Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Context: The Amazing Marc Rich Pardon Application

Judicial Watch has recently announced that it has received an "official" copy of the Marc Rich / Pincus Green pardon application via a FOIA request. I have had the application in hand for several years now and composed a brief description of it in a passage in my forthcoming book, Pardon Me, Mr. President: Adventures in Crime, Politics and Mercy. Below is a snippet:
... The application for pardon, submitted on December 11, well emphasized what must surely have been considered to be the single most important detail by the applicants. The first two sentences of the “Executive Summary” (page two) which followed a cover sheet read:
This petition sets for the request of Mr. Marc Rich and Mr. Pincus Green for a Presidential Pardon. Mr. Rich and Mr. Green are internationally recognized businessmen and philanthropists who have contributed over $200,000,000 to charity in the past twenty years, and donated countless hours to humanitarian
causes around the world.
There followed a second, more traditional, line of argumentation which explained that Rich and Green were seeking a pardon, even though they had “never been convicted of criminal offenses,” because they had been “wrongfully indicted” in an “unfair and unwarranted” manner. Rich and Green were said to have a “complete defense” against the “accusations” in the indictment against them, although the cynic might have wondered why such wealthy, confident fugitives would not simply return to the United States, beat the flimsy charges against them, embarrass the over-zealous prosecutors who were out to get them personally and swiftly clear their honorable names in court.
But the pardon application attempted to ease the burden of such curiosity, first, by describing Rich and Green as being “in exile.” Secondly, the application noted the return of the fugitives was “untenable” because they would face “immediate incarceration” and a “certain media circus.” As a result, it was “illusory” to think that the United States was even capable of giving the two men a “fair trial.”

There followed the first formal section of the application. It claimed Rich and Green had lived “exemplary” and “remarkable lives” since the “alleged offenses.” But the section lamented the “terrible hardships” they had suffered as a result of their “exile” from the United States. Despite this burden, Rich and Green had continued to “work productively” and to “contribute to society.” Indeed, the application claimed the fugitives had made “substantial contributions” to the world economy by “increasing competition” in the physical commodities industries. Finally, the application emphasized Rich and Green were “hard-working” and “resourceful” businessmen who “devoted much time and money to philanthropy and statesmanship.” The point really could not have been made more clear: Rich and Green had a great deal of money!
The highlight of the one-and-a-half-inch thick pardon application, however, may have been what were purported to be 70 letters of “support,” arranged in two separate sections. Many of the letters were written by individuals who had received financial assistance from Marc Rich. Others were apparently misled as to the purpose of letters they were asked to write. Likewise, the application misrepresented the content of the letters. It was almost as if whoever prepared the application was either assuming that it would not be carefully read (much less investigated) or knew that it would not be a very critical factor in obtaining a pardon.
One of Rich’s lawyers later admitted that not everyone was “necessarily told” that the letters they had written (most of which were composed in late November and December of 2000) would become part of a pardon application. This may very well have explained the fact that most of them made no mention at all of a presidential pardon. One individual was actually told that his letter would be used in a book honoring Rich and a foundation. Nonetheless, the headings for the two sections of the pardon application which featured the letters both contained the phrase “Support for the Pardon of Marc Rich.” [1]
Why would a pair of record-breaking tax cheats and fugitives from justice even bother to apply for a pardon? And why would they do so in such a disingenuous manner? Did they really think they would get a pardon from a president who so rarely handed them out? [2] Such compelling questions could perhaps only be answered in extravagant ways. Yet, for many, as notorious as the fugitives were, and however clumsy their pardon application, there was little mystery at all. After the fact, it appeared the “shot” may not have been very “long” to begin with.
From 1993 to 2000, a single individual gave over $1 million to Democrats in federal political causes. That same individual contributed over $600,000 in the last two years of the Clinton administration, including a $450,000 donation to the struggling Clinton Presidential Library. She was considered one of the Democratic Party’s largest and most reliable fundraisers, and she could brag of having developed a “close relationship” with the First Lady. Indeed, the donor contributed more than $100,000 to the First Lady’s campaign for a New York Senate seat. When the generous donor sent two letters directly to the President calling for the pardon of Marc Rich and discussed the matter with him personally on at least three other occasions, there was every reason to think that the President was paying very close attention.
The impressive donor was none other than Denise Rich, who had been married to Marc Rich for 25 years and had three of his children. Mrs. Rich left the United States with her husband in 1983 and remained with him for eight years, but she claimed that she had no idea that her husband was a fugitive featured on the “Most Wanted” list. Mrs. Rich did later learn, however, that her husband was having an affair with a German-born woman and divorced him in 1992. The former Mrs. Rich, who left the marriage with a settlement of somewhere between $500 and $900 million, claimed that she had “forgiven” her former husband in the years that followed. The New York Times reported Marc Rich and Pincus Green were promising a combined yearly contribution of $1 million to her charitable foundation right about the time that she was lobbying President Clinton for a pardon.
Marc Rich was also fortunate enough to be able to hire Jack Quinn, Clinton’s former White House counsel, to obtain the pardon. Quinn had greater access to the highest levels of decision-making in government than most and, later, Clinton repeatedly emphasized that he relied heavily on information and advice provided by Quinn. As Rich’s lawyer, Quinn bypassed the normal procedures associated with presidential pardons because … he could. The pardon application was sent directly to the President, and Quinn discussed the matter with him personally. The guidelines for pardon applications established by the Department of Justice were ignored altogether, and the U.S. attorney’s office was not consulted. The U.S. pardon attorney was actually informed of the pardon late in the night before it was signed ...

[1] Perhaps the approach of the Rich application constituted a mere “white lie.” In 1885, Grover Cleveland commuted the sentence of a Cincinnati police lieutenant who held over one hundred African Americans captive in order to prevent them from voting. Cleveland explained his decision, in part, on the ground that “first class” citizens signed a petition for his relief. Two weeks later, it was revealed that the signature of a colonel on the petition was forged.

[2] After steadily declining for forty years, the number of clemency applications abruptly increased in fiscal years 1992 and 1993. But no one was pardoned in the first 22 months of the Clinton administration, and the term ended with the lowest number of pardons granted since the first term of Thomas Jefferson. Clinton granted the first pardons of the second term after 28 months of inactivity and appeared to be on track to be one of the least generous presidents in history.

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