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Sen. Clinton's campaign treasurer denies pardon wrongdoing

William Cunningham III, who was treasurer for Sen. Clinton's campaign, addresses questions in New York on Friday  

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign treasurer Friday denied his helping of two Arkansas businessmen to receive pardons from former President Clinton involved any wrongdoing or impropriety.

The treasurer, William Cunningham III, said he was paid $4,062 in legal fees for preparing pardon applications for the men. Sen. Clinton says she had not known that Cunningham was involved in efforts to pardon Robert Clinton Fain, 53, and James Lowell Manning, 60, who had been convicted in the 1980s on tax charges.

"They made the mistake of their lives," Cunningham said during a Friday news conference.

Sen. Clinton's campaign treasurer denies wrongdoing in helping two businessmen obtain pardons (February 23)

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Cunningham said he prepared two pardon applications for Manning and Fain that were sent to the Justice Department. Cunningham said he had never contacted the White House about the cases, or spoken with either of the Clintons about them.

"I learned of my clients' pardons when their names were published in the newspaper," Cunningham said.

Cunningham denied that his duel relationship with the pardon applications and Sen. Clinton was inappropriate. "My responsibilities to her were absolutely independent of this," he said.

Cunningham's law partner is Clinton adviser Harold Ickes, who also said he never spoke to the president or first lady about the cases. Cunningham said Ickes referred the two pardon-seekers, both Republicans, to him about a week before Clinton left office.

During her Thursday news conference Sen. Clinton described Cunningham as a "fine lawyer and a fine man. ... Lawyers from all over the country were involved in these matters."

Cunningham said the two men wanted pardons so they could obtain state liquor and hunting licenses. He also said that Manning and Fain contacted longtime Clinton friend and Hollywood producer Harry Thomason in hopes of getting additional legal help. Thomason connected the men with Ickes, who referred them to Cunningham and his law firm.

Cunningham could not characterize what action Thomason took. But a source familiar with Thomason's role confirmed to CNN that he spoke with President Clinton about the case, asking him to "give it a fair hearing."

In a statement released Friday, Thomason's attorney, Robert S. Bennett, said, "To the best of Mr. Thomason's knowledge, these pardons went through the appropriate process" and he "did not receive a single penny." The statement said nothing about whether Thomason had spoken to Clinton about the petitions.

Also Friday, House Government Reform Committee Chairman Dan Burton, R-Indiana, sent two letters seeking additional information about the Clinton pardons.

The first letter, sent to Brian Stafford, director of the U.S. Secret Service, seeks White House access records from November 1 to January 20 for Hugh Rodham, President Clinton's brother-in-law; Roger Clinton, his half-brother; Kendall Coffey, an attorney for Glenn Braswell, who was pardoned by Clinton; and Horacio Vignali, the father of Carlos Vignali Jr., who was also pardoned.

Burton spokesman Mark Corallo said that outside of Rodham, the committee has no knowledge or reason to believe the men went to the White House during the Clinton administration's closing weeks as the pardons were being considered.

Burton said Thursday that Roger Clinton represented people seeking pardons from the president.

"The committee has received reports that you were involved in representing individuals seeking pardons from President Clinton," Burton wrote in a letter to Roger Clinton.

Burton also asked Roger Clinton if he got paid for representing anyone seeking a pardon.

Burton's letter asked the brother of the former president to specifically describe "any role" he played in the pardon or commutation requests of Phillip Young, Carlos Vignali Jr., Braswell, Joe McKernan and Mitchell Couey Wood.

Young was found guilty of fish and wildlife violations in Louisiana; Wood served a sentence for conspiracy to possess and distribute cocaine in Arkansas; Vignali was sentenced to a 15-year term stemming from the transport of 800 pounds of cocaine; and Braswell was convicted of fraud and other crimes related to false claims about a treatment for baldness. No information was available on McKernan.

Burton also asked Roger Clinton to turn over to the committee "any pardon or commutation requests you have worked on, including, but not limited to, financial records and billing records."

Julia Payne, an aide to former President Clinton, acknowledged to CNN that Roger Clinton once made a personal appeal for clemency by handing his half-brother a list of "about five or six" friends and acquaintances, and asking the president to consider them.

"He did not lobby the president," Payne said. "He personally asked his brother and asked just once, if he would look at a list."

She added that Roger Clinton never received money for his appeal. None of the people on the list were granted clemency. Payne said it was the first time Roger Clinton had asked his half-brother for such consideration, and she rejected reports he had done so in the past.

President Clinton pardoned 140 people, including Roger Clinton for a drug conviction, and commuted the sentence of 36 others in his last hours as president.

Roger Clinton was charged Wednesday with driving while intoxicated and disorderly conduct after an incident last weekend in Hermosa Beach, California.

Braswell and Vignali paid Hugh Rodham, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's brother, for his role in helping secure clemency from then-President Clinton.

The former president acknowledged Wednesday that his brother-in-law, Hugh Rodham, had been paid almost $400,000 for legal work on applicants for presidential clemency for both Vignali and Braswell.

Most of Rodham's fees have been returned to his clients, according to his attorney.

A source close to Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania, who is leading the pardons investigation for the Senate Judiciary Committee, told CNN that Specter has instructed his staff to look into Rodham's involvement in the clemency orders granted by Clinton.

Congress to get some pardon documents

Burton's committee is running into resistance from another target of the pardon probe.

An attorney for former President Bill Clinton's library foundation promised to provide some, but not all, of the information requested by the House panel investigating Clinton's pardon of billionaire financier Marc Rich.

The committee subpoenaed the William J. Clinton Presidential Foundation earlier this month, seeking information on anyone who made contributions or pledges larger than $5,000.

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