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GOP lawyer: Facts 'misconstrued' in Rich case

Lewis Libby
Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff  

In this story:

'He rendered his judgment'

Sharp words exchanged

White House 'overwhelmed'

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff testified Thursday he believes prosecutors of billionaire financier Marc Rich "misconstrued the facts and the law" when they went after Rich on tax evasion charges.

The testimony from Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who represented Rich dating back to 1985 but stopped working for him in the spring of 2000, came during a contentious, hours-long House committee hearing into former President Bill Clinton's eleventh-hour pardons.

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Earlier in the day, three former White House advisers all said they recommended that the Rich pardon be denied, but that they supported Clinton's decision-making process.

Facing intense questioning from Rep. Paul Kanjorski, D-Pennsylvania, Libby hedged on whether he thought Clinton's pardon was justified, infuriating the congressman.

"Did you represent a crook who stole money from the United States government, was a fugitive and should never have been given or granted a pardon by the facts that you know?" snapped Kanjorski.

"No, sir," Libby responded. "There are no facts that I know of that support the criminality of the client based on the tax returns."

Libby then said prosecutors from the Southern District of New York "misconstrued the facts and the law" when they prosecuted Rich.

"(Rich) had not violated the tax laws," said Libby.

At a later point, Libby said he thought Rich was a traitor for his company engaging in trades with Iran at a time when that country was holding U.S. hostages. "I did not condone it, I didn't advise it, I don't admire it," he said.

Earlier, former White House chief of staff John Podesta, former White House counsel Beth Nolan and former deputy counsel Bruce Lindsey were joined by Jack Quinn, another former White House counsel who served as attorney for Rich, whose presidential pardon is the focus of the hearings by the House Government Operations and Reform Committee.

Podesta
Podesta said "there was no wrongdoing"  

Rich fled to Switzerland 17 years ago to avoid prosecution on racketeering, wire fraud, income tax evasion and illegal oil trading charges. His was one of 140 pardons that Clinton granted in his last hours in office on January 20.

Denise Rich has been a major contributor to Democratic campaigns and the Clinton presidential library foundation. Dozoretz has pledged to raise $1 million for the Clinton presidential library. The House committee is looking into whether those actions had any impact on Clinton's granting of the pardon for Rich.

Podesta, Nolan and Lindsey all said they recommended that the pardon be denied, but supported Clinton's decision-making process.

"I believe that President Clinton considered the legal merits of the arguments for the pardon as he understood them, and he rendered his judgment, wise or unwise, on the merits," Podesta said.

Committee Chairman Dan Burton, R-Indiana, asked why, on the night before the pardon was granted, Nolan did not more strongly express her objections.

Nolan testified that she had asked Rich attorney Jack Quinn , not the Justice Department, when allegations arose that Rich had been involved in forbidden arms dealing since leaving the country after being indicted in 1983 for tax evasion and racketeering.

"This was a very, very serious thing. It should have sent up red flags all over the place," Burton said. "And to ask the defense attorney for his counsel on this and not ask the Justice Department when you're going to be pardoning one of the most wanted fugitives in the world ... just doesn't make sense. It just doesn't pass muster."

Lindsey
Lindsey, along with Nolan and Podesta, said he had recommended that Clinton deny the Rich pardon  

The session started with Democratic fund-raiser Beth Dozoretz, as expected, invoking her Fifth Amendment right not to testify in the case.

"Upon the advice of my counsel, I respectfully decline to answer that question," she said in response to a question from Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Connecticut. She then said that would be her response to all questions.

Rep. Bob Barr, R-Georgia, asked more questions trying to get her to say whether she would cooperate with a criminal investigation into Clinton's pardon of billionaire financier Marc Rich being conducted in New York.

Dozoretz replied only that she would rely on the advice of her counsel. She was then excused.

A former Democratic National Committee finance chairwoman, Dozoretz is a friend of Rich's ex-wife, Denise Rich.

'He rendered his judgment'

Denise Rich has been a major contributor to Democratic campaigns and the Clinton presidential library foundation. Dozoretz has pledged to raise $1 million for the library. The House committee is looking into whether those actions had any impact on Clinton's granting of the pardon for Rich.

Dororetz
Dozoretz declined to testify on Thursday  

Podesta, Nolan and Lindsey all said they recommended that the pardon be denied, but supported Clinton's decision.

"I believe that President Clinton considered the legal merits of the arguments for the pardon as he understood them, and he rendered his judgment, wise or unwise, on the merits," Podesta said.

Committee Chairman Dan Burton, R-Indiana, asked why, on the night before the pardon was granted, Nolan did not more strongly express her objections. Nolan testified that she had asked Quinn, not the Justice Department, when allegations arose that Rich had been involved in forbidden arms dealing since leaving the country after being indicted in 1983 for tax evasion and racketeering.

"This was a very, very serious thing. It should have sent up red flags all over the place," Burton said.

Sharp words exchanged

Nolan admitted that had it not been for the pressure of the final hours of the administration and the lack of sleep for her and the president, it might have been handled differently. However, she said she still did not know if those allegations were true.

Nolan was the target of harsher questioning from Barr, who accused her of being "deliberately unclear" in her testimony when she said she was not certain that a petition on behalf of Glenn Braswell came to the White House from Hugh Rodham, the president's brother-in-law.

"Are you asking me to testify to facts I don't remember?" she asked.

"Why would I do that?" Barr responded.

"Sir, you seem to be objecting to the level of my memory."

"That is true, I do object to the level of your memory, it's apparently pretty low," Barr said.

Three Democratic panel members jumped to her defense, including Henry Waxman, D-California, who said, "I don't think any witness should be treated in a shabby way as I thought you just were."

White House 'overwhelmed'

Podesta, in an opening statement, said that Clinton was urged by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak to support the Rich pardon, and that four days before granting the pardon Clinton said he thought Quinn had raised valid arguments.

Podesta, Nolan and Lindsey all testified they saw nothing in the administration's pardon considerations that indicated a quid pro quo or legal wrongdoing was involved.

Clinton waived executive privilege, allowing his former advisers to appear without a legal dispute.

Podesta admitted that late pardon requests -- many of them from members of Congress -- may have overwhelmed the White House staff in the administration's final days.

"We bear the responsibility for having a process that we thought was manageable that in the last days, I think, broke down and let some of these (late pardon requests) go through," Podesta said.



RELATED STORIES:
In-depth: Presidents and the power to pardon

Clinton advisers tell of protesting Rich pardon
March 1, 2001
House panel opens new hearings into Clinton pardons
February 28, 2001
Clinton waives privilege in pardons probe
February 27, 2001
Lawyer: Clinton ally won't testify on Rich pardon
February 26, 2001
Stuart Rothenberg: Clinton actions hurt friends and help adversaries
February 22, 2001

RELATED SITES:
House Committee on Government Reform
The Democratic National Committee
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