WASHINGTON - Former US president Bill Clinton had decided not to pardon fugitive financier Marc Rich, but reversed his decision after a phone conversation with Prime Minister Ehud Barak on January 19, the day before Clinton left office, top advisers to the ex-president testified yesterday during a congressional hearing.
Clinton has acknowledged that he was influenced by Barak's pleas and those of Jewish leaders when deciding to grant the controversial, criticized pardon, which has sparked congressional inquiries and a criminal investigation.
But it was the first time that Clinton aides pointed to Barak's urging as the key factor in the decision.
When asked by one legislator in the House Committee on Government Reform if they could verify that the conversation Clinton had with Barak may have impacted his prior decision not to grant the pardon, former assistant to the president Bruce Lindsey said, "He actually, I think, indicated that." Beth Nolan, former counsel to the president, added, "Yes he did.
He specifically said that." Nolan continued: "It certainly seemed that he was not going to grant it and that Mr. Barak's phone call had been significant."
Nolan, Lindsey, and former White House chief of staff John Podesta all said they had opposed the last-minute pardon and that up until January 19 it seemed that Clinton had decided not to grant one.
"The staff informed the president that it was our view that the pardon should not be granted," Podesta told the Government Reform Committee, which is investigating whether the pardon was linked to donations to Democratic causes or Clinton's presidential library by Rich's ex-wife Denise. But the aides added that they believe that Clinton made the decision based on the merits of the case as he saw them.
The House panel subpoenaed the three aides in its widening investigation of possible influence peddling or links between campaign donations and the pardon of Rich and others on Clinton's last day in office. Denise Rich gave more than $1 million to Democratic candidates and groups and $450,000 to the Clinton presidential library.
Beth Dozoretz, former finance chairman of the Democratic National Committee, declined to testify before the committee, invoking her constitutional right against self-incrimination. Denise Rich also has declined to answer questions before the committee.
Rich fled to Switzerland 17 years ago to avoid prosecution on racketeering, wire fraud, income-tax evasion, and illegal oil trading charges.
New York state tax authorities announced yesterday they are suing Rich for income-tax evasion. The New York State Department of Taxation and Finance said it wants $137m. owed on money Rich made in the 1980s while in control of two companies that admitted fraud involving illegal oil trading.
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