- The Washington Times - Friday, February 16, 2001

The White House will not interfere with a criminal probe of President Clinton's last-minute pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich, despite President Bush's call to "move on" and not dwell on the incident.
"I do not think it is the role of the president to dictate to the independent Justice Department what investigations they should or should not conduct," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said yesterday. "The president has expressed his opinion when he was asked about the Marc Rich pardon."
U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White of the Southern District of New York confirmed yesterday that her office is conducting a criminal probe of the Rich pardon, which Mr. Clinton issued only two hours before he left office, without any of the customary Justice Department review procedures that usually accompany pardons.
While Mrs. White refused to elaborate on the nature of the probe, law-enforcement officials say she is looking into whether personal gifts and political contributions by Mr. Rich's ex-wife, Denise Rich, influenced Mr. Clinton's decision.
Mrs. White is also looking into whether the wealthy Mr. Rich, who lives in Switzerland, might have helped Mrs. Rich finance the gifts. Mrs. Rich is believed to have contributed more than $1 million to Mr. Clinton's campaign, the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Mr. Clinton's presidential library fund. She also gave furniture to the Clinton family.
While the president has unlimited power to grant pardons under the Constitution, nothing exempts him from federal laws against bribery.
In a statement released yesterday by his office, Mr. Clinton denied any wrongdoing.
"As I have said repeatedly, I made the decision to pardon Marc Rich based on what I thought was the right thing to do," Mr. Clinton wrote. "Any suggestion that improper factors, including fund raising for the DNC or my library, had anything to do with the decision are absolutely false. I look forward to cooperating with any appropriate inquiry."
Congressional investigators have been looking into the Rich pardon as well, even though Congress has no power to interfere with a presidential pardon.
The federal investigation will temporarily derail the aggressive investigation envisioned by House Government Reform Committee Chairman Dan Burton, Indiana Republican.
The committee's majority counsel, James Wilson, said it would maintain a "respectful distance" so it wouldn't conflict with Mrs. White's investigation.
That means the committee will likely back off demands to have Mrs. Rich testify and, perhaps, issue subpoenas for bank records and other documents. It will also delay a plan by the committee to offer Mrs. Rich immunity in return for her testimony, staff said.
But nevertheless, committee officials yesterday said they will subpoena three of Mr. Clinton's closest White House aides former chief of staff John Podesta, lawyer Beth Nolan and adviser Bruce Lindsey for the next hearing on the pardon.
In addition, the panel will recall Rich attorney and former White House counsel Jack Quinn for the same hearing, which has been scheduled for March 1.
The committee also asked Mr. Clinton and Mr. Rich to release all their aides and lawyers from any executive and attorney-client privilege so they can testify freely.
"We're also asking Mr. Rich, if he has nothing to hide, to let his counsel speak freely and that goes for the documents that have been claimed by them as well," committee spokesman Mark Corello told reporters.
On Monday, Mr. Bush told reporters that he is not interested in questions about Mr. Rich, or other scandals surrounding the former president. There were reports that Mr. Clinton's staffers vandalized the White House on their way out, and Mr. Clinton admits that he took furniture and gifts from the White House when he left.
"My attitude is, all this business about the transition, it's time to move on, it is," Mr. Bush said. "It's time to stay looking forward, and that's what I'm going to do."
Mr. Fleischer said yesterday that Mr. Bush's attitude has not changed in any way. But he said that does not mean Mr. Bush is calling for a halt to Mrs. White's probe.
"One of the things that President Bush stressed in his selection of the person to run the Department of Justice is it should be a nonpolitical Department of Justice," Mr. Fleischer said. "And when something is nonpolitical, that means you leave investigative decisions to the professionals who make those decisions."
Mr. Fleischer said Mr. Bush is not worried that a scandal over the actions of his predecessor might in some way harm his own power to grant pardons. There have been suggestions on Capitol Hill to amend the Constitution to curtail the president's broad pardon power, and some legal scholars say a bribery probe into the Rich pardon could open up a narrow window for courts to review presidential pardons for the first time in history.
The criminal investigation "is a separate issue," Mr. Fleischer said. "It does not deal with the president's prerogatives. The president's prerogatives to grant pardons are given from the Constitution, and the president, President Bush, still enjoys those powers undiluted."
Justice Department officials have said that Mr. Quinn did not follow the regular process of applying for a pardon. Although no president needs Justice Department permission before pardoning someone, it is customary to ask for a thorough review before making a decision.
In this case, Justice Department officials in charge of reviewing pardon applications did not learn of the Rich pardon until the early hours of Jan. 20, the day Mr. Clinton left office. Deputy Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. testified at a Senate hearing Wednesday that he had spoken with Mr. Quinn several times in the preceding months but had never signed off on any plan to pardon Mr. Rich.
While Mr. Holder did not criticize Mr. Clinton directly, he did express frustration with the pardon and with the way the matter was presented to him by White House officials and by Mr. Quinn, who assured Mr. Clinton that he had "run it by" the Justice Department for an opinion.
"I think 'running it by Justice' is a pretty good description of what happened," Mr. Holder said.
Jerry Seper, reporting from Chicago, contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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