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Prez: 'Take Jack's word'

On inauguration eve, as it became clear that former President Bill Clinton was leaning toward pardoning fugitive financier Marc Rich — an issue his staff had thought to be “dead” — former White House Counsel Beth Nolan rushed a search of Rich through a Justice Department crime database.

The department’s National Crime Information Center reported back some disturbing news, which only confirmed Nolan’s fears that granting Rich clemency was a bad idea.

It turned out that Rich, who fled the U.S. in 1983 rather than face racketeering, tax-fraud and other criminal charges, was also under suspicion of illegal arms-trading.

NCIC also clearly listed him as a “fugitive.”

Nolan, testifying before Congress Thursday night, said she gave the information to Clinton as further evidence he should deny Rich a pardon.

But Clinton ignored the NCIC report and insisted Rich lawyer Jack Quinn — who also served as Clinton’s former White House counsel — knew better.

“Take Jack’s word,” Nolan said Clinton told her and other lawyers in a White House meeting.

Quinn had argued in his pardon petition to the White House — a copy of which Justice’s pardon attorney Roger Adams didn’t see until the last minute — that his client was not technically a fugitive and not a security threat.

Despite Justice’s concerns about Rich’s allegedly illegal arms-dealing, Clinton did not seek advice or additional information on Rich from U.S. intelligence agencies.

Every lawyer at the heated meeting the night of Jan. 19 — including Clinton’s closest adviser Bruce Lindsey — had reservations about the Rich pardon, except for perhaps one — ex-White House lawyer Cheryl Mills. For reasons still not clear, she was invited to
join in the pardon debate, even though she no longer worked for the government.

In their testimony, Nolan and Lindsey said they weren’t sure if Mills took a position on the Rich pardon, although e-mails reveal she was included in discussions on the matter as early as Jan. 5.

Mills at the time was a director of the William J. Clinton Presidential Foundation, the financial arm of his Little Rock, Ark., library — to which Rich’s ex-wife Denise Rich had donated $450,000.

Here are other unreported highlights from the House Government Reform Committee hearing, which continued late into the evening Thursday: