Marc Rich Pardon to Be Probed

Jan. 31, 2001 -- Former President Clinton's pardon of fugitive millionaire Marc Rich will be the subject of two congressional hearings next week.

The House Government Reform Committee will hold a hearing next week to discuss what has been considered one of the most controversial presidential pardons in American history. And the Senate Judiciary Committee will also hold a hearing, said a spokesman for Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., a senior member of the panel.

Rich, a Democratic fund raiser and one of the world's richest men, is free from prosecution as a result of the pardon on more than 50 counts of wire fraud, racketeering, massive income tax evasion and trading oil with Iran during a U.S. trade embargo.

A Senate hearing could be potentially embarrassing to freshman New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is among the Democrats who have received campaign contributions from Rich's ex-wife, Denise. Denise Rich has also been invited to testify.

Clinton, who also pardoned Susan MacDougal, despite her questionable role in the Whitewater scandal, is being criticized for the Rich pardon mainly because of the monetary connection. Rich's ex-wife contributed more than $1 million to Democratic causes — including Mrs. Clinton's campaign for the Senate— and bought the first family an expensive table and chair set in the final days of their administration.

"A presidential pardon cannot be revoked," said House Government Reform committee chairman Dan Burton, R-Ind. "When a pardon appears questionable on the merits, the American people have a right to know why the president made his decision so that the constitutional power to grant pardons will not be abused in the future."

Rich lived in exile for 17 years in Switzerland to avoid prosecution.

"Not a single person involved in the case in law enforcement were in favor of this pardon," said Mark Corallo, spokesman for the House Government Reform Committee. "We can't override the pardon, but we do think that the American people deserve an explanation."

Corallo said the president didn't follow the usual route when making a presidential pardon. Regardless, Article II of the U.S. Constitution gives the president an absolute right to issue a pardon — and the hearing is more for informational services, than for anything else, since it can't be revoked, Carallo said.

"The pardon was granted not through the pardon attorney or through the Justice Department," he said. "It's as if Jack Quinn, who represents Rich, asked the president personally to pardon [his client]."

Dascle Asks for Nonpartisanship

The president's pardon power has been vigorously questioned. And the Democratic leadership believes pardons should be reviewed from time to time.

"I don't have any objection to looking into it," said Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D. "I think we have to be wary about further investigations… And so long as it doesn't become a partisan witch hunt and again get into another attack on two people [the former president and Sen. Clinton]… then I wouldn't have any strong objections," he said.

Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott said Tuesday the Senate Judiciary Committee would explore Bill Clinton's decision to pardon Rich on his last day in office. He said the Senate probe would "see what happened, see if there was anything inappropriate or illegal involved, or do we need to change the law?"

He added: "I don't know what will come out of it, but I think we need to at least take a look at it."

Rich's lawyer, Jack Quinn, former White House counsel and top aide to former Vice President Al Gore, shepherded Rich's pardon through the process.

Until Clinton pardoned Rich, he was on the Justice Department's six most wanted international fugitives.

"Since former President Clinton has not given an adequate explanation as to why Mr. Rich deserved a pardon, Congress has an obligation to find out if this pardon was appropriate," Burton said. ABCNEWS.com's Melanie Axelrod, and Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.