Clinton-Barak transcript includes talk of Marc Rich
By Kate Snow and Kevin Flower
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- National Security Council transcripts of telephone conversations between former President Clinton and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak document new details about the two men's discussion of a presidential pardon for fugitive financier Marc Rich.
While revealing, the conversations don't appear to contain any direct reference to improprieties or illegal activity, but they are certainly fodder for political debate.
Verbatim notes of the transcripts taken by investigators from the House Government Reform Committee show that then-Israeli Prime Minister Barak raised the topic of Marc Rich's case with Clinton on December 11, 2000, the same day lawyers for Rich filed a pardon petition with the White House.
Rich has been living in Switzerland since his 1983 indictment on charges of racketeering, wire fraud, illegal oil trading with Iran and evading more than $48 million in taxes. The financier was born in Belgium but grew up in the United States.
Speaking of Rich, Barak told Clinton, "I just wanted to let you know that here he is highly appreciated for his support of so many philanthropic institutions and funds, and that if I can, I would like to make my recommendation to consider his case."
Clinton responded, "... I know about that case because I know his ex-wife. She wants to help him, too. If your ex-wife wants to help you, that's good."
Rich's former wife, Denise Rich, has made more than $1.3 million in political contributions to the Democratic Party since 1993, including $70,000 to Hillary Clinton's 2000 Senate campaign and $450,000 for the Clinton presidential library in Arkansas. She wrote a letter to President Clinton in December, pleading with him to pardon her former husband.
In a subsequent conversation between Clinton and Barak on January 8, 2001, Clinton responded to Barak's mention of Rich by saying, "I know quite a few things about that. I just got a long memo and am working on it. It's best that we not say much about that."
Barak replied: "OK, I understand. I'm not mentioning it in any place."
In a letter to Barak last week, Rep. Dan Burton -- the Indiana Republican who is chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, which has been investigating the case -- pointed to that exchange.
"Please explain what you understood was the reason that you should 'not say much' about the Marc Rich case over the telephone with President Clinton," Burton wrote to Barak.
Burton went on to express concern about a comment in that same phone call by Barak that a pardon for Rich could be "important ... financially."
The last phone call between the two leaders that contained references to Rich occurred on January 19, 2001.
In that conversation, Clinton told Barak that he was "trying to do something on clemency for Rich," but that it was a difficult proposition because "there's almost no precedent in American history."
"There's nothing illegal about it," Clinton said, "but there's no precedent. He was overseas when he was indicted and never came home. The question is not whether he should get it (a pardon) or not, but whether he should get it without coming back here [to the United States]. That's the dilemma I'm working through."
President Clinton issued a pardon for Rich the following day, on January 20.
A Republican aide to the House Government Reform Committee says the panel will be releasing a report on the Marc Rich pardon case in the fall.
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