"There is one safeguard known generally to the wise, which is an advantage and security to all, but especially to democracies as against despots. What is it? Distrust."--Demosthenes
When we first heard about President Clinton's pardon of the fugitive Marc Rich, it was almost like a herald had just answered the rhetorical "don't they have any shame?" One final abuse of power seemed almost an appropriate farewell for the most corrupt administration in modern history. And frankly most of us thought, once again, that the Slickster would skate. After all, the presidential pardon is one of the few presidential prerogatives that has no oversight, no mechanism for amendments -- a president can basically pardon anyone he chooses for almost any or no reason.
Critics and adversaries can itch and moan, but, as the bard noted, it is mostly just sound and fury, signifying nothing.
It was noteworthy that President Bush (acting very presidential) was more concerned with protecting the powers of the office (for him and successors) than trying for a pound of Clinton flesh -- especially since it might later haunt him and the presidency.
If the Rich pardon were just another abuse of power, the pill -- albeit bitter -- would have been swallowed.
However, like most things Clinton there is a vast spectrum of shading and underpinnings.
During the Chinagate controversy I would often ask assorted experts, "Was the money the Chinese paid to Clinton and the DNC a bribe or a gratuity?" The speculation ranged from "it was an inducement to provide goods and services" to "it was a gesture of appreciation for favors rendered."
This "Pardongate" flap will likely hinge on two questions, which -- despite the uniqueness of the presidential pardon -- could pick the scab off a festering wound and result in a hemorrhage.
Time magazine has just reported, "The former wife of fugitive financier Marc Rich contributed about $400,000 to the Clinton presidential library." Congressional inquisitors of the Republican stripe were already frothing at the remarkably bad judgment of the departing president, but now the potential "that Denise Rich's financing of Clinton political and personal projects influenced his decision to give amnesty to her ex-husband" has even Democrats throwing rocks.
Who would have thunk it? The committee's ranking Democrat, Rep. Henry A. Waxman of California (a genuine knuckle-dragging, radical left-wing wacko), described the pardon as "an end-run around the judicial process" and called Mr. Clinton's decision to grant it "incredibly bad judgment." That wasn't Newt Gingrich folks, that was HENRY WAXMAN!
Everybody already knew Denise had given over a million bucks to various Democratic campaigns during the reign of Bill and Hill. She had contributed heavily to Hillary's Senate race and to the ubiquitous legal defense fund. The $400,000 to the Clinton library had been a secret until Time popped the cork.
The amount and the timing have Republicans drooling and Democrats manufacturing righteous indignation.
The two obvious questions are 1) why (beyond her apparent unbridled affection for the past president) and 2) where did the money come from? Denise Rich is well heeled and successful in her own right. But was all the money showered on the Clintons hers? Did any of the big bucks come from ex-hubby Marc?
Congress asked. She refused to respond. In fact she invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Now we learn that 10 days before the Rich pardon, President Clinton told the Democratic National Committee's finance chairman he wanted to do the clemency order and was reportedly doing everything "possible to turn around" White House lawyers who were opposed to it. And, as if they hadn't learned from eight years of scandal dodging, there is a paper trail with memos.
Like other Clinton loyalists before them, Jack Quinn and Eric Holder have been abandoned to play Bambi in the headlights.
"Why do you think the president needed to share information on the pardon with the finance chairman of the DNC?" Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., asked Quinn.
"I don't know," Quinn responded.
Barr asked, "Was anyone at the White House supportive of this pardon other than the president?"
Quinn tap danced a bit but eventually conceded that "[White House Counsel Beth] Nolan, at some point, was not favorably disposed."
Clinton maintains he awarded pardons to Rich and his partner based on the merits of the case as argued by Quinn and that the Democratic contributions from Rich's ex-wife had nothing to do with the decision. Does anyone believe that?
I have been trying to figure out why the monumental imperative for a Marc Rich pardon? He was a fugitive -- on the most wanted list; he had unilaterally rejected his American citizenship; and the pardon was specifically for the $48-million tax evasion flap, ignoring other troublesome items, such as his Iranian deal. It was not a Richard Nixon-type pardon excusing him for anything he ever did, is doing, or might do. He could still be nailed on other charges if or when some prosecutor chose to do so. It is unlikely he would be foolish enough to actually return to the U.S. where a process server (I suspect Rudy Giuliani might volunteer) could hand him a subpoena.
A listener to my radio talk program turned on a light for me. Terry in New Oxford, Pa., wrote, "Do you know how much money would be owed now with all of the penalties and interest added to the $48 million that he skipped out on? It would be around $400 million or more. If he gives 1.6 or 2 million dollars to the Clintons, isn't that a savings? Oh, what the hell, lets give him another 20 million bucks just to thank him."
Another listener suggested Burton and Barr, et al., should let the Democrats clean their own house. If or when it is revealed that Denise Rich served as a straw dog laundering money from her ex to "buy" the pardon, the GOP would be well served to back off and let the Democrats erect the cross. Let Henry Waxman and Joe Lieberman raise the scaffold. An interesting idea, to be sure, and it would be a wondrous sight. However, the reality check of a DNC purge -- especially with Terry McAuliffe as chairman -- is not possible.
Theodore Roosevelt once observed, "The old parties are husks, with no real soul within either, divided on artificial lines, boss-ridden and privilege-controlled, each a jumble of incongruous elements, and neither daring to speak out wisely and fearlessly on what should be said on the vital issues of the day."
set up against the Rich pardon fiasco, Teddy's words indeed ring true.