Federal archivists at the Clinton Presidential Library are blocking the release of hundreds of pages of White House papers on pardons that the former president approved, including clemency for fugitive commodities trader Marc Rich.
That archivists' decision, based on guidance provided by Bill Clinton that restricts the disclosure of advice he received from aides, prevents public scrutiny of documents that would shed light on how he decided which pardons to approve from among hundreds of requests.
Clinton's legal agent declined the option of reviewing and releasing the documents that were withheld, said the archivists, who work for the federal government, not the Clintons.
The decision to withhold much of the requested material could provide fodder for critics who say that the former president and his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, now seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, have been unwilling to fully release documents to public scrutiny.
Officials with the presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., criticized Sen. Clinton this week for not doing more to see that records from her husband's administration are made public. "She's been reluctant to disclose information," Obama's chief strategist David Axelrod told reporters in a conference call where he specifically cited the slow release records from the Clinton library. "If she's not willing to be open with (voters) on these issues now, why would she be open as president."
In January 2006, USA TODAY requested documents about the pardons under the Freedom of Information Act. The library made 4,000 pages available this week.
However, 1,500 pages were either partially redacted or withheld entirely, including 300 pages covering internal White House communications on pardon decisions, such as memos to and from the president, and reports on which pardon requests the Justice Department opposed.
In a statement, the Clinton campaign said that "all of the redactions made to the pardon-related documents were made by (the National Archives)."
Former president Clinton issued 140 pardons on his last day in office, including several to controversial figures, such as commodities trader Rich, then a fugitive on tax evasion charges. Rich's ex-wife, Denise, contributed $2,000 in 1999 to Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign; $5,000 to a related political action committee; and $450,000 to a fund set up to build the Clinton library.
The president also pardoned two men who each paid Sen. Clinton's brother, Hugh Rodham, about $200,000 to lobby the White House for pardons — one for a drug conviction and one for mail fraud and perjury convictions, according to a 2002 report by the House committee on government reform. After the payments came to light, Bill Clinton issued a statement: "Neither Hillary nor I had any knowledge of such payments," the report said.
The pardon records released by the library divulge little that might settle debate about those and other pardons. But they do shed new light on the volume of clemency requests that former president Clinton received — and the pressures he and his staff faced as friends, advisers, political leaders and foreign heads of state weighed in to influence which petitions would be granted.