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Jewish World Review Feb. 12, 2001 / 19 Shevat, 5761

John H. Fund

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Clinton owes the country an explanation --- and an appology -- FORMER presidents are well treated by taxpayers. Secret Service protection for life, a generous pension, staff and office space and maintenance costs for a presidential library are all part of the retirement package.

In return, little is usually expected. But Bill Clinton owes the country a better explanation of his pardon of the fugitive billionaire Marc Rich, a man who traded with America's enemies and has been described by top Justice Department officials as "a real-life James Bond villain."

Clinton gave an impromptu news conference on the sidewalks of New York recently to say he granted the pardon "on the merits" of the case. He said the move had nothing to do with his friendship with Denise Rich, the billionaire's ex-wife, who wrote or called Clinton three times to ask for a pardon.

Since Clinton's terse explanation, much has happened. Denise Rich took the Fifth Amendment before Congress, in part to avoid answering questions about whether all of the $1 million she gave to Democrats in recent years was her own money. Her lawyer admitted to Congress that Rich gave an "enormous sum of money" to Clinton's presidential library foundation. Time magazine reports that $400,000 of that contribution was made before the Rich pardon was issued.

Rich apparently consulted with Beth Dozoretz, a close Clinton friend. Dozoretz discussed the matter with Clinton only nine days before the pardon was rushed through without any formal consultation with the Justice Department or national-security agencies. On Jan. 10 an ally of Rich's in Switzerland sent an e-mail to Jack Quinn, the former White House counsel who secured the pardon for Rich. The e-mail said Dozoretz got a call from the president who said he was "doing all possible to turn around" the White House counsels who opposed the pardon.

All of this reeks. Even Robert Reich, a Clinton friend and his former secretary of labor, says it has all the appearance of "a political payoff." A new Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll taken February 7 to 8 asked 649 people if it was more likely that Clinton granted the pardon on the merits or because he "received contributions and favors from Rich's friends and family." Cynics were in the clear lead by 68 percent to 9 percent. Only 12 percent of the public isn't bothered by at least one of the three most recent Clinton scandals (the pardon, the taking of gifts and his outrageous office rent).

For now, Congress is focusing just on the Rich pardon. Members of Congress were told that if the White House had contacted either the CIA or the National Security Agency about Rich's overseas activities with foreign powers, no pardon would ever have been granted. Next week, subpoenas are likely to be issued to compel the testimony of Clinton White House counsels Beth Nolan and Bruce Lindsey. Other subpoenas will seek the records of the Clinton presidential library foundation, because the library refuses to release the list of its donors.

"The list of library donors is important because so much of the $200 million it plans to raise came in before Clinton left office," former Clinton loyalist and advisor Dick Morris has said. "It's absurd that we require full disclosure of a $1,000 campaign contribution to a Senate candidate, but a $1 million contribution to a president who can still do favors for people while in office can go unreported."

Skip Rutherford, president of the Clinton foundation board, says he would consult with lawyers before responding to any congressional subpoena. "I don't know about a public interest" in the records he has said. "There may be some sort of media interest."

The Marc Rich pardon went to a man who made millions by trading oil with Iran, while 53 American hostages were held captive there. He later renounced his U.S. citizenship and helped transfer North Korean missiles to Iran.

I have news for Rutherford. There is and will continue to be media interest. And it's because of the long, sordid progression of Clinton lies, evasions, half-truths, rolling disclosures and stonewalling that has culminated in the Rich pardon. It's all too rich. The pardon went to a man who made millions by trading oil with Iran, while 53 American hostages were held captive there. He later renounced his U.S. citizenship, helped transfer North Korean missiles to Iran, traded with Saddam Hussein's Iraq and brokered oil deals with the apartheid regime of South Africa. That was all on his way to being indicted as the biggest tax cheat in American history and earning a place on the FBI's list of the six most wanted international fugitives from justice.

In other words, Rich is a hell of a guy for a pardon. Clinton should order his foundation to surrender its donor list to Congress and the media if he has nothing to hide. He should go further and volunteer to testify before Congress. Sen. Arlen Specter, a moderate Republican, is holding hearings next Wednesday and would welcome his appearance. It's the least the former president owes the country after all the questions about the Rich pardon and the 46 other pardons that circumvented the normal review process at the Justice Department.

The late trial lawyer Edward Bennett Williams once represented Marc Rich, but even he had enough of his client one day, according to Evan Thomas' biography of Williams, "The Man to See." Williams, speaking by telephone to Rich as the fugitive sat in his guarded Swiss fortress said: "You know something, Marc? You spit on the American flag, you spit on the jury system. Whatever you get, you deserve. We could have gotten the minimum. Now you're going to sink." Williams turned out to be wrong, thanks to Clinton. Rich is now, well, still rich, and his millions may have bought him the right to return to the very country he fled and whose citizenship he revoked.

On this one, President Clinton, you owe the American people a full explanation under oath before Congress. This time, please no legal delays, no evasive maneuvers, no quibbling about what the meaning of the word "is" is. Just the truth. For once. And if you refuse? "Whatever you get, you deserve."

Comment on JWR contributor John H. Fund's column by clicking here.


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©2001, John H. Fund