The Progressive Review

The Clintons & Marc Rich

Marc Rich has died. He was one of the reasons a wise person would have little to do politically with the Clintons and a major example of the sort of thing Hillary Clinton's supporters are just ignoring.

The story also tells much about the role of Eric Holder and how Washington really operates. Don't miss Jeffrey St. Clair's summation of how the pardon came about at the end of this account.

New York Times - Marc Rich, a shrewd, swashbuckling oil trader who fled to Switzerland after being indicted on charges of widespread tax evasion, illegal dealings with Iran and other crimes, and who was later pardoned by President Bill Clinton in his last hours in office, setting off a whirlwind of criticism, died on Wednesday in Lucerne, Switzerland. He was 78.

… Nicknamed El Matador for his steel nerves and razor-sharp acumen, Mr. Rich pushed the limits of legality and, the government said, broke them. In 1983 he was indicted on 65 criminal counts that included tax fraud and trading with Iran when it was holding American hostages.

One of the most serious allegations was that Mr. Rich had misrepresented the provenance of crude oil he sold in 1980 and 1981. Under complicated regulations then in place, newly found oil fetched a higher price than older oil. By illegally marking up the price of old oil and passing it through a bewildering chain of transactions, Mr. Rich sold oil at a markup of up to 400 percent. He was accused of making more than $100 million from the scheme, avoiding paying $48 million in United States taxes.

Mr. Rich paid the government about $200 million in civil penalties but fled to Switzerland to escape criminal prosecution. The Internal Revenue Service offered a $500,000 reward for his capture, and the F.B.I. put him on its "most wanted" list, along with Osama bin Laden. Even as he remained the world's biggest trader of metals and minerals and lived in opulence, he was called the world's most famous fugitive.

Then, on Jan. 20, 2001 - Mr. Clinton's last day in office - Mr. Rich's name appeared on the presidential pardon …

It was soon learned that Mr. Rich's former wife, Denise Rich, had made large donations to the Democratic Party and the Clinton library, and that Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Ehud Barak, had lobbied Mr. Clinton for the pardon. Rabbi Irving Greenberg, chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, also pressed Mr. Rich's case, on museum stationery.

… Eric H. Holder Jr., then the deputy attorney general and now the attorney general, advised the White House that he was "neutral leaning favorable" to the pardon. Only weeks later, however, Mr. Holder said he regretted the recommendation.

Mr. Clinton later quoted respected tax experts he had recruited who concluded that no crime had been committed and that the tax-reporting tactics of Mr. Rich and his corporation had been reasonable. But Mr. Clinton, too, came to have regrets, calling the pardon "terrible politics."

Mr. Rich never returned to the United States, nor did American agents succeed in several attempts to seize him and bring him back..

Mr. Rich traded with Libya under Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, South Africa under apartheid (in violation of an international embargo), the Communist dictatorships of Cuba and Romania, and undemocratic Latin American countries. He often did business with countries at war.


A congressional report on the BCCI scandal, from a committee chaired by Senator John Kerry, included this as among issues that still needed to be studied: "BCCI's financing of commodities and other business dealings
of international criminal financier Marc Rich . . .


STEWART TENDLER, TIMES, LONDON: Customs officers have seized nearly $2 million in cash after it was flown into Britain on behalf of Marc Rich, the fugitive billionaire pardoned by Bill Clinton. Mr Rich, whose presidential pardon is under investigation by the FBI, now has to prove that the cash was honestly acquired, or he could lose it. Investigators are holding the cash under powers aimed at preventing drug traffickers moving their profits from country to country.

