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House panel opens new hearings into Clinton pardons

Dan Burton
Rep. Dan Burton opens the hearings.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A House panel has opened a new round of hearings this afternoon into former President Bill Clinton's controversial late-term pardons, a day after reaching an agreement with Clinton's lawyer on viewing a list of donors to Clinton's library foundation.

The House Government Reform Committee has begun the new round of hearings, with three former top White House aides scheduled to appear before Chairman Dan Burton's panel to testify about the final days of decision-making that led to Clinton's last-minute pardons.

Former White House Counsel Beth Nolan, Chief of Staff John Podesta and adviser Bruce Lindsey will likely tell the committee about the deliberations over the controversial pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich, which has sparked two congressional and one federal criminal probe.

Clinton, hoping to put the pardons scandal to rest, has waived any executive privilege claims and given his aides approval to testify freely when they appear before the panel.

The committee subpoenaed the three aides in its widening investigation of possible influence peddling or links between campaign donations and the pardon of Rich and others on Clinton's last day in office. Marc Rich's ex-wife Denise gave more than $1 million to Democratic causes and $450,000 to the Clinton library.

The committee and a lawyer for Clinton reached an agreement Wednesday that will give congressional investigators access to a winnowed-down list of donors to the Clinton Library Foundation, one day before the committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on some of the pardons meted out by Clinton during his last hours as president.

In the agreement between the panel and Clinton library and personal attorney David Kendall, the committee is to be given a list of some donors, amounts of donations and dates of the pledges.

Because of the compromise, an appearance by library president Skip Rutherford at a committee hearing Thursday has been canceled.

Kendall had earlier offered to let Burton, ranking Democrat Henry Waxman of California and top attorneys view the lists, but Republicans had resisted some of the restrictions imposed on their review.

The committee has subpoenaed lists of all donors contributing more than $5,000 to the Clinton library fund in hopes of finding evidence of possible donations linked to the Rich pardon, and threatened library officials with contempt if they did not comply.

Also on tap to appear before the panel was former Democratic National Committee finance chairwoman Beth Dozoretz, who has informed investigators that she will invoke her Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination and refuse to answer committee questions.

Clinton's pardon of Rich, who fled to Switzerland 17 years ago to avoid prosecution on racketeering, wire fraud, income tax evasion and illegal oil trading charges, is at the center of the congressional and criminal probes.

But the committee's probe has expanded to look at a number of other pardons and sentence commutations by Clinton, including those of a convicted swindler and a major cocaine dealer who paid some $400,000 to Hugh Rodham, Clinton's brother-in-law, to advance their bids for clemency.

Rodham ultimately gave the money back after Clinton and former first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton complained.

Testimony and documents in the congressional probes have indicated there was considerable debate over the Rich pardon in the final days of Clinton's presidency, with Clinton telling Dozoretz in one phone call that he was trying to "turn around" the counsel's office on the issue.

Witnesses also have said the Rich pardon and others did not go through normal Justice Department channels. A former pardon attorney told a House Judiciary subcommittee Wednesday that because of Clinton's inclination to bypass regular Justice Department channels "the final Clinton pardons were an accident waiting to happen."

"The Clinton administration's short-sighted and ill-advised decision to abandon the long-standing regular system of Justice Department review led directly to the reported free-for-all at the end of his term and the resultant appearance of cronyism and influence peddling," said Margaret Love, who was the Justice Department pardon attorney from 1990 to 1997.

Marc Rich's attorney Jack Quinn, a former White House counsel, and former Rich attorney Lewis Libby, now Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, also are expected to testify at the hearing.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Lawyer: Clinton ally won't testify on Rich pardon (February 26, 2001)
Stuart Rothenberg: Clinton actions hurt friends and help adversaries (February 22, 2001)
Clinton waives privilege in pardons probe (February 27, 2001)

House Government Reform Committee

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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