WASHINGTON — Newly discovered e-mails reveal that former Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder was long involved in a campaign to drop charges against fugitive financier Marc Rich.

The records, released yesterday during a crowded congressional hearing on President Clinton’s pardon of Rich, cast doubt on Holder’s earlier testimony.

Last month Holder told Congress that he first heard about the idea of a pardon when Rich’s lawyer, Jack Quinn, called him Nov. 21.

And he said he didn’t focus on the case until the day before Clinton issued the pardon Jan. 20, because his “plate” was full with other duties.

But an e-mail sent over a year ago shows Holder got involved in the Rich case much earlier. Rich was indicted 17 years ago for tax fraud and other crimes.

On Feb. 10, another Rich lawyer, Robert Fink, wrote an Israeli friend of Rich that Quinn had “called Eric [Holder] who said that he had not seen the letter and JQ [Jack Quinn] faxed it to him. JQ hopes to speak to him later today (and I have a call in to JQ as a reminder).”

Fink added: “I told Marc [Rich] earlier today but had hoped to know Eric’s position before I did so at least I could give him the whole picture.”

In another e-mail, dated Feb. 17, Fink brought the Israeli friend, Avner Azulay, up to speed on Quinn’s plan to enlist Holder in their campaign.

“He agrees … with trying to have Eric help us meet with the tax lawyers at Main Justice (and maybe the head of the criminal division) to see if the professors can convince the chief government tax lawyers that this was a bad case,” he said.

“He wants to give Eric a short list of what is wrong with the indictment,” Fink added.

Quinn’s work logs show that a memo called “Defects in Indictment” was sent to Holder on Feb. 23.

On March 20, Fink e-mailed Azulay again about the Rich case, making a reference to “EH’s research.”

Later, in a Nov. 18 e-mail to an associate, Quinn said Holder advised him to petition the White House directly for a pardon for Rich.

“Spoke to him last evening,” Quinn wrote Kathleen Behan, referring to Holder. “He says go straight to wh [White House]. Also says timing is good. We shd [should] get in soon. Will elab[orate] when we speak.”

Holder denies Quinn’s account, arguing that Quinn took it upon himself to go around the Justice Department’s normal pardon-review process.

He also contends he knew little about the Rich case, and would have opposed a pardon application if it had come across his desk.

But former White House Counsel Beth Nolan, as well as Clinton, have said that Holder leaned in favor of the pardon.

Nolan and the rest of Clinton’s legal team opposed it.

Also, Justice’s pardon attorney Roger Adams has testified that Holder knew that Rich was a fugitive before he did, and yet Holder didn’t tell Adams.

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