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, NEWSWEEK - On Jan. 8, with less than two weeks to go in his presidency, Clinton was speaking on the phone with the then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. The subject: a possible pardon for fugitive financier Marc Rich. "I know quite a few things about that," Clinton interjected as soon as Barak raised the matter. He had already gotten a long memo on it, Clinton explained, and he was "working on it." But Clinton also understood there were risks, possibly big ones. "It's best that we not say much about that,"

Clinton advised Barak on the subject of Rich. The Israeli leader understood. "OK, I'm not mentioning it any place," he replied. The two leaders had no reason to believe their confidential chat would ever become public. Yet the Clinton-Barak telephone call that evening, like all conversations between U.S. presidents and foreign heads of state, was monitored by a team of note takers sitting at computers in the White House Situation Room. Last week congressional investigators probing the Rich pardon received access to National Security Council-prepared transcripts of three Clinton-Barak conversations that dealt with the Rich pardon . . . The transcripts offer no "smoking gun" showing that the former president was motivated by large donations to his presidential library or by generous campaign contributions. But the conversations do show that, in sharp contrast to the picture painted by some of his former aides, Clinton was keenly aware of details of the Rich case, and appeared determined to grant the highly questionable pardon even though, as he admitted to Barak, there was "almost no precedent in American history."

BRIAN BLOMQUIST, NY POST: Anti-Defamation League Director Abraham Foxman admitted he sought a presidential pardon for Marc Rich a month after his group accepted a $100,000 donation from the billionaire financier. Foxman, leader of one of the nation's largest Jewish groups, wrote a letter to then-President Bill Clinton on Dec. 7, urging a pardon for Rich . . . Foxman said last Monday that he regretted writing to Clinton, saying he had a change of heart after learning the feds had offered to let Rich return to the United States on bail to face his legal troubles . . . The ADL acknowledged that Foxman and Rich's Israeli representative, former Mossad agent Avner Azulay, met in Paris last February to discuss ways to resolve Rich's legal problems. Foxman recommended to Azulay that Rich seek a pardon by using his ex-wife Denise Rich - a major contributor to the Clintons' campaigns and to Bill Clinton's library - as an intermediary.

JAMES RIDGEWAY, VILLAGE VOICE: Investigators from the US Attorney's office have been poring through dusty records stashed in a New York court storeroom, looking for clues as to whether Marc Rich, the onetime fugitive financier, used his former wife, the songwriter Denise Rich, to pass political contributions to Bill and Hillary Clinton in exchange for a January pardon. All sides deny any wrongdoing. At the heart of the investigators' search is a 1993 New York lawsuit, filed by Denise Rich against her ex-husband, whom she accused of defrauding her, as well as the children's trusts. As confusing as the case is, it raises the question of Denise's role in Marc's business:

CHARLES THOMPSON II & TONY HAYS, WORLD NET DAILY: In his frenetic last day in office, Bill Clinton issued 177 pardons and commutations. More than 30 of these didn't go through the rigorous screening process that typically takes 18 to 24 months and is designed to weed out people who continued to break the law. And more than six weeks after Clinton departed the White House, Justice Department officials are still at a loss as to who many of these people are or how they received presidential pardons and commutations….

Bill flirted outrageously with Denise, reveals a source, "and when Hillary caught wind of the untold number of visits Denise made to the White House when Hillary was away, she went ballistic."

Forced to explain her involvement in the presidential pardons, Hillary called a press conference and used it to distance herself from her husband. She never mentioned him by name and referred to Bill as 'the president" or "him."

ROBERT WINDREM, NBC NEWS Newly available financial data shows that Denise Rich's giving to the Democratic Party and the Clintons intensified dramatically over the past two years, ending in a final rush as the Clintons neared their White House exit. An NBC News analysis of documents on file with various federal agencies, including the Federal Election Commission, the Internal Revenue Service and government ethics office shows that while Rich gave at least $1.5 million to Clinton-related political, legal and charitable organizations during the last decade, the majority of the giving - more than $900,000 - came over the final two years of the Clinton era - just before her ex-husband, Marc Rich, was pardoned. More than $200,000 came in a spurt during the final six months, $140,000 of that in September, October and November, as her ex-husband's team of lawyers, led by former White House counsel Jack Quinn, began pressing Clinton for a pardon.

NILES LATHEM, NY POST: Billionaire Marc Rich lived a double life during his 20 years as a fugitive, funneling secret data to Israeli and other intelligence services about some unsavory governments. Sensational details about Rich's ultimate high-wire act as a spy for Israel and other countries were provided to The Post as congressional committees prepare to hold hearings into former President Bill Clinton's controversial decision to pardon the fugitive commodities trader. Among the issues that will be explored by the House Oversight Committee in its probe of the hotly disputed Rich pardon, according to congressional sources, are:

* Rich's lengthy relationship with the Israeli Mossad.

