WASHINGTON — Roger Clinton said Friday that he promised a half-dozen of his closest friends, including men he had met in prison, that his brother, former President Clinton, would grant them pardons before he left the White House.
Insisting that he never solicited money or accepted any, Roger Clinton said he compiled a list of six names, noted why they should be pardoned and placed the list in a convenient place in the White House that his brother could not miss.
"I put it into a stack of papers on a table in the White House where he would see it," Roger Clinton said in a telephone interview with The Times.
"I put the names on it. I put down their relationship to me. And I said they had all gone through the Justice Department and they were deserving."
Then, about a week or 10 days later, Roger Clinton said, just as his brother's term was coming to an end, he asked the president what he thought of the list. He said the president told him he "would look into it."
On Jan. 21, Roger Clinton said he was dismayed to learn from a newspaper that his brother had decided against pardoning any of his friends.
Despite the fact that the president pardoned him for a 1980s drug conviction, Roger Clinton said he was so dejected because his friends had been denied clemency that he did not talk with his brother for two weeks.
"It sort of caused a rift," he said. "My feelings were hurt. I was a disaster.
"I couldn't understand why none of my requests for pardons for my friends were granted. I thought they all deserved it."
Roger Clinton, 44, often has turned to his older brother for help. When they were growing up, Bill Clinton, whose father died in a car accident three months before he was born, tried to protect Roger, 10 years his junior, and their mother from Roger Clinton Sr., an abusive alcoholic who adopted Bill Clinton.
In the 1980s, Roger ran into a different kind of trouble, and it was his brother, then-Arkansa Gov. Bill Clinton, who authorized a sting that led to his arrest on drug charges. In 1985, Roger pleaded guilty to conspiring to distribute cocaine and was sentenced to two years in prison. He served one year at the Federal Correctional Institution in Fort Worth and was released to a halfway house in Dallas.
Of his pardon work, the younger Clinton said Friday that he also helped connect his friends with lawyers, assisted them in filling out pardon applications and made sure all the paperwork was filed "timely and properly" with the Justice Department.
"I worked hard around my brother," he said, explaining that he had worked hard to get his friends lined up for pardons through normal channels before he left the list for the president in the White House.
"I went through the proper way. I sent it all in. I made sure that they had all their paperwork filled out through their lawyers and that it all had been sent into the Justice Department.
"I did everything legitimately," he added. "I took no money."
He declined to identify his friends or to say whether he had been involved with any clemencies that were granted.
Former President Clinton granted 140 pardons and 36 commutations on his last day in office, and since then a growing controversy has swirled around his clemency grants for certain applicants--most notably a pardon for fugitive commodities broker Marc Rich.
The president's brother-in-law Hugh Rodham accepted $400,000 for pushing through two clemencies: $200,000 for a commutation for convicted drug dealer Carlos Vignali of Los Angeles and $200,000 for a pardon for herbal-remedy marketer Almon Glenn Braswell of Florida.
The president and his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), have said that they did not know Rodham was working on behalf of those applicants. Rodham has since returned the money.
But two congressional committees are ratcheting up separate investigations to determine whether improper influence was brought to bear on the former president and whether the Rich pardon or any others were in effect bought with political contributions or promises of favors.
Roger Clinton said he was surprised to learn that Hugh Rodham had taken money.
"I'm in shock. I had no clue. I had no clue. But I do know one thing: Hugh is a great guy and we all are human, and people should let it go once he's corrected it" and returned the money.
Rodham emerged Friday from his first-floor apartment in Coral Gables, Fla., where he had cloistered himself since revelations surfaced about his fee work on behalf of Vignali and Braswell.
Rodham hurried from his apartment to an automobile, saying only: "You've got my statement. Have a real nice day." Then he drove away.
In his statement earlier in the week, Rodham said he was giving back the $400,000 at "his family's request to return legal fees."
But Ed Rucker, a Los Angeles criminal lawyer representing Carlos Vignali's father, Horacio Vignali, declined to say Friday whether Rodham had returned the $200,000 given him by Horacio Vignali.