January 20, 2016

Top 5 Controversial Clinton Pardons (In Addition To Marc Rich)

As the Washington Examiner’s Paul Bedard observed, today marks the 15th anniversary of the “blockbuster presidential disgrace” that ended the Clinton administration: His controversial pardon of international fugitive Marc Rich, whose case was lobbied by his ex-wife, a prominent Democratic Party donor and Clinton supporter, and Clinton’s former White House counsel, Jack Quinn.

However, the Marc Rich pardon was only one of 176 last-minute pardons and clemency orders issued by Clinton on his last day in office, 47 of which were granted without first being fully examined by the Justice Department’s pardon attorney’s office. As The New York Times reported in the weeks of controversy that followed, Clinton and his close aides were lobbied by “a wide array of private individuals, public relations firms, advocacy groups, officeholders, business executives, foreign leaders, campaign donors, and even family members” during the administration’s final weeks. And it shows.

Here are 5 controversial pardons and commutations, in addition to the Marc Rich episode:

1 – 2. Almon Grenn Braswell & Carlos Vignali: Hugh Rodham, Hillary Clinton’s brother, received nearly $400,000 in fees for successfully lobbying for a pardon for Almon Glenn Braswell, a businessman convicted of mail fraud and perjury, and Carlos Vignali, who was convicted for conspiring to sell 800 pounds of cocaine.

Not only did Braswell’s pardon circumvent the customary Justice Department review, federal prosecutors complained that the pardon interfered with an ongoing criminal investigation into his business. Federal prosecutors in Minnesota also opposed Vignali’s release. The recommendation of the Justice Department, which had reviewed his request for clemency, was not disclosed.

Bill and Hillary Clinton both issued statements in which they said they were “disturbed” by the reports, insisted they were never lobbied, and called on Rodham to return the fees. However, a 2002 House Government Reform Committee report found that Rodham repeatedly misled the White House about the Vignali commutation, suggested that Hillary Clinton was also behind it and, contradicting his public statements, returned less than one-fourth of the $204,000 fee he collected from the Vignali family.

3. Harvey Weinig: Harvey Weinig was serving an 11-year sentence for “facilitating an extortion-kidnapping scheme and helping launder at least $19 million for the Cali cocaine cartel,” when Clinton granted him clemency. Clinton’s decision defied the recommendations of the Justice Department, which Weinig had petitioned for a commutation in April 2000. This time, Weinig’s wife, Alice Morey, enlisted the help of his cousin, David Dreyer, who had been a speechwriter for Clinton, and both Morey and Weinig’s attorney, Reid Weingarten, lobbied key Clinton aides, including John Podesta, Bruce Lindsey, and Harold Ickes.

4. The New Square Four: One of Clinton’s most curious decisions was the commutations of the sentences of Kalmen Stern, David Goldstein, Benjamin Berger, and Jacob Elbaum, who had been convicted for inventing a fictitious religious school and swindling the government out of $40 million. The four men also happened to be followers of Rabbi David Twersky, an influential rabbi in the Hasidic village of New Square. Twersky met with Clinton on two occasions: In an August 2000 reception in New Square for Clinton’s Senate campaign and in a December 2000 meeting in the White House, where the issue of clemency was said to be discussed. Within that time, the residents of New Square supported Clinton over her opponent, Rick Lazio, in the 2000 Senate election – by a vote of 1,400 to 12.

The case, as New York Daily News observed at the time, “helped create a dark cloud over the start of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Senate career by creating suspicions the clemency was given in exchange for New Square’s backing her candidacy.”

5. John Deutch: Clinton’s former CIA director, John Deutch, was subject to a formal security investigation after classified material was discovered on the government-owned computer at his residence. It was subsequently revealed Deutch had similar security lapses when he served in the Defense Department. Perhaps this foreshadowed Hillary Clinton’s later, less-than rigorous concern for the laws governing classified materials.

Clinton’s pardon not only spared Deutch from facing criminal charges over his mishandling of national secrets, but he was nearing a plea agreement with the Justice Department at the time. The Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence inquired into the C.I.A.’s involvement in the process. As it turns out, as a United States intelligence official told The New York Times, Clinton did not consult then-CIA director George Tenet, who learned of the pardon after being informed of news reports at George Bush’s inaugural ceremony.

Tenet, by the way, nevertheless permanently revoked Deutch’s security clearances.