* His numerous contacts with federal prosecutors in New York, during which his lawyers offered to provide intelligence to the CIA in return for leniency.

A CIA spokesman denied any relationship with Rich and said no one from the agency participated in behind-the-scenes White House discussions about his pardon. But Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak repeatedly cited Rich's contributions to Israel's "national security" in phone calls to President Clinton last month in which he lobbied for Rich's pardon, according to Barak spokesman Gadi Baltiansky. And a letter from former Mossad chief Shabtai Shavit to Clinton confirming that Rich provided "assistance" to the Israeli spy agency that produced results "beyond the expected" was among the documents released last week by Rich's lawyer Jack Quinn to support the Rich pardon.

AMERICAN SPECTATOR: Hillary Clinton may be down in the dumps fashion-wise, but it doesn't necessarily mean her closet isn't filled with goodies. While New York is abuzz with talk about the gifts Denise Rich gave the Clintons, such as furniture for the new homes and a saxophone for Bill, the hottest items are said to be the four fur coats that Hillary received in the waning days of the Clinton presidency -- and that Denise Rich is said to have paid for.

NEWSMAX: Ex-President Clinton said that the William J. Clinton Presidential Foundation would pay half the $650,000 annual rent on his tony Manhattan post-presidential office space. But what he didn't tell reporters was that one of the high rolling donors who has apparently pledged at least $1 million to the cause is none other than Denise Rich, the New York City songwriter-socialite whose $1 million in Democratic party campaign contributions is believed to have influenced Clinton's decision to pardon her ex-husband, fugitive billionaire Marc Rich. The Clintons refuse to release a full list of the donors who have agreed to underwrite the ex-president's foundation, which is expected to consist mainly of a luxurious library complete with presidential apartment complex.

JACK NEWFIELD, NY POST - "We are just lucky that those seven escaped killer convicts from Texas didn't have time to hire Clinton's former counsel, Jack Quinn, the way Marc Rich did. Otherwise, Clinton might have pardoned them mid-flight."

NY TIMES EDITORIAL: Bill Clinton's last-minute pardon of Marc Rich, the shadowy commodities trader who fled to Switzerland in 1983 to avoid American justice, was a shocking abuse of presidential power and a reminder of why George W. Bush's vow to restore integrity to the Oval Office resonates with millions of Americans who otherwise disagree with the new president's politics. Unchecked by any other branch of government, the president's authority under the Constitution to pardon anyone charged with federal crimes is meant to be exercised with great restraint to correct an injustice or to further some societal good. Bestowing undeserved beneficence on a fugitive accused of evading $48 million in taxes and illegally trading with Iran in oil during the hostage crisis is hardly what the Constitution's framers had in mind.

WALL STREET JOURNAL, FEBRUARY 23, 2001 - Though the main charges pending against Mr. Rich when Bill Clinton pardoned him involved a complex tax-evasion scheme, Mr. Rich faced another serious allegation: He illegally traded with the enemy, prosecutors charged, by buying about $200 million worth of oil from Iran while revolutionaries allied with the Ayatollah Khomeini held 53 Americans hostage there in 1979-81.

Mr. Rich was never tried because he fled to Switzerland and renounced his American citizenship before being indicted in 1983. An examination of Mr. Rich's trading activities from Switzerland reveals that his multibillion-dollar commodities operation continued doing business with countries that the U.S. deemed unworthy trading partners for supporting terrorism or abusing human rights.

Considering itself unfettered by American restrictions, Mr. Rich's business not only conducted additional deals in Iran, it also traded with Libya, Cuba and South Africa, all at times when U.S. citizens and companies were barred from doing so. The Wall Street Journal confirmed the deals -- involving oil, aluminum and other commodities -- in interviews with more than a dozen former Rich traders and executives as well as with competitors, industry analysts and government officials.


