Feb. 21, 2001 -- Former President Clinton today claimed he didn't know that his wife's brother, Hugh Rodham, had been hired by two of the controversial figures he granted clemency to in his final hours in office.
In a statement, Clinton said he learned only Tuesday that Rodham, an attorney and brother of New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, received a contingency fee in connection with the pardon application of Glenn Braswell, who had been convicted of mail fraud, perjury and tax evasion, and a fee for work on the commutation application of Carlos Vignali, a convicted drug dealer.
"Neither Hillary nor I had any knowledge of such payments," Clinton said in a written statement late this afternoon. "We are deeply disturbed by these reports and have insisted that Hugh return any monies received."
Legal sources tell ABCNEWS that Rodham, a Florida lawyer with no pardon expertise, received some $400,000 for his work on both cases. That figure includes a $200,000 payment for successfully lobbying for the Braswell pardon. Nancy Luque, an attorney for Rodham, said tonight he has returned the money.
"My client, Hugh Rodham, today acceded to his family's request that he return legal fees earned in connection with pardon requests," Luque said in a statement. "Hugh Rodham has done absolutely nothing wrong. He has returned these fees solely because his family asked that he do so."
Mrs. Clinton said she was "disturbed" by the revelation and had no prior knowledge of her brother's involvment in the controversial clemency applications.
"I was very disturbed to learn that my brother Hugh Rodham received fees in connection with two clemcncy applications," she said in a statement. "He did not speak to me about this."
Who Are Braswell and Vignali?
Braswell, the founder of a frequently investigated herbal remedies and vitamin empire, was convicted in 1983 and sentenced to three years in federal prison and five years probation. Clinton's pardon restored Braswell's civil rights.
At the time of the pardon, federal investigators were looking into suspicions that Braswell may have again evaded taxes and laundered money.
A former administration official said earlier this month that Clinton had not known federal investigators were looking into suspicions that Braswell may have again evaded taxes and laundered money. The pardon does not affect the current investigation.
Vignali was convicted in 1994 of cocaine trafficking and was freed by Clinton after serving less than half of a 14-year sentence.
Vignali's father, a wealthy Los Angeles real estate developer, gave more than $160,000 to various political campaigns. At least nine prominent politicians contacted the White House on his son's behalf.
Though prosecutors opposed the Vignali commutation, it was processed through normal channels at the Justice Department. The Justice Department was unaware a pardon for Braswell was being considered, according to officials.
Clinton 'Furious' at Rodham, Associates Say
Clinton associates familiar with the accounts of both the former president and then-Deputy White House Counsel Bruce Lindsey say Rodham advocated the Vignali commutation to Lindsey on at least one occasion. The associates said Lindsey claimed not remember whether or not he ever told Clinton of his brother-in-law's work on Vignali's behalf.
Luque insisted Rodham never made his case directly to Clinton or his wife.
"My client did not advise President or Sen. Clinton of his involvement in these requests," she said, adding: "There was … no impropriety in these matters."
The Clinton associates said the former president is "furious" and "angry" at his brother and that aides to Clinton would review White House files currently in Little Rock, Ark. to see if there is any record of Clinton ever being informed of Rodham's involvement in the clemency matters.
Former White House Chief of Staff John Podesta and Deputy Chief of Staff Maria Echaveste told ABCNEWS earlier this month they were unaware of Rodham's work on behalf of any applicants for pardons or commutations. Meridith Cabe, the White House lawyer who handled clemency applications, also denies any knowledge of Rodham's role.
Rodham has failed for several weeks to return calls to his home and office from ABCNEWS regarding the clemency matters. And Lindsey, reached at his home in Washington this evening, refused to answer questions.
Congressional Panel to Investigate
The chairman of the House Committee on Government Reform, Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., who is heading an investigation into Clinton's pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich, said the panel would look into the matter.
"Yet again, this makes it look like there is one system of justice for those with money and influence, and one system of justice for everyone else," Burton said in a statement this evening. "We intend to look into this."
Burton intended to send a letter to Rodham tonight requesting information, including who Rodham talked to at the White House, according to a committee official.
President Clinton pardoned 140 people and commuted the sentences of 36 people hours before leaving office on Jan. 20.
ABCNEWS' Mark Halperin, Jackie Judd, Josh Gerstein and ABCNEWS.com's Carter M. Yang contributed to this report.