Specter unveils bill on pardons by presidents


WASHINGTON The leader of the Senate probe into former President Bill Clinton’s pardon of financier Marc Rich introduced legislation on Thursday to force more public disclosure of lobbying related to pardons.

Republican Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania unveiled a bill that would force anyone lobbying the White House for a pardon or sentence commutation to officially register as a lobbyist, and requiring disclosure of contributions and fund-raising pledges of more than US$5,000 to presidential libraries.

Both moves are in response to lingering questions and public indignation over Clinton’s last-minute pardon of Rich, who fled to Switzerland 17 years ago to avoid prosecution on charges of racketeering, wire fraud, income tax evasion and illegal oil trading.

A federal grand jury in New York is looking into the pardon, granted on Clinton’s final day in office, and any possible links to donations to Democratic causes and the Clinton presidential library by Rich’s former wife, Denise.

Denise Rich, a New York songwriter and prominent Democratic fundraiser, gave US$450,000 to the library and more than US$1 million to Democratic causes.

Under current law, presidential libraries are not required to disclose their donations. As tax-exempt organizations, they must file an annual disclosure form with the Internal Revenue Service, but unlike politicians and political parties do not have to reveal individual donors.

Denise Rich’s donations to the library only became public when Congress sought the library foundation’s records.

The pardon also raised questions about the involvement in Marc Rich’s case of former White House counsel Jack Quinn, who bypassed usual Justice Department pardon procedures to file the application directly with the White House and spoke with Clinton about the request.

Clinton pardoned Rich and his business partner Pincus Green over the objections of top White House aides.

Specter had five Democratic co-sponsors for the pardons legislation, including new New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, the former first lady.

Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, ranking Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, said the legal loopholes exhibited by the Marc Rich case were evident under Republican presidents as well.

There were similar controversies about pardons under former President George Bush, the current president’s father, and donor lists for the libraries of Bush and former President Ronald Reagan have never been made public, he said.

“The bill we introduce today will bring a greater degree of transparency into the clemency process and so reduce the appearance of impropriety,” Leahy said.

Specter said he had no immediate plans to pursue a constitutional amendment giving Congress the authority to overturn presidential pardons by a two-thirds vote.

“There appears to be grave reluctance to alter the constitutional power of the president,” Specter said.

While Specter presided over one investigative hearing into the pardon process, he said he did not expect to hold more because potential witnesses were reluctant to testify while a federal grand jury probe was ongoing.

The House Government Reform Committee also is looking into the pardon, but has not scheduled any further hearings or issued a report.