Can Bill Clinton’s pardon of Marc Rich be defended on the merits? Seth Lipsky is a journalist whom I greatly respect, and he thinks that it can. In today’s New York Times Seth makes the case for the pardon. Seth also thinks that the pardon should be defended on the merits in connection with Eric Holder’s nomination to be Attorney General.
I don’t find Seth’s column persuasive. On the merits of the pardon, Seth omits any consideration of Rich’s flight from prosecution and fugitive status at the time of the pardon. Regardless of the merits of the pardon, Seth does not account for Eric Holder’s role in it. George Lardner, Jr. carefully recounted Holder’s role in “A pardon to remember.” Holder of course facilitated Rich’s circumvention of the Justice Department’s consideration of the pardon application. Lardner recalls:
On Nov. 18, 2000, Mr. Quinn told Mr. Holder that Mr. Rich was going to go for a pardon, a step his team had been contemplating for months. After the conversation, Mr. Quinn told colleagues that Mr. Holder had advised him to “go straight to” the White House and that the “timing is good.” On Dec. 11, just over a month before Mr. Clinton was to leave office, Mr. Quinn delivered the pardon papers to the White House. “The greatest danger lies with the lawyers,” Mr. Quinn wrote in an e-mail message to an aide to Mr. Rich, referring to the prosecutors in New York. “I have worked them hard and I am hopeful that E. Holder will be helpful to us.”
Under the rules governing pardon petitions — rules that were approved by Mr. Holder’s office — the views of United States attorneys “are given considerable weight” because of the “valuable insights” they have. And yet Mr. Holder did not consult Ms. White and her colleagues about the Rich pardon petition; they did not know of it until it had been granted.
Then, on Jan. 19, 2001, Mr. Holder delivered his pardon assessment to the White House, telling Beth Nolan, the White House counsel, that he was “neutral leaning favorable” on the Rich pardon. His decision, he added, was influenced by the support of Ehud Barak, the Israeli prime minister.
The people in the United States attorney’s office in New York weren’t the only ones surprised by Mr. Holder’s decision. Deborah Smolover, his top deputy for pardon cases, did not find out about the pardon for Mr. Rich until the White House called to inform her of it after midnight on Jan. 20. (Mr. Green won a pardon, too.) After the pardon was signed, Mr. Quinn has testified, Mr. Holder called him to commend him on “a very good job.” Mr. Holder also asked Mr. Quinn to consider hiring two former aides, one of whom had already contacted Mr. Quinn on Jan. 2 “at Holder’s suggestion.”
Seth refers to Clinton’s own Times op-ed column defending the pardon. USA Today’s story on Clinton’s op-ed column is here; CNN’s is here. In the column Clinton reassured readers that allegations that Denise Rich’s contributions prompted the pardon were false: “There was absolutely no quid pro quo.” Which reminds us that the issue probably turns on the meaning of “pro,” and that in addition to being wrong, the pardon was unsavory in the extreme.
UPDATE: Patterico adds elements to the case against the pardon that I overlooked..
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