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Pardon Me and Pass the Checkbook

February 26, 2001

More than 60 percent of President Clinton’s last minute pardons went to white collar criminals, while less than 1percent of people in jail are white collar criminals.

The pardon process is smoothed by having the kind of powerful advocates few ordinary prisoners have. In the case ofMarc Rich, dozens of prominent Israeli officials, including outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Barak, the former head ofthe Mossad spy agency and the mayor of Jerusalem lobbied President Clinton for the fugitive financier’s pardon.

Rich contributed $25,000 to the Jerusalem mayor’s electoral campaign and also gave $21 million to that city’scultural and welfare institutions.

News of Israel’s role came as House and Senate Republicans said they may combine their efforts into a singleinvestigation into whether Rich or his family promised Clinton donations in return for his pardon.

Another of Clinton’s last minute pardons has sparked a criminal probe by the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office. It isinvestigating whether Clinton commuted the sentences of four convicted swindlers in exchange for Hasidic Jewishvotes for his wife during her Senate run.

Also under scrutiny are a pardon and a commutation for which Mrs. Clinton’s brother Hugh Rodham received nearly$400,000; two pardons on which her campaign treasurer performed legal work; and the possible role of the formerpresident’s half brother, Roger Clinton, in some other cases.

The practice of lame-duck presidents dispensing "Get Out of Jail Free" cards to the politically well-connected is asold as the office itself. On his final day in office, President Washington pardoned a rum smuggler who catered tothe thirsts of prominent drinkers. James Madison pardoned a slave trader and pirate.

This morning, the Washington Post>I> noted that "In its absolute power, the pardon offers a terrific window intothe moral universe of a particular president. In the end, he is constrained only by his own sense of what is right."

And in the end, it was the view from Clinton’s moral window that most outraged those who condemned his pardons.


  • Russell Mokhiber, editor of Corporate Crime Reporter, a legal weekly based in Washington, DC.
  • Margaret Love, a pardon attorney with the US Justice Department from 1990 to 1997 whose job it was toprocess petitions for clemency and make recommendations to the president. She is now a lawyer the white collardefense law firm of Brand and Fruella in Washington, DC

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