| || ALLEGATIONS/ Clinton Accused
Key to Presidential Pardon Is Access
Many Forgiven by Clinton Had Political or Personal Ties
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, January 22, 2001; Page A01
Marc Rich would not seem an obvious candidate for a presidential pardon.
Charged in 1983 with conducting the largest tax evasion scheme in U.S. history, Rich fought extradition from Switzerland, never came home and never faced trial. He continued to make millions -- and give millions to charity -- but dared not face the witnesses against him.
Yet outgoing President Clinton granted Rich and former business partner Pincus Green a pardon just hours before he left the White House. Exercising a presidential prerogative that requires no detailed explanation and permits no higher review, Clinton smiled broadly on a chosen few Saturday, making points of a political and personal kind.
Clinton turned loose at least a dozen low-level drug defendants who had been given long sentences with mandatory minimums. He commuted the death sentence of David Ronald Chandler, a federal prisoner convicted of plotting the murder of a police informer. Chandler's principal accuser later confessed to committing the murder himself.
Many of those who benefited, however, owed their good fortune to their association with Clinton or to their ability to win access to upper echelons of the White House. The list of 176 names -- 140 pardons and 36 commuted sentences -- is packed with people with connections.
Rich, 65, the fugitive commodities trader, travels in influential circles, donating vast sums in Israel and around the globe. His ex-wife, Manhattan songwriter Denise Rich, has sponsored fundraising dinners and contributed more than $320,000 to Democratic Party causes in the past two years.
Clinton pardoned his brother Roger, guilty of distributing cocaine in the 1980s. He pardoned Richard Riley Jr., the son of his education secretary, who conspired to sell cocaine and marijuana. He pardoned Stuart Harris Cohn, brother-in-law of former Connecticut congressman Sam Gejdensen (D).
Former housing secretary Henry G. Cisneros, who lied to FBI agents about payments to his mistress, received a pardon. So did former CIA director John Deutch, under suspicion for downloading secrets to his home computer. Clinton commuted the sentence of one-time Illinois congressman Melvin J. Reynolds, convicted of bank fraud and sex charges involving a teenage campaign worker.
At least 10 Arkansans received pardons, including Clinton's close-lipped former business partner, Susan H. McDougal. Four of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's New York constituents also saw their sentences for fraud commuted. The men, all Hasidic Jews, were convicted in 1999 of embezzling millions of dollars from the federal government by financing a fictitious yeshiva, or religious school.
The path to pardon was typically straightforward, if not entirely certain.
"Anyone who knows anybody tried to get as close to the president as possible," said a Washington lawyer who represented several clients seeking pardons. "You had to be on the inside."
Clinton told reporters yesterday that he spent "a lot of personal time" making the decision about the Rich case, which he called "unusual." Rich was accused of tax evasion, wire fraud, racketeering and trading oil with Iran. Clinton gave no details but said he was persuaded by the arguments made by Rich's attorney, Jack Quinn, a former White House counsel and chief of staff to Al Gore.
"You're not saying that these people didn't commit the offense," Clinton told reporters in Chappaqua, N.Y., referring to other pardons. "You're saying they paid, they paid in full, and they've been out long enough after their sentence to show they're good citizens, so they ought to have a chance to get full citizenship."
There is something unfair in the exercise of the presidential pardon, said Rep. Michael N. Castle (R-Del.), who had the final say on state pardons as governor. In Delaware, the governor considers only people recommended by a pardons commission, while the president may grant a pardon or commute the sentence of anyone he chooses.
Castle calls the business of presidential pardons "a rather dubious practice."
"How do people get on that list? Is it because their cases are political cases or because they happen to be known?" Castle asked. "There are tens of thousands of people in prison who would like to have their sentences commuted. There are tens of thousands of people who would like to be pardoned whose cases will never come to the attention of the president."
Clinton's pardons were dramatic in sweep, not to mention timing. Throughout the last night of the Clinton presidency, Justice Department staff members worked to process names added to the list by the White House. As in earlier administrations, the White House did not always follow the federal regulation that calls for each person seeking a pardon to be reviewed by law enforcement.
"McDougal was one we knew about only from the news media. Cisneros was another one. They'd just tell us, 'Put this on the list,' " a Justice Department official said. Cisneros said he did not seek a pardon.
The public often remembers pardons that have a political tone, such as Gerald R. Ford's pardon of Richard M. Nixon. Or the Christmas Eve pardons of former defense secretary Caspar W. Weinberger and five other Republican officials by George Bush. Less well-known are cases where pardons give a break to people convicted of garden-variety federal crimes.
Clinton granted nearly 400 pardons in eight years, about the same number as Ronald Reagan in his two terms. In four-year terms, Bush pardoned 77 people and Jimmy Carter pardoned 534. Although pardons do not erase a conviction, they amount to presidential forgiveness and allow individuals to regain rights sometimes denied them, such as the right to vote.
The most recent batch of forgiveness was greeted lovingly by friends and advocates of those who received the benefits -- and with frustration and anger by many who had worked hard to build winning criminal cases against them. Morris Weinberg Jr., who prosecuted Rich and his similarly pardoned former partner Green, said he was "astounded."
New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani (R), who had worked on the Rich case as a prosecutor, said he was shocked. "After all, he never paid a price. He got on an airplane, took all his records and ran off to Zug, Switzerland, where he's remained a fugitive since then."
Giuliani told Reuters that Rich had made "untold efforts to try to get the charges reduced, including many, many overtures and entreaties based on the use of influence."
Another decision that drew ire was Clinton's pardon of former Washington lawyer William Arthur Borders Jr. A jury convicted Borders of bribery after he promised an undercover FBI agent that he could fix a case in front of U.S. District Judge Alcee L. Hastings. In 1983, a Miami jury acquitted Hastings, but the Senate later removed him from office after convicting him of bribery conspiracy and lying on the witness stand. Hastings is now a Florida congressman.
Borders went to jail rather than testify to a Florida grand jury about a matter involving South Florida mobster Santo Trafficante, who also had a case in front of Hastings. The lawyer went to jail again rather than talk to a House impeachment committee.
Twice in the past six years, the D.C. Court of Appeals has declined to reinstate Borders's law license, ruling that he failed to prove his redemption by telling what he knows about the Hastings case.
"President Clinton favored two of my clients with clemency, and I am grateful for his generous spirit and compassion," said Washington attorney Reid Weingarten, who prosecuted Borders and Hastings. "However, some on the list will raise some eyebrows. For example, I was Bill Borders's prosecutor and, while I have sympathy for the man, I thought his crimes were unpardonable."
Among the other beneficiaries of Clinton's last-minute largess was Charles D. "Pug" Ravenel, a South Carolina Democrat and longtime friend of Clinton. The 62-year-old former politician was sentenced in 1996 to 11 1/2 months behind bars for a bank fraud conspiracy. He admitted his guilt and served his time, then began seeking a pardon through friends in both parties.
Ravenel, who met Clinton in 1980 when the two men and their wives went shrimping together, said getting a pardon "can be luck and it can be capricious." A president, however moved by circumstances, friendship or political connection, is also conscious of how his generosity will be perceived.
"It is political," Ravenel said. "President and Mrs. Clinton have to be aware of a variety of repercussions."
Researchers Karl Evanzz, Madonna Lebling and Margot Williams contributed to this report.