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Jewish World Review June 28, 2001 / 7 Tamuz, 5761

Paul Greenberg

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It never stops -- IT never stops. And here you thought you were through with Clinton scandals and could relax. But now the wonderful sense of decompression the country has been enjoying since the end of the Clinton Era has been shattered. Only it's another Clinton, Roger, who's making the scandal news now.

Is this latest chapter in the never-ending Clinton family saga more sad or funny? Or just typically clintonesque? Or all of the above? This time, according to a report in The New York Times, the president's pardoned brother has drawn the attention of the (ital) federales (unital) in connection with a presidential pardon for somebody else. It's said -- and only said -- that a federal prisoner was promised a pardon in return for cash to be paid Roger Clinton and a couple of Arkansas confederates.

It's not yet clear who was playing whom; it all sounds like an elaborate variation on the old Spanish Prisoner swindle, and whether the story is fact or fiction or a mixture of the two, only the slow, grinding mills of the law will ultimately show.

My favorite part of the story comes from another convict, who says the prisoner trying to purchase a pardon was told he would have to go to prison in order to get out of prison -- and he believed it. He is now serving seven years, and no pardon has yet materialized.

Last March, doubtless in a fit of righteous indignation, the prisoner went to federal prosecutors complaining that he'd been swindled, that his family had paid more than $200,000 to win his release and no pardon was in sight. He himself was doing time for fraud. What can the moral of this story be -- that nothing irritates a swindler more than being swindled? If he made up this whole thing, the man is a master of irony. Maupassant could have done no better.

Roger Clinton is also said, and only said, to have been selling diplomatic passports -- the kind that can ease your way through Customs. Like the pardon, the passports never materialized, which makes the story stranger, funnier and, if you're the alleged buyer, sadder.

It's all enough to bring back the image of Max Bialystock, Mel Brooks' marvelous Broadway producer, who kept extracting checks from gullible widows in order to finance -- he said -- a show to be called "Cash,'' or at least that's how the checks were to be made out.

Roger Clinton and associates, his lawyers explain, were collecting cash only in return for their business expertise. Roger, you see, was going to be a spokesman for a charity this generous donor was setting up. But the clearest beneficiary of the charity seems to have been Roger Clinton and friends. At one point $30,000 changed hands. In cash. In a Dallas hotel. "I don't remember if they counted it or not,'' says the disappointed buyer, now that he's seeking immunity from prosecution, and now that just what he was buying has become a matter of some dispute.

All in all, it's an interesting way to transact business -- in cash with no paper record. But you find out all kinds of interesting things when the latest Clinton deal becomes the latest Clinton scandal, investigation and debacle.

Ah well, every president has a brother. But in the case of the Clintons, you can't be sure which brother is going to embarrass the other at any given time. If the feds aren't casting their net for one, they seem to be after another. Talk about keeping it all in the family. But let it be said for Roger that he's never been impeached. Or even elected.

The richest comment yet in this developing imbroglio came from a spokesman for the former president. The spokesperson, Julia Payne, repeated her standard line, which grows less convincing every time: "The president has been very clear he's granted pardons and clemencies only on the merits.''

On the merits. Uh huh. That assurance must apply especially to every one of those 141 pardons handed out assembly-line fashion on William Jefferson Clinton's last day as president of the United States, the same day on which he admitted to having given false testimony under oath. It was all part of a settlement under which he also surrendered his law license for five years in order to avoid a possible indictment.

I hope Ms. Payne is paid a lot to say such things (''he's granted pardons and clemencies on the merits'') with a straight face. Because no amount of money would be worth her job.

Has she never heard of Marc Rich? How's that for a pardon on-the-merits? And do you think Mr. Rich's former wife, the one who contributed all that money to the Clinton presidential library, will be here in Little Rock when they dedicate the Clinton presidential library, aka the Pardon Palace?

The Clinton library and shrine, in the shape of an unfinished bridge to the future, is due to go up just the other side of the beer joints and souvenir shops now metastasizing in the city's River Market district. When it's time for the grand opening, maybe Denise Rich could be joined by Roger Clinton if he can make it. Together, they'd outdraw any nearby wax museum.

What a show that opening will be. Mel Brooks has a genius for slapstick, but he's got a way to go before he catches up with the Clintons' brother act. You can't make up stuff like this.

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