Congressional investigators sought new information today as lawmakers eyed whether Denise Rich's big-money contributions to former President Clinton may have effectively bought a pardon for her financier ex-husband, Marc Rich.
The House Government Reform Committee has subpoenaed records relating to Ms. Rich's financial transactions from two of her banks, the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton library foundation.
The subpoenas are for checks and pledges of donations in excess of $5,000 from Ms. Rich, other family members, five companies and foundations connected to the Rich family and from Beth Dozoretz, a former finance chair of the DNC.
The committee also released copies of letters sent to the Secret Service and National Archives requesting records to determine when — and how often — Ms. Rich and others visited the White House during Clinton's two terms.
Committee Chairman Dan Burton, R-Ind., also has asked the Defense Intelligence Agency for "any" information it may have gathered on Mr. Rich and his partner, Pincus Green, from 1985 to the present. In addition, Burton is asking CIA Director George Tenet to help declassify "certain materials" that were discussed at a Feb. 6 background briefing for committee staff.
Senate hearings on the Rich pardon begin Wednesday as senators debate whether to call the former president himself to testify on Capitol Hill.
Different Rules for the Wealthy?
Even Democrats — nearly uniformly — say Clinton made an inexcusable error in judgment by pardoning Rich, one of the nation's most-wanted fugitives. Rich fled the country in 1983, shortly before being indicted in what prosecutors call the largest tax fraud case in U.S. history. Rich has lived in Switzerland ever since.
Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said during hearings last week the pardon "creates the appearance of a double standard for the wealthy and powerful." And Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman, who ran for vice president on Al Gore's ticket, called the move a "terrible mistake."
Last week, Ms. Rich refused to answer the committee's questions, citing her Fifth Amendment right to avoid incriminating herself. That deepened GOP suspicions that she had something to hide, and that her contributions and access — not the merits of the case — helped persuade Clinton. Some Republicans have suggested granted her immunity so that she could be compelled to testify.
Denise Rich has donated more than $1.5 million to the Democratic Party, to Clinton's campaigns, to Hillary Rodham Clinton's Senate campaign, and to the $200 million Clinton library.
As controversy over the clemency grants made on his final day in office continues to dog the former president, Attorney General John Ashcroft said Monday he is ready to help Congress investigate the matter.
Stopping short of endorsing the efforts of some Republicans to grant immunity to Ms. Rich, Ashcroft pledged to cooperate with Congress.
"I respect the right of the United States Congress to get information and to grant immunity in order to get information," Ashcroft said. "It's with that in mind that I would say that I would be very pleased to work with the department to cooperate with the Congress whenever possible."
Trafficker Pardon Raises New Questions
As the Rich issue continued to simmer, a new controversy emerged over Clinton's decision to pardon a convicted drug trafficker.
The Los Angeles Times reported Sunday that Clinton ordered convicted drug trafficker Carlos Vignali released from prison after serving only six years of a 15-year term. Several low-level drug dealers were among the more than 175 people pardoned or receiving commuted sentences from Clinton, but Vignali doesn't fit that profile.
Prosecutors vigorously opposed Vignali's release and were both outraged and baffled when he walked free. U.S. District Court Judge David Doty, who tried and sentenced the man, was also surprised by the move.
Doty told ABCNEWS Vignali "was a central player" in a drug ring that shipped hundreds of pounds of cocaine from Los Angeles to Minneapolis. Doty added that Vignali "did nothing positive" before or during his prison term to warrant clemency.
Margaret Love, former U.S. pardon attorney under Attorney General Janet Reno, also told ABCNEWS the pardon seemed unusual.
"It was very surprising to me that this case was granted because it does not appear on the facts to be the kind of case the department would recommend," Love said.
A Clinton spokesman said the decision was based, in part, on pleas from Los Angeles Democratic Rep. Xavier Becerra and not on thousands of dollars in political contributions made by Vignali's father, Horacio Vignali — a major donor to Democratic campaigns and charitable causes.
A spokeswoman for Becerra, who is running for mayor of Los Angeles, said the congressman was simply one of many Hispanic leaders who contacted the White House on Vignali's behalf. The Times reported today the lobbying effort to free Vignali was also joined by, among others, Roman Catholic Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles and Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca.
The Times reports letters written on Vignali's behalf suggested he "was wrongly convicted and that his case deserved a careful review by the White House."
ABCNEWS' Jackie Judd, Josh Gerstein and Brian Hartman contributed to this report.