Did Clinton Pardons Constitute Criminal Behavior? ; Both Congress and the US Attorney in New York Are Searching for Evidence of a Crime, but Legal Experts Say It Could Be a Difficult Case to Prove

By Francine Kiefer writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, March 2, 2001 | Go to article overview

Did Clinton Pardons Constitute Criminal Behavior? ; Both Congress and the US Attorney in New York Are Searching for Evidence of a Crime, but Legal Experts Say It Could Be a Difficult Case to Prove


Francine Kiefer writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Bill Clinton may have used poor judgment when issuing those controversial last-minute pardons, but were his actions - or those of others involved - criminal?

Both Congress and the US attorney in New York are calling witnesses and scouring documents in search of a crime. But it's one thing to expose a bad case of political misjudgment, say legal experts, and quite another to prove bribery or corruption of a public official - especially if it involves a former president and first lady. And it becomes even harder in the case of presidential pardons, which are, by their very nature, largely above the law.

"There is some chance that people participating in the pardons may be in some criminal trouble, but I think there is only a very small chance that the president or Mrs. Clinton will be in criminal trouble," says Paul Rothstein, a law professor at Georgetown University here, who teaches a course on governmental wrongdoing.

Yet this does not seem to be discouraging lawmakers or a determined US attorney in New York, Mary Jo White.

This week, the House Government Reform Committee continued its investigation, hearing from key aides to the former president, and looking for pardon connections in a list of major donors to the Clinton library. "Some people are wondering what it is that we're looking at..., and the fact of the matter is, that there are some potential crimes here," including bribery, said committee member Rep. Steven LaTourette (R) of Ohio earlier this week.

Meanwhile, Ms. White - a Clinton appointee - has impanelled a grand jury to investigate the pardon of financial fugitive Marc Rich, who was wanted by her office for racketeering, wire fraud, income-tax evasion, and illegal oil trading. Denise Rich, who appealed directly to the president on her ex-husband's behalf, donated more than $1 million to Democratic causes and $450,000 to the Clinton library.

While federal prosecutors in New York have so far declined to describe the scope of their probe, it could include 15 of the more than 170 people pardoned by President Clinton in his last few days in office. Among them would be four Hasidic Jews convicted of swindling tens of millions of dollars from the federal government.

The Jewish community in which these men live voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Rodham Clinton, and after the election, the community sought clemency for the four men at a meeting with Mr. Clinton - a meeting Mrs. Clinton also attended.

While a presidential pardon can't be overturned, there could be criminality in the way a pardon was carried out, says Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University here. …

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