- The Washington Times - Monday, March 5, 2001

Former President Bill Clinton is considering an offer to be questioned in private about his last-minute pardons as part of a Senate inquiry into whether the actions were in exchange for financial contributions.

Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee are reluctant to formally request that Mr. Clinton appear before them "because of the sensitivity of asking a former president to come in," said Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican.

"And also, because there might be a circus-like atmosphere," said Mr. Specter, who heads the committee's inquiry.

Mr. Specter made the offer in a letter to Mr. Clinton after consulting with Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, and Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican and chairman of the Judiciary Committee.

Mr. Specter told ABC's "This Week" he suggested that he and a yet-to-be-named Democrat conduct "very professional questioning" outside the committee room, perhaps in Mr. Clinton's private office, to determine the basic facts of the pardons.

Karen Tramontano, Mr. Clinton's chief of staff, told Mr. Specter "he is thinking about" the offer.

"I think as the facts build up, the president is evaluating it and may be inclined to come in," Mr. Specter said. "And that's what I think ultimately he will do."

Clinton spokeswoman Julia Payne said no time frame has been set as to when Mr. Clinton will respond to the offer.

However, she told the Associated Press that "with all due respect to Senator Specter, it is premature to talk about what the president may or may not do."

If Mr. Clinton rejects the offer, he could technically be subpoenaed, but Mr. Specter said that is not likely to happen.

Former Clinton aide James Carville said the Rich pardon was based in part on pleas by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak but conceded "it could be a case of bad judgment.

"I can see where people would say the president made an error in judgment, and that's fine," Mr. Carville told NBC's "Meet the Press."

"But to say that there is some kind of illegality involved here is nutty," Mr. Carville said.

During House hearings on the pardon last week, former White House Deputy Counsel Bruce Lindsey, former White House Counsel Beth Nolan and former White House Chief of Staff John Podesta said they recommended against the pardon. Miss Nolan said Mr. Clinton approved it after a phone call from Mr. Barak.

Mr. Rich also holds Israeli citizenship and has donated generously to causes in that country. He fled the United States for Switzerland 17 years ago after he was charged with illegal oil trading, racketeering, wire fraud and income tax invasion.

Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, was less sympathetic than Mr. Carville, calling the pardons "malodorous."

"I think [Mr. Clinton] abused the constitutional power that is there for purposes when there's a need to make justice out of injustice, to correct an incorrection, but they were abused," Mr. Byrd said on "Fox News Sunday."

Rep. Dan Burton, chairman of the House Committee on Government Reform, is conducting the House inquiry into the pardons.

Appearing on NBC's "Meet the Press," the Indiana Republican would not rule out calling Hugh Rodham before his committee to question him about more than $400,000 in payments for securing two other pardons.

Mr. Rodham helped obtain a pardon for A. Glenn Braswell, convicted in a fraud scheme, and a commutation for Carlos Vignali, a convicted drug dealer.

Committee staff will examine records today from the Clinton Library Foundation to look for connections between pardons and contributions to the library.

Federal Election Commission records show Mr. Rich's former wife, Denise, contributed $276,500 to the Democratic National Committee between March and November 2000. In May 2000, she contributed an additional $100,000 to the $350,000 she had already given to Mr. Clinton's presidential library in Arkansas.

"We are not going to cast any aspersions at anyone at this point, the president or any of the other people," Mr. Burton said.

"What we want to find out, and I think the American people want to know is, was there a quid pro quo? If not, then why did the president pardon these people, because there is no logical explanation for it," Mr. Burton said.

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