- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 13, 2001

A House committee investigating President Clinton's pardon of Marc Rich asked the Justice Department yesterday for a grant of immunity to compel the testimony of Mr. Rich's ex-wife, Denise Rich, and began issuing subpoenas for records on campaign donors friendly to the fugitive financier.

Attorney General John Ashcroft also said yesterday that he was considering cooperating with the congressional investigation of Mr. Clinton's pardon of the billionaire fugitive.

In his first news conference yesterday as attorney general, Mr. Ashcroft did not state outright whether he would support granting limited immunity to permit Mrs. Rich to testify to House and Senate investigative panels.

"I think it's very important for us to take those kinds of requests very seriously," Mr. Ashcroft told reporters at the Justice Department.

Asked whether he would favor granting some form of immunity to Mrs. Rich, Mr. Ashcroft said he would consider such a move.

"I respect the right of the United States Congress to get information and to grant immunity," Mr. Ashcroft said. "And I respect the need for cooperation.

"I would say that I would be very pleased to cooperate with the Congress as much as possible," he said, adding: "I don't want to say we've made a decision."

Mrs. Rich, who gave $1.3 million to Democrats, including Mr. Clinton and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton now a U.S. senator from New York and contributed more than $400,000 to Mr. Clinton's presidential library in Little Rock, Ark., has refused to testify citing her Fifth Amendment guarantees.

The House Government Reform Committee wants to know what role, if any, the contributions played in the Inauguration Day pardon, granted two hours before Mr. Clinton left office. The pardon has sparked a firestorm of criticism from both Republicans and Democrats.

Committee Chairman Dan Burton, Indiana Republican, asked the Justice Department in a letter for the immunity grant to compel Mrs. Rich to answer the panel's questions about her donations to Democratic causes and the sources of those funds.

"Testimony and documents … demonstrate that Mrs. Rich had a number of contacts with President Clinton in which she requested a pardon for her ex-husband," Mr. Burton wrote. "In order for the committee to obtain all of the relevant facts about the decision to pardon Mr. Rich, it will be necessary to immunize Mrs. Rich."

Mrs. Rich refused to answer 14 written questions submitted to her last week by the committee. Her attorney, Carol Elder Bruce, said in a letter to Mr. Burton last week that her client "will not answer any questions of the chairman or the committee."

Once immunity is granted, Mrs. Rich faces possible contempt-of-Congress charges if she continues to refuse to testify. Contempt of Congress is a federal misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail or a $100,000 fine.

Mr. Burton, who has described the Rich pardon as a "travesty of justice," said the committee also will subpoena records from Mr. Clinton's presidential library foundation to determine whether officials there have accepted any illegal contributions including donations whose sources may have been foreign.

He noted that Mrs. Bruce told House investigators that Mrs. Rich had contributed an unspecified "enormous" sum of money to the Clinton presidential library.

The committee wants information from the library foundation on donors who have given or promised more than $5,000, including those donations by Mrs. Rich and her longtime friend, Beth Dozoretz, a former finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee who spoke in January with Mr. Clinton about the Rich pardon.

Mr. Rich fled to Switzerland in 1983 after he and his business partner, Pincus Green, were indicted for evading $48 million in taxes and violating U.S. sanctions by trading with Iran while American hostages were held in that country. Mr. Green also received an 11th-hour pardon from Mr. Clinton.

Mr. Clinton said he awarded the pardons based on the legal merits of the case, although records show he never spoke with anyone about the case except Mr. Rich's Washington attorney, former Clinton White House Counsel Jack Quinn.

Mr. Ashcroft refused to comment yesterday when asked by reporters whether he would name a special counsel to investigate Mr. Clinton's pardons and other end-of-term actions, including taking tens of thousands of dollars worth of items with him upon leaving the White House.

However, Mr. Ashcroft acknowledged that Mr. Clinton had the necessary authority under the Constitution to grant the pardons. The attorney general said that the president's power to grant pardons was "substantial" and had "very few limits."

• This story is based in part on wire service reports

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