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More Clemency Lobbying by Rodham Alleged

Commutations: Former President Clinton's brother- in-law called a White House lawyer about a pardon for a couple convicted of illegal campaign contributions.

February 26, 2001|STEPHEN BRAUN and RICHARD A. SERRANO | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — Hugh Rodham, who pressed for presidential clemencies from his brother-in-law, Bill Clinton, on behalf of a Los Angeles cocaine dealer and a Florida herbal remedy marketer, also telephoned a White House lawyer to check on the pardon chances of a couple convicted of campaign finance abuses, those familiar with the conversation say.

In his conversation with the White House counsel, Rodham--a Florida lawyer and the brother of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.)--also asked about the commutation prospects for Carlos Vignali, the drug dealer who later was freed by President Clinton after serving six years of a 15-year prison term.

Those familiar with the latest incident said that, a week before Clinton announced his clemencies, Rodham phoned lawyers in the White House counsel's office to broach the possibility of a pardon for Gene K. H. Lum and his wife, Nora. The couple, who have lived in Long Beach and Washington, pleaded guilty in 1997 to illegally donating money to Democrats' political campaigns.

Neither of the Lums won any of the 176 clemencies dispensed by Clinton on Jan. 20, his last day in office.

According to a source knowledgeable about the episode, Rodham telephoned Meredith Cabe, one of a group of lawyers in the White House counsel's office who was preparing final recommendations concerning the clemencies.

Rodham did not say if he was formally representing the Lums. "But he was expressing some interest in the prospects of the Lums getting a pardon," said the source, who requested anonymity. "He wanted to know where it stood, what the likelihood of a pardon might be."

Neither Rodham nor the Lums could be reached for comment Sunday night.

Nancy Luque, a Washington lawyer representing Rodham, said Sunday night that he "did not represent [the Lums]. He was asked to represent them. He declined."

Others familiar with Cabe's conversation said that, in the 10-minute exchange, Cabe told Rodham that the Lums could not rely on a pardon because senior White House aides had spread the word that clemencies would not be available for those who had been convicted in the past of campaign finance irregularities involving the Democratic Party.

"It was pretty widely known that there was going to be no campaign finance pardons," one person familiar with the incident said.

Rodham went on to ask Cabe about the prison commutation chances for Vignali, who at the time was in a federal penitentiary. Those familiar with the exchange concerning Vignali said they could not categorize Cabe's answer to that inquiry.

"It was the same thing as the Lum questions: 'How's it look?' " the source said.

Last week, Clinton confidant and legal trouble-shooter Bruce Lindsey said he also had been called twice about the Vignali case by Rodham, who has promised the Clintons that he would refund $400,000 in fees he was paid for his clemency work. Those familiar with Cabe's calls said they were uncertain if Lindsey had been asked about the Lums.

In 1997, Lum pleaded guilty along with his wife to making illegal donations to Democratic campaigns and admitted that he filed tax returns claiming more than $7.1 million in false deductions for himself and his wife.

The couple operated a Tulsa, Okla.-based gas pipeline company at the time of the violations. They pleaded guilty to a charge of felony conspiracy for laundering $50,000 in illegal donations to 1994 and 1995 congressional campaigns.

Nora Lum took main responsibility for providing the illegal donations to the campaigns of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-Mass.) and W. Stuart Price, then running for a House seat in Oklahoma.

The Lums each received 10 months in prison and a $30,000 fine in that case.

A year later, Lum changed his plea in a tax fraud case to guilty as part of an agreement that seeks his cooperation in other investigations.

The Lums also were sought out by congressional investigators in the 1996 campaign finance scandal for their knowledge of "an individual" who offered to give a large contribution to the Democrats in 1992 if the Clinton-Gore campaign would endorse the candidacy of an Asian politician.

Congressional investigators believe that politician may have been former South Korean President Kim Young Sam.

It was uncertain why Rodham had been sounded out by the Lums to handle their pardon request--or why he decided not to formally represent them as clients. "Let's just say they hadn't known each other long," one individual familiar with the connection said.

Last week, Rodham acknowledged that he had been paid $200,000 in fees by Horacio Vignali, the convicted drug dealer's father, and another $200,000 by Almon Glenn Braswell, a Florida herbal marketer whose perjury and mail fraud convictions were pardoned by Clinton. Rodham's sister--Sen. Clinton--and his presidential brother-in-law denied knowing of his legal work or payments, and expressed public displeasure with his actions.

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