Why David Geffen Dislikes the Clintons -- Meet Leonard Peltier

ByABC News
February 23, 2007, 4:24 PM

Feb. 22, 2007 — -- The sharpest political snipes among the Democratic 2008 presidential hopefuls can be traced beyond media mogul David Geffen to a jailed man named Leonard Peltier.

Peltier, convicted of murder in 1977 for allegedly gunning down a pair of FBI agents in a shootout at South Dakota's Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, was one of the primary reasons cited by Geffen for jumping ship from New York Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign in favor of fellow Democratic Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois.

Lawyers have been challenging Peltier's conviction for the past 30 years. He has become a cause celebre, with critics arguing that the government's successful prosecution was corrupt.

In 2001, Geffen, a key Democratic supporter with deep pockets and influence among Hollywood's elite, was one of many high-profile backers of a clemency campaign for Peltier, an American Indian activist, during the final days of Bill Clinton's presidency.

FBI supporters, however, fought back, launching an aggressive campaign of their own to keep a man who they believed killed two agents behind bars. Among their tactics were full-page newspaper ads and a march on the White House to influence Clinton's decision.

Ultimately, Peltier was left off a list of 140 people granted presidential pardons by Clinton during his second term.

"President Clinton looked at the facts and did not act," one agent said at the time. "That's all I've ever wanted out of this."

But the list of people who received clemency, teamed with the continued belief by many that Peltier was wrongfully convicted, left many angered by Clinton's decision.

"Up to the last minute, they were fully expecting that he would receive clemency," Barry Bachrach, Peltier's attorney, told ABC News. "But you end up seeing people like Marc Rich, a known felon, getting clemency instead."

"There was a mass outcry," Bachrach said.

Peltier remains in a Pennsylvania prison. He is scheduled for a parole hearing in December 2008.

Curt Goering, deputy executive director for Amnesty International in the United States, worked on the Peltier clemency campaign and recalls Geffen's contributions both in terms of time and money.

To him, Peltier's continued influence on Geffen does not come as a total surprise.

"It's another indicator that his case has achieved such substantial support from people for a long period of time," Goering said.

"The disappointment was so huge," he said. "People didn't forget and many even resolved to redouble their efforts."

That was clearly the case in comments made by Geffen in a lightning rod New York Times column Wednesday.

''Marc Rich getting pardoned? An oil-profiteer expatriate who left the country rather than pay taxes or face justice?'' Geffen told Times' columnist Maureen Dowd.

And then, referring to the Peltier case, Geffen continued, ''Yet another time when the Clintons were unwilling to stand for the things that they genuinely believe in.

"Everybody in politics lies, but they do it with such ease, it's troubling," Geffen said.

The column, which ran a day after Geffen hosted a California fundraiser for Obama that fetched $1.3 million and drew celebrities including Jennifer Aniston and Morgan Freeman, set off a day of bitter back-and-forth between the Obama and Clinton camps.