RAYMOND HERNANDEZ, NY TIMES - Denise Rich, Malcolm S. Forbes, Nelson Mandela and other friends and supporters of the Clintons showered the couple with roughly $1 million in previously unreported gifts during the Clinton presidency, according to documents released by Republican Congressional investigators. The gifts vary from tens of thousands of dollars in jewelry, rugs and furnishings to a $90,000 framed handwritten letter by President Harry S. Truman, a $10,000 Mickey Mantle trading card from 1952 and nine rare books, according to the documents.

The gifts were not disclosed by the Clintons because the couple turned them over to Bill Clinton's presidential library, the investigators said. Under federal law, gifts that the first family do not keep for themselves are exempt from the public disclosure requirement on presidential gifts, the investigators said. . .

The report contains a new round of potentially embarrassing information. It documents an array of gifts that the Clintons received and the names of the people who gave those gifts. There was a $2,000 bronze statue of an angel from Denise Rich; a $9,000 hand-woven Navajo chief's blanket (circa 1885) from Larry Rockefeller; and an oil painted in a gilt frame, a cheese plate, a porcelain teapot, a gold cross and other items totaling $6,000 from Nelson Mandela. . .

The report also shows that the former first family received gifts from individuals who were at the center of the Clinton White House campaign finance scandals. To investigators and others, that suggests that the gifts became another avenue for influencing the administration. There was a $2,100 sculpture of a goddess on a wooden base given by James Riady, an Indonesian businessman who pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations last year and agreed to pay $8.6 million in fines for using foreign corporate money to back Mr. Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign. The Clintons also received two sculptures worth $1,550 from Johnny Chung, who was at the center of a 1996 campaign fund-raising investigation.

JERRY SEPER, WASHINGTON TIMES, MAY 2002 - Former White House Counsel Jack Quinn and former Deputy Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. sought to cut the Justice Department out of a decision by President Clinton to pardon fugitive financier Marc Rich, according to a congressional report. The 467-page report, to be released by the House Government Reform Committee, said Mr. Quinn and Mr. Holder "worked together" to ensure that department officials - particularly federal prosecutors in New York who handled the Rich case - "did not have the opportunity to express an opinion on the Rich pardon before it was granted . . . The evidence amassed by the committee indicates that Holder advised Quinn to file the Rich pardon petition with the White House, and leave the Justice Department out of the process," the report said."


ABC NEWS - Former American fugitive Marc Rich was a middleman for several of Iraq's suspect oil deals in February 2001, just one month after his pardon from President Clinton, according to oil industry shipping records obtained by ABC News. And a U.S. criminal investigation is looking into whether Rich, as well as several other prominent oil traders, made illegal payments to Iraq in order to obtain the lucrative oil contracts. . . Rich is still living in Switzerland and unavailable for comment.

WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL, NOVEMBER 2004 - the last thing we want to do is dampen the festivities in Little Rock, where the Clinton Presidential Center is opening today, but does anybody remember Marc Rich? He's the fugitive financier who was pardoned by President Bill Clinton on his way out of office -- after Mr. Rich's ex-wife, songwriter Denise Rich, gave $450,000 to the foundation raising money for this very same library. The pardon scandal spotlighted a dangerous gap in financial disclosure rules: Sitting presidents are free to raise millions for their future presidential libraries without having to reveal who is writing the checks.

This lack of disclosure was outrageous even before the pardon scandal erupted: Mr. Clinton was vacuuming up six- and seven-figure pledges from his White House perch, and there was no way for the public to know what interests these donors had before the government or what favors they might be receiving. It's even more outrageous that this practice remains legal after the revelations of Mr. Clinton's final-days pardons. The House passed a measure two years ago that would have required disclosure, but the Senate failed to act; with the topic out of the headlines, lawmakers seem to have lost interest.


JEFFREY ST. CLAIR, COUNTERPUNCH -Hillary has never addressed her role in the Rich pardon. In fact, she's rarely been asked her opinion on the free pass given to one of the world's most wanted fugitives, a man who violated embargoes against Iran and South Africa and fled the country rather than face trial in what was billed as "the biggest tax evasion case in history." The senator has variously said that she was "unaware" of the decision and "surprised" by it. When pressed, she merely cackles.

