— As a congressional panel probes former President Clinton's pardon of fugitive billionaire Marc Rich, the man's ex-wife is refusing to testify.
Before Clinton freed him from prosecution on his final full day in the White House, Rich was one of the Justice Department's most wanted international fugitives.
The House Government Reform Committee opened its investigation Thursday into whether the eleventh-hour decision was linked to the more than $1 million Rich's ex-wife, Denise Rich, donated to Democratic causes, including then-first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton's Senate campaign.
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Clinton defends Rich pardon.
"This doesn't look like a very good case for a pardon, so the question we have is: How did it happen?" said committee Chairman Dan Burton, R-Ind., who has held numerous hearings on past Clinton controversies. "We don't know all the facts."
Rich's Ex-Wife Takes the Fifth
Denise Rich, who sent a letter to Clinton asking him to grant the pardon, is refusing to appear before the panel or answer any of its questions in writing.
"Ms. Rich is asserting her constitutional right not to respond to questions," her lawyer, Martin Pollner, said in a statement on Thursday. "Ms. Rich has done nothing wrong with regard to the pardon and knows of no wrongdoing by others."
Burton said he would seek a grant of immunity from the Justice Department — a move that would allow the committee to compel her to testify.
"I find it very, very troubling that in a case like this, where the public simply wants an explanation, that its central figure would take the Fifth Amendment," he said, later adding that Ms. Rich was "probably going to be one of the key people to give us all the information that we need."
In addition to her contributions to the Democratic Party and various campaigns over the years, Ms. Rich also gave an undisclosed amount to the Clinton Presidential Library and sent the Clintons $7,000 worth of furniture, which the former president now says he will reimburse her for.
Marc Rich was indicted on 51 counts of tax fraud, mail fraud, racketeering and illegally trading with Iran during the U.S. trade embargo. 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.
Clinton's pardon of Rich, who fled to Switzerland in 1983 in an effort to avoid prosecution and tried unsuccessfully to renounce his U.S. citizenship, has been roundly criticized by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
Rep. Henry Waxman of California, the committee's top Democrat, insisted Thursday there was "no evidence of criminal wrongdoing" on the part of Clinton, but he called the move an "end run around the judicial process."
Former Clinton Counsel Defends Pardon
Under intense questioning from the House panel, however, the lawyer who persuaded Clinton to grant his client clemency, said the political contributions by Rich's ex-wife never entered into his discussions with Clinton.
"Not a single word … had to do with anything other than the merits of this case," testified Jack Quinn, who served as White House counsel during the Clinton administration.
Quinn also defended his pursuit of the pardon for Rich, saying the case against him was weak and denying he abused his relationship with then-President Clinton.