied that he was "intimately involved or overly interested in this matter." Told that Mr. Quinn had discussed the Rich pardon with him as early as Nov. 21, Mr. Holder suffered a convenient memory lapse: What discussion? A letter hand-delivered from Mr. Quinn to Justice seeking Mr. Holder's support for the Rich pardon simply disappeared for 10 days, rather like the way Hillary Clinton's billing records at the Rose law firm "disappeared." Committee Chairman Dan Burton wondered aloud if Mr. Holder's memory problems had anything to do with the fact that he sought Mr. Quinn's support to become the attorney general in a Gore administration. Isn't this what Democrats used to call "the appearance of impropriety"?

Mr. Rich also has far wealthier friends than the average taxpayer. His wife, Denise, has given more than $1 million to the Democratic Party, given thousands of dollars worth of gifts to the Clintons themselves and promised an "enormous sum" perhaps as much as $1 million to the Clinton Library. (She has abruptly announced that she won't testify before the committee on grounds that she might incriminate herself.)

The Rich pardon is the stuff of which campaign-finance reform and "revolving door" legislation blocking people like Mr. Quinn from lobbying their old colleagues are made. But campaign contributions and revolving doors are simply symptoms of the larger problem, which is political power. By giving a wealthy man charged with tax evasion a stay-out-of-jail-card that lesser taxpayers would never receive, Mr. Clinton has invited bipartisan limits on that pardon power. As Congress contemplates such limits, it should remember, however, that difficult cases make bad law. If ever there was a difficult case, Bill Clinton is it.

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