WASHINGTON -- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton called her brother's decision to take money to lobby for pardons a "terrible misjudgment" as a House committee began investigating whether President Clinton's brother, Roger, influenced the last-minute executive actions.
Mrs. Clinton said Thursday she "did not have any involvement" in the pardons her husband granted on his way out of the White House. However, she said she was "very disappointed" with her brother, lawyer Hugh Rodham, and the $400,000 he received for his work on behalf of a prison commutation request of Carlos Vignali and the pardon of Almon Glenn Braswell.
"I was just heartbroken and shocked by it and, you know, immediately said it was a terrible misjudgment and the money had to be returned," the former first lady said.
Rodham returned the money to the families of the men.
As Mrs. Clinton, D-N.Y., was expressing her dismay, the House Government Reform Committee was sending a letter to the former president's brother asking him whether he was involved in any of the pardons.
"The committee has received reports that you were involved in representing individuals seeking pardons from President Clinton," the committee's chairman, Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., wrote.
Burton asked specifically for Roger Clinton to explain whether he was involved in the pardons or commutations of Vignali, Braswell, Phillip Young and Mitchell Couey Wood before the committee holds its next hearing March 1.
Committee spokesman Mark Corallo refused to comment on the letter.
The former president's office confirmed late Thursday that Roger Clinton lobbied the president on behalf of several friends and associates who were seeking pardons. The president turned down all of them, a Clinton spokeswoman said.
"Roger did ask the president to consider a list of less than 10 names of friends and acquaintances," the spokeswoman, Julia Payne, said. "None of those pardons were granted nor did he receive any money."
Young, of Little Rock, Ark., was convicted of interstate transportation and sale of fish and wildlife, while Wood, of Sherwood, Ark., was convicted of conspiracy to possess and distribute cocaine.
Vignali, the son of a major campaign contributor in Los Angeles, was serving a 15-year sentence on a drug conviction; Braswell was convicted for fraud and other crimes stemming from false claims in 1983 about the effectiveness of a treatment for baldness.
Roger Clinton, a singer, got his own pardon -- one of 140 the president made on his final day in office -- for a 1985 drug charge. Roger Clinton was arrested Monday for investigation of drunken driving in Los Angeles. His personal manager, Vickie Crawford, refused to comment.
President Bush said he believes Congress has a right to investigate the pardons granted by his predecessor, and Burton insisted on "full compliance" with a subpoena for records from the William J. Clinton Presidential Foundation.
The group, chartered to establish Clinton's presidential library, received $450,000 in donations from Denise Rich, the ex-wife of fugitive financier Marc Rich, who was one of Clinton's pardon recipients.
In addition, there was a fresh disclosure Thursday that Mrs. Clinton's campaign treasurer was paid $4,000 in legal fees to prepare two pardon applications that were sent to the Justice Department. William Cunningham III said he had never contacted the White House about the cases, or spoken with either of the Clintons about them. Cunningham's law partner is Clinton adviser Harold Ickes, but he, too, said he never spoke to the couple about the cases. Cunningham said Ickes referred two Arkansas pardon-seekers, both Republicans, to him about a week before Clinton left office.
The two men, Robert Clinton Fain and James Lowell Manning, were convicted in the 1980s on tax charges.
The former first lady described Cunningham as a "fine lawyer and a fine man. ... Lawyers from all over the country were involved in these matters."
Mrs. Clinton is struggling with an issue that has contributed to a drop in her popularity as well as her husband's, and has overshadowed the beginning of her Senate career.
She refused to answer questions about the pardons themselves, or whether her husband should appear voluntarily before Congress to respond to questions about them.
Bush commented somewhat gingerly, telling reporters he had other issues to attend to. Asked what advice he would offer his own relatives -- who include a former president and a sitting governor -- the president replied sharply, "My guidance to them is behave yourself -- and they will."
Apart from the pardons, the Clintons felt compelled to return furniture they moved out of the White House after questions arose about ownership. And one reporter asked Mrs. Clinton whether there was any connection between furniture delivered to her Washington home during the day and Ms. Rich.
"Nothing to do -- not at all," she said.
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