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Former President Bill Clinton's weak attempt to explain why he pardoned fugitive financier Marc Rich and his partner, Pincus Green, had a familiar tone. Reading Clinton's flat denial of a quid pro quo between the pardon and political donations by Rich's ex-wife, we wonder how many Americans thought of the former president looking directly into the camera and saying: "I did not have sex with that woman?"

Rich and Green were indicted in 1983 on charges of racketeering and mail and wire fraud, stemming from their oil business. Clinton pardoned the men in his last days in office under power granted by the Constitution.

Critics have linked the pardons to financial contributions by Rich's ex-wife, Denise, to the Democratic Party, the Senate campaign of Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Clinton Presidential Library Fund.

In a letter to The New York Times, Clinton flatly denied granting the pardons because of donations by Rich's former wife. "There was absolutely no quid pro quo," he wrote. He said he considered eight key factors in granting the questionable pardons, based on legal and foreign policy reasons.

Regardless of whether the donations led to the pardons, they were outrageous. Ignoring our legal system is a poor way to conduct foreign policy. In addition, any legal questions regarding the indictments should have been decided by a court. That was impossible because Rich and Green fled the country to Switzerland to avoid prosecution.

Clinton said he was approached by three distinguished Republican attorneys. That's fine, except they all denied ever talking with Clinton or any of Clinton's staff about the case. Could this be another one of the ex-president's relapses when it comes to the facts?

Clinton admitted that he should have consulted with the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. The fact is, the former president failed to consult any of the key players involved in the Rich prosecution.

Perhaps his most forthright explanation was that he considered the urging of present and former high-ranking Israeli officials to grant the pardon because of Rich's contributions and services to Israeli charitable causes and his cooperation with Israeli intelligence.

But Rich's service to Israel, whatever it might have been, doesn't negate the fact that he bought oil from Iran at a time when it was holding Americans hostage. Surely, service rendered to an ally doesn't justify providing money to an outlaw government holding innocent Americans.

Clinton's explanation is weak, raises more questions than it answers and does further damage, if that's possible, to his already tarnished reputation.

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