- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 14, 2001

Has anyone noticed the outbreak of regrets that seems to have followed former President Clinton everywhere since he left office? Following a Clinton speech to a Morgan Stanley conference in Florida that left company investors fuming, company Chairman Philip J. Purcell said the decision to invite him had "clearly been a mistake." Former No. 2 Justice Department official Eric Holder has said he was sorry he hadn't paid more attention to a proposed pardon for fugitive financier Marc Rich when the issue crossed his desk.

In Los Angeles lots of people are now unhappy about the roles they played in gaining a last-minute presidential pardon for a drug kingpin named Carlos Vignali. A two-year investigation by state and federal officials led to his conviction on narcotics charges for his role in a drug ring that transported more than 800 pounds of cocaine from Los Angeles to Minnesota. There the traffickers thoughtfully converted the drug to crack for sale on the streets. Mr. Vignali's father turns out to be a big political donor (to Republicans as well as Democrats) who applied pressure to local politicians and prosecutors to press for commutation. Those officials are now backing away from the services they provided, and Roman Catholic Cardinal Roger Mahoney has announced that he made "a serious mistake" in writing to Mr. Clinton on Vignali's behalf.

It is against this backdrop that House and Senate committees are scheduled to conduct hearings into the pardon of Rich, who has lived in Switzerland since just before his indictment in 1983 on tax evasion and on making illegal oil deals with Iran. Even Democrats have felt free to criticize the pardon as "brain-dead" now that Mr. Clinton is safely out of office and their criticism too late to have much political import.

The House Government Reform Committee learned enough at hearings last week to know it needs to learn more. Among other things, it is seeking more information about meetings between President Clinton and former White House counsel and, later, Rich attorney Jack Quinn. It is also seeking information about the bank accounts of Denise Rich, Marc Rich's ex-wife, the better to find out whether she was serving as a conduit for political contributions from Rich, contributions that would be illegal if he has in fact renounced his U.S. citizenship. Finally, it is weighing the possibility of seeking immunity for Mrs. Rich that would allow her to testify before the committee without fear of incriminating herself in a crime. To the extent that the Senate committee has made news, it has to do with Sen. Arlen Specter's passing mention of the "I"-word on Fox News Sunday, the suggestion being that Mr. Clinton might yet be impeached.

Unless the Republicans conducting these hearings want to add their names to the "we're so sorry" list above, they should be leery of the "I"-word, which suggests a political agenda before the facts are in. And they better be careful of seeking immunity given that prosecutors, reportedly "livid" over the pardon, see it as a threat to possible criminal investigations. Remember that Mr. Clinton ignored the wishes of prosecutors when he gave Rich a pardon, and some day even he may come to regret it.

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