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Anatomy of a pardonAnatomy of a pardon

An e-mail trail reveals the high-level machinations behind the shocking pardon of fugitive financier Marc Rich.

By Jake Tapper
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February 13, 2001 | WASHINGTON -- E-mails and documents turned up by the House Subcommittee on Government Reform in its investigation of the controversial Marc Rich pardon shed a fascinating spotlight on the intersections of money, power and influence in Washington, New York, Israel and the up-for-sale wing of the Democratic Party.

And there's still more to come. On Monday, Feb. 5, Government Reform Subcommittee chairman Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., sent Denise Rich, Rich's ex-wife, 14 questions regarding the pardon of her ex-husband as well as her large contributions to the Clintons' political campaigns and the Democratic National Committee. Rich's attorney wrote back on Wednesday, Feb. 7, saying that she would be invoking her Fifth Amendment right to refuse to answer because of fear of self-incrimination. Burton has asked Attorney General John Ashcroft to grant immunity from prosecution to Denise Rich so that she'll testify.

Burton's subcommittee held hearings Thursday on the Rich pardon, but he doesn't see his job as done. There's a whole lot more that has yet to see the light of day. As the e-mails show, the campaign for the Rich pardon didn't just involve Rich's attorney, former White House counsel Jack Quinn, or Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder, but a whole host of others: Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, Speaker of the Israeli Knesset Abraham Burg and who knows who else.

How did this all end up such a mess? To former prosecutors like Morris "Sandy" Weinberg Jr. and Martin Auerbach, then assistant U.S. attorneys in the Southern District of New York, Bill Clinton's late-hour pardon of the fugitive financier -- literally granted in the last few minutes of the Clinton presidency -- was stunning.

After all, to Weinberg and Auerbach, Rich's criminal behavior couldn't have been more concretely established. If there was any question as to the criminal intent in Rich's financial dealings, they vanished on Aug. 9, 1983, when Weinberg and Auerbach received an anonymous tip that Rich was shipping two steamer trunks full of subpoenaed documents out of the country. The attorneys moved on it, tracking down the trunks on a Swiss Air flight.

The incident, known internally in then U.S. Attorney Rudy Giuliani's office as "the steamer trunk affair," was a perfect end to a summer spent investigating Rich and his partner, Pincus Green. In September of that year, the U.S. attorney's office handed down a 51-count indictment against them and a co-conspirator, Listo Petroleum, for evading taxes on more than $100 million in revenues, mail and wire fraud, racketeering and trading with an enemy, Iran, during the Iranian hostage crisis.

However, though the steamer trunks couldn't evade the U.S. attorney's office, Rich and Green did, having quietly fled to Switzerland. In 1984, the Swiss government rejected U.S. extradition requests. Rich joined armed robber Victor Gerena and health clinic bomber Eric Rudolph on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list.

How, then, did this pardon happen? An examination of the e-mails and documents obtained by Rep. Burton tells an extraordinary tale of international influence peddling and wheeling and dealing on behalf of the wealthy Rich. His defenders tried to transform him from shady financier to philanthropist, and enlisted the elite of Israeli society as well as Democratic Party patrons to attest to his goodness.

The e-mails don't explain everyone's motives, and they don't prove which of Rich's personas -- victim of overzealous prosecutors? international philanthropist? husband of major Clinton donor? -- proved most sympathetic. But they're a fascinating window into the Rich team's stunningly successful strategy.

The following are verbatim e-mails exchanged by those involved and obtained by Salon.

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