The ex-wife of fugitive commodities giant Marc Rich donated $450,000 to the Clinton presidential library before then-President Clinton pardoned the billionaire last month, ABCNEWS has learned.
Democratic sources say the donations were made in three installments, the first in July of 1998, the second in August 1999, and the final one last May. The sources did not know of any further commitment by Denise Rich for future library contributions.
Ms. Rich, a prominent supporter of the Democratic Party, had been at the forefront of a coordinated effort to convince Clinton to pardon her former husband, who had been wanted by a handful of federal law enforcement agencies after being indicted in 1983 on 51 counts of tax fraud, mail fraud, racketeering and illegally trading with Iran during the U.S. trade embargo.
Details of that effort, including word of the donations, were described during a Thursday hearing of the House Committee on Government Reform, which has been examining circumstances surrounding the pardon, one of several granted on Clinton's final day in office.
Ms. Rich, however, declined to provide details about the contribution, citing her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The Clinton library so far has also refused to discuss the donations.
The final installment came before any publicly known conversation regarding a pardon for Marc Rich. At the time, his lawyers were still trying to reach some sort of deal with federal prosecutors in New York.
A committee spokesman said that if the final payment was made last May, "the timing would weaken the argument."
Pleaded the Fifth
In response to written questions from the committee this week, an attorney for Denise Rich indicated she had given an "enormous sum of money" to Clinton's Little Rock, Ark., library, committee chairman Dan Burton, R-Ind., said at the hearing.
But Ms. Rich's attorney, Carol Bruce, also announced in a letter Thursday that her client would be invoking the Fifth Amendment.. Two days earlier, the committee had submitted to Ms. Rich a list of 14 written questions. Among the questions were how much money she had pledged to the Clinton library, with whom and when she had discussed possible pardon, and whether she was ever provided money or promised reimbursement by another individual to make her political donations.
Another lawyer representing Ms. Rich declined Thursday to discuss with ABCNEWS.com the nature of her contributions. The lawyer did, however, release an additional statement acknowledging Ms. Rich had been "generous" in giving to Clinton's library project.
Skip Rutherford, senior executive of the Clinton Presidential Library and Foundation. and a 1992 campaign fund-raiser, today refused to discuss contributions. He noted the information is not required to be made public since the nonprofit library has 501(c)3 tax-exempt status.
Burton has said he would seek a grant of immunity from the Justice Department — a move that would allow the committee to compel Ms. Rich to testify. A committee spokesman also said today the panel plans to issue subpoenas next week for Denise Rich's bank records and for the donor records of the Clinton Library Foundation. Another hearing on the issue is expected as soon as in the next three weeks.
A number of other individual donors had pledged to give $1 million or more to the library in 1998 and 1999, according to data reported by The Washington Post in 1999.
Clinton has faced a firestorm of criticism over the pardon from Republicans and Democrats alike.
Mr. Rich stood accused of evading more than $48 million in federal income taxes, making the case against him the biggest tax fraud case in American history.
If convicted, he would have faced a maximum sentence of more than 300 years in jail. Prior to the indictments, he fled to Switzerland, and for 17 years the U.S. government had been unable to get permission from the Swiss government to extradite him.
Clinton last week asserted that he pardoned Marc Rich on the legal merits of his appeal and denied the decision had any connection to campaign contributions or gifts Denise Rich may have given him.
Clinton told reporters "there was absolutely nothing political" about the decision.
Ms. Rich, a singer/songwriter living in New York City, has been a longtime contributor to the Democratic Party and to the Clintons.
Over the past 10 years she has donated more than $1 million to support Democratic candidates, including both Clinton and his wife, Hillary Rodham Clinton, in her successful run for the New York Senate last year.
Most recently, Ms. Rich donated $25,000 for Vice President Al Gore's post-election recount committee. And she gave the Clintons a $7,000 table and chair set they took with them upon leaving the White House. The Clintons have since bowed to critics and pledged to refund the cost of the furniture.
In November, she threw a star-studded charity dinner in New York, raising funds for leukemia research in memory of her daughter, who died of the disease. Ms. Rich's date for the event was Michael Jackson, but all attention was on President Clinton, to whom she gave a special saxophone as a present.
The Clintons' relationship with Denise Rich appears to go back well before that. They reportedly also were at her house the Monday after the infamous Starr Report, describing the president's affair with a White House intern and alleged efforts to cover it up, was released in fall 1998.
Pressed for Pardon Despite Divorce
Though the Riches endured a bitter divorce in 1996 and Marc Rich has since remarried, Denise had been a major advocate in the quiet but aggressive push to convince Clinton to grant the pardon before he left office.
In a Dec. 6 letter to Clinton, Ms. Rich urged the president to grant the pardon, "writing as a friend and admirer …"
Clearly suspicious about Ms. Rich's motivations, the House committee, in one of its 14 questions, asked her whether Mr. Rich or his associates had ever suggested that she or her children would benefit financially as a consequence of her support for Marc Rich's pardon.
Rich, in her letter to Clinton, wrote, "The pain and suffering caused by that unjust indictment battered more than my husband — it struck his daughters and me. We have lived with it for so many years."
A stack of e-mail submitted during the hearing revealed that Ms. Rich wrote the letter with assistance from Marc Rich's lawyers.