Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton yesterday said she was disappointed, disturbed and saddened by her brother’s involvement in a $400,000 cash-for-pardons deal, as a House committee ratcheted up its probe of President Bill Clinton’s last-minute clemency orders.
“I’m just very disappointed about my brother’s involvement,” Mrs. Clinton told reporters during a 25-minute news conference in the hall of the Russell Senate Office Building. “It is very regrettable, and it shouldn’t have happened,” adding that she was “heartbroken and shocked.”
Her comments came in the wake of revelations this week that her brother, Hugh Rodham, helped obtain a pardon for A. Glenn Braswell, convicted in a fraud scheme, and a commutation for Carlos Vignali, a convicted drug dealer. It was also revealed that the campaign treasurer for Mrs. Clinton’s 2000 New York senatorial race collected $4,000 for negotiating pardons for two Arkansas men.
Mrs. Clinton said she had no “involvement in the pardons that were granted or not granted” and there was “no connection whatsoever” with the cash paid to her brother. She also said she did not know of the pardon work done by her former finance treasurer, New York lawyer William Cunningham III, a law partner of former White House Deputy Chief of Staff Harold Ickes.
Mrs. Clinton said she had no knowledge of her brother’s efforts to help in filing Mr. Braswell’s and Mr. Vignali’s pardon and commutation applications, and had she known, “I might have been able to prevent this from happening.” She said she was approached by many people seeking pardons in the latter days of her husband’s administration, but simply passed on the information to the White House Counsel.
Yesterday, President Bush said during a news conference that as far as the White House is concerned about the burgeoning pardon flap, “It’s time to go forward.”
“I understand there’s going to be some people on Capitol Hill that are going to be asking questions. That’s their right to do so. But I can assure you, our White House is moving forward,” he said, adding that any Justice Department inquiry would be done “in a nonpolitical way.”
U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White in New York has said her office is conducting a criminal investigation of the pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich, one of 140 pardons granted on Inauguration Day by Mr. Clinton, although she has declined to elaborate.
The House Government Reform Committee has put on hold, pending the New York probe, a request to the Justice Department for a grant of immunity for Mr. Rich’s ex-wife, Denise Rich, to compel her testimony.
But the panel still plans to call Clinton White House lawyers, the head of Mr. Clinton’s presidential library foundation and a key Democratic fund-raiser to testify at a hearing next week.
Former White House Counsel Beth Nolan, former Deputy Counsel Bruce Lindsey and former White House Chief of Staff John D. Podesta all reportedly recommended against the pardon of Mr. Rich and his business partner, Pincus Green who fled to Switzerland after their indictment in what federal authorities said was the biggest tax-fraud case in U.S. history.
The committee also wants to talk to Beth Dozoretz, former finance chairman for the Democratic National Committee, who spoke with Mr. Clinton about the Rich pardon just 10 days before it was ordered; and Skip Rutherford, a longtime associate of Mr. Clinton’s who heads the president’s library foundation.
Yesterday, the William J. Clinton Presidential Foundation released an eight-page letter saying it had provided some, but not all, of the documents the committee had sought. The foundation confirmed that Mrs. Rich contributed $450,000 to the library between July 1998 and May 2000.
The foundation did not release information requested by the committee for the names of all persons who donated more than $5,000, saying the request intruded on the operation of the foundation and its First Amendment right to keep donor lists confidential.
Committee Chairman Dan Burton, Indiana Republican, said he would insist on “full compliance” with the subpoena.
The committee yesterday also sent a letter to the president’s brother, Roger Clinton, asking whether he had helped anyone obtain a pardon. It said it had received “reports” that he was involved, although there was no specific explanation. Roger Clinton received a pardon for a prior drug conviction.
Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, also announced his intention to investigate Mr. Clinton’s controversial pardons. In a statement, he said he is “looking into the circumstances regarding the payments that Hugh Rodham received” for his legal work on the Braswell and Vignali pardons.
Mr. Cunningham acknowledged his firm was paid $4,000 to help obtain pardons for Robert C. Fain and James L. Manning, both convicted on income-tax fraud. In a statement, he said he spoke with the men, reviewed the paperwork and submitted pardon applications, but denied that his role as Mrs. Clinton’s campaign treasurer had any effect on the decision.
Mr. Cunningham said Mr. Ickes, Mrs. Clinton’s 2000 campaign manager, had asked him a week before Mr. Clinton left office to speak with the men on the pardon, but he neither contacted the White House, nor discussed the pardons with the Clintons.
“My connection is really with Senator Clinton, and not the president,” Mr. Cunningham said. “These applications really cried out on the merits that these are the folks who should be pardoned, and the fact that their request was assembled by me really operates independently.”
Mr. Ickes told reporters he also did not speak to the Clintons and denied that Mr. Cunningham had consulted Mrs. Clinton “in any way, shape or form.”
Mrs. Clinton asked reporters to “please make a distinction” between the solicitations made by her brother and the work done by Mr. Cunningham. She said that while Mr. Cunningham is a talented attorney, “my brother, as a family member, should not have been involved in this.”
Democrats have become increasingly weary of the former president and the endless list of scandals that have followed him. Mrs. Clinton said the frustration of Democrats was “understandable.”
“I have no idea what’s coming next,” Mrs. Clinton said, with half a laugh.
On Wednesday, Mr. Rodham returned the $400,000, although his attorney denied any impropriety. The Clintons had said they were “deeply dismayed” he was involved in the process.
Mr. Vignali, of Los Angeles, was released Jan. 20 from prison after serving six years for his role in a crack-cocaine distribution ring that operated from California to Minnesota. His arrest in Minneapolis followed a two-year investigation and led to his conviction on narcotics charges for his role in a drug ring that sold more than 800 pounds of cocaine.
The Vignali commutation request was reviewed by the Justice Department, which recommended against it. Prosecutors in Minneapolis wrote to the department to oppose his commutation, saying that while he was a first-time offender, he played a key role in a drug conspiracy that collected millions of dollars in illicit profits.
Mr. Braswell, a Marina del Ray, Calif., businessman, was convicted in 1983 for false claims he made about the effectiveness of a treatment for baldness. A judge sentenced him to three years in prison. After the pardon, federal prosecutors confirmed he was the focus of a “massive tax evasion and money-laundering” probe.
The Braswell request went directly to the White House, bypassing the pardon attorney’s office at the Justice Department.
Mr. Clinton granted 140 pardons and 36 commutations just before he left office. Former President Jimmy Carter Tuesday night described the Rich pardon as “disgraceful,” given Mrs. Rich’s donations to the library and the Democratic Party.