Friday, March 7, 2008

Campaign 08: Pardon the Vetting, Mrs. Clinton

Hillary Clinton loves to take credit for being an active participant in her husband's administration and boasts that she has been "vetted" as a candidate many times over. But USA Today reports that archivists at the Clinton Presidential Library are blocking the release of hundreds of pages of White House papers on pardons that the former president approved, including clemency for fugitive commodities trader Marc Rich. The decision to do so is "based on guidance provided by Bill Clinton that restricts the disclosure of advice he received from aides, prevents public scrutiny of documents that would shed light on how he decided which pardons to approve from among hundreds of requests." The article also notes:

... Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., criticized Sen. Clinton this week for not doing more to see that records from her husband's administration are made public. "She's been reluctant to disclose information," Obama's chief strategist David Axelrod told reporters in a conference call where he specifically cited the slow release records from the Clinton library. "If she's not willing to be open with (voters) on these issues
now, why would she be open as president."

In January 2006, USA TODAY requested documents about the pardons under the Freedom of Information Act. The library made 4,000 pages available this week. However, 1,500 pages were either partially redacted or withheld entirely, including 300 pages covering internal White House communications on pardon decisions, such as memos to and from the president, and reports on which pardon requests the Justice Department opposed ...

... Clinton issued 140 pardons on his last day in office, including several to controversial figures, such as commodities trader Rich, then a fugitive on tax evasion charges. Rich's ex-wife, Denise, contributed $2,000 in 1999 to Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign; $5,000 to a related political action committee; and $450,000 to a fund set up to build the Clinton library. The president also pardoned two men who each paid Sen. Clinton's brother, Hugh Rodham, about $200,000 to lobby the White House for pardons — one for a drug conviction and one for mail fraud and perjury convictions, according to a 2002 report by the House committee on government reform. After the payments came to light, Bill Clinton issued a statement: "Neither Hillary nor I had any knowledge of such payments," the report said.

... In 2004, Judicial Watch, a conservative public interest group, went to court to force the Bush administration to release Justice Department records on Clinton's pardons, and a federal judge ordered that the records be opened. But the administration, which argued that such releases would undermine presidents' ability to get confidential advice, blacked out most of the documents it made public. Christopher Farrell, a Judicial Watch director, noted that the pardon documents withheld also included all Justice Department reports that were sent to Clinton with recommendations on which clemency requests he should deny. Farrell disputed the privacy concerns. "It's ridiculous," he said. "These are people who were convicted in a court, and those cases are a matter of public record."

In a sense, little about this story is "new." Secrecy has been the hallmark of the clemency process since Franklin Roosevelt stopped reporting clemency decisions in the Annual Report of the Attorney General in 1932.

But it does highlight what Mrs. Clinton means when she uses the word "vetted." In her vocabulary, "vetted" means she has "clumsily rebutted scrutiny without significant consequence." This can be seen over and over throughout her political career. She had no idea where her Whitewater law firm records were. After years of inquiry they just showed up in a box, in a closet, in her place of residence. Her explanation: "I did not know they were there." Her own brother accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars to impact clemency decisions in her husband's administration. Her explanation: "I knew nothing." Did Roger Clinton ask for a pardon? "I do not know." Marc Rich? "I never knew about Marc Rich at all." Mrs. Clinton met with a Jewish community in New York that was seeking controversial pardons and set up a private meeting for them with the President. She was in the room during the meeting but said afterward, "I said nothing. I expressed no opinion." Of course, she knew "nothing" about the FALN pardons either. Yes, she was in the middle of a high profile Senate race and such pardons would clearly been seen as an effort to pull more voters to her side. But she knew nothing of the pardons until afterward and did not discuss them with her husband.

What can you say about Mrs. Clinton? To vet her is to not know her. See USA Today story here.

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