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THE NATION

One Phase of Clinton Clemency Inquiry Ends Without Charges

Investigation: The pardon of four Hasidic Jews as he left office raised questions about a link to his wife's U.S. Senate campaign.

June 21, 2002|JOHN J. GOLDMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — The Justice Department announced Thursday it has concluded a grand jury inquiry into former President Clinton's eleventh-hour grant of clemency to four influential members of a Hasidic community that voted by a huge margin to send Hillary Rodham Clinton to the U.S. Senate.

"We thoroughly investigated it, and it wasn't appropriate to bring charges against anybody in the case," said U.S. Atty. James B. Comey in Manhattan.

The investigation centered on whether the president's decision in the closing hours of his administration was a favor for the political support given to his wife's successful 2000 election campaign.

New Square, a highly cohesive village in Rockland County, north of New York City, voted 1,400 to 12 for Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Comey said his office still is looking into other last-minute pardons issued by President Clinton but declined to be specific.

"I have nothing to say about those," he said.

Informed of the U.S. attorney's decision to end this phase of the investigation, Clinton said he was not surprised.

"There was never any reason to believe anybody had done anything wrong," the former president said.

In Washington, Sen. Clinton declined to comment on the Justice Department's decision.

Her lawyer, David E. Kendall, said it was "a welcome, albeit completely predictable resolution."

Kalmen Stern, David Goldstein, Benjamin Berger and Jacob Elbaum were sent to prison after being convicted in 1999 in an elaborate scheme that included systematically defrauding the government of tens of millions of dollars in loans to ineligible or fictitious students.

In December 2000, Sen.-elect Clinton met at the White House with two leaders of the New Square community who supported clemency for the four men.

She and the leaders then met in the White House Map Room for about 45 minutes with President Clinton.

Hillary Rodham Clinton has said she played no part in her husband's decision to grant clemency.

Among the matters still being scrutinized by prosecutors is President Clinton's decision to pardon fugitive financier Marc Rich, who was indicted in 1983 by a federal grand jury in New York on charges including tax evasion and racketeering.

Prosecutors at the time alleged Rich evaded more than $48 million in taxes and took part in illegal oil deals with Iran while U.S. diplomats were being held hostage in that Middle Eastern nation.

Rich, who left the United States before his indictment, is living in Switzerland.

Government lawyers have been trying to determine whether his pardon was linked to large contributions that Rich's former wife, Denise Rich, made to Democratic causes, including Hillary Rodham Clinton's Senate campaign and the Clinton presidential library in Arkansas.

The decision to pardon Rich, who never served any sentence, provoked anger from frustrated federal prosecutors who had sought for almost two decades to bring him to trial.

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