Even though 300 pages of core documents relating to the pardon decision remain under seal at the Clinton Library, a review of the available record tells a much different story. In fact, the Rich legal team viewed Hillary as a secret weapon, and as one door after another closed on their search for a pardon they focused more and more on invoking what Rich lawyer Robert Fink called the "HRC option."…

The machinations to secure a pardon from Bill Clinton for Marc Rich began in earnest in the fall of 1998, when Rich's public relations flack in the U.S., Gershon Kekst, squirmed his way into a seat next to Eric Holder, the number two in the Clinton Justice Department, at big D.C. party thrown by Daimler/Chrysler. Without mentioning Rich by name, Kekst asked Holder how a man of considerable resources might be relieved of the burden of being "unproperly indicted by an overzealous prosecutor."

Holder took a sip of wine and told Kekst that such a man would need to hire a D.C. lawyer who knows the ropes and has deep connections inside the Clinton administration. "He comes to me and we work it out," confided Holder.

"Can you recommend such a person?" Kekst inquired.

Holder pointed to a man sitting at a nearby table. "There's Jack Quinn," Holder whispered. "He's a perfect example."

Kekst dutifully wrote down Quinn's name, did some research on the former lawyer for the Clintons, and transmitted the joyful news to the Rich camp.

There is every indication that Holder was trying to drum up business for Quinn, a partner at the powerhouse firm of Arnold and Porter, as well as a top advisor for Al Gore's presidential campaign. Holder was desperate to have Quinn's backing in his doomed bid to become attorney general…

The scene shifts to a crowded restaurant in Paris. It's Valentine's Day. Two men are having dinner and drinking wine. They know each other well. One man has just received a $100,000 contribution from the other man's boss. The man on the receiving end of the money is Abe Foxman, and the financial gift was for his group the Anti-Defamation League. The man picking up the hefty dinner tab is Avner Azulay - though Marc Rich will soon reimburse him.

Rich has one last shot, Foxman advises. They need to get directly to Bill and Hillary. And the key to unlocking the inner doors of the White House, Foxman told Azulay, is Denise Rich. Foxman confided that he and Denise had flown together on Air Force II to the funeral of Yitzak Rabin. There was just one problem. Denise Rich still loathed her husband. Entreaties are made to Denise, now a New York socialite and successful songwriter, by Quinn and others on the Rich teams. Three times "Denise Rich declines to come to the rescue of her former husband.

Then suddenly, in November 2000, she agrees to help. What made her change her mind?

That remains open to speculation, but given Marc Rich's history and Denise's view that she was shortchanged in the divorce, it may well have involved a financial offering. This much is known. On November 16, Avner Azulay flies to New York and takes Denise to dinner. He pleads for her to back Rich's pardon to her friends Bill and Hillary. Two days later Denise consents.

Denise calls her close friend Beth Dozoretz for help in the best way to handle the matter. Another rich Manhattan socialite, Dozoretz had been the finance chair of the Democratic National Committee. Dozoretz had contributed more than $1 million to Democratic coffers. Bill Clinton was the godfather of her daughter.

Dozoretz who, like Denise Rich, would later plead the Fifth at a Senate hearing in the matter, helped Rich craft her strategy. Almost immediately, a check for $25,000 was sent from Denise Rich's account to the DNC. This was soon followed by Denise Rich's first letter to the Clintons, imploring them to pardon her ex-husband. Dozoretz also helped Rich bundle a $450,000 contribution to the Clinton library fund. (A Democratic fundraiser told the New York Times in 2001 that Denise had also pledged another million in four installments over the next two years. This figure was disputed by Denise Rich. But the donor lists to the Clinton Foundation are kept secret.) In all, Denise Rich made at least $1.1 million in contributions to Democratic causes, including $70,000 to Hillary's Senate campaign and PACs, and at least $450,000 to the Clinton foundation.

