Federal investigators have subpoenaed former White House officials, including former Chief of Staff John Podesta, and are asking for documents related to the controversial pardons made on Bill Clinton's final day in office, sources tell ABCNEWS.
Mary Jo White, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, has been been empowered to review all 177 pardons and commutations granted by Clinton. She will not have the title of special prosecutor, but as a U.S. attorney she is empowered to prosecute if she finds evidence of wrongdoing.
White began the investigation because her office initiated the original investigation into Marc Rich, the fugitive billionaire granted clemency in what is probably Clinton's most controversial pardon.
A Wide Scope
The House Government Committee, chaired by Indiana Republican Dan Burton, was seeking documents in the case, but White House officials said everything had already been sent to the federal Archives. It is possible that White may have to find documents she needs from other sources.
In addition to the Rich pardon, White’s office is reviewing the case of four Hasidic Jews convicted of fraud who were granted commutations, and allegations that the former president's half brother, Roger Clinton, sought $200,000 for promising a Texas man he would help him win a pardon.
White will also look into the pardon granted convicted drug dealer Carlos Vignali, whose father, Horacio Vignali, is a Democratic contributor. The elder Vignali paid $200,000 to Hugh Rodham, the then-president’s brother-in-law, to lobby on his behalf.
Hugh Rodham was paid another $200,000 for his successful efforts to win a pardon for Almon Glenn Braswell, a businessman under investigation for possible money laundering.
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., later demanded that her brother return the money and says he has returned most of it.
Paying for Pardons?
Congressional investigators wanted to determine whether Rich might have, in effect, bought his pardon. His ex-wife, Denise Rich, has donated more than $1.5 million to the Democratic Party, to President Clinton’s campaigns and to Hillary Clinton’s Senate campaign. She also has given $450,000 to the $200 million Clinton library.
Three former Clinton White House aides — Podesta, counsel Beth Nolan and adviser Bruce Lindsey — all testified before the House Government Reform Committee that nearly all of the staffers involved in advising the president on the matter tried to convince him in “heated” discussions not to pardon 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 all three aides denied allegations that Denise Rich managed to buy the pardon.
Marc Rich now lives in Switzerland after fleeing the United States 17 years ago. He has called his pardon a humanitarian act.
Help for Hillary?
The four Hasidic men — Benjamin Berger, Jacob Elbaum, David Goldstein and Kalmen Stern — were convicted of using a fictitious Jewish school to defraud the government of millions of dollars in education grants.
All four of the New York men are from the Hasidic village of New Square, which voted overwhelmingly for the former first lady in her successful Senate run last year.
Suspicions were raised that President Clinton freed them from prison as a kind of favor in return or that there was a quid pro quo swap of votes for clemency. But investigators have been trying to determine if money — perhaps political contributions — played any role in Clinton’s decision.
ABCNEWS’ Jackie Judd and Pierre Thomas contributed to this report.