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. …