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CLINTON MAY BE CALLED FOR SENATE TESTIMONY ON FINANCIER'S PARDON

A senior Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday raised the possibility of calling former President Bill Clinton to testify about his pardon of fugitive millionaire Marc Rich.

"There well may be an invitation to former President Clinton, on the analogy of President Ford, so stay tuned," Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter said during a conference call with radio reporters.

Then-President Gerald R. Ford testified before a House subcommittee in October 1974 to explain his pardon of his predecessor as president, Richard M. Nixon.

When asked if Clinton would testify, his spokesman, Jake Siewert, replied, "I wouldn't expect it."

Rich, whom Clinton pardoned in the final hours of his presidency, fled to Switzerland during the 1980s and was convicted in absentia of 51 counts of tax evasion and fraud.

According to Federal Election Commission records, Rich's ex-wife, songwriter Denise Rich, gave $201,000 in political donations to the Democratic Party last year as attorneys for the fugitive financier pressed the U.S. government to drop the case. Rich's attorneys turned to Clinton when the Justice Department refused to negotiate.

Meanwhile, a GOP congressman sought to block Clinton from getting a pricey midtown Manhattan "penthouse" office Thursday, insisting that Congress should have to approve the deal because the rent is over budget.

Rep. Ernest J. Istook Jr., R-Okla., chairman of the House Subcommittee on Treasury, Postal Service and General Government, warned the General Services Administration in a letter that "it would appear extremely unwise for GSA to proceed" with rent negotiations on behalf of Clinton.

Clinton was close to a decision on whether to take the office suite on the 56th floor of Carnegie Hall Tower on West 57th Street, Siewert said. The space could go for as much as $650,000 in yearly rent, but negotiations were under way to try to get a better deal.

"This president should not have to pay some penalty because he chose to live in New York -- every New Yorker knows it's expensive to live here, but it's worth it," Siewert said.

If the lease is signed, Clinton's office will be the priciest among the living former presidents, according to congressional figures.

The government pays $285,000 a year for Ronald Reagan's Los Angeles office, $147,000 for the elder George Bush's Houston office, $99,000 for Ford's office near Palm Springs, Calif., and $93,000 annually for Jimmy Carter's office in Plains, Ga.

In another development, Clinton is to speak Monday at a Morgan Stanley Dean Witter convention in Boca Raton, Fla. The topic had not been decided. The fee is about $100,000, according to sources familiar with the speaking arrangements.

On Feb. 10, Clinton will give a speech, likely on the Middle East, at a synagogue in Aventura, Fla., near Miami. The sources would not disclose the fee.

Clinton also was meeting today in Manhattan with about a dozen Indian-American businessmen, high-tech CEOs and Indian government officials based in New York to start a project to raise $1 million or more for the victims of last Friday's earthquake in India.

Clinton also did his first post-presidency interview Thursday, talking 30 minutes with an Israeli TV station at his home in Chappaqua. His remarks were to be telecast today, four days before Israel's election that is expected to determine the direction of Middle East peace talks.

Siewert said Clinton is not meddling in U.S.-Mideast policy. Instead, "the interview looked back on his role in the process and the lessons he drew from that about how to bring peace to the Mideast," Siewert said.

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