Former President Bill Clinton agreed Tuesday to allow his top aides to testify freely before a House panel looking into his eleventh-hour pardons. At the same time, pardoned financier Marc Rich refused to testify.
Rich, whose pardon from Clinton on his last day in office has triggered congressional and criminal investigations, also refused to free his lawyers from attorney-client privilege that would allow them to discuss his pursuit of clemency.
David E. Kendall, Clinton's personal attorney, said in a letter to the House Government Reform Committee that the former president "will interpose no executive privilege objections to the testimony of his former staff concerning these pardons, or to other pardons and commutations he granted."
A legal source close to the former president, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Clinton agreed to waive the privilege because he is eager to get the facts out quickly to support his contention that he did nothing wrong.
The committee is to hear Thursday from John D. Podesta, former Clinton chief of staff; former White House counsel Beth Nolan; and Bruce R. Lindsey, a longtime White House aide and Clinton confidant.
Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., the House committee's chairman, asked Clinton two weeks ago to waive executive privilege, or the right to keep secret the advice of aides and deliberations prior to presidential decisions.
The panel also asked Rich to release his lawyers from attorney-client privilege so they could testify in detail about the campaign to secure his pardon.
If Rich should waive his attorney-client privilege to the committee, lawyers might be able to argue later in criminal or civil proceedings that the privilege no longer exists, his lawyer argued.
Along with federal prosecutors in New York, the committee is investigating whether Clinton's decision on Rich's pardon was influenced by contributions from Rich's ex-wife, Denise, to Clinton's presidential library and various political campaigns.
In today's editions, the Washington Post said a newly discovered e-mail suggests that Eric Holder, who was deputy attorney general at the time, told Jack Quinn, Rich's pardon attorney, last November to take his request directly to the White House.
According to the e-mail, Quinn told associates that Holder advised him to "go straight to" the White House to seek clemency for Rich.
Holder told the newspaper that he strongly disagreed with Quinn's e-mail message.
The former president, meanwhile, told an audience of media and entertainment executives Tuesday in New York, "I want to get out of the news."
Asked whether he was disturbed by reporters' attention to the pardons, Clinton remarked: "People always get it right over the long run, and the truth will prevail. So I'm not worried about that at all."
In related developments:
Clinton agreed to let congressional investigators review a list of donors to his presidential library. Kendall, the attorney for Clinton and his library, had fought the committee's requests for documents, citing "significant constitutional and institutional concerns." He, however, is providing the records to a federal grand jury in New York, which has opened a criminal investigation into the Clinton pardons.
David J. Dreyer, a former Clinton administration aide, drew on his White House ties in seeking presidential clemency for his cousin, whose prison term for laundering money for Colombian drug traffickers was commuted on Clinton's last day in office.
Dreyer said Tuesday that he spoke about three times last year to Podesta and once to Nolan about the case of Harvey Weinig, a New York City lawyer sentenced in 1996 to 11 years in prison for laundering tens of millions of dollars in drug proceeds and failing to report a kidnapping.
With the commutation, Weinig is scheduled to be released from federal prison April 16 after serving more than five years.
Rep. Barney Frank became the first person to introduce a measure in Congress arising from the Jan. 20 pardons. The liberal Massachusetts Democrat proposed an amendment to the Constitution that would forbid presidential pardons from a month before an election until Inauguration Day in presidential election years.
Federal prosecutors in Minneapolis have asked the Justice Department for advice on whether they should open a grand jury investigation into Clinton's commutation for Carlos Vignali of Los Angeles.
Vignali, a convicted drug dealer who ran a California-to-Minnesota drug ring, was released after a lobbying campaign by Southern California elected officials and $200,000 in fees paid to lawyer Hugh Rodham, Clinton's brother-in-law.
While still president, Clinton talked to the chief executive of CBS on behalf of two Hollywood friends involved in a billing dispute with the network, the Associated Press reported.
CBS chief executive Leslie Moonves confirmed the discussion Tuesday but denied that Clinton's intercession on behalf of television producers Harry Thomason and Linda Bloodworth-Thomason played a role in the dispute's resolution.