- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 6, 2001

Former President Bill Clinton, criticized for his pardons of fugitive financier Marc Rich and others, will not accept an invitation by a Senate committee to talk about his Inauguration Day clemency orders.

Mr. Clinton's spokeswoman, Julia Payne, told reporters yesterday that a request by Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican who is heading the Senate Judiciary Committee's inquiry, for a meeting "is not an offer he's considering at this time."

"It's not anything we're inclined to do," Miss Payne said. "There is no window. You can shut it."

Mr. Specter, who voted to acquit Mr. Clinton in 1999 in the impeachment trial regarding the Monica Lewinsky scandal and then suggested earlier this year that the former president might be impeachable over his use of the pardon power, said on Sunday he thought Mr. Clinton "may be inclined" to accept his offer of an interview as a way of "getting to the basic facts."

"I think as the facts build up, the president is evaluating it and may be inclined to come in," Mr. Specter said on ABC's "This Week," proposing that the former president could talk with him and a Democratic senator in private about the 176 pardons and commutations.

The pardons are under investigation by the Senate committee and the House Government Reform Committee, which has held two hearings into the matter but has not scheduled any additional testimony. They also are part of an ongoing criminal investigation by U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White in New York, whose office vigorously opposed the Rich pardon.

Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi told reporters yesterday he thought it was time to "move on" from the pardons issue and did not believe any effort should be made to force Mr. Clinton to testify.

"I don't think we should get into trying to force him to appear before the committee," Mr. Lott said.

Last month, President Bush said "it's time to move on" from the continuing scandals swirling around Mr. Clinton, even as congressional investigators began to intensify their review into the Rich pardon.

"My attitude is, all this business about the transition, it's time to move on, it is. It's time to stay looking forward, and that's what I'm going to do," Mr. Bush said.

The House committee continued yesterday to focus on a list of donors to Mr. Clinton's presidential library. It wants to know if there is any connection between the pardons and contributions. Mr. Rich's ex-wife, Denise Rich, contributed $450,000 to the library.

Mr. Rich, whose pardon was among 140 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.

Mr. Specter had said that based on his legal research, a former president "technically could still be impeached" over the pardon flap, although he did not elaborate on what specific charges Mr. Clinton might face. Appearing on "Fox News Sunday" in early February, Mr. Specter said, "I'm not suggesting that it should be done, but President Clinton technically could still be impeached."

He said the Rich pardon had left Mr. Clinton open to possible impeachment "because a president may be impeached for the emoluments of office, such as the substantial sums being spent on the library, such as the bodyguards, such as his pension."

Legal experts have been divided on whether the Constitution allows Congress to pursue an impeachment case either over a president's use of his pardon power or against a president who has left office and several Senate Republicans have rejected the idea.

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