Former President Clinton's top advisers told House investigators today they urged him not to pardon billionaire fugitive Marc Rich, but he rejected their advice.
Three former Clinton White House aides — Chief of Staff John Podesta, counsel Beth Nolan and adviser Bruce Lindsey — all testified before the House Government Reform Committee today that nearly all of the staffers involved in advising the president on the matter tried to convince him in "heated" discussions not to pardon financier Marc Rich and his partner Pincus Green, two of the nation's most-wanted white-collar fugitives.
"We argued…that if Mr. Rich and Mr. Green had such great legal arguments, there was a place to make them, and it wasn't there," Nolan said. "It wasn't in the Oval Office."
But Rich's friends in high places and high-powered lawyers made a more persuasive case to Clinton. Attorney Jack Quinn, himself a former White House counsel who had helped Clinton weather the impeachment trial, played on the president's feeling that he had been pursued by overzealous prosecutors to win sympathy for Rich. Even Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak weighed in on Rich's behalf.
"I think he disagreed because people — other people he respected had a different view, and he made a judgment in favor of their view," Nolan said.
But all three aides denied that Rich's ex-wife Denise, managed to buy the pardon by donating money to Clinton's campaigns, his presidential library or other Democratic campaigns. Asked point-blank whether any "quid pro quo" was involved, each answered flatly, "No."
Podesta took the blame for letting the pardon process break down in the final frenetic days of the Clinton administration as they tried to cope with a flood of last-minute requests.
"I believe he made it on the merits as he understood them, but I think that we didn't serve him very well, in terms of providing him with the counterarguments," Podesta said.
Aides to Clinton also said that Tony Rodham, brother to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., had pushed pardons that the former president issued a year ago to a Tennessee couple, Edgar and Vonna Jo Gregory, but said Rodham was not paid for the effort.
Nolan said she literally stopped going to parties because so many people were hounding her with pardon requests.
"They were coming from everywhere," she said. "We had requests from members of Congress on both sides of the aisle and both Houses. We had requests from movie stars, newscasters, former presidents, former first ladies."
Clinton paved the way for the remarkable glimpse into the White House decision-making process by waiving any claims of executive privilege that could have been used to keep his private conversations with staff secret.
Clinton Friend Won't Talk
Earlier, a top Democratic fund-raiser who pressed Clinton to pardon Rich refused to answer lawmakers' questions about the matter. Beth Dozoretz, former finance chairwoman of the Democratic Party and a close Clinton friend, cited her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in refusing to answer questions about a phone conversation she had with the president just over a week before he pardoned Rich. Parroting words her attorney whispered into her ear while sitting before members of the House Government Reform Committee, Dozoretz subsequently refused to answer any questions from the panel.