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Clinton accepts 'full responsibility' for Rich pardon

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Former President Bill Clinton said Friday he takes "full responsibility" for pardoning Marc Rich, the international fugitive wanted on tax evasion, fraud and racketeering charges.

Clinton said he believes he handled the pardon in the "most appropriate way," but added he wished he had "more time to work on it."

"I take full responsibility for it. It was my decision. Nobody else made the decision," the former president said after a meeting in Manhattan. "But I handled it in what I thought was the most appropriate way."

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Clinton said he had spoken at length with the Justice Department about Rich. The pardon has outraged many lawmakers on Capitol Hill, especially Republicans, and hearings are expected on the controversial pardon. Among those expected to testify is Eric Holder, the deputy attorney general during the Clinton administration.

Rich's ex-wife, Denise Rich, has donated roughly $1 million to Democrats. Rich fled the country in 1983 after being indicted on the criminal charges. He was listed as an international fugitive by the Justice Department.

"I consulted with the Justice Department about this," said Clinton. "I finally took another look at it at the end, you know. I wish this was probably something that could have happened 30 days before the end, so you wouldn't have all the pressure and we would have had more time to work on it.

Lott unsure about Clinton testifying

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott on Friday questioned the wisdom of a suggestion by a fellow Republican that former President Clinton be called to Capitol Hill to explain his last-minute pardon of fugitive billionaire Marc Rich.

"Is that really the best thing to do?" asked Lott, who has sought to build bipartisanship in the deeply divided new 107th Congress. "How would it turn out?"

Lott said he intended to discuss a possible request for an appearance by Clinton with Sen. Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, who first raised it earlier this week.

"I want to talk to him about it," said Lott, from Mississippi, who has favored a congressional inquiry into the pardon. "Right now, I don't think I have anything to say about it."

Clinton was in Manhattan on Friday to try to raise $1 million for India earthquake relief.

In the session, he met with several Indian-American business leaders at Interbank and Citicorp headquarters, including the company's president and CEO Victor Menezes, who was born in India and spent his early years in the 1970s as a Citicorp executive there.

Before the meeting, Clinton stopped to shake hands with people standing nearby.

One heckler, critical of Clinton's Mideast peace efforts and predicting the outcome of the upcoming Israeli election, shouted, "Thanks for getting (Likud party chairman Ariel) Sharon elected. ... You really blew it for Israel."



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