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Jewish World Review Feb. 22, 2001 / 29 Shevat, 5761

Michael Kelly

Michael Kelly
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The Pardoner's false brief -- FORMER president Clinton finally has offered his first serious attempt at a defense of the pardons he granted in the last hours of his presidency, when he bypassed the Justice Department protocols system to issue clemency to scores of moneyed and connected special pleaders. The argument is in almost every important way a lie.

The first big lie is contextual. Clinton portrays his exceptional abuse of the pardoning power as unexceptional. All presidents, writes Clinton in a 1,700-word op-ed article in Sunday's New York Times, have used their power to pardon, and "some of the uses of the power have been extremely controversial." He cites examples of controversial pardons by Washington, Harding, Nixon, Ford, Carter and the first Bush. But no other president ever did what Clinton did. Others may have in a rare case or two abused their power, but none sought to corrupt the pardoning process on a wholesale basis. None set up a secret shop to bypass his own government and speed through the special pleas of the well connected and the well heeled. None sent the Justice Department dozens of names for pardon on inauguration morning, too late for the department to run even cursory checks.

The second big lie is also contextual. In the specific case of the alleged (and indicted) tax scammers and billionaire fugitives Marc Rich and Pincus Green, Clinton offers eight reasons for what he says was a decision "on the merits as I saw them" . . . "in the best interests of justice."

Regard the carefully coy fashion in which Clinton describes how he came to be aware of "the merits." He writes: "I understood"; and "I was informed that"; and "it was my understanding that." Understood how? Informed by whom? Understood from and informed by Jack Quinn, the six-figure attorney hired by Rich and Green.

Clinton carefully limited what he saw of the "merits" of the Rich case to that which Rich's lawyer thought he should see. He never sought recommendations from any appropriate Justice officials and indeed hid his actions from them. He now tells us that he knew when he pardoned Rich and Green that the official directly in charge of the Rich case, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, "did not support these pardons," but he never spoke to her. It was his Quinn-based "understanding" that Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder was "neutral, leaning for" a pardon, but he never talked directly to Holder either. Holder now says (admittedly, with self-interest) that he had assumed the Rich application was so out of the question that it never would be granted. "I believed the essential facts were before me," writes Clinton. Yes, essential as determined and interpreted by one side in the case.

The third big lie is again contextual, and is one of omission. Clinton cites, as reason No. 3 for a pardon, the fact that "two highly regarded tax experts" had examined the financial transactions in the Rich case and concluded that Rich's companies had not violated any tax law. What Clinton does not say is that the two experts were acting as Rich's hired guns -- they wrote their assessment clearing Rich specifically for use in Rich's defense under a $100,000 contract with Rich's lawyers.

The fourth and most stunning lie is a flat-outer, reason No. 7: "the applications were reviewed and advocated not only by my former White House counsel Jack Quinn [note the reflexive passing lie of omission; the important identifier of Quinn is not former White House counsel but counsel for Marc Rich] but also by three distinguished Republican attorneys: Leonard Garment, a former Nixon White House official; William Bradford Reynolds, a former high-ranking official in the Reagan Justice Department; and Lewis Libby, now Vice President Cheney's chief of staff."

This is how the statement appeared in copies of the Times printed before 12:45 p.m. Saturday. Later copies contained a change, dictated by Clinton's people, desperately trying to backtrack. In the altered version, Clinton writes that "the case for the pardons [not the applications per se] was reviewed and advocated" etc.

Both versions are howlers. The suggestion here is that some sort of panel of "distinguished Republican attorneys" had examined and supported Quinn's case for a Rich pardon. In fact, Garment, Reynolds and Libby had been, at one time or another, lawyers for Rich; in this for-hire capacity, they had written arguments for leniency for Rich. But all three distinguished Republicans leaped to say they had never supported this pardon, either the applications in particular or Quinn's "case" in general.

Eight reasons; four lies. Not bad, even for the old master himself.

Michael Kelly is the editor of National Journal. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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05/26/99: Will we ever learn? Clintochio is a lying ...
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