Was pardon abuse by Clinton also a crime?

Posted: Friday, February 16, 2001

The following editorial appeared in today's Chicago Tribune:

Back in the days when he was the real, live president of the United States and various ornery prosecutors were hunting him down, you could argue that Bill Clinton should be left alone. He was the president. The nation's leader needed to focus on his job.

There were enough Democrats making that argument, and there were enough Republicans in a blind rage over Clinton, that to many the hunters wound up looking more sinister than the prey.

But Clinton isn't the president now. ... U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White in Manhattan has launched a criminal investigation into whether there is a connection between big political contributions made by Denise Rich and Clinton's decision to pardon Marc Rich, her former husband and a fugitive from justice.

Three words of advice for prosecutor White: Take your time.

This time, no one's going to accuse the prosecutor of a political vendetta. Democrats are as aghast as Republicans.

This time, no one's going to say Clinton's time is too valuable to be consumed by answering Justice Department queries...

To recap the bidding: Denise Rich was a major contributor to the Democratic Party and the Senate campaign of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Rich gave at least $450,000 to build a Clinton presidential library. For good measure, she gave him a saxophone, too.

While Denise Rich was padding the Democratic coffers, Marc Rich was on the lam. He was indicted in 1983 on charges of fraud and evasion of $48 million in taxes. He was charged with illegally doing business with Iran during the hostage crisis. He fled the U.S. one step ahead of indictment and set up shop in Switzerland.

In his last hours as president, Clinton issued a presidential pardon for Rich. To accomplish this, the White House did its best to keep the Justice Department in the dark until the deed was all but done.

It has already been established that this was an outrageous abuse of the constitutionally provided power of the presidential pardon. All that's left to determine is whether it was criminal.

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