For her part, Dozoretz kicked in another million of her own money to the fund. This is the same library that now refuses to release more than 300 pages of Clinton's records relating to the pardon. She later lavished gifts on the Clintons as they left the White House, including antique furniture for the new home and golf clubs for Bill.

As Dozoretz and Denise Rich plotted their strategy, Quinn and Azulay sought another opening. In a December 19, 2000, email to Quinn, Azulay emphasizes the importance of Hillary's role in the affair. She has just been elected senator from New York, where Rich was indicted. If there was to be fallout, it might backfire on Hillary. She would need reassurance. Dozoretz and Denise would provide financial aid, but she might also need political cover. Azulay recommends Abraham Burg, former speaker of the Knesset. "Burg is on very friendly terms with Hilary (sic) and knows POTUS from previous contacts."

The next night there's a party at the White House honoring Barbra Streisand, Quincy Jones and Maya Angelou. Dozoretz and Denise are invited, and Denise lands a plum seat at the presidential table. Denise is wearing a burgundy ball gown trimmed in fox fur. She eats little and talks less. After dinner, Denise espies Bill having an intimate conversation with Streisand. She rushes across the room, cuts in on Babs and whisks Bill away. She makes an impassioned plea for the ex-husband , who had humiliated her, stuffs a letter into Bill's hand and whispers, "I could not bear it were I to learn you did not see my letter." When Denise arrives home, she makes a call to Lucerne. It's the first time she has talked to Marc Rich since the divorce. She describes her meeting with Clinton. Her friends say she ended the conversation by telling Rich: "You owe me."

A week later the Rich team is getting antsy. There's still been no word on how Hillary feels. Rich's New York attorney Robert Fink sends an email to Quinn: "Of all the options we discussed, the only one that seems to have real potential for making a difference is the Hillary option."

Quinn, Dozoretz, Burg and, perhaps, Denise call Hillary's people. They are told that the senator needs cover. According to a December 26 email from Azulay titled "Chuck Schumer": "Hillary shall feel more at ease if she is joined by her elder sen. of NY, who also represents the Jewish population."

Gershon Kekst leaps at the opportunity, firing an email to Fink looking for Schumer's pressure points:

"Can Quinn tell us who is close enough to lean on Schumer?? I am willing to call him but have no real clout. Jack might be able to tell us who the top contributors are … maybe Bernard Schwartz??"

Bernard Schwartz was a good guess. The former CEO of Loral (a Friend of Bill and Marc Rich) was a top DNC contributor and had lavished money on both Schumer and Hillary. Schwartz also donated $1 million to the Clinton library fund.

But Quinn had been around Washington a long time. He knew enough not to trust Schumer, a famous media hog who was already showing signs of being jealous of the attention Hillary was getting. Quinn notes: "I have to believe that the contact with HRC can happen w/o him after all, we are not looking for a public show of support from her."..

It's now January 19, 2001. Jack Quinn is sitting at a board meeting of Fanny Mae. He quietly types a message to Denise on his Blackberry. (It's not known if he bills both clients for this hour of his time.) The text message urges Denise to make one last call to Bill. Quinn tells her not to "argue merits" but merely to explain to Clinton that "it is important to me personally."

Though both women will later dispute it, the Secret Service logs show that the next afternoon at 5:30, Beth and Denise were admitted to the private quarters of the White House. This was Denise's nineteenth visit to the White House. Beth had visited the White House 76 times in merely the last two years. The logs do not record when the women departed. This is the encounter that appears to have consummated the pardon.

At 2:30 in the morning on January 20, Clinton gets a call from his National Security Advisor. Marc Rich's name has surfaced in an intelligence file in connection with an international arms smuggling network. Clinton calls Quinn. Quinn says the allegations are bogus. Bill turns to his staff, all of whom oppose the pardon that is now being signed. "Take Jack's word," Clinton snapped. Later Clinton will claim to have been "sleep deprived" when he signed the pardon, an excuse that his wife would resurrect to explain her fabulation of her landing under sniper fire in Bosnia.

Marc Rich bought his pardon and now flies freely in his private jet, while Leonard Peltier languishes in prison with no hope of release. That sums up Clintonism.