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Clinton Brother-in-Law Was Paid $400,000 to Help Win Clemencies

Connections: Hugh Rodham has returned the money given for his roles in the Vignali, Braswell cases at the urging of the Clintons, who said they were 'deeply disturbed' by the report.

February 22, 2001|RICHARD A. SERRANO and STEPHEN BRAUN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — Hugh Rodham, the brother-in-law of former President Clinton, accepted about $400,000 to successfully push for presidential clemency for two Los Angeles men, convicted drug dealer Carlos Vignali and Almon Glenn Braswell, a marketer of health treatments.

Rodham returned the money late Wednesday as Clinton released a brief statement saying that he and his wife, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), were "deeply disturbed" to learn of the arrangement. The statement urged Rodham to return the money.

Sources said that Rodham, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., lawyer who is Sen. Clinton's brother, received $200,000 for making at least two calls to the White House and for other work on Vignali's behalf. Rodham also accepted a similar amount as a "success fee" for the pardon for Braswell.

While most individuals applying for presidential clemency hire lawyers to represent them, Rodham's role in the Vignali and Braswell cases was unusual because of its mystery and because a relative of the Clintons had been allowed to benefit financially.

Rodham's connection to the two men remains unclear.

Both acts of clemency, two of the 176 Clinton granted on his last day in office, have been widely criticized by law enforcement authorities. Vignali's release from prison was secured with the help of letters and phone calls from Southern California politicians and leaders.

In a related development Wednesday, officials of the Clinton White House told The Times that he granted the Vignali commutation about two weeks after the Justice Department formally recommended that it be denied.

Braswell's pardon for a 1983 conviction for perjury and mail fraud has been questioned because he is currently under investigation for tax evasion and money laundering.

The former president, in his written statement, said:

"Yesterday I became aware of press inquiries that Hugh Rodham received a contingency fee in connection with a pardon application for Glen Braswell and a fee for work on Carlos Vignali's commutation application.

"Neither Hillary nor I had any knowledge of such payments. We are deeply disturbed by these reports and have insisted that Hugh return any moneys received."

Bruce Lindsey, a top advisor to the former president, said Wednesday that Rodham called him twice in the final weeks of Clinton's presidency. Lindsey said that, while Rodham did not identify himself as officially representing Vignali, he did press for the commutation of his 15-year prison sentence.

"Basically what happened is that Hugh did contact us and did indicate an interest," Lindsey said in an interview. "We were aware he was interested in it. But nobody in the White House counsel's office knew whether it was for a client or the basis of it."

Lindsey added that Rodham never called him to press for the Braswell pardon.

Sen. Clinton Issues Statement

Sen. Clinton, in a separate statement, said:

"I was very disturbed to learn that my brother, Hugh Rodham, received fees in connection with two clemency applications. Hugh did not speak with me about these applications. I believe that the payments should be returned immediately, and I understand he has taken steps to do so."

Sources close to the senator said that "the first she heard about" Rodham's involvement was Monday night. They said that the former president first heard about Rodham's role Tuesday morning and that the couple then discussed the matter.

"They spoke about it," one source said of the couple, and both agreed that Rodham should return the money.

Rodham issued a statement through his Washington attorney, Nancy Luque. She said that he "today acceded to his family's request that he return legal fees earned in connection with pardon requests. Their request, presumably made because of the appearance of impropriety, is one he cannot ignore.

"There was, however, no impropriety in these matters."

In an interview with The Times, Luque emphasized that Rodham "did not speak to either Clinton about either [clemency request]. Ever."

A longtime advisor to the Clintons, who asked not to be named, said that the president knew of Rodham's involvement when he approved the clemencies.

"I'm told that the president knew and his statement by implication implies that he did know," said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "What he has said in his statement is that he did not know that Hugh would be compensated."

The former president did not disclose which news organizations were inquiring about Rodham's role in the clemency process. The Times has been investigating the Vignali commutation for two weeks, reporting that several Los Angeles leaders wrote letters on his behalf at the request of his father, Horacio Vignali, a wealthy Los Angeles political donor.

Rodham failed to return numerous telephone calls from The Times, and on Monday and Tuesday, a Times reporter made repeated attempts to interview him at his office in Fort Lauderdale and at his home in Coral Gables, Fla.

Rodham Declines to Talk With Reporter

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