Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton struggled to distance herself Thursday from two new presidential pardon controversies stirred by her brother, Hugh Rodham, and by key lieutenants in her New York Senate campaign.
At a hurriedly called news conference, Clinton, D-N.Y., denied having prior knowledge that her brother, a frequent White House guest, was seeking clemency for a cocaine dealer and a pardon for a miracle-cure peddler convicted of mail fraud and perjury.
In another development, a House committee began investigating whether former President Bill Clinton's half brother, Roger, influenced the last-minute executive actions.
The former president's office confirmed late Thursday that Roger Clinton lobbied the president on behalf of several friends and associates who were seeking pardons. The president turned down all of them, a Clinton spokeswoman said.
Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported today that the U.S. attorney's office in New York is investigating the former president's last-minute decision to commute the sentences of four Hassidic men convicted of stealing millions in government funds.
The probe is expected to examine whether Clinton pardoned the men in exchange for votes from their Hasidic community in Rockland County for his wife's Senate campaign last fall, a source told the AP.
Sen. Clinton has said that she sat in on a December meeting that her husband held with supporters of clemency for the men but insisted that she played no part in his decision to commute their sentences.
She told reporters in the Senate Office Building she was "heartbroken and shocked" to learn from news reports that her brother accepted nearly $400,000 in fees from the criminals. She said she and her husband, through intermediaries, told Rodham to return the money.
"I did not think it appropriate to call my brother, because I didn't want anyone asking what we talked about or putting either him or me in a very difficult position," she said. "Once I had solid information late Monday night, I did not think it was in his interest . . . or appropriate to speak with him."
"If I had any knowledge or notice of it," she continued, "I believe I might have been able to prevent it. I don't think we'd be standing here talking about it."
"I've been very disappointed about what has gone on for the last week," she said. "I regret deeply that there have been these kinds of matters occurring."
Asked if Rodham, who is an attorney, ever mentioned he wanted a pardon for mail-fraud convict Almon Glenn Braswell or early release for drug dealer Carlos Vignali, Clinton said, "I don't have any memory at all of ever talking with my brother about this, and that's my best memory."
She acknowledged, however, that people approached her on pardon issues and that she passed the information to the office of White House counsel. She did not identify any of those who spoke to her about presidential clemency.
"I have to say . . . the information was coming to me, and information was passed on, so if I said, 'Information came (that) people wanted to look at,' I might have said that. I don't remember."
'A fine man'
Clinton rushed to Capitol Hill just two hours after Associated Press reporter John Solomon revealed that her campaign treasurer, William Cunningham III, and one of her closest political advisers, Harold Ickes, had been involved in referrals of two tax felons for presidential pardons just days before the old administration left office.
Ickes was principal strategist in her Senate drive and is now director of her political action committee, HILLPAC, seen by some as an effort to build influence for a run for national office.
The senator maintained she learned about the involvement of Cunningham and Ickes only through news reports.
The two men seeking pardons were convicted in the 1980s on tax charges.
On Cunningham's activities, Clinton insisted: "I know nothing about that. I know he is a fine lawyer and a fine man."
"You really have to draw a distinction . . . between lawyers who are doing their job going through the ordinary course of business on these matters, as I understand it, and a family member," she said. "I think it's a very big difference."
Cunningham, who was paid $4,000, said he never spoke with the Clintons, or anyone else at the White House, about the pardon applications he sent to the Justice Department. Ickes told the AP he never raised the subject with the Clintons.
In a related development, Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., head of one congressional investigating committee, said he would insist on "full compliance" with a subpoena for records from the William J. Clinton Presidential Foundation. The group, chartered to establish Clinton's presidential library, received $450,000 in donations from Denise Rich, ex-wife of fugitive financier Marc Rich, who was pardoned by Clinton.
The Washington Post reported that documents turned over Thursday to congressional investigators by the library foundation showed that Democratic fund-raiser Beth Dozoretz, who spoke with Clinton about Rich's pardon application, pledged to raise $1 million for the library. Dozoretz is a friend of Denise Rich.
President's friend subpoenaed
In response to the subpoena that Burton's Government Reform Committee issued seeking the full list of donors, the Clinton presidential foundation provided only some of the material demanded. Foundation attorney David Kendall also argued that the request by Burton was "a classic fishing expedition."
Burton said the foundation's claim was "without merit." He also subpoenaed Skip Rutherford, a longtime friend of the ex-president and the foundation president, to appear at a hearing next week.
Burton also sent a letter to Roger Clinton, demanding that he explain his involvement in any pardon requests. Roger Clinton got a pardon of his own from the president for a 1985 cocaine charge.
The former president's office confirmed that Roger lobbied the president on behalf of several friends and associates who were seeking pardons, including one man convicted of interstate transportation and sale of fish and wildlife and another convicted of conspiracy to possess and distribute cocaine.
"Roger did ask the president to consider a list of less than 10 names of friends and acquaintances. None of those pardons were granted nor did he receive any money," spokeswoman Julia Payne said. One reporter asked Sen. Clinton whether there was any connection between furniture delivered to her Washington home during the day and Ms. Rich.
"No, my dear. Nothing to do -- not at all," she said.
In addition to $1 million in donations to the Democratic Party since 1993, donations of $109,000 in soft money to Hillary Rodham Clinton's Senate campaign and the library donation, Denise Rich gave $7,375 worth of furniture to the first couple in the administration's final weeks.
"I never knew about Marc Rich," Sen. Clinton said. "I knew nothing about the Marc Rich pardon until after it happened. I am not going to have any comments on the merits or demerits that might surround these pardons."