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:
Nolan says she also opposed Clinton’s pardons of his former CIA Director John Deutch, accused of mishandling U.S. secrets; his former HUD Secretary Henry Cisneros, convicted of lying to the FBI; and his former Whitewater business partner Susan McDougal, convicted of fraud and contempt of court.
Lindsey testified that he had “no recollection” of talking to Clinton about his brother-in-law Hugh Rodham’s lobbying efforts on behalf of convicted coke kingpin Carlos Vignali. Lindsey, a White House lawyer and Clinton’s closest aide, talked to Rodham at least twice about commuting Vignali’s sentence.
Clinton has denied knowing about Rodham’s role, specifically the $434,280 in fees he collected — although the tabloid that broke the original story is reporting in its latest edition that Rodham, who lived in the White House residence in the last days of Clinton’s term, gave a reprieve application directly to Clinton.
The ex-president did know, however, that his other brother-in-law — Tony Rodham — was lobbying for the pardons of two bank-fraud felons, Lindsey said. Lindsey said he was unaware at the time that Rodham had a business relationship with the couple. Clinton pardoned them last March over Justice’s veto.
In a Dec. 26, 2000, e-mail from another Rich lawyer, New Yorker Bob Fink, to Quinn, Fink discussed their options for pressing Rich’s pardon if White House lawyers tried to shoot it down. Those options included enlisting then-Senator-elect Hillary Rodham Clinton.
“The only one that seems to have real potential for making a difference is the HRC [Hillary Rodham Clinton] option and even that has peril if not handled correctly,” Fink wrote.
He spoke of making the “necessary representation to HRC” and wondered “about the support this will get in NY.”
Hillary Clinton has emphatically denied any involvement or even any knowledge of the Rich pardon request at the time.
Lindsey, who headed up Clinton’s scandal damage control efforts in the White House, is now a paid consultant to the Clinton library. Among his duties: Handling the ongoing e-mail reconstruction project involving hundreds of thousands of unarchived White House messages. He’ll also OK requests for documents from the Clinton archives.
Nolan and former Clinton chief of staff John Podesta are now college professors teaching future lawyers the law and ethics.
Former Eagles singer Don Henley requested a commutation for a California gambler convicted of related crimes. Henley contacted Lindsey’s office, but Lindsey says he doesn’t recall talking to him.