- The Washington Times - Friday, March 2, 2001

Three of Bill Clinton's closest White House advisers vigorously opposed fugitive financier Marc Rich's pardon, but he ignored their advice after a last-minute call from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who urged clemency in the case.

"I don't know if there was any way to be more against something than I was against this," former White House Deputy Counsel Bruce Lindsey told a House committee yesterday. "I discussed his fugitive status with the president and believed that was the beginning and the end of the question.

"I told him the place to make the case was not in the Oval Office," he said.

Mr. Lindsey, former law partner of Mr. Clinton's and a friend of 32 years, told the House Government Reform Committee during a daylong hearing that as late as Jan. 16, there was "no indication the president was going to grant" the Rich pardon.

Former White House Counsel Beth Nolan and ex-White House Chief of Staff John Podesta also said they recommended against the pardon, although Miss Nolan said Mr. Clinton approved it after the Barak call and a vague recommendation by Deputy Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., who said he was "neutral, learning toward favorable" on the request.

"The president understood our views," said Miss Nolan, noting that two associate counsels on her staff who reviewed the pardon request also recommended against it.

"I formed an opinion very quickly that the pardon should not be granted. I told the president it was my job to tell him what I think. I know who's the president and who's not. He was entitled to make the ultimate judgment," she said.

Miss Nolan said Mr. Barak called on the afternoon on Jan. 19 to urge clemency for Mr. Rich, based on millions of dollars in humanitarian gifts he contributed to Israel. She said after the Barak call, she telephoned Mr. Holder and then relayed his comment to the president.

She said the Barak call, along with the Holder endorsement, such as it was, may have persuaded him.

"It certainly seemed he was not going to grant it, and that Mr. Barak's phone call was significant," she said. Mr. Podesta said the Barak call was "influential" in the decision.

Mr. Clinton waived executive privilege claims so the three could testify. The panel is investigating, among other things, if there was any relationship between the pardon and contributions by Mr. Rich's ex-wife, Denise Rich, of $450,000 to Mr. Clinton's presidential library and $1.3 million to the Democratic Party and its candidates.

Mr. Rich's pardon request was never reviewed by the Justice Department, which normally sees clemency requests before they are sent to the White House.

One of Mrs. Rich's friends, Beth Dozoretz, former finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee who pledged to raise $1 million for the Clinton library, refused to testify yesterday, invoking her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Mrs. Rich also has declined to answer the committee's questions.

"Upon the advice of my counsel, I respectfully decline to answer that question based on the protection afforded me under the United States Constitution," Mrs. Dozoretz said when asked if she ever discussed donations to the library with Mr. Clinton in connection with the Rich pardon.

Mrs. Dozoretz had been recruited by Mr. Rich's attorney, former Clinton White House Counsel Jack Quinn, to lobby the president on behalf of his client.

Her appearance before the committee sparked a circuslike atmosphere, with more than three dozen photographers crowding near her at the witness table in an attempt to take her picture.

She refused to answer questions by reporters, except one to describe the color of her skirt as "beige."

Mr. Rich, among 140 pardons signed Jan. 20 by Mr. Clinton, fled to Switzerland after he and his partner, Pincus Green, were named in a 1983 federal indictment on charges of racketeering, wire fraud, income-tax evasion and illegal oil trading. At the time of his pardon, Mr. Rich was No. 6 on the Justice Department's list of top fugitives.

None of the three said they were aware of any "quid pro quo" or donations that would have persuaded Mr. Clinton to sign the pardon. They said they believed his order was based on his interpretation of the merits of the case.

The committee also was told:

• Former White House Deputy Counsel Cheryl Mills was involved in at least one discussion Jan. 19 about the Rich pardon after she left the White House. At the time, she served as a trustee for Mr. Clinton's presidential library.

Miss Nolan described Miss Mills as a "longtime trusted adviser" to the president and said she did not remember the former White House lawyer advocating the pardon. She said Miss Mills only was "pushing everyone to think hard on the matter."

Miss Mills' attorney, Neil Eggleston, said his client never had any dealings with Mr. Rich and was unaware of any contributions from Mrs. Rich.

• The pardon process became chaotic in the last days of the presidency with hundreds of applications flooding Miss Nolan's office after Mr. Clinton insisted on considering as many pardons and commutations as possible.

"They were coming from everywhere: Congress, movie stars, newscasters, former presidents, former first ladies," she said, adding that several members of Congress including Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, and Sen. Fred Thompson, Tennessee Republican made pardon requests and "didn't care if we followed the Justice Department guidelines."

• Mrs. Clinton's brother, Florida lawyer Hugh Rodham, said in written answers to committee questions he never contacted the president or his sister regarding a pardon for a convicted swindler and the commutation for a convicted cocaine dealer, for which he was paid $400,000.

He said he talked with Mr. Lindsey on three occasions about the clemency requests and with an associate in Miss Nolan's office.

• The committee's ranking Democrat, Rep. Henry A. Waxman of California, said Mrs. Rich had contacted the U.S. Attorney's Office in New York, which is conducting a criminal investigation of the Rich pardon and others, and agreed to cooperate in the probe.

Mr. Waxman called the Rich pardon a "bad precedent, an end run around the judicial process [that] appeared to set a double standard for the wealthy and powerful" and urged others to cooperate in the New York investigation.

• Federal prosecutors in New York offered to drop racketeering charges against Mr. Rich if he agreed to return to the United States to face other charges.

Mr. Quinn testified last month Mr. Rich did not return to this country because of the unfairness of the racketeering complaint, but an e-mail introduced yesterday said Rich attorney Robert Fink told Avner Azulay, Mr. Rich's top aide and a former chief of Israel's spy agency, "they would drop the charges if we wanted."

He also said prosecutors agreed he would not be incarcerated pending trial.

Mr. Clinton has argued that he granted the Rich pardon because prosecutors were overzealous in bringing the criminal charges in the first place.

"Mr. Quinn has been telling us that this 'RICO sledgehammer' was what forced Mr. Rich to flee the country," said Committee Chairman Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican, "Now it looks like that's not accurate."

Mr. Lindsey told the committee he reminded the president that Mr. Quinn was an advocate, now working on one side of the debate on behalf of a client, and that he should not view him as still being one of his legal advisers.

In a related matter, New York state Tax Commissioner Arthur Roth yesterday said he wants $137 million in taxes, penalties and interest from Mr. Rich, adding it was "time for him to pay the piper."

"Marc Rich personally benefited from his admitted fraud of at least two companies he controlled and therefore evaded personal income taxes on the money he realized through his control of those corporations," Mr. Roth said.

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