U.S. senate takes turn investigating fugitive billionaire pardon


WASHINGTON, Reuters

A U.S. Senate panel holds its first hearing on Wednesday into President Bill Clinton’s pardon of fugitive billionaire Marc Rich as questions mount about possible links between the decision and political donations from his ex-wife.

The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to explore questions about the pardon’s validity and the process used to make and execute the decision during what is expected to be a lengthy hearing.

The House Government Reform Committee also is conducting an inquiry into the pardon and whether it was influenced by hundreds of thousands of dollars in Democratic campaign contributions from Rich’s ex-wife, Denise, or by the involvement of Rich’s lawyer, former White House counsel Jack Quinn.

Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who will lead the Senate probe, said there were unanswered questions about the timing of the preparation of some pardon documents and whether the pardon was conditioned on the end of Rich’s sentence. Rich was never sentenced.

“There may be a real issue as to whether a pardon has been granted here,” Specter told reporters.

The Senate hearing comes one day after President George W. Bush, asked about the pardon investigations, said it was time to “move on” but acknowledged: “Congress is going to do what they’re going to do.”

The Senate session also follows last week’s day-long House hearing in which Republicans questioned the pardon and what role the donations might have played in it.

House investigators stepped up their probe on Tuesday, issuing subpoenas for Denise Rich’s bank records and a list of everyone who had donated more than US$5,000 to the Clinton presidential library foundation.

Rich donated US$450,000 or more to the library foundation but has refused to answer 14 written questions about that and other issues submitted to her by the committee, claiming her constitutional protection against self incrimination.

House Committee Chairman Dan Burton, a vocal Clinton critic, has sought Justice Department permission to grant immunity to Denise Rich in order to compel her testimony.

The Indiana Republican, who presided over a three-year inquiry into possible fund raising abuses during Clinton’s re-election campaign, also sent letters to the Secret Service and National Archives seeking White House visitor logs and phone records to determine how often Denise Rich, her two daughters and a son-in-law spoke to or visited someone there.

Burton also asked the Central Intelligence Agency to declassify information on Marc Rich that it provided Burton in a recent classified briefing, and asked the Defense Intelligence Agency for any information it has on Marc Rich.

Allegations have surfaced since the pardon that Rich provided intelligence data to Israel and other countries.

Marc Rich, who fled to exile in Switzerland 17 years ago, was given a presidential pardon on Jan. 20, the day Clinton left office. The pardon frees Rich from prosecution on more than 50 counts of racketeering, wire fraud, income tax evasion and illegal oil trading with Iran.

Specter told reporters the Senate will go in a “different direction” than the House hearing, with the first witness scheduled to be Justice Department pardons attorney Roger Adams.

“We are going to start off by talking to the pardon attorney to examine the procedures and the validity of the pardons themselves,” Specter said. “I’m not trying to undo the pardons; I’m trying to find out what has happened.”