Pardon of financier brings more shame to Clinton's legacy

-- The Washington Post Feb. 20

Posted: Wednesday, February 21, 2001

Bill Clinton has pardoned himself for having issued an insupportable pardon to the fugitive financier Marc Rich on his, Mr. Clinton's, last day in office. In an op-ed piece in The New York Times, Mr. Clinton said he acted on the merits and in the national interest, and denied as "utterly false" that the pardon was granted in return for the generous campaign and other contributions. ...

He said he acted in part because he thought the law had been misapplied in Mr. Rich's cases, in that the prosecutors had used a racketeering statute since abandoned. ... He suggested that he had been influenced as well by the fact that some well-regarded tax lawyers didn't think Mr. Rich owed the millions of dollars in taxes he was accused of evading. But if Mr. Rich had that strong a case, surely the right way to make it was in court, not by flight and years of the good life in Switzerland followed by a well-greased appeal to an outgoing president.

Mr. Clinton noted that Israeli leaders, including former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, had been among the many marshaled to appeal on Mr. Rich's behalf; Mr. Rich had been a generous donor to Israeli charities and other causes over the years. Do diplomatic considerations ... thus become the basis for granting a bye to U.S. law? The former president acknowledges and professes to regret that the normal process of consultation with the Justice Department was finessed in the Rich case; the department was bypassed. But that's mock regret; he offers no explanation. He misrepresents the position of three Republican lawyers who once represented Mr. Rich, wrongly implying that they backed the pardon, and portrays as independent experts two tax lawyers who were retained by Mr. Rich to put the best possible spin on his case.

Finally, Mr. Clinton offers only his word that the money from Ms. Rich and the rest of the political influence brought to bear in the case made no difference. It's hard to know how to say this politely, but in matters such as this his word has become a weak reed, and the influence brought to bear was mighty.

The president's pardon power is absolute, and we would not change that just because Mr. Clinton abused it. The unconsulted prosecutors in New York are trying to determine if there were violations of the law in the importuning for the pardon; that's fair enough. Otherwise, as so often while in office, Mr. Clinton once again leaves the country without a clear remedy for the damage he continues to do to the standard of public behavior. The damage was real, and the unconvincing and partly evasive account he offered the other day only extends and compounds it.

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