Clinton: No 'quid pro quo' for Rich pardon
Describes regrets in newspaper column
NEW YORK (CNN) -- In an op-ed piece in Sunday's New York Times, former President Bill Clinton explained his reasons for granting a pardon to financier Marc Rich and said that among those who endorsed the pardon is the man who is now Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff.
Rich and his business partner, Pincus Green, were two of 140 people Clinton pardoned hours before he left office January 20. Rich's pardon, however, has ignited a firestorm because of his status as an international fugitive when it was granted.
Federal prosecutors indicted him in 1983 on charges of tax evasion, fraud and participation in illegal oil deals with Iran. Before he could face trial, he left the country and settled in Switzerland. Federal prosecutors who originally brought the case said they were never consulted about the pardon.
Although Clinton said his former White House counsel Jack Quinn -- a Democrat -- supported Rich's pardon, Clinton wrote "the case was reviewed and advocated ... by three distinguished Republican attorneys: Leonard Garment, a former Nixon White House official; William Bradford Reynolds, a former high-ranking official in the Reagan Justice Department; and Lewis "Scooter" Libby, now Vice President Cheney's Chief of Staff."
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Saturday that Libby was one of Rich's lawyers, dating back to 1985, but he vehemently denied that Libby advocated a pardon for Rich.
"In no way, shape or form was Mr. Libby involved in the pardon of Mr. Rich," Fleischer said. Garment also disputed Clinton's claim.
Clinton also addressed suggestions he granted the pardon because of contributions Rich's ex-wife, Denise, made to the Democratic Party and the Clinton presidential library.
Denise Rich has donated more than $1 million to Democratic campaigns, including the successful U.S. Senate bid of former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, and she also has contributed roughly $450,000 to the Clinton presidential library foundation.
"The suggestion that I granted the pardons because Mr. Rich's former wife, Denise, made political contributions and contributed to the Clinton library foundation is utterly false," Clinton wrote. "There was absolutely no quid pro quo."
The op-ed piece came as federal prosecutors in New York conduct a preliminary inquiry into whether there was any improper influence used to secure the Rich pardon, and as Congress investigates the circumstances of Clinton's action.
The former president said he regretted not directly contacting federal prosecutors in New York to listen to their opposition. And he voiced regret that Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder did not have "more time to review the case" but said when he acted he understood Holder's position to be "neutral, leaning in favor" of the pardons.
"While I was aware of and took into account the fact that the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York did not support these pardons, in retrospect, the process would have been better served had I sought her views directly," he wrote.
"However, I believed the essential facts were before me and I felt the foreign policy considerations and the legal arguments justified moving forward."
"Ordinarily I would have denied pardons in this case simply because (Rich and Green) did not return to the United States and face the charges against them," the former president wrote.
Clinton said his reasons for granting the pardon included:
That the oil companies involved in transactions with Iran involving Rich and Green were sued in civil court -- not charged criminally.
Clinton said he also required the men to waive the statute of limitations on any civil proceedings. "I believe my pardon decision was in the best interest of justice," Clinton wrote.
Clinton explained that his decision was also influenced by "many present and former high-ranking Israeli officials of both major political parties and leaders of Jewish communities in America and Europe."
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak called Clinton several times on Rich's behalf.
The Rich pardon was the subject of a hearing last week before the Senate Judiciary Committee, one of two congressional probes on the matter.
A House committee investigating the pardon was expected to subpoena three former White House staff workers to testify.
In addition to Rich's attorney Quinn, the committee, chaired by Indiana Republican Dan Burton, expects to hear from Beth Nolan, White House counsel during the final days of the Clinton administration; Bruce Lindsey, deputy White House counsel and a Clinton confidant; and John Podesta, former Clinton chief of staff.
"I want every American to know that, while you may disagree with this decision, I made it on the merits as I saw them, and I take full responsibility for it," Clinton wrote.
In the piece, he also listed controversial pardons issued by other presidents, including President Nixon's commutation of Teamster boss James Hoffa's sentence, President Ford's pardon of Nixon, President Carter's pardon of Vietnam War draft dodgers, and President Bush's 1992 pardon of six Iran-Contra defendants, including former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger.
CNN Senior White House Correspondent John King contributed to this report.
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