WASHINGTON -- The investigation into former President Clinton's last-minute pardons is widening amid revelations that his wife's brother collected nearly $400,000 for helping secure a pardon and a prison commutation for two clients.
At the request of the Clintons, Hugh Rodham refunded the payments Wednesday. A congressional investigative committee immediately demanded documents and answers.
Clinton and his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., said they were unaware of the arrangements with Rodham and were "deeply disturbed" by what had happened.
Rodham contacted Clinton's closest adviser in the White House, Bruce Lindsey, at least once in connection with one of the cases, which involved a major political contributor's son convicted on drug charges, legal sources said.
Rodham "acceded to his family's request that he return legal fees earned in connection with pardon requests," his attorney Nancy Luque said.
"Their request, presumably made because of the appearance of impropriety, is one he cannot ignore," Luque said. "There was, however, no impropriety in these matters."
Legal sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Rodham, who is a lawyer, was paid for months of work on the prison commutation request of Carlos Vignali and received a "success fee" for helping win the pardon of Almon Glenn Braswell.
The money included $200,000 after the Braswell pardon was granted and the rest paid over a period time as Rodham worked on the Vignali commutation, the sources said. They declined to provide an exact amount but said it totaled just below $400,000. The money was returned to Braswell and Vignali's family, the sources said.
"Yesterday I became aware of press inquires that Hugh Rodham received a contingency fee in connection with a pardon application for Glenn Braswell and a fee for work on Carlos Vignali's commutation application," the former president said in a statement. "Neither Hillary nor I had any knowledge of such payments. We are deeply disturbed by these reports and have insisted that Hugh return any monies received."
Mrs. Clinton added, "I was very disturbed to learn that my brother ... received fees in connection with two clemency applications. Hugh did not speak with me about these applications."
A source close to the former president, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Lindsey had been contacted by Rodham and was aware of Rodham's involvement with the Vignali request. The source said Lindsey did not know about the presidential relative's involvement in the Braswell matter.
The source said Clinton didn't know Rodham was working on behalf of the two pardon applicants and the decisions on both men were made on the merits of their situations.
The Braswell pardon has generated controversy because after it was granted on Jan. 20 it was disclosed that the businessman was under investigation on new allegations.
Braswell didn't apply for his pardon through the Justice Department, but Vignali did seek his commutation through the department in August 1998.
The 140 pardons and 36 commutations Clinton granted just hours before President Bush took office have generated criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike and prompted congressional probe and a U.S. attorney's criminal investigation.
In the Vignali matter, numerous political figures lobbied to commute his drug sentence, including Roman Catholic Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, a sheriff and community leaders. Vignali walked out of prison Jan. 20 after serving six years of a 15-year sentence for participating in a major cocaine ring. He is the son of Horacio Vignali, a wealthy Los Angeles political contributor.
Braswell, 57, was convicted for fraud and other crimes stemming from false claims in 1983 about the effectiveness of a treatment for baldness. He was sentenced to three years in federal prison followed by five years' probation.
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