Former President Bill Clinton's pardon of financier Marc Rich has by now been roundly condemned across the political spectrum; everyone assumes it was tawdry.
Indeed, the pardon may have been a mistake on several grounds. But there is another side, and it isn't being told very effectively. Two weeks ago, three former Clinton aides testified about the pardon before Rep. Dan Burton's House committee. Headlines the next day reported that all three had advised against the pardon but also denied any quid pro quo for donations to Democrats or Clinton's library.
On the same day, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, Lewis Libby, also testified. That testimony by Libby, who served for years as a lawyer for Marc Rich, was largely missed by the media.
Several weeks ago, Clinton wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times. It formed the basis for questions that Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., posed to Libby. Waxman asked Libby to respond to each reason Clinton gave for the pardon:
-- "Other oil companies that had structured transactions like those in which Mr. Rich and Mr. Green were indicted, were instead sued civilly by the government." Libby agreed that was true.
-- "In a related case against a trading partner of Mr. Rich and Mr. Green, the Energy Department, which was responsible for enforcing the governing law, found that the manner in which the Rich-Green companies had accounted for these transactions was proper."
Libby said Clinton was right.
-- "Two highly regarded tax experts ... reviewed the transactions in question, and concluded that the companies were correct in their U.S. income tax treatment of all of the items in question, and that there was no unreported federal income, or additional tax liability attributable to any of the challenged transactions." Again, Libby said Clinton was right.
-- "In order to settle the government's case against them, the two men's companies had paid approximately $200 million in fines, penalties and taxes, most of which might not even have been warranted under the ... analysis that the companies had followed the law, and correctly reported their income." Libby said Clinton's statement was correct.
-- "The Justice Department, in 1989, rejected the use of racketeering statutes in tax cases like this one." Yes, Libby responded, that was his understanding.
All of which led Waxman to say, "President Clinton apparently concluded that Mr. Rich had not committed the crimes he had been accused of. Do you agree with this? Do you think that Mr. Rich is a tax fraud and a criminal, or do you agree with former President Clinton's assessments of the merits of the case?"
Libby responded, "I believe, sir, that based on all of the evidence available to defense counsel, the best interpretation of the evidence is that they did not (word missing) any civil -- any tax, even as a civil matter. That would be the interpretation given by the two tax professors."
"And therefore," Waxman suggested, "that there should not have been a criminal liability."
"Based on the evidence available to the defense, that would be correct, sir," said Libby.
Reasonable people can disagree on the wisdom of the pardon. But reasonable people also can agree that judgments should be based on the whole story. That's called fairness.
-- Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
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