- The Washington Times - Monday, February 19, 2001

After spending the last eight years corrupting and sullying the Oval Office and the presidency, Bill Clinton has taken less than a month to stain the role of ex-president. If the pardoning of fugitive Marc Rich were not such a serious abdication of presidential responsibility, Mr. Clinton's post-presidential behavior would almost be pathetic. In a farcical development that conjures up images of O.J. Simpson's telephoning talk shows, Mr. Clinton's behavior has come down to this: The former president is turning not just to the New York Times op-ed page to spin his side of the pardon but to the likes of Geraldo Rivera, the pseudo-journalist and longtime Clinton sycophant,to complain about being victimized yet again by Republicans.

"I have no infrastructure to deal with this, no press person," Mr. Clinton lamented to Mr. Rivera, according to the talk show host's notes of their Thursday conversation. "I just wanted to go out there and do what past presidents have done," Mr. Clinton reportedly told Mr. Rivera, referring to his pardon of Mr. Rich and his partner, "Pinky" Green, two hours before his presidency expired at noon on Jan. 20. "But the Republicans had other ideas for me," Mr. Clinton complained.

Having absconded to Switzerland three months before they were indicted in September 1983, Messrs. Rich and Green have been fugitives from American justice since they were charged with committing more than 50 felonies, including arms trading, evading $48 million in taxes (the largest tax-evasion indictment in U.S. history) and illegally trading with Iran during the 1979-1981 hostage crisis. Mr. Rich, moreover, has renounced his U.S. citizenship.

Two distinct Wednesday events apparently precipitated Mr. Clinton's outburst to Mr. Rivera. The first was the announcement by senior government officials that Mary Jo White, the Clinton-appointed U.S. attorney in New York, where Mr. Rich was indicted, had initiated a preliminary investigation into the circumstances of the pardon, which reportedly left Ms. White "livid." The investigation will seek to determine if anyone acting on behalf of Mr. Rich had attempted to purchase his pardon or otherwise illegally obtain it. Among other things, investigators want to know if Denise Rich, Mr. Rich's ex-wife, laundered more than $1 million from her billionaire ex-husband's fortune into numerous Democratic coffers in order to obtain the pardon or if she used her own funds to achieve the same end. Mrs. Rich, who recently asserted her Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination rather than testify before the House Government Reform Committee, has contributed $1 million in soft money to the Democratic Party, including nearly $300,000 since March 31 of last year. Between July 1998 and May 2000, she also contributed $450,000 to the Clinton library in Arkansas. Additionally, she donated at least $70,000 in soft money to Hillary Rodham Clinton's Senate campaign, $10,000 to Mr. Clinton's defense fund and $7,375 worth of furniture to the Clintons.

The second pivotal event on Wednesday was the testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee by U.S. Pardon Attorney Roger C. Adams, who is the Justice Department official responsible for reviewing pardon applications. Mr. Adams told the committee that "none of the regular procedures were followed." On Inauguration Day, Mr. Adams had told The Washington Post, "I've never seen anything like this." Indeed, Mr. Adams recounted for the committee how he received a telephone call after midnight on Jan. 20 from the White House counsel's office. With less than 12 hours remaining in the Clinton presidency, it was the first he had learned of the pending pardon. And the White House failed to inform him that Messrs. Rich and Green were fugitives, euphemistically telling him instead that "they had been living abroad for several years."

Indeed, so outrageous were Mr. Clinton's pardons of Messrs. Rich and Green that he was apparently unable even to convince White House counsel Beth Nolan and his longtime consigliere, deputy White House counsel Bruce Lindsey, despite intense efforts. In one of the more bizarre elements of the scandal, on Jan. 10 Mr. Clinton telephoned former Democratic National Committee Finance Chairman Beth Dozoretz, who was vacationing in Aspen with Denise Rich, to tell her how convinced he was by the argument on behalf of Mr. Rich's pardon. Mrs. Rich then called Avner Azulay, the head of Mr. Rich's foundation in Israel. Later that day Mr. Azulay e-mailed Jack "JQ" Quinn, the former White House counsel who had been lobbying the president for the pardons. Mr. Azulay told Mr. Quinn in the Jan. 10 e-mail that Mrs. Dozoretz "got a call today from [the president] who said he was impressed by JQ's last letter and wants to do it and is doing all possible to turn around the WH counsels."

In the end, the president failed to convince not only Miss Nolan and Mr. Lindsey but then-White House Chief of Staff John Podesta, as well. That, however, did not stop him from issuing the pardons.

Mr. Clinton would have the nation believe he made his decision on the merits. "The suggestion that I granted the pardons because Mr. Rich's former wife, Denise, made political contributions and contributed to the Clinton library foundation," he wrote in a Times op-ed Sunday "is utterly false. There was absolutely no quid pro quo." Set aside for the moment that he notified party fund-raiser Beth Dozoretz of the pardons before Pardon Attorney Adams. Assume he did act on the merits. No one has been quicker than he to suggest that financial contributions from the likes of the tobacco companies and the National Rifle Association have led to the defeat of Clinton-backed legislation. No argument on the merits for them. If Mr. Clinton doesn't like being on the receiving end of such charges, maybe he shouldn't have been so eager to hurl them in the first place.

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